Updated: Mar 4, 2020
I’m passionate about the topic of mindful leadership, as I realized during the past years in my role as a technology leader in large organizations, its full potential and positive impact in terms of creating a purposeful work environment, which leads to happier employees, as well as increased and long-lasting sustainable positive business results for the company.
Most of us intuitively agree that mindfulness programs and initiatives are helpful for organizations, but I’ll make a case in this article that
"Mindfulness in organizations is not merely a “nice to have” feature, but a crucial foundation for the long-term success of an organisation."
It is literally a matter of „evolve or die“ — either organizations work towards becoming a conscious business or eventually dissolve.
This is why I think this is a highly likely scenario:
Mindfulness became a growing 1 Billion Dollar industry in 2015.
There is evidence that demonstrates a measurable benefit for organizations to its financial bottom line, and confirms that mindfulness positively impacts business results.
However, a lack of mindfulness in an organization leads to a toxic work environment, and will not attract top talent. If a company is not able to attract and retain top talent, it will not be able to compete with other companies adopting these principles.
The employee culture of an organization is significantly shaped by their leadership team.
Therefore a leadership team embodying the Mindfulness Leadership Principles creates the necessary foundation for a conscious business to thrive and achieve sustainable success for the long-term, whereas a non-mindful leadership team will achieve the opposite and prevent an organization from becoming world-class.
A conscious business internally works on the principles of collaboration instead of competition, which means less friction, faster, and higher quality decisions. Harmony is the glue that creates a purposeful work environment, where innovation can flourish.
It is therefore a very likely scenario that those organizations with one or a few mindful leaders will become more successful in the long-term, outperforming those businesses without enough mindful leadership. Darwin‘s law of Natural selection has shown us the consequences.
Is Mindfulness really paying off for Businesses or just a fancy Trend to look Modern?
Mindfulness itself is a fast growing industry and provides sizable business opportunities.
For example, the non-profit Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, a mindfulness training program incubated at Google, grew revenue more than 50% in 2015 by offering two-day workshops (up to $35,000 for 50 people) to dozens of other Fortune 500 companies, including Ford and American Express.
Similarly if we look at the success of Mindvalley, a novel education platform to increase global consciousness started out a few years as an idea of Vishen Lakhiani, now highly successful with 200+ employees and 500.000+ subscribers worldwide.
In a recent article “Why SAP is helping its employees and customers be more mindful”, Peter Bostelmann, director of the Global Mindfulness Practice at SAP, has investigated the impact on employees and also its business performance. They concluded that a mindfulness practice leads to improved well-being, satisfaction, focus, and lower stress levels during the workday. To validate this they have obtained survey data during 2014/2015 from 650 participants, which shows a double-digit increase on each of these dimensions after 6 months of participating in their mindfulness program (already showing a strong impact just after 4 weeks!)
They were also able to measure concrete business impact in SAP through the increase in their Employee Health Index and the reduction in staff sick leave. SAP’s operating profit increases by €50 million to €60 million for every percentage point increase in the Employee Engagement Index. In addition, they also measured the impact of their mindfulness program once a year through a Business Health Culture Index, where one percentage point increase raises profit by €85 million to €95 million. In general Peter Bostelmann states that they see a 200% ROI for every dollar invested into Mindfulness programs.
The Importance of a Mindful Leadership Mindset
Based on gathered anecdotal evidence consciousness on this planet is rising at least linearly. Especially in the past five years we can observe an increase in companies who are embracing mindfulness programs, and employees are more than ever looking for purpose in their work and everything they do. To attract the best talent, companies need to therefore quickly transform themselves into a conscious business. Many of the Fortune 500 companies have understood this necessity and established mindfulness to some extend already into their culture.
As we know the leaders of an organization have a tremendous impact by shaping a company’s culture. Now imagine, if you could amplify the business impact by fostering a mindfulness leadership mindset in the organisation, which would be felt everywhere, and cascading all the way into the teams, impacting all employees.
