Mindfulness

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Mindfulness practices have been used through the centuries, not only to create mental calm and composure, but to get the creative juices flowing. Mindfulness is not simply meditation, but the ability to notice patterns of thinking, recognising and dealing with distractions and creating awareness that will build upon success. Indeed, Einstein often stated that he found plenty of time to ‘day dream’ and during one such episode (reportedly when he was sat on the top of a hill, looking at the natural beauty of the landscape) he had what he would later call ‘the most fortunate thought of his life’, referring to the Theory of Relativity. 

 
In July 2013, Carolyn Gregoire, author of "Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind" published an article in the Huffington Post in which she names CEOs and executives from Bridgewater Associates (the world's largest hedge fund), CISCO, News Corp, Ford, Google, as citing mindfulness or meditation as a key ingredient to their success. Many of these successful organisations offer mindfulness and meditation sessions to their employees.
 
Over the past twenty years, when I’ve introduced the concept of mindfulness to senior leaders and executives, it is often initially met with scepticism or at least challenge or resistance. However, once encouraged and with just one practice session of 15 mins, I’ve had 100% success rate in convincing these executives of its value. 
 
Highly successful people often work at a rapid pace and a by-product of mindfulness is the ability to slow down (to what appears to be a STOP position), which to some, may initially seem quite daunting. Techniques that help to quieten the mind provides a gift of new independence and allows an individual to find answers from within. Mindfulness practices help activate the insular cortex, which supports self-awareness, awareness of others, emotional regulation and the ability to become more resilient. By giving ourselves even a short amount of time to reflect in a meaningful way, our brains have the capacity to process information with clarity, soothe emotions and empower us to make wiser choices. 
 
Mindfulness techniques are now being trialled in the curriculum at 370 schools in England after overwhelming support for young people’s mental health. Some trials have already had a positive impact in supporting those pupils with more challenging behaviour. Now, the naughty chair is replaced with meditation or reflective practice, resulting in some phenomenal improvements in behaviour and learning, which can only be a positive thing.
 
We can see the benefits at an individual level - mindfulness has very positive effects, but what impact can this have at an organisational level? Collective Mindfulness is a central feature of many organisations that are able to operate reliability and effectively in the face of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. When mindfulness becomes a shared social practice and social norm within an organisation, there are significant positive results in team performance (particularly when under pressure or pursuing high risk strategies) and as a result the organisation becomes more resilient and is able to perform more sustainably. It gives teams the ability to anticipate difficult conditions, prepare for, respond and recover more quickly when an incident occurs. 
 
As a multi-level concept, when mindfulness permeates the strategy and culture, routines, processes and practices between people and across teams, then the whole organisation becomes more resilient and performs more sustainably. In practice, Collective Mindfulness is not about teams ‘meditating’ together but rather everyone in the workplace applies mindfulness collectively to the task of implementing the organisation’s strategy and goals and pay close attention to what’s going on around them.  
 
Mindfulness needs to permeate routines, processes and practices both between individuals and across teams. Some examples of how mindfulness can be used in practice:
 
  • Prepare in a practical way to manage difficult conversations or conflict situations, so that individuals respond appropriately and more effectively.
  • Gearing up for different types of business meetings or calls – whether it is sales, disciplinary, media interviews, presenting at a conference or other -  so that participants are fully present and communicate with clarity. 
  • Transitioning from one task to another, allowing people the space to mentally prepare, recharge and re-energise as they move from writing reports, meeting with peers, presenting documents, creating emails, producing articles/blogs, reading newsletters, or other tasks.
 
The reported benefits to organisations include improved well-being and resilience, stronger relationships and increased collaboration between individuals and teams, improved decision making, employee engagement, work-life balance and job satisfaction…to name a few!
 
In the current volatile and uncertain business climate, we at GS, see many public sector organisations embarking on significant transformation projects that require a more sophisticated repertoire of leadership behaviours and a more versatile style. Much is demanded of leaders - and future leaders - in the public sector, and our research has shown that there are typical competencies and behaviours that leaders will need to successfully demonstrate. These competencies form our leadership framework which focuses on three broad areas: 
 
  1. Focus on Self
  2. Focus on People
  3. Focus on Outcomes 
 
This leadership framework supports an organisation to think collectively, in a more mindful way, bringing stability and sustainability. Our leadership development programmes support an organisation to become more mindful by leading with tools that help leaders bring their best to their daily work, so that they can manage others and deliver the required outcomes in the most effective and efficient way. 
 
We advocate a holistic approach that places leadership behaviour and activity at the heart of the requirement, gets to the core of the underlying issues that impact the change, so that all HR and OD stakeholders are enabled to invest in a longer term, more sustainable solution. All this preparatory work will demonstrate that the organisation is not just paying lip service to the well-being of its workforce, by offering a few optional resilience or meditation events, but instead are embedding mindfulness into the culture.
 
To embed mindfulness as a multi-level concept is an innovative approach. It requires exploration and the investment of time in diagnosing the culture, appetite for renewal and the implications of continuing along the current line or failing to act. This groundwork will ensure the right approach is taken to make the necessary shift, identify the measure of impact and tangible behavioural change that is pivotal to delivery, otherwise such an ambitious programme will fail. 
 
If you are ready to explore the possibilities for your organisation to become more resilient and sustainable through this multi-level concept, contact Amanda Clarke on Amanda.Clarke@gatenbysanderson.com.