Can mindfulness help us become human-centred leaders?
Only 15% of the worldwide workforce feels engaged in their job, according to data from Gallup. Lower personal productivity becomes an obvious consequence and this can severely impact company success. Organisations such as Google, Netflix, and the UN are trying to tackle this by investing in management training programs to teach their next generation of leaders the soft skills that will strengthen company culture in the future.
More than ever, self-awareness and empathy are seen as valuable traits for authentic leadership, whilst self-interested and top-down leaders come across as dinosaurs in comparison.
A culture of collaboration, led by management, fosters the conditions that enable employees to live up to their creative potential, helping them feel safe to take risks and bring about innovation.
Think of a manager, mentor or co-worker who has had a meaningful impact on your career. Now think of their personality traits and how they supported your growth. Perhaps you appreciate their ability to inspire and motivate, how they promote teamwork, communicate powerfully or listen attentively and display integrity?
In the leadership world these individuals are known as human-centred leaders, due to their ability to empathise with employees, partners or customers by understanding their needs and truly caring about presenting solutions. They are not necessarily people pleasers. Their sincere motivation is to see you, and the business, flourish.
This is a much more powerful trait than simply being ‘nice’. A thoughtful way of being, human-centred leaders influence and inspire their team to go beyond the extra mile.
Improvement at every level of an organisation starts with self-development and the good news is that we can all develop our ability to become human-centred leaders independent of our job title, field of work or specialisation.
The reason cutting-edge companies are offering this intrapersonal based training is that most of us do not learn how to manage ourselves at school or university. So how can we be expected to manage others?
This is where mindfulness comes in, teaching us how to observe our thoughts, emotions, and feelings so we can understand ourselves and transform our behaviour. These contemplative practices train our minds to be stable, to focus our attention more efficiently and remain calm at challenging times.
According to Bill George, a professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, “the main business case for meditation is that if you are fully present on the job, you will be more effective. As a leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people”.
Think of this logical system of practices as a set of tools and inner-technology that enhances your ability to think clearly, decreases stress and reminds you how to act in a more human manner. This is key for human-centred leaders.
Any sceptical leaders out there preferring to leave mental training out of their agenda are missing a major competitive advantage.
SAP, one of the most successful software companies, with over 400,000 customers globally, has employee well-being as key to their business strategy, implementing a series of physical and mental health initiatives that have been strongly linked to the company’s incredible financial success.
According to the SAP Integrated Report, the well-being efforts improved its Business Health Culture Index from 69 percent in 2013 to 78 percent in 2018, with each incremental 1 percent change on the index leading to approximately $100 Million on its operating profit. More details on the case study can be read in this article at Forbes.
Peter Bostelmann, SAP’s director of global mindfulness practice, shares in his TEDx talk how meditation has enhanced his own ability to work under pressure and how a two-day neuroscience, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness-based program called Search Inside Yourself (SIY) has increased employee engagement and delivered a return on investment of over 200 percent.
This case study shows that we need a new inner strength to deal with a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous reality and according to Todd Pierce, former executive vice president of US software firm, Salesforce, “Mindfulness is a super-skill that brings the best out of people”.
Practicing mindfulness is simple and can be undertaken at any time. All we need to do is to have something to anchor our full attention to what is happening right here, right now. One of the ways we do this is by simply bringing our attention to our breath.
This two-minute audio guided meditation is a great resource to have at any moment you need to bring your body and mind to the present.
Once you’ve created the habit to pause, you realise how these precious seconds of peace give you perspective, and how powerful this simple practice can be.
We all know that a cluttered mind has no space for deep thinking, therefore once the mind is quiet and calm we are able to reflect on the impact we have on others.
I leave you with three questions that are key for human-centred leaders to always hold dear:
- How can I be a better listener?
- How can I make team members feel they can take risks and be vulnerable in front of others?
- How can I show my team members that their work matters and creates change?
For the next article in this series, we will explore more accessible ways to incorporate mindfulness at work.
Natalia Bojanic is a former PR director who left the corporate world to follow her passion for self-improvement and wellness.
Alongside running and expanding the disruptive startup, Form, she is also a qualified meditation teacher who has studied with Buddhist monks and nuns, and been certified by the Google-developed Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.