Mindfulness In Leadership – Your Biggest Untapped Leadership Resource?

Mindful Leadership

Richard Andrews – Executive Coach and Facilitator on the 20Twenty Programme.

What proportion of your time at work do you feel should be spent absolutely ‘on the ball’? When you have crystal clear focus, forensic analysis, decisive decision making? Would you be satisfied achieving your optimum 90% of the time or are you of the 100%+ school of leadership?

The wandering mind

Here’s a benchmark for you to consider:

  • 70% of Leaders report regularly being unable to be attentive in meetings;
  • It is estimated that the average time spent mind-wandering is 47%

(Killingsworth 2010)

If you’re doing better than that, you’re doing pretty well, but not many of us can claim to be genuine ‘Leadership Superheros’ – it’s more than likely that most of us sit within a few points of those percentages.

There’s clearly a concern here. If, as a significant strategic decision maker, I find myself “regularly being unable to be attentive in meetings”, it stands to reason that I must be missing a substantial volume of potentially important information and therefore making decisions in the absence of all the salient facts. Similarly, my ability to support and advise my colleagues is inevitably reduced.

Where we have employees who are working below optimum we take action: Training, coaching, re-direction or whatever. Where we have a tool or machine working at less than 100% efficiency we reach for the oil-can or call an engineer.

Yet, Killingworth’s research finds that only 2% of Leaders regularly make time to enhance their personal productivity.

So, what do we do instead? Well mostly we don’t notice the problem but when we do, we find ways of beating ourselves up; we resolve to concentrate more and ‘do better’; we try to catch up late into the night; forego our lunch break, we do all the things that make the problem worse!

Switch off the autopilot

The busier we get the more tired we get and the more our brains have to rely on their autopilot setting. The challenge is to find ways to switch that autopilot off.

That might sound tricky and, indeed, the neuroscience behind this simple statement does have its complexities. However, there are some really simple and easy techniques that can make a measurable difference and that we can all do today.

In fact, it may be that the reason why so few people take action to move towards a more mindful approach to leadership is that the techniques really are so simple. We’re used to complicated and challenging solutions to problems, surely these ridiculously simple approaches can’t possibly be impactful?

Here’s a couple of techniques which were developed by a hard-nosed, cynical engineer from Google called Chade-Meng Tan and described in his book ‘Search Inside Yourself’. Both of these simple techniques serve to help to shift distractions and focus on what’s really important.

Take an extra minute to ‘arrive’ at the meeting

Once you’ve arrived at the meeting (virtual or otherwise), got your coffee, sorted your papers and technology etc. spend an extra minute in silence. Notice your breathing, notice what’s pre-occupying your mind. Give your mind a minute to quieten, to settle and to focus on the here and now. You will find your focus and concentration will immediately lift.

Take 3 mindful breaths

During a meeting, or at any time in your day:

  • Breath 1, Head: What thoughts are occupying your mind right now?
  • Breath 2, Body: What feelings are you experiencing?
  • Breath 3, Heart: What is really important to you now?

Sceptical? So was Chade-Meng Tan. Through observational evidence as well as MRI scanning he was able to provide pretty clear evidence that techniques as simple as these can have a significant positive impact on our ability to focus, leading to better decision making and reduced stress.

So, no ‘tree-hugging’, no need to sit cross-legged, no smelly incense, just straightforward neuroscience with evidenced results. Give it a try for just a couple of weeks and assess for yourself.

The research referenced can be found here:

Killingsworth, Matthew & Gilbert, Daniel. (2010). A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind – Science

Richard Andrews is an executive coach and facilitator on the 20Twenty Leadership and Management programme. He runs Corporate Instinct Ltd, a Leadership and Organisational Development consultancy and has a particular interest in supporting organisations to do great things through an enabled and empowered workforce.

Related Links:

Search Inside Yourself – Chade-Meng Tan

Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ – Daniel Goleman


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