Imagine if, even for one second, you could press the pause button. For many leaders it may seem an absurd proposition – after all, we live in an incredibly complex and fast-paced world where 24/7 distractions, constant pressure and information overload have become accepted as ‘part of the job’.
But what if you were told that taking a brief moment to slow down – focusing solely on the task in hand, the person you’re talking to or the surroundings you’re moving in – is now the key differentiator between a leader who is able to simply survive and a leader who will thrive?
The answer is mindfulness. It’s likely you’ve heard the term – it is, after all, the latest buzzword in the executive vernacular. But this is far more than a fad. Inspired by the ancient Buddhist practice of paying attention with focus, clarity and discernment, mindfulness is revolutionising the way leaders approach their day-to-day activity.
Making business decisions on the basis of experience is outdated.Think you can multitask? Think again.
Faced with a relentless flood of information and distractions our brains are dealt the impossible task of processing everything simultaneously. It decreases efficiency, has a dramatic impact on effectiveness and drastically reduces productivity.
Today, the smart leader is slowing down in order to speed up. Mindfulness enables senior leaders to improve their focus, flexibility and adaptability in order to move beyond traditional ways of thinking.
As a result the world becomes open to new ways of understanding, leading, creating and innovating.
According to Rasmus Hougaard, author of One Second Ahead: EnhanceYour Performance at Work with Mindfulness, and Founder and Managing Director of The Potential Project – the global leading provider of corporate mindfulness programmes: “The new normal in business is an ever changing, globally interconnected and competitive reality.Traditional factors of knowledge, speed and experience no longer meet the demands. In fact, today they can become the factors that keep you stagnated in the status quo with a leadership style of yesterday.”
“Knowledge was foundation yesterday,” he continues.“But today’s leadership calls for minds that have high levels of clarity to embrace and penetrate the unparalleled complexity. Speed was the fuel of yesterday’s leadership… Speed doesn’t cut it any more. But a clear mind does. It helps you do the right things, instead of all the things that call on you.
“Experience was needed yesterday. But today it can put your business in the grave. For all the benefits of experience it also has a shadow: it can close your eyes and make you cognitively rigid. It can make you miss the overnight changes and make you fail because you see today with the glasses of yesterday.
"For Hougaard, leaders are living in an ‘attention economy’ where mental fitness is the defining competitive advantage. “It’s disrupting the whole paradigm that multitasking and running faster is a great thing. Level of focus now determines business and leadership performance, it is one of the foundation tools for leadership excellence,” he says.
“Clarity of mind is fundamental. It can be the quality that puts you a second ahead of others, in both thoughts and actions, and I’ve no doubt that it can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure.”
The proliferation of mindfulness throughout the corporate world is considerable.Google, Microsoft, Nike, Intel, American Express, General Electric, Sony and Transport for London, to name a few, provide mindfulness programmes for employees while Harvard Business School now includes mindfulness practices in its leadership programme.
Google’s ‘Search Inside Yourself’ mindfulness course, which started as an in-house offering for employees has become a globally recognised programme used by the likes of LinkedIn, AXA, Schlumberger, Ford and BAE Systems. It combines meditation practices with advanced neuroscience and technology to achieve resilience, a positive mindset and centred leadership.
According to its website: “Effective leadership isn’t about just checking off more tasks.It’s defined by how well we use our minds and interact with others.We need flexibility and clear purpose in the face of complexity… yet our workplaces are churning out burned out leaders who report little bandwidth for big-picture thinking, for innovation, truly understanding others and building strong culture.”
Hougaard, who through The Potential Project provides mindfulness programmes to Fortune 500 companies around the world, points to another example.“Steve Jobs was a regular meditator for more than 25 years of his life,” he says.
“He attributed his ability to think completely outside the box, and even Apple’s entire ethos of striving for total cutting edge innovation, to his practising mindfulness techniques.”
There is no secret. By taking the time to focus, to correctly direct attention and to approach work with the clarity and focus that mindfulness provides, leaders are now bringing all their capabilities to leadership.
Quite simply, it’s a must have. By stopping, taking a breath and focusing on the task ahead the smart leader will be able to buy themselves an extra second. And in today’s fast-paced executive landscape that may well be all you need to distance yourself from the competition.
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