samedi 21 décembre 2013

Mindfulness - The Golden egg at the heart of soft skills development

Posted on 14 October

Mindfulness - The Golden egg at the heart of soft skills development
Many leaders are running on autopilot.  The constant demands of their roles build strong patterns in how they pay attention, and in their typical responses.  While these often serve them well, this can reduce their recognition of, and responsiveness to new and challenging situations.
Great leaders are typically good at creating the space to reflect, and to be able to select from a wider range of responses to situations.  If we can take greater command of our thoughts and self-talk we can increase our capability to develop creative solutions to complex problems more effectively.  Mastery of this competence can transform a person from an exceptional technical thinker into a better performer all round.
In this article we will explore what mindfulness is, and take a look at how the Mindfulness “industry” is evolving.  We will look at how Mindfulness Practices have recently established a strong credibility in the Health field, and are now gaining traction in organisations operating at the forefront of Leadership Development. 
In particular we will examine how Mindfulness impacts on three areas of particular importance to organisational leaders: 
  • Strategic decision making
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Emotional intelligence
We will examine what is actually happening in a couple of case study Organisations which have been encouraging Mindfulness practices for some time and examine the impact this is having on their leadership community, and on organisational outcomes achieved.
In conclusion, we will provide a summary of the current status of mindfulness in the world of soft skill development, and signpost areas for ongoing exploration and experimentation.
Defining Mindfulness and its benefits
So what is Mindfulness?  It is basically about bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis, without judgement. 
Initially it came from teachings from Eastern cultures, particularly Buddhist traditions.  Mindfulness is one of the eight constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path taught by The Buddha in founding Buddhism almost 2,500 years ago.  However, it is often taught now independently of religious or cultural connotations.  In the late 1970’s an American Doctor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, attending a retreat led by Buddist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, saw the potential of mindfulness for the treatment of chronic medical conditions.  Kabat-Zinn later adapted Hanh’s teachings on mindfulness into a structured eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course which has been validated as a clinical intervention.
Pyschotherapists have adapted and developed mindfulness techniques, using them in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioural Techniques with successful outcomes.
In 2013 Mindfulness is becoming increasingly talked about and understood.  Mindfulness practitioners, including Buddist monks, are popping up everywhere to teach mindfulness to Leaders in business, to children in school, to depressed people, stressed people, to anyone who wants it.  Recognised programmes, such as John Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR, are now recommended in National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) Health
Guidelines in the UK[1], and there is rapid growth in accreditation programmes for practitioners and trainers in the field.  There are over 200 apps on the I-phone for mindfulness, with this number rising every month.  There are over 3000 books available about Mindfulness.
Now that the cost of doing MRI scans is coming down, more research is being done into the impact of mindfulness on brain size, activity and changes.  It is a very exciting time in neuroscience.
Yet what is so difficult about Mindfulness that it needs so many books, apps and accredited programmes?  At its essence, it is basically a simple technique that involves breathing, and focusing only on that breathing, being entirely present in that moment, and accepting thoughts, feelings that come by, and letting them pass on by without judgement.  Variations can include paying attention to what is going on in various parts of your body, in turn, or in paying attention only to the immediate task in hand.  Some people develop mindfulness because pursuits such as regularly playing a musical instrument can foster it. However, it is usually learned through a mixture of guided instruction and personal practice.  Learning how to do it is easy, and basic practices can be introduced and taught in minutes.
What is much very harder is to make mindfulness practice a regular habit.  To create the time for even a few minutes of mindfulness in a busy day can be very challenging.  Mindfulness is often boring, and while doing it, it is easy to think of something that needs doing that gives a good reason to step away from it.  Like exercise, it is through practice and repetition that real benefits build.  Mindfulness is like exercising the muscles of the brain, yet it is a very easy exercise to skive off.
That said, Mindfulness has established a strong credibility in the Health field.  Since 2009 it has been written into the NICE guidelines for treatment of depression to which UK clinicians now turn for most up to date recommendations on treatment.  Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is specifically recommended for people who are currently well, but have experienced three or more previous episodes of depression.  Interestingly, the “dosage” size is also quite precisely spelt out in the NICE guidelines – 8 weeks worth of 2 hour sessions plus 4 follow up sessions over the following year.
Experiments with school children using Mindfulness in the classroom also suggest a reduction in symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorders[2].  There is more to be explored around the Health impact of mindfulness, and researchers have commented that because of the focused nature of medical trials, there are likely to be wider potential benefits that have not yet been noticed. 
The use of mindfulness techniques in the field of sports further adds to their credibility.  Dr Steve Peters who coached the Team GB Cyclists to astonishing success in the London 2012 Olympics has mindfulness concepts at the heart of his approach.[3]
The credibility from the Health field is, however, making it easier for Mindfulness to gain acceptability in the field of management and leadership development.  There are many parallels between the benefits seen from Mindfulness practice, and the competencies that organisations want to see in their leaders, particularly in the constantly changing world of
organisation life today.  The list of large organisations at the forefront of Leadership Development who have run or who are running mindfulness programmes in the workplace is a long one.  It includes Google, General Mills, AOL Timer Warner, Apple, Astrazeneca, BT, Deutsche Bank, IBM, McKinsey, Procter and Gamble, Reebok, Transport for London and many others[4].  Although often positioned to support employees with reducing stress, other benefits are also frequently noticed.  For example Transport For London offered a six week group stress reduction workshop.  Teaching mindfulness techniques alongside psycho-education and cognitive behavioural therapy, the number of days off for stress from those attending the course fell by 71% over the following 3 years.  Absences for all conditions fell by 50% over that time.  In addition, 80% of participants reported improvements in their relationships, 79% improvements in their ability to relax, 64% improvements in sleep patterns, and 53% improvements in happiness at work.[5]
Transport For London – outcomes from Mindfulness Programme[6]

