Harnessing an evolved form of mindfulness is key to tackling the challenges that face modern organisations, according to a renowned change-management expert.

In an interview with Forbes, business author Bob Rosen – CEO of consultancy Healthy Companies – outlines the central theme of his new book Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life. “In order to cope – and hopefully thrive – in today’s hyper-active marketplace,” he notes, “leaders need to be hyper-aware of what’s going on and what they can do about the current reality … It’s really the only way to succeed, so cultivating a conscious mindset is critical in today’s workplace.”

Rosen explains: “Mindfulness is the ability to maintain a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body and surrounding environment. That’s obviously good, but it’s not good enough. The question becomes:  What do you actually do with this wonderful state of mindfulness that you’ve worked so hard to achieve? Being conscious marries awareness and introspection to decision-making and goal setting. Conscious is literally awareness in action, and it takes mindfulness, if you will, to a whole new level.”

He adds: “For companies, having conscious leaders at every level is critical in so many ways. Beyond the need for leaders to be capable of fomenting and managing constant transformation, we also need leaders who fully grasp and appreciate the need for things like diversity and inclusion, talent management and ethics – all of which are fundamental to the conscious mindset … A big part of being conscious is bringing responsible, well-informed intent to your work.”

While this is all extremely bold, big-picture thinking, some leaders may struggle to embrace the foundational concept of mindfulness in the first place. Why should leaders explore this tool – and how should they encourage their organisations to embrace it?

The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “At its essence, mindfulness is about focus, concentration and being aware of what’s going on around you. So if you put that in an organisational context, it’s really about concentrating – if you’re in a meeting, then be in the meeting. In that sense, mindfulness is the absolute antithesis to multitasking – ie, being preoccupied with a wide range of tasks and thinking constantly about what you have yet to do, rather than what you are actually meant to be doing at the present moment in time.”

Cooper points out: “Cranfield School of Management has done some thorough research on how mindfulness operates on an organisational level. One of the most interesting concepts that its researchers identified was the notion of so-called ‘weak signals’ – best defined as leadership figures’ presentiments of things that could go wrong. This is very much a military style of thinking: paying attention to every tiny detail within a decision-making tree to ensure there isn’t a minute flaw that could cause the whole project to unravel.

“So of course, there’s a lot to learn from mindfulness in terms of how it can enhance focus and concentration during the planning of business initiatives. But if we look outside the realm of business processes, there is also significant evidence to suggest that mindfulness helps leaders to be more aware of their own states of being. And that delves very much into the field of emotional intelligence. In that context, mindfulness requires leaders to set parts of the day aside for meditations or time-outs that will enable them to zero in on where they’re at, and manage their stress levels.”

Cooper adds: “on the question of how leaders should introduce mindfulness to the workplace, the key is to make it accessible. Rather than presenting it as a single solution to all organisational and individual ills, frame it more as a sense-checking tool: what is it really telling us about this challenge we are facing? What can we learn from that? And how can we use those lessons to inform our daily practices?”

For further thoughts on the healthy workplace, check out these learning resources from the Institute

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