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Meditation an ancient practice: The underrated tool for better leadership

Meditation doesn't revolve around achieving perfection or eliminating thoughts; it provides a space to connect with ourselves and our surroundings, grounding us in the present moment, the writer says. Image: File.

Meditation doesn't revolve around achieving perfection or eliminating thoughts; it provides a space to connect with ourselves and our surroundings, grounding us in the present moment, the writer says. Image: File.

Published Nov 4, 2023


By Ken Smith

In today's world, things can move fast, and there's always much to do.

Being a leader means you're responsible for making decisions, solving problems, and keeping your team motivated.

With all that going on, it can be challenging to stay focused and keep a clear head, especially when things get complicated or don't go as planned. It's normal for leaders to feel overwhelmed and stressed out sometimes.

Amid our busy lives, it's easy to overlook the incredible benefits of meditation.

But if we look closer, we'll find it's more than a calming practice. It's a powerful tool to help us see the world in a new light, cultivate inner peace, and become better leaders.

By reducing stress and sharpening our awareness, meditation can help us lead with greater effectiveness and confidence.

There is an increasing amount of evidence that shows how meditation can be a valuable tool for leaders to enhance their leadership skills.

The positive effects of meditation include better focus and concentration, decreased levels of stress and anxiety, and improved creativity and problem-solving abilities.

By practising non-judgmental observation of our thoughts and emotions, we can become better leaders, capable of empathy and effectiveness.

Let's delve into the subtle yet profound impact of meditation on leadership.

In meditation, we learn the art of stillness and observation. As S.N. Goenka, a revered Vipassana meditation teacher, eloquently said, "The bird of wisdom needs two wings to fly; they are Awareness and Equanimity."

In Vipassana meditation, "awareness" entails immersing oneself in immediate experiences and being fully attuned to thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surroundings. "Equanimity" is a state of mind marked by unwavering composure, an unshakable balance toward all experiences and objects, regardless of their origin or emotional impact. It is the psychological embodiment of stability and self-possession, even when confronted with emotions, pain, or other disturbances that might unsettle others. In essence, equanimity is the ability to remain calm and composed in trying situations.

How does cultivating an equanimous mind aid in recognising the choices available at any moment?

The power of Awareness and Equanimity lies in creating a space between our intentions and responses, a moment for reflection and the exercise of choice. This aligns with the four pillars of Constructed Development Theory: Intention, Awareness, Choice, and Response. (See my other articles on Dr Darren Stevens' Constructed Development Theory.)

As Viktor Frankl, a renowned psychologist, aptly stated, "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."

When we pause to observe this space, we may notice sensations arising in our bodies. Instead of instinctively reacting to these sensations, we watch them and discern how they influence our reactions to external stimuli. Through this awareness, we can consciously choose to think, feel, and act differently in the moment, thereby expanding our understanding of the 50 Cognitive Intentions (Identity Compass Profile) and how they shape our distinctive thinking styles.

Cognitive Intentions (CI) serve as shortcuts in our thinking, often operating outside our conscious awareness. In psychology, they are recognised as heuristics, mental shortcuts that become our strategies for decision-making and problem-solving. While effective in reducing cognitive load and facilitating rapid judgments, heuristics often lead to irrational or inaccurate conclusions.

Meditation as a development tool for leaders:

Meditation doesn't revolve around achieving perfection or eliminating thoughts; it provides a space to connect with ourselves and our surroundings, grounding us in the present moment.

Cultivating equanimity: Meditation emerges as a potent tool for nurturing a composed mind. Through consistent practice, leaders learn to detach from their emotions, perceiving events without prejudice or bias. Equanimity enables leaders to discern the bigger picture and grasp the underlying meanings and purposes of events, helping them stay committed to their objectives in the face of adversity.

Increase self-awareness: Meditation can also help leaders to develop greater self-awareness. Leaders can better understand their motivations and biases by observing their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Meditation allows leaders to identify and overcome their limiting beliefs and self-imposed constraints. This can help them to reach their full potential and achieve their goals.

Enhanced self-awareness: Meditation empowers leaders to develop profound self-awareness. By observing their thoughts and emotions, leaders can gain deeper insights into how they construct their thinking. The awareness of their intention is the bridge between their Awareness Quotient (AQ) levels. “The adult thinker has the power to change the process of thinking in the moment because of the level of his or her awareness.” (Kuhn et al., 2015).

Intensified focus and concentration: Meditation helps leaders enhance engagement, a critical asset in modern business.

Stress and anxiety reduction: Meditation is a potent tool for reducing stress and anxiety, leading to enhanced decision-making and performance.

A new perspective on life experiences: Meditation encourages leaders to view their past experiences with compassion and understanding. This reflective process helps them learn from their mistakes and make more informed decisions in the future.

Meditation can have numerous benefits for leaders, such as enhancing their effectiveness, resilience, and compassion.

In conclusion, embracing meditation can be a transformative step for leaders seeking to elevate their consciousness, gracefully navigate complexity, and inspire their teams towards success.

By tapping into our inner selves through meditation, we unlock a wealth of wisdom and insight that reshapes our leadership journey. Remember, leadership is not solely about achieving goals; it's about forging meaningful connections, igniting change, and leaving a lasting impact on the world. So, let us pause, take a breath, and embrace the power of stillness to lead with heightened purpose, empathy, and authenticity. In meditation, we uncover the change we aspire to see.

Smith is a developmentalist and the South African chapter representative for the Institute for Adult Development UK.

Ken Smith

Ken Smith: Email: Ken Smith: [email protected] Contact: 0836270805