Mindfulness has become quite a trendy term. But even before some of the world’s most influential modern-day business influencers started praising its merits, it was embraced by Buddhists, philosophers and spiritual leaders.
It makes sense: We can all benefit from mindfulness, regardless of our age, gender, faith or background. Being mindful is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
So how is this relevant to leadership? The Harvard Business Review decided to find out, and concluded that mindfulness training produces an improvement in three capacities that are key for successful leadership in our day and age: resilience, the capacity for collaboration, and the ability to lead in complex conditions.
The HBR team came to those conclusions by enrolling 57 senior business leaders in a mindfulness program including fortnightly workshops (three of which were in person and one of which was done remotely). Participants were studied as they learned how to translate mindfulness into their leadership practice.
The business leaders were paired in teams of two, and assigned homework as well as daily exercises during the workshops. HBR tracked how they practiced, and what was the outcome on things related to work and management.
“The leaders in our study became less reactive and more responsive, which in turn affected many other skills, such as regulating their emotions, empathizing with others, focusing more readily on issues at hand, adapting to the situations they found themselves in, and taking broader perspectives into account,” wrote researchers Megan Reitz and Michael Chaskalson.
The researchers concluded that the leaders developed three fundamental meta-capacities throughout the program:
- Metacognition: Being able to choose to observe your thoughts and emotions during crucial, turbulent times.
- Allowing: The capacity to “let what is the case, be the case.” This is about approaching experiences with an open mind and kindness towards yourself and others.
- Curiosity: Taking an active, enthusiastic interest in our inner and outer worlds.
When combined, these three meta-capacities can allow leaders to unlock new, positive horizons in their decision-making abilities, their interactions with others, and their reactions to unexpected hurdles.
If this seems a bit abstract, it’s not. When formal mindfulness training is implemented seriously, it can drive very real results by creating a positive company culture where collaboration, problem-solving and creativity are fostered. This ultimately improves the bottom line.
“Mindfulness interventions, as long as they are combined with practice, can indeed develop leadership, and we now know why,” wrote the researchers. “People seeking to introduce mindfulness into leadership development should be realistic, but there are real benefits to be had.”
The key to unlocking these benefits? Practicing consistently — workshops are good, but company stakeholders need at least 10 minutes of daily practice over a sustained period of time to reap the benefits and drive concrete change, according to the research.