Do you have focus? I think being an executive in the health and human service space is a whole “different ballgame” than it was just a decade or two ago. I sit at my desk and run through the “big picture” items every executive is supposed to do—long-term vision, strategy, metrics-based performance management, employer of choice, new service line development, collaborations and partnerships, online presence, community relations, government relations, and the list goes on and on.
Multitasking is not an effective option—only 2% of humans are capable of actually multitasking (see Want To Be More Productive? Stop Multi-Tasking). But I’ve found that improving my mindfulness quotient is an effective technique.
Mindfulness is defined as complete awareness with non-judgment and full attention to the present moment (see Institute For Mindful Leadership: Definitions), by the Institute for Mindful Leadership. Although mindfulness as a management technique isn’t technically a “new” practice (see Mindfulness As A Management Technique Goes Back To At Least The 1970s), it’s not exactly widespread—especially in health and human service organizations. In a recent interview, Harriet Stein, President of Big Toe In The Water, provided some insight into why mindfulness is now seen as a critical skill for professionals to have:
It’s all about paying attention on purpose to this present moment with non-judgment. Mindfulness is not about changing who we are; instead it is about understanding who we are and accepting ourselves with compassion. This then leads to a life that is richer in the knowing.
I find mindfulness is important for the current executive because it enables me to manage these many important and often conflicting executive initiatives with serial concentration—completely focused on one task at a time.
For leaders, this often amounts to cultivating a leadership presence; leadership presence consists of focus and clarity and requires full nonjudgmental attention in the present moment—not the past or the future. Leading organizations have caught on and are starting to reap the benefits of mindfulness by implementing employee mindfulness programs.
Examples of large, well-known organizations adopting this approach includes Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” course which covers attention training, self-knowledge, and creating mental habits (see Here’s What Google Teaches Employees In Its ‘Search Inside Yourself’ Course); and Aetna’s “Viniyoga Stress Reduction” and “Mindfulness at Work” programs to help reduce stress and to improve reactions to stress (see Why Google, Target, and General Mills Are Investing in Mindfulness). And provider organizations have caught on too; earlier this year Washington’s King County announced a request for proposals for employee mindfulness training services (see Washington’s King County Seeks Employee Mindfulness Training Services). Some organizations have even used mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (see Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy Decreases PTSD Symptom Severity Among Veterans).
How exactly does mindfulness benefit health care provider organizations? As mindfulness influences attention, its effects span to cognitive and emotional functioning, functioning, behavior, and physiology—all of which have a key effect on workplace outcomes such as organizational and team performance, relationships, and physical and mental well-being (see Contemplating Mindfulness At Work: An Integrative Review).
Strategic thinking—The lives of executives, leaders, and employees are packed with different people, activities, and situations that drain energy (think of your last day with back-to-back meetings, deadlines, team performance management reports, and financial concerns). Each puts an intense demand on time, often leaving executives and employees distracted and physically and emotionally drained (see The Executive Body Is Business Relevant). There’s a lot going on in our heads at one time but thinking strategically requires being focused and fully present in the moment. Ms. Stein noted:
Mindfulness allows you to have the space to think strategically; not only is this critical for leaders, but it’s also important for frontline staff. Sometimes you may be in a meeting, and your body may be physically there, but your mind is not—you are thinking about what you must do after the meeting or “I should have sent that email.” You aren’t fully there, and you have no memory of what happened in the present meeting. You must give yourself the space to think and your performance and productivity will increase.
Engagement—Organizations spend a significant amount of time and resources attempting to increase employee engagement, but this rarely involves investing in mindfulness training and support. More recently, however, small organizations to large Fortune 500 companies are investing in programs for mindfulness for their employees. Aetna found that their mindfulness program lowered employee stress by 28% and improved productivity by 62 minutes per week; which is estimated to save about $3,000 per employee per year (see At Aetna, A CEO’s Management By Mantra). Ms. Stein noted:
How you are feeling in your body, noticing the story in your head, your mood, all affects how you perform. Mindfulness can be easily implemented for organizations that are looking to increase engagement in employees. The impact of Mindfulness on our lives has been closely studied in over 2,500 scientific papers and three decades worth of research. The instruction isn’t time consuming; for an organization, instruction can take place in one day, or multiple day workshops. Learning that even just eight minutes/day of formal practice has been found to have great benefits such as improving concentration and decreasing one’s wandering mind. It’s a powerful practice.
Personal health—The practice of mindfulness has a positive effect on health, both mentally and physically. Stress among executives and leaders has been frequently researched (see The Stressed Executive: Sources and Predictors of Stress Among Participants in an Executive Health Program), and chronic stress is also a well-known risk factor for medical disorders and diseases. The World Health Organization declared “stress” as the “health epidemic of the 21st century” (see Stress: Concepts, Definition and History). Ms. Stein noted:
Mindfulness involves understanding how our minds and bodies are closely connected. It is helpful to notice the relationship regarding how what we think and do impacts our energy. By giving yourself the space to pause during your day and notice, you decrease your stress and increase your mental clarity, which then impacts the functioning of your team.
Just as important as building up your competency in business strategy and marketing, is building up your competency in your personal health and well-being. Whether you are an executive leader directly serving frontline staff, or a frontline staff member directly serving consumers, mindfulness offers a powerful benefit. Or as a great quote from the Harvard Business Review article, In a Distracted World, Solitude is a Competitive Advantage summarized it— “Before you can lead others, the first person you must lead is yourself.”
For more on mindfulness and leadership, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Circle Library:
- Are You Practicing Mindfulness
- How “Fit” Is Your Executive Athlete?
- Great Leadership Is A Habit
- The Executive Body Is Business Relevant
- Leaders As Executive Athletes: Training To Take Your Performance To The Next Level
- What’s Your Leadership Strategy?
- What We Want From Our Leaders Is Different
- Staff Is Your Biggest Investment & Your Greatest Asset – Unless They Burnout
- Are You ‘Coachable’?
- Communicate Like A Leader
For more, join Ms. Stein for her workshop, “Mind Full Or Mindful? Tools & Techniques For Decluttering The Busy Leader’s Mind” at the upcoming 2019 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat on September 11 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.