The business of meditation

Herald Sun: Meditation is now moving into the boardroom with studies showing that it improves concentration, workers are now being encouraged to tune in and chill out.

Once a week, a handful of Blake Dawson lawyers and support staff take the lift to a hushed conference room in Sydney’s George Street.

They are not meeting for a tough legal pitch.

They are there to do a voluntary lunchtime group meditation. They’re not alone.

Businesses such as NAB, Victoria Police, Diabetes Australia, Origin Energy and the CEO Institute have also run meditation sessions.

These are corporate heavies who are as far away from ohm-chanting, saffron-robed monks as you can get. What’s going on?

Growing calm

Meditation is a growing business trend that may be coming soon to an office near you.

It is cropping up in human resources programs across the country to promote calm as we work overtime, skip lunch, do meeting marathons, save our annual leave, lose sleep over job security and monster mortgages, and multi-task like mad in the global recession backwash.

With all those pressures to contend with, we’ve become a mighty anxious lot.

So anxious, in fact, that one in five Australians took medication to alleviate stress in the past fortnight, according to 2008 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

What’s more, workplace stress costs the national economy $10.11 billion annually through absenteeism or sluggish productivity, and leads to the loss of 3.2 days per worker each year, according to research by health fund Medibank Private.

Bosses are starting to realise that investing in stress-reduction programs, such as meditation, makes fiscal sense, too.

After all, employers are responsible for implementing stress management in the workplace under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2004, and if they don’t look after staff, it can hurt them in the hip pocket.

The average cost of a stress-related work claim in 2009 in Victoria, for instance, was a hefty $51,000, says WorkSafe Victoria.

Stress busting

Kate James, director of corporate coaching company Total Balance, works with banks, advertising agencies, government corporations and not-for-profit organisations in Sydney and Melbourne.

She says meditation at work is on the rise.

“I get double the enquiries for meditation sessions compared to five years ago,” she says. “The global financial crisis had an impact, and people are now looking at alternatives for happiness and wellbeing.

For personal clients, I’ve had to add workshops to meet demand.”

The fact that results can be seen after just one session makes meditation a popular stress-reduction technique, James says.

“Even just 10 minutes of meditation at the start of the day is great for recharging energy and
improving concentration.”

She says you don’t need to be spiritual, recite a mantra or meditate in a group. Once the basics are in place, you can meditate alone for free whenever you like. She says you get better at meditating by simply doing it.

Anyone can benefit, including the toughest, most self-sufficient staff.

“Those working in the law are well known for their mental resilience, but meditation can help them manage stress and maximise wellbeing,” explains Kate Wisdom, Blake Dawson’s wellbeing coordinator.

“Meditation sessions are about positive psychology, a preventive approach to stress.”

Office yoga

Like meditation, workplace yoga can have a destressing effect. Thuy Ly, a business analyst with Axa, attends a weekly 60-minute yoga class with about 20 colleagues.

The class has been taught on-site for the past 18 months.

“It takes me away from my desk and away from thinking about my to-do list,” she says.

“As I sit in front of a computer most of the day, I’m conscious of ways I can improve my sitting posture.

“Yoga releases tension by stretching my muscles and it’s helped me understand the importance of taking a break to improve concentration.”

Given that we spend up to a third of our waking lives at work (yes, that much), it pays to keep stress levels down.

Left unchecked, job stress has been shown to be a substantial contributor to mental illness, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal problems.

It can also lead to headaches, an upset stomach, rashes, insomnia and high blood pressure.

Something to particularly watch out for if you work in industries recording the highest levels of stress, such as education, the police force, finance, hospitality, transport, retail and marketing.

Three-minute meditation

Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat until your pulse slows.

As soon as your mind wanders, draw your attention back to your breath. Imagine blowing away thoughts as they enter your mind.

Australian study

In a 2009 study, Dr Ramesh Manocha, a Sydney GP and researcher at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of NSW, found that after eight weeks of silent meditation, occupational stress was reduced by 26 per cent.

