ATD Blog

The Human Superpowers: Mindfulness, Focus, and Goodwill Building

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

We have two Pyrex measuring cups we use for cooking at home: one holds two cups and the other holds four cups. It would be ineffective for me to pour four cups of liquid into the two-cup vessel. Organizations today are pouring four, six, eight, or more cups of stress into humans whose capacity is currently two cups.

The Role Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavioral Economics Play

Humans have an extraordinary capability to increase their capacity, but the skills and competencies required to build capacity exist primarily in the intrapersonal and interpersonal domain, with which organizations have a historically uneasy relationship.

Psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics all hold promise to increase human capacity and direct focus to those habits that generally make people better. They also have a long history of being “soft sciences” and seemingly inapplicable within an organizational context. Finally, after hundreds of research papers, it is evident that mindfulness, group process dynamics, and nudges have a critical role to play in increasing individual, team, and organizational capacity.

The model I have developed encourages the synergistic and interactive impact of awareness, focus, and the cultivation of goodwill.

It is imperative to face the challenges and stressors of today and the future with self-awareness, awareness of others (empathy), the skill of regulating emotional reactions and responses, focus and relaxation at will, and collaborative conflict resolution under pressure (known in coaching circles as crucial conversations).

Case Examples


Fred runs a large engineering team that has had three full versions of software release in an 18-month period. There has been a very significant drop-off in team morale and productivity, ostensibly due to the long-term effect of nonstop urgency and pressure. Fred has been advised to take the team off-site and have some fun. My advice to him is to build capacity before the next round of releases or versions.

Our strategy is to train the entire team on how to release tension, breathe deeply, and relax muscles. Our follow-up is to introduce two apps for the development of mindfulness, both of which are free and easy to use even when there is little time.

In addition, we have been meeting collectively as a team to develop group awareness cues and prompts that make it a default for the team to work together on becoming mindful. We have borrowed from Karl Weick’s work on high-reliability organizations to encourage habits that make awareness, focus, and honesty resident competencies in the team.

Jenny runs a sales organization in a manufacturing company. They have been wildly successful in developing new business, which is now placing the organization in a “doom loop,” a downward spiral of fatigue, interpersonal irritation, and poor decision making. Jenny and I have together developed a training module on maintaining high energy through good habits like relaxation, asking for and giving support to one another, recognizing each other for accomplishments, and basic mindfulness practices such as stopping to critically examine a direction or choice for its long-term as well as short-term benefits.

The Value Awareness Brings in Change Management


Awareness of our individual stress levels, triggers, and means for destressing are useful and necessary, but when mindfulness becomes an organizational change initiative it has vast potential for energizing, coalescing positive mindsets, and encouraging accountability and honesty.

Placing the tools and skills of change management at the heart of employee self-development ensures there is shared understanding of mindfulness potential. Making change the object of core competence development enhances the likelihood that teams, people, and the system as a whole are ready for the inevitable—much change over a short and long time coupled with disruptive technology and geopolitical and financial events.

Want to learn more? Join me November 7-8 for ATD’s TalentNext: Building an Engaged Workforce. You’ll leave with practical takeaways to improve employee onboarding, engagement, and retention, such as the use of mindfulness in change management.

About the Author

Elad Levinson is an expert in applying neuroscience and cognitive sciences to leadership effectiveness, and has more than 40 years’ experience in leadership roles in various organizations. He held several senior management positions at Agilent Technologies, ICANN, and Stanford University. Elad is currently a senior adviser at 4128 Associates, and the head instructor for Praxis You’s Thriving on Change. Be sure to check out Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader's Toolkit. This is a great resource created by Elad for today's leaders.


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