Having just handed in my last assignment for the mental health course in my psychology degree, mental well-being and mindfulness have been at the forefront of my thoughts recently. Much of the course was on psychiatric disorders, but the two last chapters were devoted to positive psychology and mindfulness, particularly in the context of teams and organisations, which even in the traditionally disorder-focused area of scientific psychological research are getting an increased level of attention. So too with my customers, leaders in particular. In my last article I reported on my experience of a short mediation practice with a room full of leaders from a medium-sized online business in Hamburg and how positively they took in the meditation exercises.
Where many of my colleagues in leadership some years ago considered well-being something they could achieve by working harder or, if they made it out of the office, by heading directly to the bar, the awareness of the importance of ensuring a balance of time spent recharging and using energy, for leaders and teams, has grown exponentially since then. Where competitions seem to be the norm on who burned the midnight oil longer, more hours at the office do not necessarily mean more effective time spent at the office, and this seems to be arriving even in the most traditionally hierarchical of organizations.
In times of 24/7 digital inputs – if you choose to expose yourself to them – a leader’s ability to balance their time and energy by practicing mindfulness and focusing on what really adds value for their team and their business is of even more importance than ever. Leading by example here is key. If your teams see that you burn the candle at both ends and reward others who do so, they will be more likely to set aside what they might already have been doing in terms of mindfulness and mental well-being. Leaving many in your organization stretched to the limit and far away from working to their full potential.
Why practice mindfulness as a leader and with your team, you may ask? Because it works. Particularly meditation practice has been scientifically proven to change the areas of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress, as shown by a study performed by B. Hölzel of Giessen University and S. Lazar from Harvard, and confirmed by self-reported reductions in stress by the participants of the study. It has also been shown to be as effective as anti-depressant drugs in preventing relapses in depression by Zindel et al. (2013). And while the later may be more of more interest to psychologists, it shows the strength of mindfulness practice. And who would not want to be able to be at work with a strengthened sense of self, increased empathy and improved stress resistance?
Where can mindfulness and mental well-being help you as a leader? Firstly, for your own well-being. A well-known and often-quoted saying goes:
“If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t lead others.”
I have found this to be very true. If you cannot practice mindfulness with your needs and your focus as a leader, you cannot focus on what your teams need from you. Everyone’s energy has a limit and your teams will not benefit from your input, guidance, support or leadership if your reserves are depleted. Secondly, for the well-being of you and your team. Practice mindfulness with your team. That doesn’t mean you need to meditate with them, but if you want to, go for it! If you and your team don’t, lead by example, create opportunities to discuss about mental well-being and mindfulness, point out options to pursue the practice and keep a keen eye out for the tell-tale signs that that well-intended push for the deadline your team may be doing is within their achievable limits, stretching them but not over-extending the team’s capacities.
As I discussed with my participants in the leadership training on enabling self-organised teams: this starts with you. Your team can take the ball from you, if they see that you are behind this, enabling them to become more self-organised and convinced that self-organization is good for all of you, and you will be able to deal with any objections from a more balanced place. Playing that ball is much easier when you are at your best, and that is something that practicing mindfulness and working towards your mental well-being can do for you.
For those of you who want to know more about meditation and how it can benefit leaders and be done in a room full of suits, read my last article on exactly that.
You can achieve this is one-on-one leadership coaching for yourself and your business or in mindfulness training for your business, taking your teams with you on the journey, here in Hamburg, at your location or digitally around the world. If you have any questions, get in touch!
Achtsamkeit und Management der eigenen inneren Balance können Sie durch eins-zu-eins Business Coaching Prozesse für Sie als Führungskraft oder durch Achtsamkeits-Training für Ihre Organisation aufbauen, um sich gemeinsam mit Ihren Teams auf den Weg zu begeben, hier in Hamburg, bei Ihnen vor Ort, oder digital, rund um die Welt. Bei Fragen, melden Sie sich gerne!
Hölzel, B. K., Camody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191 (1), 36-43.
Zindel, V., Segal, J., Williams, M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2013). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. Second Edition. New York: Guildford Press.