Mindfulness as a leadership tool- the importance of being focused
In January 2014 Time Magazine featured The Mindful Revolution on its cover. In the same month, the Harvard Business Review’s cover story was The Focused Leader. Ancient practices, it seems, have become state-of-the art tools for business leaders.
American Ivy League schools such as Stanford and Harvard are putting mindfulness on the curriculum. And Stockholm School of Economics is introducing a course in being present for students on the Executive MBA program, offering tools for stress reduction and advice on how to stay focused.
And staying focused, according to the psychologist Daniel Coleman, turns out to be one of the most important leadership skills.
“Attention is the basis for the most essential of leadership skills – emotional, organizational and strategic intelligence,” says Daniel Goleman, author of the HBR article. “If leaders are to direct the attention of their employees towards strategy and innovation, they must first learn to focus their own attention, in three broad ways: on themselves, on others and on the wider world.”
Goleman argues that the ability to focus can be strengthened through systematic training – attention is like a muscle of the mind. And one way for executives to develop stronger focus is to practice mindfulness.
So why are business leaders putting their trust in mindfulness when it comes to dealing with contemporary business challenges? Recent scientific evidence offers an explanation.
Developments in neuroscience and magnetic resonance imaging have made it possible to show that mindfulness can help reduce stress and high blood pressure, positive effects that humans have known about for thousands of years. And a large part of the often sceptical business community has been convinced.
But mindfulness should not be reduced to an instrument for efficiency. Traditional mindfulness practice enables people to be present in the moment: not performing, not planning, and not anticipating long-term consequences and effects.
And when the practice of presence is widely promoted there is the risk that individuals are expected to take all the responsibility for coping with stress and problems generated by the organizations and systems in which they live and work.