“The way you think and feel can influence your health,” says Dr Manocha.

“Organisations are beginning to realise this and are investing in human resources to promote staff mental wellbeing. Workers only need two 10-minute sessions of meditation a day to see health improvements.

The groundbreaking thing is that meditation is no longer seen as a tie-dyed, hippie concept. It’s now mainstream and more accepted.”

“My focus is better”

Nikki Prentice, an assistant general counsel at Blake Dawson’s Sydney office, participated in a voluntary five-session introductory meditation course offered by her firm in 2009 and can now achieve sharper and longer periods of concentration.

“I’m better at recognising and letting go of distracting thoughts and am better at prioritising the task at hand,” she says. “I can focus on research or drafting for longer periods before feeling the need to check my email.”

Restraining from that oh-so-addictive constant email checking syndrome?

And being on the ball for longer periods at work thanks to meditation, rather than thanks to a mid-afternoon sugar hit or caffeine high?

Plenty of us, it seems, could do with a bit of help on that front.

A worthwhile outcome for a few sessions of learning to breathe in a more relaxed manner and sitting still for 40 minutes or so.

Prentice was as surprised as anyone that meditation has helped her to beef up her mental stamina.

She knew that meditation could come in handy for unwinding and destressing, but to find that meditation is also helping her to achieve her goals in such a tangible way has been an added bonus.

Prentice was no meditator before her course. In fact, she had only had “a very basic taste of meditation” courtesy of yoga classes before embarking on the introductory course.

Instead of finding it a drag and becoming annoyed at having to squeeze it into a crammed appointment schedule, she found the sessions an enjoyable respite from the working day.

Yet she is quick to add that getting the mind 100 per cent sharp by meditating is an elusive concept. “It would take a lot of practise to experience mental silence,” she concedes.

Still, for her, there’s no doubt the meditation course has given her a desirable skill for her career toolkit: a better ability to focus.

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Zen and success at work

London Evening Standard: If you have ever watched Tiger Woods play golf, you know the look. Brim pulled down over the eyes, which are locked on some point far down the fairway.

Despite all the hubbub, he is locked into the moment.

His opponent stands off to one side gnawing his knuckles, knowing another defeat is just a few holes away. Credit meditation for Woods’ extraordinary focus.

An essential part of Tiger Woods’ success is what he calls “staying in the present” and not letting his mind wander off to hoisting a trophy or depositing another million-dollar cheque.

While other golfers may live in the future, at the moment Woods plays his shots, he is apparently free of the conscious worry which plagues the weekend duffer.

And he puts much of this down to meditation and the Eastern philosophy, mostly Buddhist, he learned from his Thai mother.

In addition to his early morning workouts and hours on the driving range, he also meditates daily.

The value of meditation has long been known to those who practise it. David Lynch, the director of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, established a foundation for “consciousness-based education and world peace” inspired by his 30 years’ practising transcendental meditation.

Lynch’s ambition is for children to spend one class a day “diving within”, so they can better deal with stress and be more creative throughout their lives.

In the United Kingdom, William Hague has credited his meditative practice with helping him ride the roller coaster of politics.

With so much stress in the economy, meditation is also gaining popularity with business executives.

After the past couple of years, who couldn’t use half an hour a day to tame what Buddhists call “the wild horses” of the mind?

Read the rest of this article…

One of the most prominent advocates of meditation is William George, a Harvard Business School professor and board member at Goldman Sachs. George started to meditate 35 years ago while running the medical devices firm Medtronic.

He calls meditation “the single best thing that happened to me in terms of my leadership”. He says that it “enables one to focus on what is really important; and I haven’t had high blood pressure since the Seventies”.

Pointing to the recent financial crisis, George told Bloomberg News: “I think meditation in these times has an important role to play.

“If you take Wall Street versus Warren Buffett, he has made much wiser decisions than Wall Street has.

Now, I don’t know if he’s a meditator, but he’s calm, thoughtful and he stays clear. Wall Street’s trading floor is exactly the opposite.”

