Is Mindfulness Another Management Fad?

Previously I suggested that mindfulness may be becoming the brussels sprouts of organizational life (with teams being the broccoli)—“eat it, it’s good for you,” even if you can’t stand it. There is definitely a “flavor of the month” quality to mindfulness now—an apparently easy way to increase morale and productivity. Everyone’s doing it, and yes, there is an app for it (actually there are several).

Image credit: © Bob Greene

Image credit: © Bob Greene

And a backlash has started. Writing in Harvard Business Review, David Brendel (a coach who teaches mindfulness) shares an instance in which staff were required to participate in mindfulness exercises by their supervisor, which works as well as demanding a child eat his brussels sprouts and like them! Never mind real workplace concerns and complaints—just be happy, or, now, mindful. Meditation and mindfulness are talked about by some as if they are a cure-all for all ills, while potential downsides are not discussed. And there are philosophical issues: is mindfulness, separated from its cultural roots, becoming simply a tool for promoting profits rather than growth, insight, and compassion?

While maintaining a skeptical stance, I do believe that mindfulness (i.e., non-judgmental, present-moment awareness) truly is a great gift. It’s not a panacea, and each person must discover an appropriate practice for herself—it can’t be forced. But there is growing evidence for multiple benefits of mindfulness and meditation (a key way to practice being mindful). Meditation can, it appears, enhance numerous qualities essential for leadership, and life in general, such as reducing anxiety and stress, increasing focus, building compassion, fostering emotional self-regulation, and encouraging creative thinking. And it appears that mindfulness may actually change one’s brain in beneficial ways!

I will return to the theme of mindfulness regularly in this blog (just as one continually returns attention to one’s breathing during breath meditation). For now, I’ll leave you with a couple of questions for reflection:

  • Do you regularly notice when you are getting overly stressed-out? Do you have a way to become calmer and more centered that’s healthful, in other words, other than binging on chocolate or getting distracted by cat videos?
  • Do you get caught up in the “chatter” going on in your mind (critical self-talk, perhaps)? How can you notice that noise and “push the pause button” so you can focus more fully on the task at-hand?