So Mindfulness clearly has positive benefits for the stressed, the depressed, and for children with poor attention.  We will now turn our focus to the business leader.  Many leadership competencies include relationship skills, strategic decision making, and innovation.  What impact does mindfulness have on these?  Let us examine each in turn.
Strategic decision making
Specific research into the impact of the 8 week MBSR programme suggests that the programme increases the grey matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning, memory processes, and crucially, perspective taking.[7] [8] [9] [10] It can help people to see situations from a broader or bigger perspective.  Amazingly, it has also been shown to help people develop the ability to set aside their personal agenda and focus on the wider agenda.[11] [12] [13] [14]
In addition, when compared with a control group, those people who practiced meditation activated a different network of brain areas which helped them to make more rational decisions.[15]  Mindfulness practice also helped people let go of judgements[16] [17], which aided decision making.  It reduced rigidity of thinking, and lessened the tendency to be blinded by experience and thus overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding.[18]
 
Innovation and creativity
Various experiments have demonstrated that participants who have had mindfulness training or practice demonstrate greater lateral thinking problem solving ability.[19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25]They also show a greater propensity to come up with more creative ideas during divergent thinking activities[26].  They typically showed greater flexibility in shifting their thinking process, and more awareness of the thinking process being used at any time[27].  The mindfulness techniques also resulted in better observation of the things around them[28], and a greater working memory[29], all contributors to enhanced creative processes.
 
 
Emotional intelligence
When we turn to look at the impact on emotional intelligence in leaders, we are particularly interested in how it affects personal resilience and the building of high quality relationships.    Here there seemed to be a strong link between greater mindfulness practice, leading directly to greater emotional intelligence[30].  Research with medical students and with physicians showed that mindfulness can increase empathy levels[31].  Other research shows that mindfulness leads to greater awareness of the social dynamic[32] [33].  It also raises positive emotions and improves psychological functioning[34].  The self regulation of thoughts, emotions and behaviours leads to enhanced social relationships in the workplace, making employees more resilient in face of challenges, and increasing task performance[35].
Resilience
When we come to look at the impact on resilience, it is being shown that it can help people cope better with difficult emotions, in some part through lowering blood pressure[36] [37].  MRI scans suggest that a key part of the limbic system, the amygdala, (sometimes called the brains “fear centre”), becomes smaller in the brains of people who practise mindfulness meditation[38].  Among cancer patients, the MBSR programme was found to improve emotional stability by up to 50%[39].
Brain scans also show that mindfulness helps people to develop a more positive outlook.  It shifts brain activity from the right prefrontal cortex to the left prefrontal cortex[40].  Activity in the left is associated with positive mood, whereas activity in the right is associated with depression states.

Summary of Benefits


So given this incredible evidence, what is happening to those organisations which have been encouraging Mindfulness practices for some time?  We would expect to see some pretty amazing things happening in their leadership communities, and also on the organisational outcomes achieved.  Let us examine some case studies:
In General Mills, the Mindful Leadership Program has been running since 2006.  More than 290 officers and directors have passed through one of their programmes covering mindfulness meditation, yoga and dialog.  Survey research completed in 2009 showed that 83% of participants said they often “take time each day to optimise my personal productivity” – up from only 23% who said that before taking the course.  82% said they often “make time on most days to eliminate some tasks / meetings with limited productivity value” – up from 32% before the course.  Among experienced leaders completing the 4 day course, 80% reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions with more clarity, and 89% reported enhanced capabilities in listening to themselves and to others[41].
In IF Insurance they initiated a Mindfulness Training intervention with a range of business and HR objectives - including to become the healthiest insurance company in Nordic Region, make work a source of energy, development and performance, and develop the highest potential in each employee[42].
Based on self reports, 88% of participants reported “a highly increased ability to stay focused”,
76% “highly increased positive relationships within their teams”
68% “highly increased personal efficiency and productivity”
And 60% “highly increased ability to counteract stress.”
Case Study IF Insurance Outcomes:

