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Busy executive leaders often feel like there’s no room to slow down or unplug. The world moves fast, and the world of business goes even faster, especially in today’s globally interlinked and 24/7 trading culture. Yet the human brain wasn’t built as an “always on” tool – the mind requires regular periods of rest and refreshment to do its best work.
This reality – that brains need a break – is driving a movement to include mindfulness and other meditative practices in modern executive coaching curriculums. While these tools can’t fully replace unplugged vacations or even sabbaticals, they can help executives facing serious stress, modern anxiety, and burnout. These tangible benefits can even overcome past stereotypes of mindfulness as a bit too “woo woo” for the C-suite. In fact, adding mindfulness training to executive coaching programs can bring a number of benefits that often seriously improve executive outcomes.
The power of a calm mind
A leading factor in executive burnout is an inability to unplug. Even when not officially at work, leaders’ brains are often racing between incoming information, ongoing situations, and upcoming demands. These spinning wheels can actually diminish executives’ abilities to think clearly and create performance problems as individuals fixate on the wrong tasks or fail to correctly identify real business risks.
Mindfulness training provides a solution to this “always on” mental state by training executives to calm their racing thoughts and end certain less-than-helpful ruminations. It can create greater feelings of calmness and peace and lessen sensations of stress, worry, or anxiety. As a result, executives can feel more in control of their brains and mental state.
This new power – the ability to create a calm mind – can be a superpower in a world packed with triggering events. By lowering unnecessary stress responses, cognitive performance can improve as leaders learn to process new information without an emotional flare up. This can enhance feelings of personal well-being and even improve many interpersonal relationships for senior leaders.
The space to moderate responses
Along with calming executive minds, mindfulness meditation for business leaders can help create a better mental space for responding to current events. Many mortifying modern PR events are caused by tired, overworked, and above all, distracted executives tweeting, texting, or “hot mic” momenting when they ought to know better. By providing mindfulness training, boards and other developmental leaders can ensure senior executives do know how to stay aware and respond more appropriately.
Of course, it’s not just off the cuff moments where mindfulness makes a difference. According to Harvard Business Review, mindfulness training can also help executives maintain their poise and calm during stressful internal meetings and interpersonal situations. This helps increase the perceived quality of the leadership being provided, which in turn can help with retention, engagement, and employee happiness.
If those seem like long-tail outcomes for a bit of meditation work, remember that at many organizations, top talent is increasingly operating with one foot out the door. A manager or senior leader prone to outbursts or unable to emotionally lead in stressful situations is one more reason to leave… a reason that a minor coaching investment can eliminate.
The realization that process matters just as much as outcomes
A calmer mind… a more measured response… these are welcome benefits for many executives. However, a benefit that can go even further is the way that mindfulness demonstrates to executives that the process can matter just as much as the outcome.
Many, many organizations have a focus on “results first” when it comes to evaluating performance. This ignores a great deal of process pain that can be happening behind the scenes in the race to meet product launch deadlines, profit margins, or manufacturing metrics. With mindfulness training, executives are encouraged to examine what they’re causing to have happen around them, the consequences that flow out from their actions, and the alternatives to those actions.
Will this completely reform a toxic leader? Unlikely. However, it can make leaders more aware of how their instructions are creating both downstream and upstream consequences and open them up to exploring different approaches. This can create space for fresh innovations, allow others on the team to feel their voices are being heard, and create more focus on intermediate activities that may turn out to be opportunities for delegation or other process improvements that expand executive bandwidth at minimal cost. The end goal may still be achieved – and on time, too – but the path to get there could be greatly improved upon.
With executive training, coaches are working with high performers who may feel that they are under extraordinary amounts of pressure to hit deliverables or be “always on” for key clients. Relentless pursuit of specific goals or endlessly grinding away at business problems, though, is often counterproductive to long-term success. Instead, coaches can encourage executives to voluntarily opt for a different and more mindful approach.
With mindfulness and meditation, leaders can calm racing thoughts, learn to moderate their responses, and open up space to experience processes instead of just the outcomes. This can then translate to meaningful improvements in perceived stress levels, focus, and the quality of interpersonal relationships. These things directly contribute to an executive’s ability to perform on the job. Indeed, as executives improve their own capacity to be mindful over time, they may find that having layered this into their coaching experience offers lasting benefits that can be felt internally as well as seen in the bottom line.