The latest trend in leadership development is mindfulness training. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention with care and discernment to yourself, others and the world around you. There is evidence from clinical contexts which prove that mindfulness is beneficial.
There are several apps, self-help books and corporate interventions for leaders to become more mindful. This helps them become more flexible, and aware of changes and also maintain their focus. Thus, helping leaders be more effective in their roles.
Does mindfulness training actually improve leadership capability? If it does, how? And how much effort do you need to make to achieve results?
The Harvard Business School conducted a study on the trending topic of mindfulness training. A multisession mindful leader program was held, which included a wait-list control group. Half of the participants received their training immediately and the other half received it later, but they measured key characteristics in both groups at the same times. By comparing the two groups’ results, the effect of training was concluded.
The study showed that mindfulness training and sustained practice produced statistically significant improvements in three capacities that are important for successful leadership in the 21st century: resilience, capacity for collaboration, and ability to lead in complex conditions.
The above mentioned was a case of formal mindfulness practice.
1. The leaders further took several different formal mindfulness exercises. In addition, they were encouraged to follow informal mindfulness practices.
The message is clear: If you want the benefits, you have to put in the time to practise.
We know that those who are at senior positions, don’t have enough time and are most busy. Let’s put the time commitment in perspective. We also know that senior executives spend an average of 1,060 minutes awake per day. And yet allocating just 10 minutes — less than 1% of their waking hours — to practising mindfulness proves demanding for some and impossible for others.
The research points out the challenges leaders face to practice mindfulness:
1. Leaders seek out mindfulness as a solution to their crushing work pressures, their busy timetables, their multiple task lists — and yet it is precisely these things that then get in the way of their practice.
2. The leaders frequently berated themselves for their lack of practice. They felt guilty and even anxious. As they piled pressure on themselves, some began to dislike practice and a few finally resisted altogether.
3. Leaders can rarely develop a new habit, including practising mindfulness, without help and support from others. Some leaders in the research received generous encouragement from their partners and work colleagues. In moments when they might have given up, this support sustained them. Some others were met with cynicism and in a few cases were even teased, but they continued.
Finally, the research concludes that mindfulness is not inherited but it can be learnt with practice. All you have to do is give 1% of your time, a small price to pay for the improvements that are on offer.
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