Mindful Management


“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

By Mary Beth Wallace

A fascination with the idea of mindfulness, and what it can do for you, has surged in the United States in recent decades. Professor and author Jon Kabat-Zinn is frequently attributed for this rise, having founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the 1990s. While many Americans are now exploring this centuries-old concept, often with the goal of combatting anxiety and illness, we’ve learned that mindfulness is much more than a stress-reducing tool – it’s an asset to business leaders seeking to excel in creating the most attractive and productive work environments.

The benefits of mindfulness in the workplace are numerous, extending from the employee to the top executive. Not only has mindfulness been linked to lower blood pressure, improved memory, and less stress, but business leaders also report better decision making, more satisfying professional connections, and enhanced productivity and creativity. Elizabeth Kabalka, executive director at the Center for Mindful Living in Chattanooga, says, “Given the rapid pace of business, we all want to be 100% present, and not just reacting to the fear that being busy and stressed can cause. Mindfulness allows us to better focus, to better regulate ourselves so that we can tune into others and be better leaders.”

There are multiple ways to incorporate mindfulness in your daily life and in your business, and it doesn’t have to be a yoga session or meditation. Mindfulness often begins with a certain self-awareness: learning and improving upon your strengths, while also recognizing when and where you could use help. “The foundation of an innovative, successful business leader rests on relationships, and our relationships with others begin with ourselves. In order to have effective, productive, and enjoyable connections with our employees, we must become aware of ourselves and our patterns,” says Julie L. Brown, psychotherapist and consultant.

Patience, open communication, and collaboration are all keys to a mindful management style. Taking the time to break from your workday and breathe or meditate, especially before a big meeting with a difficult client or employee, allows you the opportunity to calm yourself and “be present” mentally – without distraction. Once business leaders master some of these mindful practices, they can model and encourage mindfulness among their employees.

Scott Downes, chief technical officer at Bellhops, believes that a mindful management style has had a positive impact on his life in every aspect. “Sometimes people see mindfulness as a coping strategy for high-stress environments,” Downes explains.

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“That mindset presumes that we’re always starting from a negative place, a life where joy is scarce and challenges are relentless. Everyone draws different benefits from mindfulness, but I see my own meditation practice as something that enhances my ability to be a better leader and enjoy life, not just a stress management technique.”

A further step that managers can take involves offering mindfulness training to their employees. Mindfulness training has resulted in improved workplace functioning for companies across the country, and employees who complete it can tap into their training when stressed or under pressure. “More and more businesses are incorporating mindfulness training in the workplace and finding that as their employees’ life satisfaction improves, turnover lessens while productivity increases,” Brown shares. “I believe change begins at the top of the organizational chart; if the leadership team is living more mindfully, they will make decisions and lead in a more conscious manner.”

Mindfulness training may be offered individually or in group settings, although Brown suggests tailoring these sessions to your specific company. Apple, Google, General Mills, and Nike are just a few of the Fortune 500 organizations participating in mindfulness training, and Chattanooga-based companies are beginning to follow suit. Employees at EPB were recently invited to a “Lunch & Learn” event hosted by the Center for Mindful Living, where the topic of mindfulness was discussed. Marie Webb, EPB’s vice president of human resources, explains, “Mindfulness, intentionality, and focus are all good for the well-being of our employees, which also means it’s good for our business and the customers we have the privilege to serve. We believe that providing this opportunity to our employees is a worthwhile investment.”

Resources abound on the practice of mindfulness, from popular apps and podcasts to online courses and how-to books. The Center for Mindful Living also offers regular mindfulness workshops for members of the business community. “Mindfulness training is similar to physical exercise; there are a variety of practices to choose from,” Kabalka says. “Find what works for you, and then figure out ways to incorporate them into your everyday life. The Center for Mindful Living exists for the same reason that gyms exist – to help set people on a path, and to give them a community of support as they learn these new habits.”

As talent retention continues to be a top concern for executives nationwide, the principles of mindful management will only increase in popularity as an avenue for business leaders to promote a happy and productive work culture.

Mindfulness Resources

Insight Timer

This free app includes guided meditations and talks by the world’s top mindfulness experts. Explore topics such as reducing anxiety, managing stress, improving concentration, and more.

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindful Meditation in Everyday Life
by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Published in 1994, this national bestseller was a major milestone in the rise of modern mindfulness. It remains today a valuable source of information for mindfulness newcomers.

Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out
by David Gelles

Mindful Work more directly examines mindfulness in the workplace, connecting mindfulness techniques to professional success. Insightful and inspiring, this book includes thoughts from high-level managers and meditation masters.

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