Firms ranging from Apple to Google and organisations such as Nasa offer free meditation classes to their employees these days.

It is regarded by these firms as far more than Eastern quackery or a luxury like free cappuccinos.

Meditation not only helps focus but it is also an effective preventative treatment of stress-related illnesses that cost businesses billions every year.

Google has held regular meditation sessions at its offices around the world for the past two years.

The firm believes that it helps employees develop their “emotional intelligence”, which in turn benefits the company.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the head of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts and one of meditation’s greatest champions, calls meditation an act of love, towards oneself and others.

He is a particular favourite at technology firms.

During his talks, he often brings a tennis ball and drops it to signify the act of dropping into the moment.

He argues that greater knowledge of the mind, attained through meditation, helps business people sweep away the tacit assumptions which so often lead to problems.

In a modern society where so many people suffer from attention deficit disorders, he says, it is all about doing, with little recognition of being. The consequence is that people struggle to rest their minds.

Three years ago, the Dalai Lama supplied 12 Buddhist monks to a team of American neuroscientists so they could study the neurological effect of meditation.

The scientists found that by meditating for tens of thousands of hours, the monks had altered the structure and function of their brains.

It appeared that the monks’ brain waves oscillated at a different rate from those in people who never meditated. They were capable of much more focused thought.

The research was called into question by other scientists but it did prompt a wave of interest in how humans might be able to use meditation to change the function of their brains for the better.

One of the most popular forms of meditation for corporate types is Vipassana, which translates as “insight”.

There are Vipassana centres all over the world, founded by SN Goenka, a Burmese entrepreneur. An introductory retreat involves 10 days of “noble silence”.

Days begin at 4am followed by 11 hours of private and group meditation interspersed with meals and lectures. Once they leave, students are advised to meditate twice a day.

Keith Ferrazzi, an expert on networking and author of the best-selling book Never Eat Lunch Alone, says that the 10-day Vipassana meditation is the one time of year when he stops networking and clears his mind.

The key to networking, after all, he says, is “not being an asshole”.

People are more likely to want to know you if you exude the calm and confidence of the seasoned meditator.

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Happiness, Inc: Deepak Chopra’s Path to Inner Peace

ABC: Thoroughly Modern Guru Says Daily Meditation Helps Him Avoid Stress

Deepak Chopra, the thoroughly modern guru, walks through Manhattan tweeting, delivering inspirational messages in 140 characters or less. “The purpose of life is the expansion of happiness,” he tweets to the more than 106,000 people who follow his updates.

Between his tweets, Chopra blogs, has a satellite radio show, and writes books on everything from spirituality, to health, to cooking and even golf. Aside from that, he sells CDs, DVDs and has a pair of holistic centers complete with his own line of dietary supplements.

In the span of one week, Chopra shuttles between meetings with publishers, philanthropists, video game programmers and a promotional taping for his new book, and those are just some of the projects he’s working on.

Chopra is also in talks to produce a television and Broadway show, and is developing an iPhone application to deliver inspirational messages to subscribers.

While Chopra’s schedule sounds hectic, he maintains that he does it all, with no stress whatsoever. It’s a life he describes as one of “effortless spontaneity.”

According to Chopra, one of the keys of achieving “effortless spontaneity” is to get up early every day to meditate. While meditating, Chopra pictures his mind as a rushing river of thoughts. Those thoughts include fears, resentments, hopes, dreams and to-do lists. The goal, he says, is to step out of that river and find some space between the thoughts so that they no longer control you.

While meditating, Chopra suggests focusing on a simple saying, such as “I am.”

“Whenever you become aware that you have drifted away from, ‘I am,’ then very gently bring your attention back to, ‘I am,'” Chopra says.

Chopra says he believes that after only 20 minutes of meditation, you can become keenly aware of your mind.

“The average person on the street is not aware of their mind,” he says. “They’re just acting out their thoughts like bundles of reflexes.”

