The time has come for mindfulness to join resourcefulness, decisiveness, persistence, resilience, and trustworthiness as an essential discipline of leadership.
If you want to motivate your stakeholders to do great things, especially as you reach across the generations, you need to add non-judgmental awareness of your own desires, needs, and aspirations and of those around you to your inventory of leadership skills. See Reflections blog: How to Practice Mindfulness Now Part 1.
Yes, motivation comes from creating clear goals, the right incentives, appropriate cultural norms, and clear accountabilities and responsibilities. But that’s not enough. Not today. Not in a world of increasingly impersonal encounters where hyper-mediation, information saturation, and polarization dominate our consciousness, crowding out time to reflect and consider the person sitting next to us.
Our stakeholders want to know that, as leaders, we care about them, not just the content they represent. They want to know that we value their opinions, worry about their feelings, and think, at least periodically, about what they need in order to achieve personal and professional fulfillment. We should do these things, the humanistic argument says. But a more pragmatic reason ties directly to achieving results—mindfulness enables you to create greater value, and mindlessness destroys it.
Whether you’re a leader in the commercial or the social sector, your organization is trying to create value—revenue from products or services, grants or donations from funders, or (increasingly) some of both. You use your excess earnings to create value for shareholders or produce a social good. In other words, you’re creating real income. There are longitudinal studies underway around the world to quantify the impact of mindfulness in those institutions where its practices have taken hold.
From my own experience I believe that the value of mindfulness comes in the form of something I call psychic income, which you create among your stakeholders. There are ways to stockpile reserves of psychic income in your organization that can materially, positively impact your performance, and I describe these approaches in a series of Reflections blog posts, starting with The Quiet Challenge of Social Sector Leadership: Creating Psychic Income, Part 1.
Here’s a quick diagnostic to help you determine whether the practice of mindfulness might be good for you and your business:
- Are you still processing what happened during your day at 3 o’clock in the morning? Or having trouble remembering what actually transpired in the many meetings you attended? Or feeling that you’re always having to talk, with no respite to just listen, or always having to listen without feeling free to talk?
- Do your meetings chronically run over? Do you spend much of your leadership team time talking past one another, processing endless agendas in duels of ideas that replay themselves over and over again without resolution?
- Do employee engagement and 360° feedback surveys tell you that your colleagues don’t believe their personal growth needs are being addressed despite your having formalized development plans in place, training for managers on coaching, and more time devoted to one-on-one meetings between supervisors and their staff?
- Are Millenials and Gen Zs voting with their feet as you struggle to reduce employee turnover among your most innovative talent because your systems, structures, and culture make them feel too confined or misunderstood?
- Is diversity—in all its manifestations, including thought diversity—still an aspiration rather than a reality? Have hiring strategies and employee awareness programs failed to make a difference?
- Are you seeing an uptick in mental health or chronic stress related conditions among your employees? Are corporate wellness programs showing lasting, positive results?
Across all these situations, absent-mindedness factors prominently. (The opposite of greater presence through mindfulness is greater absence.) Over time, these conditions erode and destroy value.
You may be leading your organization brilliantly by conventional standards, doing all the right things to remain competitive—producing the best products and services, building your brand, listening to the voice of the customer, investing in future growth, engaging your board, etc. But if your leadership doesn’t include bringing your organization into greater awareness through mindfulness practice, then you’re missing something.