Mindful Leader Programme

Never before in human history has our attention been such a contested arena. Everyone wants a piece of it. 

If you’re a leader, your people want your attention, the people you report to want it, your partner, family and friends want it. Your daily tasks need it; news apps want it; social media feeds are trying to hook it. Really smart people are paid lots of money to design and market AI driven apps that will capture your attention so it can be sold on to the highest bidder.

Everyone wants your attention and it’s harder and harder to make choices from moment to moment about how to deploy it. 

Learning to make smarter, more conscious choices about what you pay attention to and the attitude you bring to each act of attention is a key leadership skill. But how does it fit into the overall economy of leadership capacities?

That is a question that Michael and Megan set out to answer in a research project run at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School. In particular they wondered how, if at all, systematic mindfulness training embedded in a leadership development framework might affect three key leadership capacities: 

  • The capacity to collaborate with others
  • The capacity for resilience
  • The capacity to survive and thrive in complex contexts

They made an open invitation to organizational leaders in the Ashridge network to attend an 8-week Mindful Leader training at lower than usual cost in return for undertaking various psychometric surveys and taking part in post-course interviews. Just shy of 60 leaders responded and they were divided into two cohorts – an experiment group and a wait-list control group. 

Both groups attended three half-day workshops every two weeks and one final full day workshop. There was different content for each of the sessions, but they followed the same framework: tuition; practice and feedback around various mindfulness meditations and other exercises; specific discussions around the application of mindfulness to leadership contexts; feedback on home practice and the assignment of new home practice. 

What They Said

A post-programme survey, taken 12 weeks after completion, suggests that 93% of participants felt the programme had a significant positive impact on their resilience; 85% felt it positively impacted their capacity to collaborate; and 85% of recognized that it positively impacted their capacity to lead in complexity. 

75% of respondents said that they felt that the likelihood of their top rated impact being sustained was ‘great’ or ‘very great’ and 100% felt that the impact would be sustained to at least some extent.

Participants frequently spoke in their interviews about developing capacities that Megan and Michael came to speak of as AIM: Allowing, Inquiry and Meta-awareness.

Allowing is the open-hearted willingness to accept people and situations as they actually are, in reality. Not fruitlessly somehow wishing they were other than they are. ‘Allowing’ describes the attitude more mindful people bring to the way they pay attention.

Inquiry is an attitude of engaged curiosity and interest in whatever comes before you. ‘Inquiry’ describes the wholehearted willingness to show-up and be attentively engaged in each passing moment.

Meta-awareness is the ability to step ever so slightly back from the stream of your experience and see it for what it actually is. ‘Meta-awareness’ speaks to the view people who are more mindful take of what they pay attention to. They see thoughts as thoughts, for example. They don’t mistake them for facts.

Taken together, AIM creates a ‘space’ which allows more mindful leaders to respond – as opposed to react – to events. That space, in turn, enables a range of cognitive and emotional skills such as focus, emotional regulation, empathy, adaptability and perspective taking, which are vital for successful leadership today. 

Applying these skills then results in improvements in capacities for resilience, collaboration and leading in complexity. 

“In terms of resilience, it’s helped me personally – it does help my stress – you become aware of what your body’s doing at any one moment, and that’s very much a product of what’s going on in your thoughts and your emotional reactions to those.”

“I’m more fully present: bringing all of myself to any interaction. People at work have noticed that we have had richer conversations that have felt more human. I feel there’s been more connection, that’s what it is: more connection with people.”

“Previously I would have shied away from complexity. Now I approach problems – after taking a deep breath or 3! – with openness and curiosity. I approach problems or issues, rather than running away from them or ignoring them.”

“I had that kind of conscious decision of, rather than letting it all crash around me, ‘well everything can wait, get it back into perspective’.”

“I am less stressed by not having immediate solutions…better able to reflect and wait for the solution to arise.”“I talk at a thousand miles an hour, I have an agenda that is thirty points long, and I have been exhausting to be around when we’ve got a lot to do. I’ve really made a conscious effort to slow down, and take the time to, not so much just focus on the task, but recognise there’s a person in front of me, and they’re having their own experience.”

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