Chopra says simply being aware of the constant stream of thoughts in your head is the first step. He says that awareness is what keeps him from losing his temper.

“The next time someone cuts me off on the highway, instead of showing them the finger or blowing my horn, I don’t react,” he says. “I witness the whole thing.”

From there, Chopra says he can stop the anger from welling up inside him.

However, there are times when the cool-headed guru engages in heated debate. In early 2009 ABC moderated a panel discussion during which Chopra argued vigorously with evangelical Christians, a group he spars with frequently.

Chopra says that his reaction was not one of anger, but of passion.

“To be passionate, to have discontent is not to be predictably reactive. I think without passion you’d be a walking dead person,” Chopra says.

Chopra was not always able to balance detachment and dynamism. As a young physician he smoked, drank and worked too hard.

“I suddenly one day got up and it was dramatic,” he says of his epiphany. “I said, ‘I been there, done that. It’s over.'”

After his realization, Chopra became a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine. He has written 50 books, several of which have become bestsellers, spreading his message to 15 million people.

Chopra’s arguments have been met with some skepticism. Some experts in the medical and scientific communities take issue of his blending of science and spirituality.

“What he does bothers a lot of scientists, including me,” said Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society. “It isn’t his summary of recent scientific findings that is the problem. It is in the extrapolation from recent data and tentative conclusions that scientists cautiously draw from those data where Deepak goes too far.”

During the week ABC News trails Chopra, he meets with a mentalist who can bend forks and a physicist who predicts imminent time travel and invisibility. Chopra also argues that one can reverse the aging process.

“I’m going to be 63 in less than a few weeks,” Chopra says. “Biologically I think I have the capacity of a 35-year-old.”

Chopra knows his logic draws its share of skeptics, but that doesn’t seem to bother him.

Deepak Chopra Says Purpose of Life Is ‘Expansion of Happiness’

“They don’t understand what I’m talking about and probably won’t. Paradigm shifts happen one funeral at a time. We have to wait for those guys to leave,” Chopra says.

While some scientists don’t like Chopra, plenty of celebrities love him. He has had close relationships with people like Michael Jackson, Hugh Jackman, Madonna, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and comedian Mike Meyers, who parodied him in the 2008 comedy “The Love Guru.”

Chopra made clear that while he values those friendships, he doesn’t let it go to his head.

“I’ve never sought any friendship with these people,” he says. “I think they have so much power and so much influence that if you could harness the collective intent and collective creativity you could address all the problems in the world.”

If anything, Chopra says his celebrity pals help him draw attention to important causes, and he describes them as powerful allies. Although he says he appreciates the value of having friends in high places, Chopra’s family keeps him grounded.

“In my case, my kids and wife make sure that my ego’s in check because they don’t take me seriously,” he says.

While some consider Chopra a man of contradiction and controversy, to some, he’s something else — thought-provoking.

In one e-mail message Chopra writes, “Remember infinity is around you all the time.”

“If this universe is infinite then wherever you are, you are the center of the universe right?” he says. “I think just to have the notion that every side that I look at is infinity sparks a sense of wondrousness inside me that makes life so magical that I cannot be offended by or bogged by triviality anymore.”

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“The Mindful Leader” by Michael Carroll

The Mindful Leader by Michael Carroll

In The Mindful Leader, author Michael Carroll’s premise is that the best leaders aren’t those who take charge and make things happen. They’re the ones who are willing to be fully human and inspire the best in others. Sunada reviews this book that shows us how to pursue excellence at work and do so with decency, dignity, and authenticity.

Pick up a typical book on business leadership and what do you get? Advice on how to motivate others to do more, do it faster, and win in a zero-sum game. But on the first page of The Mindful Leader, it’s suggested that we sit quietly and do nothing for a while.

Outrageous? Not at all!

