Many people hear the term mindfulness meditation and instantly their eyes narrow with alarm or roll back into their heads. I think I can see the thought bubble over their head flashing “Yes, I know, I know…but I’m trying to build a career here! I don’t have the time!” Because in the busy life of today’s leader (or rising leader) there never seems to be enough time for anything, much less 15 minutes a day for mindfulness meditation. That’s a mistake.
If you do not practice mindfulness, you may be short shrifting your career because you are neglecting to develop critical skills you need to grow and thrive in your career — and in the rest of your life. Here are 3 reasons why cultivating mindfulness through meditation is necessary for your success.
Mindfulness changes your brain – for the better
You may already be aware of the many health benefits of meditation: lower blood pressure, less inflammation, pain management, to name a few. You may not yet have heard that research has also shown that mindfulness meditation also benefits your brain.
In fact, with a regular meditation practice, the source of your “lizard brain” (the amygdala) actually begins to shrink. And as this primal region of your brain shrinks, the area of your brain associated with higher order thinking (the prefrontal cortex) — awareness, concentration and decision making — becomes thicker. These brain benefits were visible within just 8 weeks and correlate with the amount of time devoted to meditation.
Leaders need take on bigger and ever more complex business challenges, so you need every edge. Starting your regular mindfulness meditation practice now — whether you’re already an executive or plan to be one someday — is like money in bank because the brain benefits will be there when you need it.
Your stress hurts your team
A leader’s stress is contagious. Your team members who see you under stress – tired, frazzled and unfocused – will experience empathic stress responses including increased cortisol. And if you allow your stress to progress into full fledged burnout your team is far more likely to mirror your negative attitudes. This is especially dangerous in today’s open workspace environments because there isn’t an office door to shut to prevent your team from “catching” your stress or burnout.
For all leaders, a big portion of your day-to-day is about motivating and inspiring your team. You don’t want to increase your team’s stress or hurt their health or productivity so you need to be in control of your emotions and proactively managing your stress – all things that stem from a practice of mindful meditation.
Leaders need more soft skills
As a leader, your role – and your value to the organization – changes from being the one “doing” the work, to being the one ensuring the “right” work gets done. And all the work gets done by and with other people. This means that as you rise in an organization more and more of your success depends upon your ability to effectively communicate, motivate and mediate.
A mindfulness meditation practice teaches you to be present and more aware of the meta messages inherent in any interpersonal exchange. Truly listening to your team and colleagues and staying aware of their emotional responses — both expressed and not — will help you to most effectively adapt your communications and responses for the best result.
As an ambitious leader, I hope these reasons encourage you to make mindfulness meditation a priority. A regular mindfulness meditation practice — even just a few minutes a day — can help you be the leader you need to be for your team and for your organization.