ATD Blog

The Mind Is the Foundation of a Good Start to 2017

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Mindfulness has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity and acceptance these last few years. Many scientific studies have explored the positive link between practicing mindfulness at work and improvements in wellness, leadership, communication, performance, team relationship, and conflict resolution.

The opportunity to develop tools and skills that significantly enhance team development and leadership has many benefits. Here is one story that illustrates the power of mindfulness.

A very large reinsurance firm has a team that expedites triage and repatriation when you fall ill anywhere, anytime on vacation or travel. It is a very high-stress position that requires focus, concentration, patience, and perseverance to ensure that the patient gets the right treatment in the right place at the right time.

The medical travel insurance team had needed solid management and support for many months. Its morale and productivity were low, while rancor and distress were high. Team members were very stressed due to the critical nature of their jobs.


Enter a new lead, educated as a microbiologist, taking on his first team. He is Senegalese, while working in a northern European city with a virtual crew. He contacted me for coaching, and we began to explore how mindfulness might be a key to the needed turnaround for his team.


Over the course of several months, the team lead introduced the following with remarkable success:

  • He taught his team to recognize when they were experiencing excessive pressure, using breathing as a way to mitigate distress. He gave them the initial skill of taking long, slow, and deep breaths before, during, or after a crisis call or a difficult interaction.
  • He asked his team to send emails to one another spontaneously for work-related kudos. This led to team members bringing baked goods and other treats to thank one another, in addition to dozens of acknowledgments.
  • He put up a large bulletin board where team members could place examples of how they had been helped by others, along with tips for stress management and other suggested acts and words of kindness.
  • He asked them to come up with practical strategies to handle a tumultuous transition, one in which they might lose their jobs, or at the very least, lose a part of their role they enjoyed.

Here are some tips for mindfulness in the New Year:

  • On your way to work, think to yourself, “What is my intention for today? How can I be aware of my team’s needs and concerns? How can I communicate clearly my intent to be of support and a champion for their development?”
  • Set a reminder in your calendar every two hours to get up and stretch, and move. Moving is critical to maintaining high performance.
  • At lunch, get out of the building and get some fresh air.
  • Become mindful of each sense one at a time. For a week, for instance, take pleasure in your sense of smell—notice frequently what you are sensing through your nose. The following week, concentrate on the sense of touch—enjoy temperature changes, for example.
  • Lead with mindfulness. Develop your ability to stand back and simply observe your team without judgment or criticism: its actions, successes, and its need for refinements.
  • Take any situation in which you have a strong emotional response and see if you can observe and learn from your response. Then manage yourself wisely: suppress the fight or flight response with breathing and muscle tension release.
  • Look for ways to bring kindness into a conversation. Generate warmth by thinking about how this person helps you or brings her own brand of warmth to work, and be grateful for her and her contribution.
  • If there is a conflict with another team member, actively try to understand his point of view before trying to have him understand yours.
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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