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The Mindful Leader: Developing the capacity for resilience and collaboration in complex times through mindfulness practice
Many advocates of mindfulness training suggest that it can help leaders to be effective in the complex, dynamic and fast-paced context of the 21st century. Others deride the approach as a fad, pointing to a lack of evidence for its use in organizational and leadership contexts.
Certainly there has been, until now, scant robust research examining what the actual impact of mindfulness training with organizational leaders is, and we have been left with little idea about whether, why and how mindfulness practice might impact leadership effectiveness.
This report details the initial fi ndings of a multi-methods wait-list controlled study conducted with senior leaders who undertook an eight-week ‘Mindful Leader’ program using mindfulness training and practice, along with other elements of leadership development, to foster the capacities of collaboration, resilience and leading in complexity.
Our evidence suggests that the program was effective in developing these capacities and, crucially, our data shows that this effect was reliant on the extent of home practice undertaken. For example, those who practiced more experienced improved agility, perspective taking, emotional control and key measures of empathy. More specifi cally, those who practiced formal mindfulness meditations for ten minutes or more per day over the eight-week period that the program ran were signifi cantly more likely to experience an increase in their resilience and their overall mindfulness.
We also, however, established that finding even ten minutes to practice every day can be experienced as challenging by busy senior executives.
Based on our course-participant reports, we have formulated the beginnings of a theory of mindful leadership. We suggest that there are three fundamental, higher-order ‘meta-capacities’. They are: improved metacognitive capability (the ability to observe one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations in the moment) and the attitudes of allowing and curiosity. Between them, they create a ‘space’ which allows more mindful leaders to respond – as opposed to react – to events. This space, in turn, enables a range of cognitive and emotional skills such as focus, emotional regulation, empathy, adaptability and perspective taking, which are vital for successful leadership today. Applying these skills then results in improvements in capacities for resilience, collaboration and leading in complexity.
Our findings suggest that mindfulness practice should be considered an important and effective intervention in developing leadership capacity for the 21st century. But one should be under no illusion that it offers a ‘quick win’: sustained mindfulness practice of around ten minutes per day over eight weeks seems to be fundamental in achieving the desired results. This has signifi cant implications for those who are designing, delivering and participating in mindfulness training programs.
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