Michael Carroll takes a decidedly unconventional, but thoroughly refreshing perspective on the subject. He explains as follows:

“When we lead a career that is sharply focused on being more successful, more admired, or just more comfortable, we can deceive ourselves into neglecting the world around us. We end up managing our lives like projects rather than actually living them. Consequently, for mindful leaders, cultivating this ability to be at work and throughout our lives is not just a nice idea or an interesting thing to do. Rather, by learning to be at work we discover how to stop kidding ourselves and … to open respectfully and realistically to our workplace as it unfolds in the present moment.”

If this strikes you as too soft and “touchy-feely” for the take-no-prisoners business world, I urge you to read on. He isn’t advocating becoming a nice, well-liked person who gets left behind in the cut-throat race to the finish. Carroll would argue that being a genuine human being and an effective leader are not contradictory. In fact, there’s a synergy between these two realms that’s greater than the sum of their parts.

In the introduction, Carroll talks about the concept of the bodhisattva-warrior. A bodhisattva is a highly advanced spiritual being whose sole purpose in life is to help others. A bodhisattva-warrior is a courageous figure who uses his power and ingenuity to overcome the forces of arrogance, aggression, and greed in the world. This book is in effect a training manual for modern-day bodhisattva-warriors. It’s not a job for sissies.

Michael Carroll has the background to know what he’s talking about. In his 25-year career, he held executive positions in major corporations like Shearson Lehman/American Express, Simon & Schuster, and Walt Disney. During that time, he also studied Tibetan Buddhism in the Shambala lineage, graduated from Buddhist seminary, and is now a senior teacher. Drawing on his training in these two worlds, he now consults to businesses on how to be respectfully in the moment while confidently pursuing one’s work objectives. (Note that I also wrote a review of his related previous book, Awake at Work.)

The heart of the book lays out the Ten Talents of the Mindful Leader: Simplicity, Poise, Respect, Courage, Confidence, Enthusiasm, Patience, Awareness, Skillfulness, and Humility. He discusses each talent by introducing a common business challenge, and then shows how mindfulness naturally expresses a quality perfectly suited to countering the situation. He discusses how to cultivate this quality through meditation or conscious reflection, and how to bring it out into our work world.

Title: The Mindful Leader
Author: Michael Carroll
Publisher: Shambhala Publications
ISBN: 978-1-59030-620-8
Available from: and Shambhala.

One chapter at a time, he shows how we can heal “toxic” workplaces, cultivate courage in the face of risky situations, pursue long-term goals without sacrificing what’s here and now, and lead with wisdom and grace instead of ambition and power. Every chapter is filled with real world anecdotes and parables from the Buddhist tradition that bring his points colorfully to life.

It’s the section that follows, Bringing Our Full Being to Work, that I appreciated the most. Here, Carroll draws out a higher level of integrative skills that I think are the mark of a true leader. It’s where all the previous ten talents meld into a holistic vision of masterful leadership. These skills are Synchronizing, Engaging the Whole, Inspiring Health and Well-being, and Authenticity.

I particularly enjoyed his story of a capsized ferry disaster in ancient China, which is an illustration of Engaging the Whole. I’ll let the story speak for itself.

… all the villagers dropped what they were doing and raced down to the ferry … except for the blacksmith. … He ran in the opposite direction. People stopped and grumbled, ‘Now we know who to depend on when things go wrong. Look at that cowardly blacksmith scurrying away when he is most needed.’

As people rushed to the capsized ferry, they struggled valiantly to save those in the water, but they were too late. Those who had fallen into the river had been pulled downstream by the strong current, and the villagers could see people struggling in the rapids as they were swept out of sight and around the bend. No one could see the blacksmith, however, just past the curve of the river extending a bamboo pole to those in need, pulling them to shore one by one.

Unlike the well-intentioned villagers, the blacksmith ‘engaged the whole’: his behaviors were as much an expression of the circumstances as they were a reaction to them. He knew that ‘results’ – saving the drowning passengers – were inherently defined by the river, terrain, and timing, not by his personal need to help. Going downstream rather than rushing in panic to the scene of the disaster was a choice that followed the contours of his world: because he was synchronized, he was skillfully in tune with the facts, and his presence was, in many respects, an expression of the situation’s intelligence.

