Mindfulness in Leadership Development

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
–Shunryu Suzuki

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Polly LaBarre wrote about the wisdom of developing mindful leaders.

Much of the billions of dollars companies invest in leadership development fall short of success because the programs are so heavily focused on data/assessment gathering and so little on people and processes.

“What if, instead of stuffing people with curricula, models, and competencies, we focused on deepening their sense of purpose, expanding their capability to navigate difficulty and complexity, and enriching their emotional resilience?” ponders LaBarre.

“What if, instead of trying to fix people, we assumed that they were already full of potential and created an environment that promoted their long-term well-being?”

LaBarre cites the Personal Excellence Program (PEP) developed at biotechnology company Genentech in 2002 by CIO Todd Pierce and his coach, Pamella Weiss.

PEP begins with the premise that people are whole, not broken. By fully integrating the intellectual (head), emotional (heart) and somatic (body) intelligence, PEP is able to tap into people’s wholehearted engagement, helps them cultivate self-awareness, and supports them to develop mastery through embodied practice.

More than 800 Genentech employees have so far completed this program (primarily in the IT department) and it has dramatically improved employee engagement.

This includes:

• 10-20% increase in employee satisfaction;

• 12% increase in customer satisfaction;

• 50% percent improvement in employee communication, collaboration, conflict management and coaching; and

• 77% of PEP participants reported “significant measurable business impact” as a result of participating in PEP. This is almost three times the norm (25–30%), compared to dozens of similar programs studied.

In terms of a return on investment, evaluators found the program conservatively produced an estimated $1.50 to $2 for every dollar spent to deliver PEP.

“I thought PEP might be a strategy for people to develop a skill or quality,” said Pierce. “But what I see is that it is a strategy to help them be life-long learners and to increase their capacity for personal development and personal satisfaction in every area of their life.”

The PEP program takes place over a ten month period and includes three large group workshops, eight facilitated small group meetings, three individual coaching sessions and monthly peer coaching.

Participants choose a topic to focus on that is important to them, observe them selves in real time to gain insight and self-awareness, and then practice new behaviors to establish new habits and develop mastery.

Deliberate practice is the most significant indicator of success and this requires steady, consistent repetition over time, until new behaviors take root in the body as a new habit.

Mindfulness is about paying attention. It is about learning to observe one self in the context of day-to-day life to enable new insights and begin seeing yourself more clearly. The result is you can then make wiser choices. Increasing this self-awareness helps you cultivate the ability to act rather than react, enabling you to become response-able—even in the midst of high-stress situations.

“I think what makes PEP so successful is less about what we do than it is about the attitude we bring to how we do it,” says Weiss. “When we start from a place of beginner’s mind, and add a big dose of curiosity, patience and appreciation, learning happens because as human beings we are wired to learn and grow. In many ways, it comes down to doing less and trusting more in our innate capacities and vast potential.”

Leadership development programs should provide tangible, long lasting results and a program like PEP that engages the heart, mind and body is an example of one that appears to work.

Rather than seek a one-off, one-day solution for developing leaders in your organization, look for a longer term program with dynamic involvement that includes mindfulness and disciplined practice for changing behavior. Only then will you have a significant return on investment measured not only in dollars, but also in more engaged human capital.

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About Mark Craemer
Craemer Consulting specializes in workplace communication, organization development and leadership coaching.

One Response to Mindfulness in Leadership Development

  1. justus says:

    Nice work Mark! I love seeing the stats for best practices like mindfulness, it becomes a no brainer.

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