Today’s Leadership Challenge
You’re stressed. I’m stressed. We’re all stressed.
That’s the reality of today’s business world, particularly for those of us who lead organizations.
Life is more complex than ever before, both at home and in the office. Humans are addicted to distraction and sit prey to the world around us, which is moving faster than the speed of light. We are both hyperconnected and disconnected. We are experiencing dramatic generational changes up and down the ranks. We are under extreme pressure to be successful at all costs. No wonder our mental clarity is foggy at best.
At the same time, it seems like there has been an explosion of people who are all different from everyone else. Therein lies the catch. People today are more likely to be who they are and how they are. It’s not so much an explosion of differences, rather a movement to being authentic. Being authentic means being mindful and taking the time to reflect on yourself first so you are primed to move ahead—for you, your family and your employees.
The key to all of this is having self-awareness. New York Times best-selling author Daniel Goleman says the “essence of authentic leadership is emotional intelligence.” And the most important step in developing your emotional intelligence is gaining self-awareness. Put simply, take a step back from our hectic 24/7 lifestyles and reflect…on you. The sooner you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, the more authentic you can become as a leader.
Of course, there are risks to being authentic. At the top of the list is how and when to be vulnerable. This brings us to one of the feature topics in this month’s issue: our Q&A on page 50 with Council board member Kevin Davis. Kevin’s story about his journey toward mindfulness is compelling, and he’s brave to share it with all of us. It makes him vulnerable, and that, to me, is very authentic.
Mindfulness is being in the present moment with a calm and open mind. Studies have shown this short and simple science-based mental exercise can make a significant difference in breaking the cycle of anxiety, unhappiness and exhaustion. It is becoming an integral part of companies’ well-being strategies worldwide. Fortune 500 companies including Google, Apple, McKinsey, Intel and Goldman Sachs are teaching mindfulness as an effective tool in improving workplace culture as employees learn to manage their stress and increase their productivity.
In our own industry, Aetna has reported a savings of $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs and a gain of $3,000 per employee in productivity after implementing its mindfulness program in 2011. Aetna says its participants reported a 35% decrease in perceived stress and a 20% improvement in sleep—impressive results for a program implemented simply because CEO Mark Bertolini found personal success with the practice. Here at The Council, we offer 60-minute yoga classes in our office twice a week. We haven’t conducted any formal polling since we started the offering in 2015, but anecdotally, classes are popular both with employees and our interns.
It’s not to say there aren’t challenges. Kevin admits that it’s hard to measure any bottom line changes, and not all employees are comfortable practicing in an open environment. But for a low-cost wellness program that has shown to improve decision-making, communication and engagement and has created a healthier work environment for all, it’s certainly worth considering.
So take a moment to sit quietly and breathe. It’s not about stopping your thinking; it’s about focusing your attention. As a leader, it’s important you create time to gain some self-awareness and be vulnerable. There’s no wrong way to do mindfulness, and there’s no better time to try it than now.