business

Mindfulness can improve leadership in times of instability

Cheryl Rezek, The Guardian: What does the ancient eastern practice of mindfulness, often associated with orange-clothed chanting monks, have to do with the fast-paced, performance-driven style of western leadership? In tough times, it could act as an influential asset in the public service’s fight for survival.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, a moment in time. It is about focusing attention on the present in a way that allows that moment to be experienced and observed closely. It involves developing the skills to allow yourself to engage actively with whatever is happening at the time, as well …

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Design company uses Buddhism to create happy place to work

Liz Day, WalesOnline.com.uk:

You Buddha believe it!

This group of Welsh workers are meditating away the stresses of office life with Buddhism – and they hope their practices will make their company reach a state of Nirvana.

The Newport web and development agency Mettaengine was established in June last year by three kindred spirits, who met at a Buddhist centre.

Creative director Graham Shimell said: “We usually try to meditate together every morning – it’s a good way to start the day.”

The staff meditate three times a day in a specially-adapted shrine room, which contains a statue of Buddha, along…

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“Know yourself, Forget Yourself: Five Truths to Transform your Work, Relationships, and Everyday Life,” by Marc Lesser

Know Yourself, Forget YourselfAs a rule, I am not a fan of self-help books. They are often big on promises but small on practicalities; good at telling you what is possible but rarely willing to recognize that each of us has limitations. Self-help books, it seems to me, sell the lie that you can be whoever you want and have whatever you want (Can I really marry Scarlett Johansson?). However, a self-help book based on Zen Buddhist principles might be different.

The book rests on the contention that ‘embracing life’s paradoxes is a powerful skill’ (p.4). Lesser, a Zen teacher and executive coach, proposes that we explore five key paradoxes: First, ‘Know Yourself, Forget Yourself; second, ‘Be Confident, Question Everything’; third, ‘Fight for Change, accept what is’; Four, ‘Embrace emotion, embody equanimity’; and five, ‘Benefit Others, benefit Yourself’. He presents these as a hierarchy of increasingly refined practices resulting in the development of five areas of life: attention, outlook, action, resilience, and effectiveness. This all sounds good, even intriguing.

Title: Know yourself, Forget Yourself: Five Truths to Transform your Work, Relationships, and Everyday Life
Author: Marc Lesser
Publisher: New World Library
ISBN: 978-1-60868-081-8
Available from: New World Library, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

While the book presents itself as designed for ‘everyday life’, it is clearly focused on those working within a corporate context since it was inspired by Lesser’s work as an executive coach. Many of the issues treated specifically concern those working in business and even running businesses. While in some respects this excludes many readers, Lesser points out that each of us can see ourselves as a business; ‘We all have a brand’ (p.252).

It seems churlish to criticise a guy who has set up his own business and been CEO of several others, especially when you don’t know much about business, which I don’t. But I do know quite a lot about Buddhism and, despite Lesser’s impressive Buddhist credentials, I found the Buddhist aspects of the book lacking in depth. Yes, there are plenty of Zen anecdotes but I wasn’t sure how useful many of them were and less sure of the Dharmic foundation that stood behind them. At no stage does Lesser hint at any conflict between the values of the corporate world and the world of the Dharma, which I find surprising. In exploring what we might want and how to get it, for instance, he never suggests that we ask ourselves whether what we want is really worth having, whether it is skilful, or whether it is even realistic. Yes, it can be great to aspire but many things are not worth aspiring to; our aspirations need to be rooted in wholesome motivations.

There are some insightful, distinctive moments where a unique voice can be heard for a moment but these are crowded out by the torrent of generic, self-help advice: ‘communicate openly’; ‘take care of your health’; ‘tell the truth’; ‘have real conversations’. The list goes on and at times is overwhelming. And none of this is bad advice but Lesser seems to assume that these are things that we can simply just do. But change is rarely so easy; if we are not, for instance, used to communicating in an open manner then cultivating this will be no small challenge. The book represents something of a missed opportunity and, to use Lesser’s own metaphor, lacks a clear brand since it is rather swamped by its general, self-help and positive thinking focus.

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Kindness is not weakness

Baby's hand holding onto an adult's finger.

Recently I received a few questions about the relationship between lovingkindness and “toughness.”

1. When practicing lovingkindness, how do you respond if people around you warm to you, but misconstrue your kindness and friendliness, and then become disappointed that you don’t want a “relationship” with them?

Well, that’s an interesting question. I suppose the short answer is “kindly.”

It’s great if people are noticing you becoming friendlier and are responding. But these things can be complicated, especially when people have strong emotional needs (because they’re lonely, for example) or where friendliness is being interpreted as an overture to romantic involvement.

And sometimes we may need to look at the signals we’re giving out. Are we just being friendly, or is there an element of flirtatiousness? It’s hard to say from the inside, sometimes, because we’re often not aware of all our motivations and habits. It may take a lot of internal scrutiny and perhaps feedback from friends before we can sort that out.

Also see:

But assuming that you’re just being friendly, we just need to be kind and clear and to set appropriate boundaries. So you could thank the other person for their interest and say, kindly, that unfortunately you don’t have time in your social calendar to have coffee with them, or that you’re not interested in dating at the moment, or whatever seems appropriate for the circumstances.

Some people are not good at taking rejection, so the other person may be hurt or angry or become more persistent, so you may have to be very firm. But it’s still best to be gracious.

2. When practicing lovingkindness but still having to be part of the world work-wise, how do you reconcile others’ expectations that you must be “tough” to negotiate deals etc, that kind, gentle people are “pushovers” and should be taken advantage of, or treated with toughness?

