Business leaders embrace mindfulness

4 min

Working in Singapore I encounter a number of unique business challenges.

One of the most obvious ones is the need for business leaders to have a strategy for working across multiple time zones.

While most of my working day is conducted while my colleagues in the UK and US are asleep, it is not unusual for them to want to get hold of me when I am winding down for the evening.

Senior executives in the Asia Pacific business hub therefore have to be ready to handle requests from colleagues and clients at any time of the day – and night.

Without doubt, one of the biggest buzz words in Singapore at the moment is “mindfulness”. Indeed, one of the world’s leading experts, Jochen Reb, is the Director of the Mindfulness Initiative at Singapore Management University.

Jochen focusses on two critical areas: judgment and decision-making in organisations and the role of mindfulness in organisational contexts such as leadership and performance. He recently published Mindfulness in Organisations (Cambridge University Press), an edited volume bringing together other researchers with a focus on this growing workplace phenomenon.

Christine Comaford, the author of Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, is someone else who has written extensively on the subject.

Christine is a firm believer that improved leadership capability is often linked to a business leader’s willingness to practise mindfulness.

She has seen many examples of decision-makers who, prior to embracing mindfulness, had felt overwhelmed by the demands and expectations of their job.

In a recent Forbes article, Christine wrote: “We know we ‘shouldn’t’ get freaked out and anxious, we know staying present will enable us to find better solutions, we know we ‘should’ be getting a good night’s rest to tackle the situation with a fresh mind the next day, but we can’t always get there without help. We’ve been hijacked. Our patterns are in charge. We’re human.”

The concept of mindfulness has been around for quite some time, but one of the principal reasons it is now taking centre stage among the business community is the increasing evidence base to support its potential for good.

Researchers at the highly regarded John Hopkins University in the United States pored over 19,000 meditation studies and found almost 50 trials that met their rigorous scientific criteria.

The findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggested that mindfulness can help combat conditions such as anxiety and depression and improve sleeping patterns.

Writing in the Havard Business Review, academics and mindfulness experts Christina Congleton, Britta Holzel and Sara Lazar wrote: “Mindfulness should no longer be considered a ‘nice-to-have’ for executives. It’s a ‘must-have’, a way of keeping our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress.”

Mindfulness practices can range from daily meditation and prayer to writing diaries or going for a regular run on your own.

Mindfulness practitioners include the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of the Huffington Post.

Some of the biggest organisations in the world including Google and Goldman Sachs recognise the importance of building mindfulness into the workplace. Rasmus Hougaard, of the training organisation Potential Project, believes mindfulness training increases focus, performance, work/life balance and job satisfaction – quite a statement but one that does seem to be increasingly supported by the growing body of scientific data.

A note of caution, though, from David Brendel, an executive coach and psychiatrist based in the United States. David is not against the practice of mindfulness, but he is wary of what he describes in the Harvard Business Review as the “cult of mindfulness”.

He says: “My growing knowledge of (and enthusiasm for) mindfulness is now tempered by a concern about its potential excesses, as well as the risk that it’s crowding out other equally important models and strategies for managing stress, achieving peak performance and reaching professional and personal fulfilment.”

From my own experiences in Singapore and elsewhere and the increasing amount of column inches dedicated to the subject, it seems clear that mindfulness in a corporate environment is here to stay.

I have personally been practising mindfulness for the past two years. It requires a mind-set shift and an honest look at your mental wellbeing, both of which are easier to write than undertake. I can happily report that it is by far one of my better decisions and something I plan to continue in the years ahead.

Armstrong Craven is a global talent mapping and talent pipelining specialist with offices in the UK and Singapore.

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