Political and economic instability, climate change, globalisation, disruption, an unprecedented pace of change and overwhelming channels of communication – how can leaders stay focussed and make good decisions? Mindfulness can help. Research with a cohort of business leaders shows it enhances resilience, the capacity for collaboration and the ability to thrive in complex conditions – if they practice it regularly.
There have never been times like this for organisational leaders. Whether we look at markets, systems, climate, politics or technology, unpredictable disruption is the new normal. On top of this, leaders are called on to manage a wider range of relational networks than ever before and the systems in which they function are deeply and unpredictably complex. Under these conditions they have to facilitate co-operation, idea generation and decision-making – across geographical boundaries and across differing viewpoints, both inside and outside their organisations – while somehow staying on top of vast flows of information from emails, messaging, calls and meetings. To cap all of that, they must also, by some means, maintain a healthy family and social life.
In this maelstrom, leaders have to focus on their multiple tasks in hand while continuing to relate and work well with others.
To lead well today, to thrive in situations where it’s not possible to engineer or control outcomes, you have first of all to manage your own attention and your own emotional responses.
Successful leadership today depends on three key leadership capacities.
1. The capacity to collaborate with others.
2. The capacity for resilience.
3.The capacity to survive and thrive in complex contexts.
There is a growing consensus amongst management thinkers1 around these capacities, but to date there’s been no agreement on how one can best help executives to develop and sustain them. There has, until now, been little by way of researched evidence around the best method for doing this.
Our own recent research2 tells us that systematic mindfulness training and practice may offer a response.
About the Authors
Michael Chaskalson ([email protected]) is one of the pioneers of the application of mindfulness in leadership and in the workplace. He is the author of The Mindful Workplace (Wiley, 2011) and Mindfulness in Eight Weeks (Harper Thorsons, 2014). He is the CEO of Mindfulness Works Ltd., a mindfulness consultancy, and a Professor of Practice adjunct at Ashridge Business School.
Megan Reitz ([email protected]) is Professor of Leadership and Dialogue at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult Business School. She is the author of Dialogue in Organizations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Previously, she was a consultant with Deloitte; surfed the dot-com boom with boo.com; and worked in strategy consulting for The Kalchas Group, now the strategic arm of Computer Science Corporation.
1. see for example Barton, D., Grant, A. and Horn, M., (2012). Leading in the 21st Century. McKinsey Quarterly, June, available from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/leading_in_the_21st_century/leading_in_the_21st_century [accessed 5th January 2015]. See also Centre for Creative Leadership (2011), Future trends in leadership development: A white paper available from insights.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/futureTrends.pdf [accessed 10th May 2015].
3. Chiesa A. and Serretti A. (2009), “Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis”, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 15 No. 5, pp. 593–600.