By practicing mindfulness, leaders are likely to be more successful — especially in today’s business climate where workers around the world are dealing with heightened levels of stress and uncertainty.
No matter your age, stage or industry, when it comes to the workplace, everyone leads at some point. From managing the morning meeting to running a company of thousands, strong leadership, at various levels, is essential to any organization’s success. But just what makes an effective leader?
An increasing number of companies believe that mindfulness — a state of active, unbiased attention on the present — might be part of the answer. Salesforce, Google and Asana have all adopted mindfulness practices in key areas of their operations, and NYU’s Stern School of Business has been teaching mindfulness to MBAs for several years. Rakuten recently partnered with Singapore Management University (SMU) to conduct collaborative research on mindfulness. Considering the well-documented scientific benefits of meditation, these initiatives may be just the beginning.
We sat down with Udana Bandara, a Lead Scientist at Rakuten Institute of Technology in charge of the Wellness Research Program and a founder of the Rakuten Mindfulness Network. He explains how mindfulness can lead to a happier, healthier and more efficient work environment, whether employees interact with their colleagues in person or over a video conference.
1. Know yourself
When something isn’t working in your business, it can be tempting to change everything around you instead of looking within. But by using meditation and mindful practices, you can learn to see your surroundings more objectively. You can develop a greater awareness of your unconscious biases and react to both internal and external stimuli in an open and compassionate way — resulting in habits and actions that are less-automated and better-processed.
2. Listen deeply
From a very young age, we’re taught how to argue with each other logically. Often however, we overdo it, turning simple conversations into debates. When interacting with members of your team, make sure you listen without judging. Through mindful meditation, you will be able to understand the other person’s position more fully — focusing on the present instead of the many ‘what ifs.’
3. Be compassionate
Being empathetic is feeling what someone else does. Compassion takes things a step further. To be compassionate you must be empathetic, understand the situation for what it is and then use your actions to guide the other person in a positive way. Only through mindful listening can you lead compassionately.
4. Use nonviolent communication
Developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s, nonviolent communication is a process designed to help people “exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully.” Rosenberg’s method — now used in many situations from conflict negotiation to international business — is rooted in the belief that all people share the same basic needs. By communicating with your team members in a manner that facilitates cooperation and also makes interacting with you more satisfying to them, you will find your team becomes happier, more productive and more in sync.
5. Stick to the big picture
It’s also important to remember to care about everyone (those above, below and alongside you) and stick to the big picture. Thinking about everyone enables you to lead more honestly and compassionately, and also lets you make decisions on the basis of a broader outlook. With that perspective, you might see how even a short-term loss of ground can still become a win in the long-run. Every positive change in human society, no matter how small, ultimately contributes to the long-term win.
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* Article originally published December 29, 2016 and partially updated.