To Be a Mindless Or Mindful Leader!

Mindfulness is a trendy word these days, and it's common to hear media and social media channels discussing corporates implementing mindfulness-like programs within their company. Usually we hear about software companies offering yoga classes, meditation sessions, free access to mindful software, healthy lunches, massages and countless other benefits.

At the end of the day, these are actually great tools or things that can really help one bring peace, slow down, relieve stress and make the employer more attractive to employees. Are these programs really mindful and create a culture of mindfulness though? The answer in my opinion is simply no! Although helpful as stress relievers, I have not seen one culture change completely as a result of these types of programs being implemented. 

What exactly is mindfulness and what does it mean in a business context, often called mindful leading or leadership? Google the word ‘mindfulness’ and you will find the most elegant definitions of the word, so elegant that it almost sounds too idyllic, broad in meaning, impossible to really achieve, exciting or maybe a bit boring to some. As Google encourages, you begin to click on different searches and you find thousands of training programs, more definitions, descriptions, opinions, blogs, mindful practice tips and resources, but nothing that gives a really clear path to understanding how mindfulness fits or changes a corporate culture. I call this information overload, and it shows exactly how easy it can be to lose focus from your original topic (especially if you transition to Instagram or Facebook). 

The longest journey you will ever take is the eighteen inches between your head and your heart! Integrating your head with your heart is truly the essence of what mindful leadership is all about.
— Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh

To actually explain the meaning of the term "mindful leading", or "mindfulness at work", I thought it would be easier to describe the opposite of it, through typical work situation examples. These examples should relate well to people in the corporate world, as they are considered the norm from work I have done across many organisations across the world. However, in each situation below, you can clearly imagine what the opposite of the situation would be and hopefully see how it could help create a better culture (and of course mindful one).  

How do you know if your workplace culture one is one that is mindless or mindful? 
If you can agree with even a few of the statements below, there is a pretty solid chance that either you or your workplace has low levels of mindfulness incorporated in it. 

  • Your communication with your manager can sometimes remind you of scenes from the movie Ghost. You can see your manager, but are they REALLY there?  How engaged or present and are they, and are they truly hearing what I'm saying?
  • It's common to hear the phrases, "I'm swamped, too busy, or just back to back in meetings today" from your co-workers. 
  • The ‘first to arrive’ and ‘last to leave’ are elements of the organisation politics that exist, or are at least perceived to exist. 
  • Meetings happen, to sometimes just happen. Was there any value from the meeting or did we accomplish or decide anything as a result of that meeting? 
  • Eating lunches at desks are daily rituals you see.
  • When you finish your ‘to do list’ for the day or week, it grows back to the same size within minutes of thinking about what’s next. 
  • About this ‘to do list’, you get such a high satisfaction when you cross something off it. You might find yourself writing a task that you have already completed, just to feel the sensation of marking it complete. 
  • You could have 2 to 5+ projects on at once, as multitasking is the norm. This excludes the other things we do, such as eavesdropping on co-workers conversations, texting, phone calls, background music, creating a shopping list, or the twenty other things that we tend to do at the same time.
  • You’re targeted with many KPI's, and some of those objectives or goals are almost impossible to achieve... but you still try as you have to "be seen to be doing the impossible"…  
  • You can be guilty of emailing or using your office phone to call a co-worker that is less than a few meters away from you. 
  • You are expected to take on additional work (your manager might call it a "development plan"), without releasing you from some of your existing or other work, and usually (although not relevant to mindfulness) without a pay increase. 
  • After you leave work, your mind is still there....  holding onto work ideas, conversations or things that you didn't finish. 
  • You’re out to dinner with your family or friends, food shopping, or maybe at the gym, and your mind continues to act like a hamster on a wheel (let’s call him Larry).
  • In order to slow down Larry, you need to log into your inbox to write notes, respond to emails, and complete forgotten tasks before heading to bed. This generally happens for the majority of the week. 
  • Larry the hamster is still using his wheel as you try to fall asleep at night and he is still going strong when you do actually wake up in the morning, especially if you’re one of those people who read emails on their phone before you even get out of bed.  

Now that you have seen this giant list of what could be a hundred more examples of mindless working, hopefully you can begin to see and realise how damaging this way of working can be to your health and overall well-being.  However, free massages and your company’s yoga class are still there for you... as long as it's out of work hours or during your lunch and you’re caught up on all work (although we would never admit that).  

When you work mindfully, you can see that having presence, clarity, focus, and patience are valuable traits. They would make you more productive in the bigger picture or give you a better outcome on a project. I feel the biggest reward of mindful working is how much more happiness it brings to your life, how much healthier you will feel, positive sleeping patterns and potentially how much more confident you will be. 

The corporate culture is designed to reflect ways that allow it to be the most profitable (more with less, more innovation then its competitors, higher levels of service, etc.). These behaviours are encouraged and often rewarded at the expense of our well-being. These cultural elements have been around for a long time and strengthened during the last financial crises. It's no wonder the ‘mindless worker’ exists. In many ways, I feel the corporate culture has been one of the biggest causes of our society’s high level of un-healthiness. It's exactly why we all have ‘little Larry’s running around in our heads’.

Mindless working... it’s like attempting to win a race but having to carry twenty loose oranges at the same time. Every time you drop one, you have to pick it up as you make your way to the finish line. Those with fewer oranges in their hands will get there quicker and most likely figure out an easier way to get there.

There are countless articles and books containing tips, methods, ideas and solutions to help you become more mindful at work or in life, so I will avoid mentioning them here, allowing you to search the mindless field of mindfulness solutions that exist. However, what I do want to point out is that practicing mindfulness, or becoming more of a mindful leader, is a practice and journey. There is no switch to just turn it on or off. It's very similar to creating any new habit - practice/doing, practice/doing and more practice/doing until it becomes ingrained in you and replaces an old habit.

Lastly, becoming more mindful at work is only half, or in some cases three-quarters of the battle, as your organisation and its leadership need to become more mindful first, or at the same time as you. We all know that a misalignment between your behaviours and your organisation’s behaviours can lead to performance issues or management clashes, which is why these negative corporate politics came into existence in the first place. 

I'm now officially inspired to begin work in this area and create my own mindful leadership training for executives, leaders and managers. In order to change the way our corporate cultures are programmed, we need to change the culture of the executives, managers and leaders first.

To leave you with something practical, here is a list of what I consider the behaviours of leaders and their organisations that positively promote a culture of mindful leadership and mindful working:

Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and in motivating them toward shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles.
— William George

1.     Is Present and Courageous at work and life
2.     Is Authentic and Self Accountable
3.     Compassionate and Emotionally Intelligent (EQ)
4.     Creatively driven and Open to all and any possibility
5.     Creates Balance between work and life and demonstrates Equal prioritisation 

For more information, questions, or to express interest in my mindfulness work, please get in contact.