A New Era of Leadership: The Mindful Revolution

Mindfulness is the foundation of exceptional leadership. I walked away (mindfully!) from Google’s ‘Search Inside Yourself’ program believing this, having connected previous experiences of leaders I call exceptional. Through mindfulness we can build a space of response versus reacting which is very effective for considered business decisions, essential in this VUCA world I described in my previous blog: Googles’ Search Inside Yourself Reflection


So what does the science say?

Can mindfulness practice positively rewire our brains? Those who have studied the brain would know through neuro plasticity that what we pay attention to can change the structure of our brain. This was amplified with a well published London taxi driver study. It was found that London taxi drivers had a larger brain hippocampus due to a greater volume of nerve cells compared to the average person due to their knowledge of 25,000 roads: http://www.wired.com/2011/12/london-taxi-driver-memory/

Mindfulness practice has since been shown to increase the cortical thickness of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Researchers found parts of the brain involved in self-reflection and empathy were significantly thicker in the mindfulness meditators than in controls: http://www.mindfulness-matters.org/

What about when we’re triggered under pressure?
The pre frontal cortex is the thinking part of brain with the amygdala an alarm system to alert us of danger, our fight or flight reaction. With mindfulness training even the amygdala can be trained with less reactivity being seen in meditators. The following acronyms were shared to help us be more mindful reacting under pressure:

  • SBNRR – stop, breathe, notice, reflect, respond 
  • STOP – stop, take a breath, observe, proceed


We also explored how our predictive brain finds patterns seeking process and hence why we often determine reality based on the past. Instead of this we were asked when you next anticipate a situation (I.e. An interview), imagine and envisage the future that is positive. Think, what’s your best possible future? University of Wisconsin found the brain at positive is 31% more productive than the brain at negative, neutral or stressed.

The Limitations

As in a good, healthy debate, it is important to hear both sides of a story. Although there are numerous studies promoting the benefits of mindfulness (including these) it is too important to be aware of the research limitations. In terms of the quality of research in relation to mindfulness and business results, the program facilitators shared this is very varied. Mindfulness is exploding as a global trend with research still in its infancy.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) analysed the research and found mindfulness can reduce anxiety and depression. This is good news for Australia with recent Mentally healthy Workplace Alliance/PWC research showing stress and mental illness at work costs Australian Business $10.9 billion. JAMA however found little evidence suggesting meditation improves attention. There is scope here for future research which I believe will give greater backing to what intuition tells us.

Motivation, Empathy and Leadership

What do you care about and how are you aligning your life around that? What has heart and meaning for you? These were some of the questions explored on day two of the ‘Search Inside Yourself Program’. We assessed our values, knowing being clear on these makes it clear on what business opportunities we say no and yes to. Three components of motivation explored were alignment, envisaging and resilience. Purpose was shared as ‘connecting to something larger than self which has heart or meaning, that is more sustainable than passion’. Examples shared:

  • Tony Hsieh – a young entrepreneur who developed Zappo’s customer service as a culture built on happiness – Tony believed if employees would be happy, he would have happy customers which is proving great results
  • Dan Pink – talks about intrinsic motivators – autonomy (self-directed and self-generated), mastery (get really good and master it) and purpose (how do I make my unique difference in the world – we all have our unique medicine)

We talked about ‘flow’ described by Daniel Goleman as the ultimate motivator. The flow channel is the perfect balance of not being bored and anxiety, I can relate to this as an athlete when you’re in the zone and in business when you’ve thriving on a project, a similar feeling.


Linda Curtis described resilience involving the emotional experience of being with success and failure – befriending failure and learning to neutralise it. We were asked what we can learn from watching athletic failures and athletes bouncing forwards, the recent world cup as an example.

We explored empathy, how we relate to others, our ability to experience and understand what others feel whilst maintaining a clear discernment about our own and others’ perspectives. We heard, empathy is NOT – agreeing with people or psychologising. A takeaway here was, the more we’re mindful of our own experience the more we can be mindful for others.

We finished the program with a graduation exercise to verbalise in small groups ‘Who am I as a leader’ – it was a huge aha moment for a lot of the audience to consider themselves as leaders and very empowering.

It was a very powerful two days with some of the stand out concepts including radical generosity, making the unconscious conscious and an audience of important strangers giving a real sense of community!

To continue the Mindful Revolution in Australia, the Wake up Project is bringing the Mindful Global Leadership Forum to Sydney this September with a fantastic line up of speakers to help leaders and teams transform through mindfulness: http://mindfulleadershipforum.com/

Key Takeaways:

Compassion is empathy into action, I saw a great example in the Sydney morning herald last weekend which I think exemplifies this: It’s not about politics, simple love project helps sydney’s destitute asylum seekers
Listening to learn, exercises throughout the program involved a 2-3 minute talking stick in pairs where you listened mindfully. This a technique that can be used in business meetings to really hear our colleagues.
We have a choice about how we react, stopping to breathe creates pause with pause creating space – a participant reflection I loved is ‘I am not my amygdala’.
Pain and mindfulness, the pain is not due to the thing itself but your estimate of it – you have power to revoke at any moment, this was key for me during the second half of the ironman marathon.
Mindfulness is the foundation, mindfulness should be the foundation of all leadership programs, them compassion, then teamwork.
Exceptional leaders have strengths in emotional competencies across the board including self-confidence, adaptability, initiative, achievement drive, empathy, influence, team leadership, political awareness and developing others.

Standout Quotes:

photo 2

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl

Success and Failure
photo 1

“Some of the worst things in my life never even happened”. Mark Twain

The Future – “
‘In a sense, we learn from the past what to predict for the future and then live the future we expect” Regina Pally

Useful tips to search inside yourself:

*Utilise mindful listening in areas of conflict in the workplace, give everyone 3 minutes (uninterrupted) to share what they think then invite a meta conversation
*Count the number of times you inject conversations in a day and then be mindful of this, giving people a chance to be heard
*Use your emotional triggers for practice – how can you practice when triggered in real time – walking through a busy city, waiting for the bus, speaking with a ‘difficult’ colleague?
* Remember to stop and breathe when you’re next triggered, we have a choice in how we respond.

References for further interest:
Book: ‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hsieh
TED Talk: The Puzzle of Motivation by Dan Pink – http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation

2 Comments on “A New Era of Leadership: The Mindful Revolution”

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