To quote their Head of Risk Management, “The results of the Mindfulness Programme showed immediate benefits.  After only four weeks, a big difference could be seen within the organisation teams.  All participants reported improved ability to focus, increased productivity, better cooperation and less stress.”
There are many similar case studies which confirm that the positive impacts extend well beyond handling stress into enhancing some of the more complex capabilities of managers and leaders.  In terms of business performance, both General Mills and IF have performed well over recent years, and continue to show strong growth and stability despite the global recession[43] [44].
In conclusion
Mindfulness looks like it is here to stay, and has a central role to play in the development of leaders.  The evidence is compelling, and the timing is right.  The coming together of four key factors:
-          The increased complexity and uncertainty inherent in the business world
-          Smartphone technology that makes it too easy for leaders to multitask and hard for them to “switch off”
-          Continuing reductions in the cost of MRI scanning resulting in the opening up new areas of neuroscientific research
-          The increasing experimentation and evaluation of mindfulness approaches
Could we be on the verge of a revolution of the human brain – where we finally become able to really understand our grey matter and use it to its full potential?
One aspect I have not considered in this article so far is the connection with the Buddhist concept of loving kindness that is an essential part of the Buddhist teaching of Mindfulness.  That is where mindfulness is coupled with a sense of love and kindness to the fellow man.  This seems such an essential and important component, yet risks being neglected in the corporate adoption of mindfulness.  If mindfulness is to develop as a way to really create positive relationships and happiness, as well as wealth and success in business, this concept of loving kindness is key.
As the Sales Director of IF Insurance comments “I joined the programme expecting that I would become more focused and productive.  That has happened and I am grateful.  However, I realise another much bigger change: I experience of myself and my employees that we are becoming better human beings.”
Over the last few years we have been introducing Mindfulness into our work coaching and leading Senior executives.  Positioned appropriately, it is well received, and clearly evident that it has a central place in our work in developing exceptional leaders.
There was a huge amount of research to draw on in writing this article.  However there are a few gaps that I would be curious to see filled.  What happens to those participants who drop out of trials of mindfulness-based interventions?  This has been rarely explored.  In addition, the whole question of side-effects is under-researched.  Furthermore, it also seems that more work can be done to ensure the behavioural aspects of sticking to a mindfulness programme are addressed, particularly within the busy corporate setting.  How much practice is enough? And how best can it be built into a busy corporate life?
[1] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) Guidelines (set in 2009)
[2] Napoli, M., Rock-Krech, P., and Holley L.C. (2005) Mindfulness Training in Elementary Schools – the Attention Academy, Journal of Applied School Psychology, vol. 21 (1)
[3] Peters, S. (2012) The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness
[4] Adams, J. (2013) Making the business case for Mindfulness in the workplace, mindfulnet.org, pp. 13 – This paper provides an excellent overview summary of much of the Research used in this article.
[5] Mental Health Foundation (2010). Mindfulness Report (London: Mental Health Foundation)
[6] Transport for London (TfL) Internal Review,  2003
[7] Hozel, Carmody, Lazar et al (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density. Psychiatry Resource 2011 2011 Jan 30; 191(1):36-43. Epub 2010 Nov 10.
[8] Bishop, M. L., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N., Carmody, J., Segal, Z., Abbey, S., Speca, M., Velting, D. And Devins, G. (2004) Mindfulness: A proposed Operational Definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 11 (3), 230-241.
[9] Gardner, F.L. and More, Z.E. (2007) The psychology of enhancing human performance: The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach. New York: Springer.
[10] Wells, A. (2006) Detached mindfulness in cognitive therapy: A metacognitive analysis and ten techniques. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, 23 (4), 337-335.
[11] Dryden, W. And Still, A. (2006) Historical aspects of mindfulness and self-acceptance in psychotherapy. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, 24, 3-28.
[12] Knowles, P. (2008) What Is Trying to Happen Here? Using Mindfulness Using Mindfulness to Enhance the Quality of Patient Encounters. The permanent Journal, 12 (2), 55-61.
[13] Langer, E.J. and Moldoveanu, M. (2000) The construct of mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues, 1, 1-9.
