Though mindfulness in the workplace may seem like a new buzzword, it has influenced business practices for decades. You may have heard of scenario planning or scenario and contingency planning—a mode for organizations to think about the future within a structure. Created by Pierre Wack, head of Group Planning at Royal Dutch Shell during the 1970s, scenario planning came from his extensive study of meditation and is a precursor for strategic planning.
Scenario planning—the focused development of a small number of scenarios to plan for multiple futures—can help companies brainstorm an array of stratagems for dealing with, capitalizing on, and driving innovations in the future. Practicing mindfulness, or focused, nonjudgmental attention can help leaders move beyond preconceived notions and expectations, and instead think outside of the box. When future planning, especially in an increasingly technologically complex and hybrid world, mindfulness can be the key to thinking innovatively and encouraging your team to do the same.
Five ways to be a mindful leader
Focusing on one task can be challenging as emails, texts, phone calls, and social media notifications split our attention these days. But you can encourage mindfulness within your team and workplace by practicing five simple steps.
- Actively introduce mindfulness. The best place to start when introducing mindfulness into your workplace is with yourself. Lead through example by practicing mindfulness on your own, then once you have begun to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, share your practices with your employees.
- Take breaks. Taking breaks is essential to introducing mindfulness into your workplace. Mindfulness itself can be a purposeful break from directed thought. Try scheduling time into your day for mental relaxation while planning enough time between meetings for your employees to relax mentally. Trying to schedule space into their day is healthy for the mind and increases creativity and innovation.
- Utilize deep breathing techniques. Thinking consciously about your breath throughout the day can center your thoughts in the present and reduce stress. Deep breathing can reduce stress by improving oxygen delivery, lowering blood pressure, and releasing endorphins.
- Practice being perceptive. Being conscious of your level of observation and perception can help you feel present in any given moment—a key to mindfulness—and increase your emotional understanding of your team. Try focusing on the simple things, from the smell of your morning coffee to how light falls through your window at different times of the day. Then shift your observation to those around you. Recognizing the emotional reality of your team can help you create a work environment that is more encouraging and conducive to creativity and innovation.
- Ask big questions, then give them space. The best leaders ask big questions, encouraging their teams to think about scenarios for the future and challenging them to think innovatively. But it is important to remember that the mind needs space to think creatively! Once you ask those big questions, give your team enough space to consider them individually.
Encouraging mindfulness can start by simply giving your team the time and space to practice it. Share your favorite video or personal tools for practicing mindfulness, then schedule a 10-minute dedicated break each day for using these tools. Remember that practicing mindfulness through daily meditation is not purging your mind of thoughts and emotions. Instead, try spending 10 minutes a day separating yourself from those things that pull at and fracture your attention, using that time for purposeful mental relaxation.
Explore your team's creativity with mindfulness
With phrases like busy as a bee and make sure you look busy, busyness tends to be the default setting for the workplace. And, of course, that is what organizations want, right? Busyness means being productive, and productivity is how the job gets done. But what about giving your employees the time and space to think up new ideas?
Mindfulness may be the key.
There is no denying the fact that workplaces today are more hectic than ever. Multi-tasking, hybrid schedules, distractions, and the drive to be as productive as possible in the shortest amount of time can all contribute to a pace of work bordering on frantic. But while productivity and speed are necessary, they may come at the cost of creativity. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that when presented with a task requiring creative problem-solving, subjects who completed a 10-minute mindfulness exercise before brainstorming identified twice as many solutions as those who did not.
Group participation when introducing mindfulness as a tool for increasing creativity is essential. When all team members have the space and time needed for mindfulness, one employee's creativity compounds that of every other member, leading the group to challenge and encourage one another and produce increasingly innovative solutions for the task at hand.
Introduce mindfulness on your team to encourage creativity by taking these simple steps:
- Be deliberate. Try linking the positive language already associated with your business to the language of mindfulness. If your company focuses on growth, tie that sense of expansion to the thinking out-of-the-box mentality encouraged by mindfulness.
- Work mindfulness in the workplace. This practice does not just mean individually being mindful but actively introducing mindfulness training into the work environment. This act can be as simple as personally encouraging employees to take moments for purposeful mental relaxation each day or as in-depth as bringing in a mindfulness instructor to teach practices on-site.
- Follow up. Once you introduce mindfulness into the workplace, remind team members of its importance and reintroduce the practices during regular training sessions. Remember, the brain is like a muscle. We must keep at it to keep fit.
- Make space for mindfulness. As you work mindfulness into your daily routine, make sure to facilitate its presence in your team's routine. Try adding a break for purposeful mental relaxation into the daily schedule, and help your team let go of previous stresses and future concerns by leading a simple moment of deep breathing before meetings that focus on brainstorming.
To further encourage creativity and innovation within your team, make sure you’re continuing to offer avenues for learning and exploration of new ideas. Providing webinars, speakers, retreats, meditation, and even hobbies can all help foster an inclusive workplace environment where mindfulness, and the creativity that comes with it, are valued.