The founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, Janice Marturano believes that leaders “[...] are responsible for creating environments in which our colleagues are nurtured and energised, our organisations innovate and flourish, and our communities are respected and supported. It is a complex assignment in a world and global economy that measures time in Internet seconds. Our minds can become distracted by the urgent at the expense of the important and we can become so preoccupied with yesterday and tomorrow that we are no longer able to excel at leading in the present”.
But, what is Mindful Leadership? According to the Mindful Leadership Summit, Mindful Leadership is “about recognising that your leadership is in service to others. It’s about creating the space in your life to cultivate self-awareness, compassion, and leading with authenticity in a way that inspires others. Doing this, we can transform our own lives, our organisations, our communities – and the world”.
Mindfulness is a way of “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally”, as defined by Dr. Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. A simple exercise to begin practising mindfulness is to sit quietly and focused on your breathing for two minutes.
Historically, mindfulness has been used as a way to manage physical, psychological, and emotional pain without resorting to drugs, but in the last decade, mindfulness has been used inside companies to lower health costs, improve increase employee productivity, help employees stay “on task” and reduce employee stress through a combination of breathing techniques and mental relaxation.
According to Gloria Mark, professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, office workers are interrupted or self-interrupt every three minutes during the day, with distractions coming from both digital and human forms. In another study in the Wall Street Journal, published by Mark, reported that, on average, employees visit Facebook 21 times a day and check email 74 times. This is why mindfulness is becoming increasingly important for leaders in the digital age.
Several companies have invested in Mindfulness programs with their employees, resulting in “improvements in innovative thinking, communication skills and more appropriate reactions to stress” (UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School).
So, what does it take to be a Mindful Leader in the Digital Age? In her book Mindful Leadership, Juliet Adams exposes four areas in which the new Digital Age is reshaping leadership:
In this highly dynamic environment, it is paramount that the Leader is able to channel the right information to the right people, in the right place, and at the right time.
The ‘old’ leadership skills still remain important: commitment, focus, discipline, communication skills, and the ability to engage others with the wider organisational vision. Digital Leaders need a different combination of skills and attitudes to equip them to succeed in the Digital business world; skills such as emotional intelligence, authenticity, and mindfulness - the ability to be fully present - become vital for leading an organisation in the Digital Age.
In order to become mindful in times of information overload, a leader must take control of their organisation’s digital devices and be mindful of how their employees are making use of digital technology. Adams recommends the following six steps for focusing on getting a task done when one is being bombarded with information and attention demands:
Define your intention as clearly as possible
Focus your attention on things that will help you deliver on your intention
Become aware of the things that hijack your attention (suspend judgement as much as you can while you assimilate information to avoid getting sidetracked).
After you have all the information you need, make a decision about what to do next based on facts rather than the stories your mind had a tendency to generate.
Act on your decision in a timely manner.
Objectively evaluate the results (if they’re not as expected, re-evaluate starting at step 1).
Janice Marturano argues that the best leaders are those with bright minds and warm hearts: “they are people who want to make a difference. But they are also often overwhelmed by the complexity and speed of today’s world, and the environment of constant distractions (...) they look to ways to strengthen the mind’s innate capacities”. To learn to strengthen those mindful capacities, Marturano proposes four areas she calls the Fundamentals of Excellence: focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion. As leaders make training their minds as important as training their bodies, they begin to live their best life…a life that influences more often “for better” and less often “for worse”.
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