Balanced approach is first step to being a better boss

There’s no doubt that having a clear mind can help you to respond more appropriately to situations in a much calmer and balanced way. It’s interesting to see that more and more senior managers are looking to meditation to help them gain this awareness as they struggle with  increasingly heavy workloads.

An article in Management Today took a look at this move in an article which shows the rising number of people looking at tools and techniques to help them operate better under the pressures they face both in the US as well as in the UK – indeed mindful meditation has caught the eye of many of many large companies including Google, General Mills, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deutsche Bank, Procter & Gamble, AstraZeneca, Apple, Credit Suisse, KPMG, Innocent, Reuters to name but a few. Here’s what the article had to say:

According to Don McCormick, assistant professor of management at California State University and a dedicated meditator, it ‘can help individuals to manage workplace stress, perform tasks more effectively, enhance self-awareness and self-regulation, experience work as more meaningful, improve workplace relationships, increase ethical behaviour, and make perception more accurate’. It is said to pay dividends for leaders and managers, by improving the quality of their listening and communicating.

Impressive claims, then. But what exactly is mindfulness? A Buddhist since 1975, Michael Chaskalson, an experienced British mindfulness teacher and the author of a powerful little book called The Mindful Workplace (Wiley-Blackwell), says it is ‘a way of paying attention to yourself, to others and to the world around you. And it’s a quality of attention which is open, kindly and non-judgemental.’ McCormick uses a mnemonic, Canape, when explaining it to his students: ‘Concentrated Awareness of experience, Non-judgemental and Accepting in the Present moment, and characterised by Equanimity.’ Hardly snappy, but it seems to work.

Business people who have taken up mindfulness meditation find it has helped them in different ways. David Huntley is one enthusiast. An actuary by profession, he has had a 25-year career in financial services, running the Australian and New Zealand businesses of Swiss Re and becoming head of Pearl Life after Pearl took over Resolution in 2008. Now he has a portfolio career, including coaching, working with a start-up business and taking on his first non-executive role. In 2006, newly back in Britain from Australia, he was introduced by his own business coach to Chaskalson. ‘Within a week or so, I was sitting in a hotel room studying a raisin for 10 minutes, thinking, crikey, how much are we paying the guy?

But he persisted with a range of meditation practices, including ‘body-scanning’, in which you focus on the sensations in various parts of your body, and ‘sitting meditation’, in which, initially, you focus all your attention on your breath. Something called the ‘three-minute meditation’ proved especially helpful. ‘If I had a big meeting coming up, I’d nip into the gents and sit there and do it. I definitely felt calmer, more present and more centred.’

He liked it so much that earlier this year he went back for an eight-week course intended for business coaches. It has given him more focus, he says. ‘I feel that I’m using a number of senses to be with clients, rather than just listening to what they say.’

Business, Huntley says, works at two levels: propositional and implicational. The propositional level is about setting out plans and projects; the implicational level is about what people think of each other, what people say about each other, how messages are received. ‘So you’ve got this noise going on at this implicational level,’ he says. ‘Mindfulness has the capacity to calm that noise down and enable you to work more in the moment without that noise going on.’

In the US, Michael Carroll, author of The Mindful Leader (Shambhala Publications), is a former Wall Street and Disney executive. Another Buddhist, he is a believer in a serious regime of practice ‘on the cushion’. He emphasises that mindfulness is about being rather than doing.

‘Business people are good at getting stuff done, meeting objectives, hitting the numbers, closing the deal. This is a different type of effort. It’s not the effort of how to get somewhere, it’s the effort of how to be somewhere. ‘Out of that sense of presence and seeing clearly, we begin to notice that the social intelligence skills that we require begin to naturally manifest (themselves), because we are paying attention. We’re listening to someone and we’re resonating with their unspoken message, because we’re not rushing past that to our goal.’

Andy Parsons is a pharmacologist and neuroscientist and a vice-president at GlaxoSmithKline. An internal coach at GSK, he says that for him mindfulness is about ‘being completely present and listening to what’s going on around you. Being truly present and mindful allows you to really focus without running scripts from past experiences.’

He took part in a Chaskalson-run course at GSK for internal coaches. Having taken the eight weeks of weekly formal practice, plus homework, he says he does his best to keep it up, without spending 40 minutes a day on the mat. ‘I try and involve it in whatever I’m doing on a day-to-day basis; while the computer’s booting up, I try to take a moment to focus on my breathing and put myself where I need to be for the day.’

Those who took the course with him have also taken from it what they need. ‘People tend to find their own way,’ Parsons explains. ‘It’s something people bring into their being.’

You can read the full article here or try Management Today’s 10-step mindful meditation below:

One common way of introducing mindfulness is through an eating meditation. Take several minutes over this exercise, devoting your whole attention to it. It demonstrates the essential mindfulness concept of concentrating on the evidence of your senses, in the here and now.

1. Take a single raisin and place it on the palm of your hand.

2. Feel the weight and structure of it on your hand. Become aware of its temperature.

3. Look carefully at it as if you have never seen anything like it before. Use your eyes to explore every part of it, its shape and texture, its hollows and ridges, its colours and the way light falls upon it.

4. Touch it, exploring its texture with your finger, perhaps with your eyes closed. Pick it up gently with your other hand, and feel the way it is made.

5. Place it under your nose, exploring its aroma and being aware of any sensations this produces in your mouth or stomach.

6. Bring the raisin to your mouth, noticing the precise movements of your hand and arm. Place it in your mouth and, without chewing, explore the sensation of it in your mouth and on your tongue.

7. Gently move it to your teeth and begin to chew slowly. Observe the texture of the raisin and the way its flavour is released. Note how the tastes change with each gentle bite, and the way your saliva flows. Keep chewing, slowly, until there is no longer anything to chew.

8. Be aware of the sensation of wanting to swallow, then swallow.

9. Feel the sensation as the raisin slips down your throat and into your stomach.

10. Ask yourself how your body feels now you have completed the exercise. What have you become aware of that you might not have noticed before?