|...but don't mention the B-word!|
From Management Today
By John Morrish Thursday, 31 May 2012
'Facing a tough economy and heavy workloads, strung-out managers are turning to a range of meditation techniques to help them keep their cool and become better bosses. John Morrish seeks out some headspace.
'Times are fraught, and overstretched executives are constantly on the lookout for a way to clear their minds so they can work in a calmer, more effective, and more responsive way. Cultivating a special state of consciousness called 'mindfulness' - an intense awareness of the here and now - is proving attractive to a growing number of senior managers, both in the US and here.
Mindfulness is achieved by meditation techniques, often involving sitting on a cushion, eyes closed, concentrating on the inflow and outflow of your breath. Or you might spend 10 minutes studying, sniffing, tasting and finally eating a piece of fruit. That might make it sound like a remnant of the hippy-dippy, navel-gazing 1960s and 1970s, but the evidence for mindfulness's effectiveness is good enough to have impressed hard-nosed companies such as Google (which has invited mindfulness gurus to speak at the Googleplex), General Mills, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deutsche Bank, Procter & Gamble, AstraZeneca, Apple, Credit Suisse, KPMG, Innocent, Reuters and many more.
According to Don McCormick, assistant professor of management at California State University and a dedicated meditator, it 'can help individuals to manage workplace stress, perform tasks more effectively, enhance self-awareness and self-regulation, experience work as more meaningful, improve workplace relationships, increase ethical behaviour, and make perception more accurate'. It is said to pay dividends for leaders and managers, by improving the quality of their listening and communicating.
Impressive claims, then. But what exactly is mindfulness? Michael Chaskalson, an experienced British mindfulness teacher and the author of a powerful little book called The Mindful Workplace (Wiley-Blackwell), says it is 'a way of paying attention to yourself, to others and to the world around you. And it's a quality of attention which is open, kindly and non-judgemental.' McCormick uses a mnemonic, Canape, when explaining it to his students: 'Concentrated Awareness of experience, Non-judgemental and Accepting in the Present moment, and characterised by Equanimity.' Hardly snappy, but it seems to work.
Business people who have taken up mindfulness meditation find it has helped them in different ways. David Huntley is one enthusiast. An actuary by profession, he has had a 25-year career in financial services, running the Australian and New Zealand businesses of Swiss Re and becoming head of Pearl Life after Pearl took over Resolution in 2008. Now he has a portfolio career, including coaching, working with a start-up business and taking on his first non-executive role. In 2006, newly back in Britain from Australia, he was introduced by his own business coach to Chaskalson. 'Within a week or so, I was sitting in a hotel room studying a raisin for 10 minutes, thinking, crikey, how much are we paying the guy?'
But he persisted with a range of meditation practices, including 'body-scanning', in which you focus on the sensations in various parts of your body, and 'sitting meditation', in which, initially, you focus all your attention on your breath. Something called the 'three-minute meditation' proved especially helpful. 'If I had a big meeting coming up, I'd nip into the gents and sit there and do it. I definitely felt calmer, more present and more centred.'
He liked it so much that earlier this year he went back for an eight-week course intended for business coaches. It has given him more focus, he says. 'I feel that I'm using a number of senses to be with clients, rather than just listening to what they say.'
Business, Huntley says, works at two levels: propositional and implicational. The propositional level is about setting out plans and projects; the implicational level is about what people think of each other, what people say about each other, how messages are received. 'So you've got this noise going on at this implicational level,' he says. 'Mindfulness has the capacity to calm that noise down and enable you to work more in the moment without that noise going on.'
While it may be a hot business trend, the roots of mindfulness go deep. It originated in the teachings of the Buddha 2,500 years ago, and similar ideas and practices are found in many religions. But the mindfulness being offered to business people is a secularised version, shorn of religious language, though many of its teachers it have Buddhist backgrounds.
Chaskalson has been a Buddhist since 1975. He created and ran an ethical import business before becoming a full-time mindfulness teacher. He teaches a course at Bangor University and runs a company offering business coaching.
He says: 'When you are better at working with your mind and mental states, things go better for you. If what you are after is greater emotional intelligence in your people, a greater capacity to empathise and connect with others and for them to regulate their own emotions, we know that mindfulness training will help.'
In the US, Michael Carroll, author of The Mindful Leader (Shambhala Publications), is a former Wall Street and Disney executive. Another Buddhist, he is a believer in a serious regime of practice 'on the cushion'. He emphasises that mindfulness is about being rather than doing.
'Business people are good at getting stuff done, meeting objectives, hitting the numbers, closing the deal. This is a different type of effort. It's not the effort of how to get somewhere, it's the effort of how to be somewhere. 'Out of that sense of presence and seeing clearly, we begin to notice that the social intelligence skills that we require begin to naturally manifest (themselves), because we are paying attention. We're listening to someone and we're resonating with their unspoken message, because we're not rushing past that to our goal.'
Reaching that state of calm is not always easy. Formal meditation can be boring and frustrating. You will probably fall asleep when you start. But all you have to do is keep doing it, it is said, to see its benefits permeating your daily life. In an analogy originated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, effectively the inventor of modern, secular mindfulness, it is better to weave your parachute before you jump out of the plane.
Kabat-Zinn is a medical scientist and a Buddhist. Creating a clinic at his Massachusetts hospital in 1979, he adapted the practice of mindfulness meditation from Buddhism, removed its religious trappings, and began using it in the treatment of chronic pain, then stress. Since then, mindfulness has been used for anxiety, depression - where it is recommended by Britain's NICE - sleeplessness, relationship problems, eating disorders and many more.
More recently, it has appeared in other areas. In the US, it has been used in education, in the prison and police services, by trial lawyers and even by marines heading for Iraq: the idea was to make them more resilient and able to cope with the extreme stress of battle.
Kabat-Zinn's background led him to insist that the benefits of mindfulness meditation should be measured scientifically: there are now hundreds of academic papers attesting to its worth. It is even claimed that after a standard Kabat-Zinn programme of eight two-hour sessions, held once a week and supported by daily homework, the brain itself expands in the areas associated with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
It's Dharma, Jim, but not as we know it.
So should Buddhist techniques of mind-management be presented without any reference to their origin?
Is this a form of plagiarism?
Or is it skillful means to sneak dharma-teachings into the secular establishment under the radar of the religion detectors? If people learn a little about meditation techniques, might they want to find out more?
- Sean Robsville