Let Mindfulness Lead the Way

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Is your mind feeling scattered as you read this blog? Are you thinking of what to do next, or getting ready to open the next tab on your browser? If so, here’s a simple exercise to bring you back to the task on hand…

Close your eyes…
Focus on the space below your nostrils.
Become aware of your breath.
Immerse yourself deeper into that experience…
Feel the warmth of your breath, the deep inhalations and deeper exhalations.

Do this for two-three minutes. Now get back to your reading and notice the difference.

This is just one way to practice mindfulness, a meditation technique that helps you become aware of the ‘here and now’. A practice that allows you to be in the moment, without letting your mind stray into other things, or worry about the past or future.

In an era, where every ping of the smart phone is raising our stress levels, and where the pressure to achieve greater numbers and collaborate with diverse geographies is pulling us in different directions, mindfulness can become a useful management tool. Several studies have successfully linked mindfulness with enhanced productivity and better health.

Why CEOs should be mindful

Leaders especially are facing more pressure than the rest: they have to unite teams and bring together diverse personalities toward a common vision… They have to be trouble shooters and motivators at the same time… And they have to respond to pressures like market uncertainties externally, and increasing attrition internally.

All this requires leaders to be agile and alert. The age-old practice of mindfulness can be used effectively. Mindfulness is essentially about becoming aware, being in the moment, and responding to a situation from a place of stillness and calm… This eventually leads you to becoming more receptive and responsive rather becoming reactive.

More importantly, mindfulness increases concentration and makes you a keen listener, tuning into the other person, while you keep your own emotions and thoughts at bay. Mindfulness also aids decision-making as it helps you focus on the minor details, heightening your acuity.

Companies like Google and Apple already have mindfulness programs in place. In fact, the late Steve Job was known to be a meditator who practiced mindfulness to become more aware of the challenges his company was facing and to enhance his creativity.

But how does one practice mindfulness at work?

The Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh in his book The Miracles of Mindfulness talks about how mindfulness can be used at work:

‘…keep your attention focused on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation which may arise — this is mindfulness… During the moment one is consulting, resolving, and dealing with whatever arises, a calm heart and self-control are necessary if one is to obtain good results… Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.’

Mastery over oneself and restoration from stress are thus the key benefits of mindfulness.

Some of the other benefits of mindfulness are:

1. Improved relationships within the organisation, where people are more willing to collaborate and work with each other in harmony.

2. A general sense of well-being and happiness in the company… As people work with calm and reduced stress levels, they become more productive, and can focus on personal growth too.

3. Enhanced creativity leading to greater innovation. As concentration and stillness increase, the ability to see problems from different angles and find unique solutions also arises.

4. Reduces conflict within teams… As people become more mindful and receptive to another person’s point of view, they become more tolerant and understanding of other team members.

5. Makes an organisation more nimble and ready to deal with change… Every situation is looked at with an open mind and a positive approach is adopted in dealing with the challenge.

6. Makes organisations more conscious… Instead of making greed and profits a priority, organisations that are mindful become more detached, focusing instead on sustainable practices that impact society as a whole.

A few mindfulness practices for organisations

Looking inward, being with yourself, and paying attention to the fleeting thought, for even a few moments a day, can be a transformative practice. Once you begin to experience mindfulness at a personal level, you can spread it to the rest of your organisation too…

Here are some ways of doing it:

  1. Start meetings with a few moments of silence

People come into meeting rooms with traces of what they had just stopped doing, or a task on their mind that still needs to be completed.

In order to get them to focus on what you have to say, and to achieve the goals of the meeting, give them some time to collect themselves. Ask them to close their eyes, and focus on their breathing. You could also ask them to chant three ‘oms’… Any chanting, especially when done collectively, has therapeutic benefits.

2. Become a keen listener

As a leader, you may want to rush into your agenda and ensure your point of view is heard and implemented. But a leader’s job is to encourage others to think and grow too. For this you require patience and empathy…you need to be open to view points from others and restrain yourself from a counter-view, till such a time as the person has completed his train of thought.

When you encourage independent thought, you also encourage autonomy and decision-making, allowing your team to become more confident in their work and plans.

3. Conduct mindfulness programs

Mindfulness need not always be about sitting quietly and meditating in a corner, it can be fun as well. You can encourage teams to think of mindfulness games that allow them to stretch their imagination. You could give them hypothetical situations and ask them to come up with different strategies for the same.

You could also ask them to create different outcomes for a particular campaign or project you are launching. When people are immersed in a creative activity, mindfulness is the natural outcome.

4. Create spaces for breathing

Meditation rooms are still to become an important feature in offices in India and the world. And for people to actually start using them will take even more time, as many feel guilty about meditating at work.

But meditative practices and mindfulness are a growing trend. More and more people are practicing kriyas (a detox practice), and doing yoga on a regular basis. If a small corner of your office can be devoted for mindfulness, or if you can allow employees to take some time off to practice meditation, you will see happier and more productive employees.

As a CEO, when you practice mindfulness yourself, you will see it permeate to the rest of the organisation too. And when you promote it among employees, you will see new levels of happiness and performance in your organisation.

The power of mindfulness is a deeply transformative one, ultimately impacting the industry and society you live in too. So take those few moments to meditate and experience its manifold benefits in your life and in the lives of those around you.

This article was first published in Yellow Spark — a unique management consulting firm with an expertise in the people side of business.

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