There does seem to be a common assumption that if you’re friendly you can’t also be tough or firm, but that’s of course not the case. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Recently I had to lay someone off because of a financial crunch at work, which was a tough decision to make. But it needed to be done. I tried to do it as kindly as possible, and to give as much background information as possible so that she’d understand why I was doing what I was doing. The response was quite amazing: my former co-worker, when she heard about the financial difficulties we were going though said, “That’s terrible. What can I do to help?” This is not a testament to my communication skills and is more to do with the other person’s own kindness, but it shows that even a lay-off can be an affair free of bitterness.

Some business-people are tough to the point of being positively inhuman, because they are unable to empathize with others. One study reckoned that one in 25 business leaders may be psychopaths. In the long-term, business leaders like that are hugely destructive. They can make life hell for the people they work for. They can destroy trust with their own customers. They can bring their own companies down (Enron, anyone?). They can destroy entire economies.

There’s even a case for saying that corporations, which typically take returns to shareholders as the only meaningful benchmark of success, disregarding the welfare of their workers, clients, and the world generally, have psychopathic tendencies.

On the other hand, studies have shown that effective leaders are empathetic. One study showed that the most effective managers “consistently used the following four competencies: empathy, conflict management, influence and self-awareness.”

Being empathetic and kind is one set of skills. Being clear and tough is another. Having just one set of these skills makes you ineffective. But it’s possible to have both.

3. This all kind of rolls up to how much is it my responsibility to change my own behaviours based on what I perceive others expect of me? I know some people who do this unconsciously, and others who don’t do it at all a they have no consciousness of others perceptions. But once you are aware, how much is it my responsibility to change myself, and how much should I be “true to myself” and expect others to change around me – even knowing it may not get the response I seek?

If we confuse being kind with “getting people to like us” then we won’t be true to ourselves, and we’ll suffer. Being kind simply means recognizing that other people wish to be happy and don’t want to suffer. Being unkind means wanting others to suffer or not to experience happiness. Now we can be kind and still take actions that lead to other people being unhappy (you might need to lay someone off, and they probably won’t be happy about it) but it’s not our aim to make the other person unhappy, so we’re not being unkind. We recognize that the decisions we’re making are likely to evoke unhappiness, and so we try to take that into account in our speech and in other actions we take.

And being kind doesn’t mean negating your own well-being. If other people have expectations of you, you need to ask whether those expectations are right and reasonable. Your question’s rather abstract, so I’ve no idea what kind of expectations people have of you, or in what way they might want you to change. If they want you to fit in with some well-established and effective way of doing things, then yes, I think it’s reasonable for you to change to accommodate that. If they expect you to lose your sense of right and wrong, then you need to take a stand.

When we’re “being true to ourselves” we’re always being selective. In my opinion, we’re most true to ourselves when we’re true to the wisest and kindest parts of ourselves, rather than to the most rigid, grasping, or harsh parts. There’s inevitably conflict between these two sides. Pick a side.

But it’s a complex thing, this being human. Complex and difficult. There is a need for give and take, for compromise, for making concessions. But there’s also a need to be firm to your core values. If people don’t respect that, then sometimes the kindest thing you can do — for yourself — is to get the hell out of Dodge.

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The ROI of practicing mindfulness at work

Michael Carroll: Mindfulness meditation, at first glance, provokes a reasonable question: “why on earth would I, or anyone for that matter, sit still doing nothing for long periods of time?”

We can take two basic approaches to answering this question: we sit still for long periods of time in order to get a lot of benefits — to get a return on our investment — an ROI.

Or we sit still for long periods of time in order to achieve nothing.

Let’s take the ROI approach first. Recent scientific research seems to document that mindfulness meditation produces a wide range of positive results …

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Multitasking loses its cool; Mindfulness is now in

Victor Reklaitis, Investor’s Business Daily: As you read this article, you might at the same time pretend to listen to a co-worker’s latest gripe or skim through your emails.

No problem, right? After all, the ability to multitask is critical if you want to succeed in the 21st century.

Well, the pendulum actually has swung in the other direction, at least if you talk to a new breed of leadership training providers.

For them, mindfulness — not multitasking — is the key to success. But what exactly is mindfulness?

“The simplest definition is it’s a way of being in the moment, seeing things …

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Mindfulness helps you become a better leader

Bill George, Harvard Business Review: Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, I have sensed from many leaders that they want to do a better job of leading in accordance with their personal values. The crisis exposed the fallacies of measuring success in monetary terms and left many leaders with a deep feeling of unease that they were being pulled away from what I call their True North.

As markets rose and bonus pools grew, it was all too easy to celebrate the rising tide of wealth without examining the process that created it. Too many leaders placed self-interest ahead of their organizations’ interests …

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Business Insight: To lead, don’t be afraid to pause

Dawn House, The Salt Lake Tribune: Kevin Cashman, a business coach and author of “The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward,” says economic and personal crashes can be tied to addiction for constant action.

Why is it important to step back?

In our 24/7 globally connected culture with a deluge of information and so much coming at us at once, the loss of pause potential is epidemic.

If leaders do not step back to stop momentum, gain perspective, to transcend the immediacies of life and to accelerate their leadership, we will continue to crash economically, personally and collectively.

Pause is the antidote to …

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Buddhist meditation: a management skill?

Lisa Napoli, NPR Morning Edition: A handful of executive MBA programs around the country — from Harvard to Michigan’s Ross School of Business — are teaching students Buddhist meditation techniques. It’s not necessarily about teaching spirituality, but focus. There’s no way to quantify whether learning how to be centered during a stressful business meeting is balancing the bottom lines at companies. But students say slowing down does help them be more effective.

Click on the link below to here the report (3 m 57 sec)

Buddhist Meditation: A Management Skill?

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