Real and measurable benefits
According to research by Gallup carried out over two decades in 195 countries, managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement – e.g. through the manager’s engagement, behaviors as observed by team members and the manager’s natural talents.
Louise Cox Chester is Managing Director of the U.K. division of the Potential Project, which provides leadership and organizational effectiveness solutions based on mindfulness. She says there is a global movement to make corporations more people-centric as a way to achieve better results.
“Our research has shown that when leaders are mindful – i.e. both self-aware and aware of others – they also become more selfless and compassionate,” she says. For instance, they do not let egoistical impulses rule, but see the bigger picture, or they have the intent to be of benefit to others. This helps them enable a more people-centric leadership style, which then sets the tone or culture for the organization.
“The benefits of mindfulness to executives, employees and companies are real and measurable. Full presence enables leaders to make good decisions and forge trusting relationships,” says Chester, who was a contributor to the research for “The Mind of the Leader,” released in 2018 by Harvard Business Publishing.
Indeed, many companies are recognizing the benefits of mindfulness training as meditation becomes less associated with spirituality and more with neuroscience, it’s becoming more accepted as a practice for the workplace.
Health insurer Aetna and General Mills were among those companies that had programs early on, after Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, coined the term mindfulness and launched a wave of scientific research into its benefits. The list goes on: Goldman Sachs, Apple, Google and SAP all have programs.
Cloud computing company Salesforce opened meditation rooms on every floor of its San Francisco corporate office in 2016. And at fashion company Eileen Fisher, the company founder begins each meeting by holding a minute of silence. There are now even meditation sessions at the World Economic Forum summits at Davos.
The benefits to businesses are clear: Aetna, for example, reported that employees’ annual productivity rose by about $3,000 per person after they participated in a mindfulness training program.
And those benefits can be just as apparent when it comes to leadership.
In her role at the Potential Project, Chester recently implemented a program with the board of a financial services company in London, based on the idea that leadership starts in the minds of individuals. “Awareness of how we show up is the starting point. To lead effectively, we need awareness of self first, as well as our values, motivations and behaviors. Then we can engage with those we lead and the whole organization with full awareness.”