The business landscape is constantly in a state of flux. Leadership theories have failed to keep pace with a rapidly changing business environment and employees’ aspirations. This humorous video clearly illustrates how leaders and employee expectations can be poles apart.
Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. Ideas on exactly how to achieve this have changed dramatically over the years. Trait theories have given way to behavioral theories, and later contingency theories. Transformational theories incorporating heroic leadership are now giving way to human potential theories, incorporating authentic leadership, resonant leadership, and mindful leadership. Where is it going next? To find out, let’s start by examining who today’s leaders are.
According to recent research, the average age of directors at S&P 500 companies is 62.4. Further research suggests that the average age of a U.S. CEO is 54, the youngest of C-suite leaders being chief information officers at an average age of 51. While older leaders have the benefit of years of experience, their formal education in leadership may not have been updated since the 1980s or 90s—decades that required different leadership attributes to those we need today, as Millennials make up more of the workforce.
Researchers say that Millennials most want four key things from leaders:
- Mentoring: Millennials want feedback on what’s working and what isn't—appreciation for things going well, and support and direction on how to improve.
- Gentle Spirit: Millennials are far less likely to tolerate discord at work, especially from their bosses, and are far more likely to report it or shine a light on it.
- Authenticity: When asked to describe leaders they wanted to follow, the key word that came up was "real." What stands out most for them is not perfection, but authenticity.
- Integrity: Like most people, Millennials want leaders they can trust. They can react badly to business leaders who prioritize personal gain over serving others. They respect leaders who walk the talk, and who do things for the greater good.
Gentle spirit, authenticity, and integrity may not be inherent attributes that arise from executive education in the 80s and 90s, which encouraged leaders to behave in a way that elicited admiration, dedication, and unquestioning loyalty.
Many leadership programs are based on fads, such as the ones that shaped the previous generation and encouraged an “alpha leader” mentality. These fads often start as an academic discovery, whose findings get exaggerated. The fad becomes popularized by a best-selling book, and spread further by consultants looking for new and innovative approaches.
Why Mindfulness Matters to LeadersThe impact of mindfulness in a workplace context is well researched. According to the Institute for Mindful Leadership, “Mindfulness is often defined as nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness.” Mindfulness has a wide range of benefits for leaders:
- It improves well-being and reduces risk of burnout.
- It helps you become aware of outdated patterns of thinking and behavior that may no longer be serving you.
- It improves focus and concentration.
- It helps you to see the bigger picture, and see things as they really are.
- It helps you to manage your emotions.
- It helps you to hear and communicate better with others, which enhances relationships at work.
More than 125 separate research studies now demonstrate that mindfulness training can lead to a range of highly desirable work outcomes. Mindfulness training can improve performance, productivity, staff engagement, meeting effectiveness, and decision making. If you broaden the category to include all mindfulness research, more than 3,000 papers demonstrate the ability for mindfulness to increase well-being and reduce stress and the risk of burnout.
Cultivating mindfulness is probably the best investment that you can make in your development as a leader. You don’t need to take costly courses or go on lengthy retreats to develop mindfulness; and if you are a savvy leader, you will quickly recognize ways to apply it to your interactions with others. It will encourage you to be the more collaborative, authentic, and honest leader that Millennials seek.
Mindfulness isn’t a magic cure-all, and it cannot be developed by reading a book—practice is essential. Practice increases the self-knowledge and awareness that help you to better manage yourself. Ten minutes or more of daily mindfulness training offers a greater return on investment than any MBA program I know of.
As an added bonus, once you are familiar with mindfulness, you can use it as a foundation to focus your intention, which will activate your will, concentrate your attention, and trigger cognitive processes that help you to get the results you want more quickly. I’ll write more about this in my next blog post.
In the meantime, consider joining me at ATD 2018 International Conference & EXPO for the session: Developing Mindful Leadership Within Your Organization.