Mindfulness the unlikely leadership tool
The Economist (November 16-22) featured an article “The Mindfulness Business” mentioning that mindfulness is being introduced at Harvard Business School. This appears to confirm that mindfulness is finally coming of age in the western world.
Of course mindfulness has been around for thousands of years. It had its birth in Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism is usually considered to be one of the world’s major religions but in actuality is a philosophy that has acquired religious overtones.
Mindfulness generally requires the daily practice of personal meditation. This is an easily acquired skill, albeit one that requires time to perfect, but just ten minutes of daily meditation can prove to be an extremely useful tool for someone who wants to develop effective leadership skills.
If you take a minute and look inward you will notice that your mind is always busy. This realisation is your first step in developing mindfulness skills. Just pause for a moment and see where your thoughts take you, you may begin to notice that your mind has a mind of its own.
To be a successful leader, you must be able to take control of your mind. Ask yourself how many times when you were involved in an activity that required complete attention did your mind go off on its own, thinking about something completely unrelated.
This may have occurred in the classroom when you were a student or more recently in a team meeting at work. This lack of focussed attention is in fact a very natural state of mind.
While it is true that there are many activities where this state of mind might prove to be desirable such as composing music, writing a novel or producing a work of art, there are many others when it can prove to be detrimental or even disastrous.
Some activities requiring full attention are, landing an aircraft, performing surgery, playing tennis, goalkeeping and of course preparing an important presentation or report at work.
While there are many proven physical benefits of meditation, such as lowering both blood pressure and stress levels, the benefit that I am going to address here is the utilisation of meditation as a tool to help people develop and sharpen their skills at work.
One of the most important leadership skills that a person can develop is the ability to lead with a clear head. This requires the ability to recognise the times when your head is not clear. Mindfulness allows a person to take a clear look at their thoughts and more importantly their emotional state.
A clear head enables us to purposefully listen to what another person is saying as mindfulness allows the listener to become aware of the times when he is not paying attention.
Mindfulness is a learned skill that enables us to step out of ourselves and take a look at our current behaviour as if we were a member of a film crew filming ourselves, warts and all, for a reality television show.
Imagine that you are in your car driving on a highway where the speed limit is 50 mph. You glance at the speedometer to check your speed and you notice that little by little you have crept up to 60. So you become aware that you are driving too fast and you make a conscious decision to lower your speed. To achieve your goal you lighten your touch on the accelerator and slow down to the legal limit.
Once again you allow your mind to wander. Your thoughts might drift to weekend plans, a sporting event, family problems or work related issues. This time when you glance at the speedometer you notice that you are now driving 70 mph and you once again take steps to reduce your speed.
Your primary task is to drive home safely and avoid being stopped for speeding so you must focus your attention on your driving
The same rule applies when we have a task to carry out in our professional lives. We need to pay attention to what we are supposed to be doing and not let our attention consistently drift away from the task at hand, even if it is somewhat onerous or boring.
Mindfulness allows us to develop an awareness of what we are actually doing at the moment. Just think how much more productive you could be if you were able to notice all of the times when you were drifting above the metaphorical speed limit.
Mindfulness offers you the gift of increased productivity. Why not give it a try.
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