Let me mention a couple things you WON’T find in this book. First, it doesn’t teach you how to meditate. There is a section on meditation and reflection, but it’s clear the intent is to provide just enough guidance to engage with the reflection exercises. It won’t help you start a full-fledged meditation practice, which is really beyond the scope of this book. You’re better off using the chapter as a reference and seeking instruction elsewhere.

Second, you’ve probably figured out by now that this book isn’t about management methods and competencies. You won’t find anything that you can bring to your office on Monday and get cracking on. What it does is invite you to pause and reflect. It gives you lots of food for thought about what it means to be more fully and authentically human. And it encourages us to cultivate the basic attitudes and mental skills that form the ground upon which great leaders naturally emerge.

There’s one other important point from the book I’d like to emphasize. Although the subject is leadership in a business context, I think the principles can apply to anyone. Leadership isn’t something that only CEOs do. Each and every one of us can be a leader in whatever we do – whether we’re teaching children, designing software, or driving taxis.

As Carroll says:

… all human beings instinctively want to offer their best to others and in turn inspire others to do the same, and this can be done by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

In that regard, I hope this book is read by a much wider audience than just business people. If everyone followed these principles and engaged with the world in this way, our planet would be a very different place indeed.

Here’s a YouTube video of Michael Carroll speaking at a “Meet the Author” event at Northeastern University in Boston MA.

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Meditation makes you a better business leader Spending quality time with themselves helps business leaders realise their full potential in all walks of life, explains Stephen Manallack, a consultant in leadership and communication and a meditation teacher, in Australia. Read more here.

Meditation and leadership are two of the oldest human activities – they work well together. With beginnings in India, many western leaders are turning to this approach to improve leadership.

In meditation, we come face to face with who we are and find ways to become a better individual, and in leadership it is exactly the same – by coming face to face with who we are, we can find meaningful ways to lead others.

Leadership connects so well with meditation because it is a quick way to realise that wakefulness and ease of living are already within you – these are two of the best assets of a leader. It also helps us cope with stress and deal with change. Only through meditation does this ease of leading shine through, allowing you to be of benefit to yourself and all you touch.

Meditation is like a mango. A mango-lover might explain the taste but in the end, words cannot explain it adequately. If you want to know what a mango tastes like, you have to taste one yourself. So it is with meditation – to know if it works, you have to first try it.

The central point is that when we meditate we are reminded of who we really are. ”Know thyself” was the prescription of the Greek philosophers, and throughout history an enduring quality of the best leaders has been their self-awareness.

In the busyness and stress of the life of a leader, a regular sitting meditation practice reconnects you with the stillness inside – it centres you and gives a sense of ease, of wellbeing. The people you lead are acutely aware of whether you have this strong core, and respect it when they see it.

The combination of formal learning and internal wisdom becomes powerfully inspirational.

The meditative leader has a quality of presence and ease, and when others are flustered or confused, the meditative leader has clearly seen what is going on, pointing the way forward.

The life of a leader revolves around the needs and demands of others (boards and others above, managers and staff below, customers and suppliers, regulators, journalists and financial analysts and more), which is why meditation is such a special way for the leader to be more in tune with others.

Physically, meditation can soften all your tension, letting your face and eyes become soft, letting your shoulders drop and our arms and hands rest. Ultimately, it improves posture, because your stance reflects your mood. There is a whole natural rhythm of our body that we can rest in, taking refuge and peace in it – the only ”holiday island” you really need.

By being more focused in the moment, you become a better guide and analyst. Through meditation we can find the pure concentration of a champion. You cannot help others right now if your mind is already dealing with events still to come.

Modern offices and life in general are buzzing soundscapes, bright visualscapes and more information-rich that we have experienced in evolution. Increasingly people are reporting that this is confusing and stressful – but also addictive. They cannot break the cycle of constant activity and noise.