Having mindful leaders in the organization would also potentially lead to increased wisdom, different business decisions, improved communication and collaboration across different departments, while decreasing internal competition, thus enabling the organisation to move much faster with less friction. I suspect therefore the impact to the business could be enormous.
Increasing Mindfulness in the Leadership Team requires conscious Effort and Training
Leaders can train and develop a mindful leadership mindset by applying and living the Mindfulness Leadership Principles. I observed that these principles are easy to understand, but hard to follow without sufficient training of the mind. More companies nowadays offer mindfulness trainings (i.e., MBSR, Search Inside Yourself) to their employees, but in my experience there is a lack of a systematic and standardized mindfulness leadership training that emphasizes specific leadership aspects (like making decisions, adaptability, visioning, strategic thinking, achieving clarity, and defining purpose).
What is a Conscious Business?
I mentioned the term “conscious business” already above - but what is a conscious business?
The idea of a “conscious business” dates back more than 40 years ago, where Anita Roddick pioneered the conscious business movement with her company, The Body Shop in 1976. A conscious business seeks to benefit both the external livelihood as well as the internal lives of its shareholders and employees. A conscious business will seek to minimize its impact on the environment, and replenish the environment where it is able.
As there are many aspects to forming and building up a conscious business, I would like to focus here on the aspects of a required mindful leadership mindset within a conscious business, and how it impacts the company culture, provides purpose to its employees, and therefore enables a culture of collaboration rather than competition, which is a seeding place for innovation and great products.
“Mindful leadership is therefore one of the most important asset and ingredient during an organization's journey to transforming into a conscious business.”
It all begins with the Team Lead …
Larger companies usually run quarterly surveys on employee satisfaction. Results typically show various aspects of leadership impact and can be broken down to all organizational levels. I noticed that at the foundation for success on various dimensions is the team lead, who has the strongest direct impact on employees, as this person is closely working and interacting with the team(s) on a daily basis.
Unfortunately many teams leads are quite junior or have just recently been promoted into management. They often have good intentions, but lack experience. On the next department level, we have leaders who are managing team leads, and on top of this usually is a senior management layer with Directors or VPs who are managing larger business units and departments. There is a cascading effect of a leadership mindset from the most senior leader, to the department lead, and down eventually to the team lead.
“As the company is just an artificial construct on paper, it is ultimately represented through its leadership team and employees.”
If the leadership team has not sufficient level of consciousness, the situation in the company can become quickly quite toxic (e.g., see an revealing article on Amazon). In my role as a leader in the workplace I noticed that too many people are guided by their egos, sometimes engaging in political battles about increasing their influence, and no clear purpose of why they are doing what they are doing at work every day. Their primary motivation usually is rising in the ranks through the career ladder, as this is associated with more monetary rewards and power.
As explained in “The Mindful Leadership Mindset”, traditional management training in companies is insufficient to address this and focuses mostly on training of certain skills and capabilities. In addition, based on the company culture there may not be sufficient priority on coaching, which decreases mentoring opportunities, and possibly not enough experienced leaders exists in organisations with an emphasis of mindfulness and present awareness. I hope with my work I can contribute to a positive change.
To sum up:
It all starts with the mindset of the leader, who possesses enough present awareness to look through the daily power games and chaos created by all the "egos" at work, where each person wants to succeed, but wants to achieve it in a non mindful and competing manner that usually results in fear, frustration, and stress for all people involved.
Building up a mindfulness leadership mindset requires continuous training of the mind, which is a prerequisite for applying and living the mindfulness leadership principles.
Therefore the mindfulness leadership mindset plays an important role for an organization on their journey to becoming a conscious business.
It is therefore a very likely scenario that becoming a conscious business is not a nice-to-have feature for an organization but critical to survive in the long-term.
One of my goals therefore is to help increase the level of consciousness in organizations by instilling and fostering a mindful leadership mindset, to amplify the impact of traditional mindfulness programs.