Developing mindful leaders takes more than colouring books

While mindfulness has been around for a few thousand years, it’s only very recently that it has been elevated to a corporate trend and commodified into a staggering selection of products.

Amidst all the hype and sales pitches, many organisations are missing the point of mindfulness and missing out on its most important benefits. Mindfulness is not just a tool for stress reduction; it can also be extremely powerful in developing more emotionally intelligent leaders, who form more successful working relationships and make better decisions.

In the corporate world, approaches towards cultivating mindful leadership have commonly been wildly tokenistic and doomed for failure. You can’t simply hand a manager a colouring book and hope they will chill out. Research shows that one-off training sessions, workshops and seminars also do little to shift behaviour.

Sadhbh Joyce is a psychologist, researcher and co-creator of the mindfulness based e-learning program RAW Mind Coach. She says “you wouldn’t expect someone to play Rachmaninov after one piano lesson. Mindfulness is a skill and as with all skills, it takes time and practise to develop.”

RAW Mind Coach was designed to allow for ongoing learning, practise and gradual skill development. Learners can complete ten short interactive training sessions at their own pace. The program provides an easy to comprehend introduction to mindfulness, explaining the science, whilst dispelling the common myths. Simple guided mindfulness exercises can also be played and downloaded to the learner’s own device, allowing for convenient regular practise.

Joyce says one of the most satisfying aspects of seeing the program rolled out, is the change it can produce amongst leaders. “While all workers can benefit from learning mindfulness, when leaders begin to embrace the practise, positive effects can flow throughout an organisation.”

Another common mistake organisations make is to provide staff members with a meditation app and expect it alone will bring about a large shift. Unfortunately, if learners are not equipped with a broader understanding and range of skills, exploring the inner world can prove particularly challenging and sometimes problematic. As part of RAW Mind Coach learners are taught to recognise their values, understand their emotions and respond to their inner world in a far less reactive manner.

Unfortunately, this more comprehensive form of mindfulness training is not yet widespread and as a result many bosses are simply not well equipped to deal with stressful situations. When these leaders are tangled up in feelings of stress, it’s common for the reactive part of their brains to start running the show. Suddenly small problems seem big and urgent. Options narrow and simplistic solutions are swiftly reached for. Rather than serve as a circuit breaker for stress, these leaders tend to amplify it and transmit it to others.

Mindful leaders tend to behave quite differently in stressful situations. Instead of immediately reacting, they pause and give their powerful frontal lobes a chance to address the problem. Doing so enables them to gain perspective, consider the consequences and make more rational decisions.

Better decisions are not the only benefit. Instead of spreading panic and anxiety, mindful leaders can cultivate an atmosphere of calmness and clarity. Workers in these environments are not walking on eggshells, constantly worried about how the boss will react. They are likely to feel less stressed and have fewer mental health symptoms. When you cultivate a more mindful working environment, employees are also likely to be more creative, more productive and more satisfied with their jobs.

5 Tips for developing mindful leaders

  1. One-off workshops may be of little benefit - to be effective, mindfulness training programs should focus on ongoing learning and skill development.
  2. You can teach old dogs new tricks – many people learn mindfulness later in life and find themselves wishing they had been taught the skills much earlier.
  3. How the skills are taught is important – just as a bad piano lesson could put you off the instrument, a poor introduction to mindfulness can create resistance.
  4. Mindfulness requires more than a meditation app – make sure the training you do equips leaders with the skills to successfully navigate their inner world.
  5. Look past the marketing hype – ensure any training is being provided by credible providers with appropriate experience and qualifications in psychology and workplace mental health.

Find out more

If you would like to discover more about RAW Mind Coach or register your interest please contact us.