But we do know that stress and tiredness can become a way of life at the top, also causing emotional distortions and judgement deficits. On the other hand, if we feel good, little things do not grate, changes do not fluster and we can make priority choices easily.

Given that most leaders appear to be confident, it is surprising how many are internally concerned with am I good enough? I have heard leaders admitting that for all of their time as a chief executive officer, they expected the tap on the shoulder, the reminder that they should not be there.

Meditation helps your confidence soar – through developing a non-arrogant sense of ease, well being, of being well placed where you are. To have this mind of a leader, meditation on loving kindness for self is essential – otherwise the silent voice of self criticism finds a way through. The Buddha summed it up ”Search the whole universe and you will not find a single being more worthy of loving kindness than yourself”.

Many experience success without great happiness or contentment, and many others are their own harshest critic. Many have been a leader to others, but very far from being their own best friend. Even leading a team of senior people or advising others in high pressure roles, the inner judge can be merciless, relentless, ready to jump in and condemn…you.

Gradually you can become aware that you would never treat a friend the way you treat you – without mercy, understanding or kindness. Eventually, the critic wins out and things collapse around you.

You cannot be a leader like this, you cannot lead if within your mind is a lingering thought that ”something is fundamentally wrong with me”. This can drive you in lots of contradictory directions, searching for success.

Success as some kind of cover up is no success at all, because even at the very top you live in fear of failure.

To the world, this kind of leader can appear highly functional, successful, on top of things. But not so to the people around them – they can see the uncertainty, they directly feel the confusion and live on the edge.

Feeling not good enough could make you feel lonely, even when surrounded by family and friends – ”lost in your inadequate self” while others seemed happy and connected. Gradually, this leader becomes more and more hollow, anxious, lonely, scared and confused.

Meditation is a powerful way to reconnect with the positive, to realize this awful truth – that beneath all your mood swings, or alcohol abuse, or depression or loneliness, lurks this feeling of deep personal deficiency.

Gradually through meditation we can gain glimpses of the core of suffering that we cultivate and which could be with us for a lifetime unless we do something about it, starting now.

This is no overnight cure. Only over time will your heart start to feel lighter, and over time you will feel ”kinder to me”. Those that you lead also suffer in this way.

We have to actively train the heart and the mind to be ready for leadership. A leader who is at war with him or her self is not pleasant to follow. Their leadership is erratic, decision making emotional and the whole organisation becomes unstable.

Through meditation we can reverse our habit of living at war with ourselves, and reverse our fear of life’s experiences. By changing this focus on self, we become free to lead others
In that way, meditative mindfulness and compassion becomes the key to leadership.

Normally, we feel that if we think about my needs and my skills, we will be able to do our best. But meditation introduces a different view – we will do better if we think less and less about our own needs, and more about others.

The specific meditation known as loving kindness acts as a powerful antidote to anger and confusion and a closed heart. We know that anger is not a sound basis for decisions. Confusion does not inspire others. These are the enemy of the leader. But loving kindness opens the doors and windows of the heart, allowing us to be the leader we can be.

Applying meditation in hard times or when you face difficult circumstances can be very beneficial. It can free you from the chains of uncertainty, allowing you to focus fully on the situation.

A true leader is the one who keeps perspective when others are emotional. It is the one who sees the specific problem when others see a myriad of challenges. True leadership is the ability to combine calm and firm direction. Finally, true leaders have the ability to summarise the situation, identify the way out and communicate all of this in a way which reassures, which enthuses and which unites.

Danger lurks in many seemingly harmless parts of your organization, and this danger can be best described as the acceptance of bad habits. Once bad habits creep in, if you are not a watchful leader, these habits are passed on to others and gradually become part of your corporate culture. Failure is just around the corner.

Spotting bad habits sounds easy but is hard to do – most leaders exist in a kind of cocoon, surrounded by myths and a denial of what is true. Denial among those at the top, and around the top, is endemic.

While you deny reality, how can you possibly lead? While you deny problems, you will never face up to them. Denial is like delusion – it is not a guiding light for any of us.