[14] Shapiro, S. L. And Carlson, L. E. (2009) The art and science of mindfulness: Integrating mindfulness into psychology and the helping professions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Publications
[15] Kirk, Downar & Montague (2011) Interception drives increased rational decision-making in mediators’ playing the ultimatum game.  Frontiers in Neuroscience: 18 April 2011.
[16] Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003) Minfulfness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10 (2), 144-156. (EE1)
[17] Shapiro, S.L. and Carlson, L.E. (2009) The art and science of mindfulness: Integrating mindfulness into psychology and the helping professions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Publications.
[18] Greenberg, J., Reiner, K., & Meriran, N. (2012). Mind the trap: Mindfulness practice reduces cognitive rigidity. PLoS ONE, 7(5), e36206. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22615758
[19] Brown, W. And Ryan, R.M. (2003) The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its riole in Psychological wellbeing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.
[20] Knowles, P. (2008) What Is Trying to Happen Here? Using Mindfulness Using Mindfulness to Enhance the Quality of Patient Encounters. The permanent Journal, 12 (2), 55-61.
[21] Langer, E.J., Bashner, R.S, and Chanowitz B. (1985) Decreasing Prejudice by Increasing Discrimination, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49 (I), 113-120.
[22] Martin, J.R (1997) Mindfulness: A proposed Common Factor Journal of Psychotherapy Integration 7(4) 291-312
[23] Richhart, R. And Perkins, D N. (2000) Mindfulness has also been found to enhance flexible and critical thinking skills. Journal of Social Isues, 56 (1), 22-47.
[24] Greenberg, J., Reiner, K., & Meriran, N. (2012). Mind the trap: Mindfulness practice reduces cognitive rigidity. PLoS ONE, 7(5), e36206. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22615758
[25] Ostafin BD, Kassman KT (2012) Stepping out of history: mindfulness improves insight problem solving. Conscious and Cognition. 2012 Jun;21(2):1031-6. Doi: 10.1016 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22483682
[26] Colzato, L.S., Ozturk, A., and Hommel, B. (2012) Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Frontiers in psychology, 3 PMID:22529832
[27] Mace, C. (2007) Mindfulness in psychotherapy: an introduction, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, vol. 13, pp. 147-154
[28] Mace, C. (2007) Mindfulness in psychotherapy: an introduction, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, vol. 13, pp. 147-154
[29] Jha AP, Stanley EA, Kiyonaga A, Wong L, Gelfand L (2010) Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion 2010.
[30] Li-Chuan Chu (2009): The benefits of meditation vis-à-vis emotional intelligence, perceived stress and negative mental health Li-Chuan Chu Article first published online: 29 SEP 2009
[31] Krasner MS et al. (2009). ‘Association of an Educational Program in Mindful Communication with Burnout, Empathy, and Attitudes Among Primary Car Physicians’, Journal of the American Medical Association 302(12):1284-93
[32] Brown, W. And Ryan, R.M. (2003) The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in Psychological wellbeing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.
[33] Gardner, F.L. and More, Z.E. (2007) The psychology of enhancing human performance: The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach. New York: Springer.
[34] Mindfulness, Positivity and Work Engagement (2012) – Mindfulness Research at LJMU by Lim Hui Jia (To be published shortly)
[35] Theresa M. Glomb, Michelle K. Duffy, Joyce E. Bono, Tao Yang (2011), Mindfulness at Work, in Aparna Joshi, Hui Liao, Joseph J. Martocchuio (ed.) Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management (Research in Personnel and Human resources Management, Volume 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 115-157 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/books.htm?chapterid=1938232
[36] Lazar S et al. (2005). ‘Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness’, Neuroreport 16(17): 1893-97
[37] Hunter J and McCormick D, “Mindfulness in the Workplace: An Exploratory Study” Paper presented at the meeting of the 2008 Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Anaheim, CA.
[38] Lazar S et al. (2005). ‘Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness’, Neuroreport 16(17): 1893-97
[39] Carlson LE and Garland SN (2005) Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Sleep, Mood, Stress and Fatigue Symptoms in Cancer Outpatients International Journal of Behavioural Medicine 2005, Vol. 12, No. 4, 278-285
[40] Davidson, R, Kabat-Zinn, J et al (2003)  Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation.  Psychosomatic Medicine. 2003 Jul-Aug; 65(4):564-70
[41] Adams, J. (2013) Making the business case for Mindfulness in the workplace, mindfulnet.org
[42] Adams, J. (2013) Making the business case for Mindfulness in the workplace, mindfulnet.org
[43] General Mills Annual Report 2012: Generating Balanced Growth
[44] IF Insurance Annual Report 2013: The World’s Most Secure People

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