by Steven M. Cohen and Melissa Severance
The events of 2020 have upended the way in which we view and interact in the world. We have been required to quarantine at home, we have again become aware of the results of centuries of racial inequality and we have seen our professional lives changed forever by technological evolution. As we cope with social distancing, structural and systemic racial injustice, and changes in work environment, there is a need to do things differently and create a new and better way of doing things. Mindfulness and meditation practices can be the key to creating a new and better normal, both personally and professionally.
At its most basic level, meditation takes your mind out of its regular thinking pattern, thus giving you the opportunity to observe what fills the void, both internally and externally. You learn during meditation to observe thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in the present moment and without judgment. What you find is that instead of the same day-to-day chatter in your mind, you begin to observe different, more important thoughts and feelings. Can meditation make you more effective at work? Absolutely. Core leadership traits such as self-awareness, focus, creativity, listening, relationship development, influence, grit and having a growth mindset can be developed through meditation, which can improve professional performance. These fundamental leadership traits can be grouped into four foundational pillars: Awareness, Connection, Perspective, and Potential. Each pillar can be built and reinforced through regular meditation practice.
Building Awareness. When you’re living your life in a state of greater awareness, you are able to see situations more clearly as they arise (and not just during your meditation practice). In your personal life, you may notice a child in need of attention before they act out or observe that a friend or loved one has not reached out in a while. Professionally, you may notice the morale of a valued employee before he or she departs without warning or how fear or self doubt influences your behavior at work and limits the value you can provide to your organization. You may also notice ways that you demonstrate an unconscious bias, whether racial or otherwise, that you want to change once in your conscious awareness.
Making Connection. Meditation practice can also facilitate expanding your sense of who you are and increase your ability to connect with others. It is not the events of our lives that tend to make us happy or sad or joyous or angry or scared, but rather our reaction to those events. These events, and our reaction to these events, clouds the lens in which we perceive others and the world, which creates barriers to closer personal and professional relationships. Various meditation practices assist us to clear that clouded lens. If you look at the world through a lens of fear, you will live in a very scary world. If you live every day through your lens of stress, you will be impatient and short-tempered. However, if through daily meditation, you can clear that clouded lens, you may find yourself looking at the world through your lens of creating a connected community of relationships, and you will have more and better relationships. If you express gratitude daily, you will discover more people and things for which you are grateful. If you are vulnerable and willing to take risks, you will realize growth.
Maintaining Perspective. Stress has become such a roadblock for many of us, impacting our actions, reactions, health, and well-being and warping our decision-making perspective. A meditation practice provides a break from the events that trigger our stress and teaches us to step back and witness with greater perspective so we experience fewer stress triggers. Meditation provides a moment of calm within the chaos so that whatever is most important (your wisdom within) can rise to the surface. By stepping back and pausing, you may become more aware of your thoughts and actions within the context of a greater purpose. Meditation aids in responding versus reacting to stressful situation.
Achieving Your Potential. To be an effective HR leader, you need more than good intentions. You need to have a growth mindset, both personally and professionally. Regular mediation can help you identify your most promising opportunities for growth that may have been previously blocked by the chatter of your everyday thoughts. Sitting daily in meditation is hard to do. Regular meditation practice reinforces hard to identify “grit” qualities that seem to characterize our most effective leaders at every level: passion, effort, resiliency and perseverance.
• • •
We all lead frenzied lives. Many things occur that we can’t control. Most of us don’t choose to have a frenzied life. However, we can choose to take 10 minutes a day to make our frenzied lives better and more effective. We often don’t know why we are in sync or out of sync with realizing our potential, but we do generally know the difference. Through daily meditation, we can remind ourselves over and over that each breath is a new moment, and while we may not control all around us or the result, we do control our reaction and how much we attach to the result. We can then choose to have a willingness to change, we can meditate to access our inner wisdom during these moments of silence and subsequently we can choose what to change. That is our potential.
When HR leaders demonstrate these leadership traits developed from a regular meditation practice, they inspire the embracement of change and challenges, to persist in the face of setbacks and to be intentional with their words and actions during this difficult time. They also practice increased empathy, have more meaningful connections, focus on the positives, motivate employees and encourage the shift from reacting to innovating. These actions cultivate and strengthen resilience and develop a growth mindset that enhances organizational performance.
There are tangible steps that you and your organization can take to realize the practical benefits of a daily meditation practice:
- Center yourself during morning meditation as you start your day (practice different techniques with awareness of what you need at that moment).
- Take a daily lunch break or other break if you have a lunch meeting to recharge.
- Introduce the benefits of meditation practice to others in your workplace (introducing the opportunity is often not enough – many people need convincing to try it).
- Set up ano-talking wellness room at the office where anyone can take a balancing break when needed.
- Spend more time in the present moment.
- Follow your inner wisdom.
- Add value to all around you.
Meditation can help each of us grow and be more effective. Groups such as Meditation4Leadership and executive coaches who incorporate meditation and mindfulness practice into their coaching can assist HR leaders implementing corporate wellness and leadership development programs consistent with your organization’s culture and language. As more people in your organization practice meditation daily, they extend their insights from meditation to live what they practice. Being more aware. Being more focused. Expressing more gratitude. Being more balanced. Exercising influence wisely. Growing. This is our will – meditation is our way.
Steven M. Cohen is the author of Leading from Within: A Guide To Maximizing Your Effectiveness Through Meditation and the co-founder and Chair of the Board of Meditation4Leadership, which brings the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practices to the workplace.
Melissa Severance is an executive and leadership coach with over 15 years of professional services firm human resources experience, a long-time Philly SHRM member and co-developer of an innovative integrative coaching program for Meditation4Leadership that combines traditional executive coaching practices with mindfulness and meditation practices to grow and support foundational leadership traits.
This article was originally published by Philly SHRM on September 9, 2020.