To break out of the ”cocoon of denial”, you will need to be honest with yourself – even to the point of questioning all your fixed views, all your assumptions. An open mind is a sharp mind. In the same way, the mind of a leader needs to be open.

You can see how leaders who want to survive into the 2020’s will need a good mix of honesty and integrity, being able to see things for what they are and to plan ways to improve the success rate of every part of the organization. That is, good leaders have strong moral values.

As leaders face inevitable hard times and difficulties, they might need to change. How do we change ourselves? We know that emotions last for seconds, that moods can last for a day or so, and that temperament is something forged over many years. So if we want to change, we start small. Start with the emotions, this then helps change our moods, and that then stabilises or modifies our temperament.

That is, the way to change through meditation is to start with the instantaneous events that take place in our mind. It’s like the saying – if we take care of the minutes, the hours will take care of themselves.

A key point to recognise is that one thought leads to another. It becomes a chain of thoughts. Small thoughts can grow into personal disasters for us, and those around us. Meditation is the basic tool we use to change ourselves.

This is personal change on a scale that can be called being freedom. It’s not that meditation makes us zombies or apathetic – quite the reverse, it gives us mastery over our thoughts. Our thoughts no longer lead us by the nose.

In the same way, we can develop certain personal qualities that will become a new nature or a new temperament for us. These qualities might include generosity, patience, love, compassion and wisdom – leadership.

It takes a real leader to see the futility of old ways and old habits. By letting go, we have a greater vision, become free, therefore gaining strength and confidence because we are no longer condemned to our habits, but can emerge from them, change, grow and be a better leader.

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Hi! Managers: Meditation makes a big difference

The Nation, Thailand: “In a mid-size manufacturing company, the productivity and profitability rose steadily as the number of employees practising a particular form of meditation over the same period rose to 80 per cent of the workforce. During this period, productivity increased by 52 per cent, annual sales grew by 88 per cent and absenteeism declined by 89 per cent.” – The Academy of Management Journal.

This is very interesting, but one has to wonder: How can something as simple as meditation be so beneficial to business performance?

Meditation is the skill of paying attention in a restful way to the flow of life in mind and body. It produces a deep state of relaxation and awareness, and serves as a gateway to a profound healing state.

Meditation can be considered a natural response, or a built-in instinct, because mind and body willingly know how to do it.

It is, however, a mental discipline, which goes beyond a reflexive action.

“… a growing number of corporations, including Deutsche Bank, Google and Hughes Aircraft, offer meditation classes to their workers. Making employees sharper is only one benefit. Studies say meditation also improves productivity, in large part by preventing stress-related illness and reducing absenteeism.”

– Time magazine

When I’m having a rough day with a busy schedule and a variety of tasks waiting for decisions, I need a short break. Unfortunately, I cannot leave the office. To relieve my stress, I put my burdens behind me and take deep breaths – in and out – at least five times. Then, I continue breathing normally and complete my tasks.

It is obvious to me that practising meditation clears the mind. I can relax and let thoughts come and go. The “interference” I feel beforehand subsides. I can keep my focus longer, while the physical strain and mental fatigue that come from sitting at a desk and obsessing over problems for hours are reduced.

I also have other methods of practising meditation. They do not require visiting a temple, because meditation, by my definition, is applied to stay focused on all the activities I do each day. For example, when I listen to New Age songs, I focus on listening. When I paint pictures, I focus on painting. And when I tend to my flowers, I focus on gardening.

I highly recommend pausing throughout your day to feel your mind and body. When you are stressed at work – when you feel your shoulders or back stiffening after a tense meeting or workshop – you need to take time to make yourself physically and mentally comfortable.

There is nothing mysterious about meditation. You will see visible, life-transforming changes to your business performance if you start meditating every day, for 20 minutes in the morning before breakfast and 20 minutes in the evening before dinner.

Chantana Sukumanont is executive vice president of Siam City Cement. Her column is published every second Monday of the month.

Original article no longer available….

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