A high-level executive can become isolated. They surround themselves with people who won’t report negative information. They’re afraid to deliver bad news for fear of repercussions. Not knowing the reality of a situation means you can get into a distorted bubble. A lack of information can lead to poor decisions. You go down a path that’s a mistake from the get-go, but nobody tells you.
When Daniel Goleman spoke with Bill George for Leadership: A Master Class, they discussed what Bill learned from a first-hand experience with the dangers of groupthink.
“Early in my life, I worked in the U.S. Department of Defense as a civilian in the year of Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met in my life were at the high levels of the Pentagon. But toward the end they were walking off the cliff together. They suffered from groupthink. McNamara was so powerful. His team simply reinforced what he was saying. They didn’t take different perspectives.
Any good leader needs to have a reliable team who will ask tough questions, or poke holes in logic.
Another time one of my co-workers asked, “Do you think everyone agreed with that decision in the meeting?” I said, “Yeah, they all said yes, and at the end. We even voted.”
His response was an eye-opener. “Well, there were three people backing their managers that were so angry, they could hardly speak to you because you blew over them, and forced them to say yes.”
After some thought I knew he was right. I had to go back, tail between my legs, and say, “I’m really sorry. I guess I didn’t hear what you were really saying.” That allowed me to be open to honest conversation.
I also learned that it’s not just looking for and appreciating feedback from that special trusted group, but bringing the attitude with you to the office. I now try to surround myself with people who have diverse viewpoints.”
The Coaching Programis an online streaming learning series for executives, highlighting methods for enhancing any leader or manager’s effectiveness, creativity, and ability to connect with their teams.
The C-Suite Toolkitis designed for senior management (or those new to senior management positions) seeking a comprehensive reference library from the most respected business and leadership experts of our time.
The Competency Builder program was created to assist workers at all levels learn how to work more mindfully, improve focus, handle daily stresses better, and use these skills to increase their effectiveness. A great resource for any HR library.
The EI Overview provides easy-to-understand insights into proven-effective ways managers can best employ leadership styles, as well as develop the areas where they lack.
Annie came to America while she was pregnant to assure her abusive husband would never be able to reach their children, as being born on American soil would make them citizens. She has been waiting for her green card for seven years, terrified she’ll be deported and separated from her twin boys. They live in a small, two-bedroom apartment and her boys walk five miles to school through a questionable neighborhood to get to school every day while she works three jobs. She leaves before sunrise and gets home well after dark every day, and hasn’t had a day off in three years. Her only solace is their elderly neighbor, Rosa. She loves cooking dinner for the boys and helping them with their homework, as her own children are grown and gone.
Susan is a CEO at a major corporation, and can not only afford childcare, but to have live-in assistance around the house. She can stock her fridge with the best, organic food, and her children are able to take weekly horseback riding and water polo lessons. She lives in a gated community, drives an eco-friendly car, and is able to take time off at her leisure to spend with her children. She went to college for business so she could take over her father’s corporation when he retired, and her children will never have to worry about affording a higher education.
Annie and Susan are similar women who live in the same city. They’re both single working mothers. They love their two children, and work hard to provide them with the best lives possible. They are the same age, like the same music, and are both reading a Milan Kundera novel in their free time. Annie tries to order a coffee (the sole luxury she allows herself to splurge on) and is fumbling around for change at the bottom of her purse. She’s desperate to avoid the public embarrassment that comes with not being able to afford $3.92 for a drink. She apologizes profusely for holding up the line, and manages to leave a crumpled, well-intentioned dollar bill in the tip jar. Susan, behind her in line, taps her foot impatiently and audibly sighs, even though she could easily buy Annie twenty coffees without ever noticing a lack in funds. When it’s finally Susan’s turn, she doesn’t look up from her phone as she orders, and puts an X over the tip space on her credit card receipt.
Why wouldn’t Susan just help Annie, or the hard-working people at the coffee shop?
“Those with few resources and fragile circumstances – like a single mother working two jobs to pay her bills who needs a neighbor to look after her three-year-old – depend on having good relationships with those may one day turn to for help,” Goleman writes.
Wealthier individuals, in contrast, are able to afford help as needed – they don’t rely on the goodwill of the people surrounding them. Keltner suggests that because the rich can afford to tune out other people, they also learn to tune out the needs and suffering of others. In organizations and corporations, he observed that when high- and low- ranking people interact, the higher person avoids eye contact, interrupts, and steam rolls over the conversation.
John Ogbu, the late Nigerian anthropologist from UC Berkeley, noted that Berkely had a de facto caste system, much to Goleman’s surprise. Ethnic minorities and the while middle class were centralized in different, but defined, parts of town. The schools were in between them, separating the caste lines.
“The moment he pointed [the caste lines] out, I saw he was right. But until then that glaring fact had been under the social radar for me – while I was going to those very schools, I hadn’t given it a second thought,” Goleman reflects.
The Dalai Lama has a lot to say on this topic of socioeconomic divides, and added the aspect of faith to the conversation. Followers of certain religions believe social order determines their destiny. If someone is in a lower class, it is because they deserve to be there. If someone is in a higher class, it is because they have a greater destiny.
The wealthy and elite have many reasons for justifying their choice to ignore the needs and suffering of those around them. They displace the blame to the elect, saying change is out of their control or this is the way it’s always been (a feeble guise for their willful ignorance). They may profess “God made them [the worse off] that way,” or believe a divine being decided these people should be below them. The Dalai Lama dismisses this as totally wrong, and nothing but flimsy excuses for callousness. He calls upon people with the privilege and ability to make change to do so.
“You can repeat ”˜equality, equality’ a thousand times,” the Dalai Lama says, asking his followers to act, not just sympathize. “But in reality, other forces take over.” Awareness without action following means nothing.
There is little empathy in the business and political leaders of today, and little thought is given to how it will affect those without access to power when they make decisions. This callousness makes the gap between the classes, between the tops and bottom of organizations, between the castes invisible. This lack of compassion becomes the norm when it isn’t acknowledged, and isn’t just a problem in Berkeley, California. It’s prevalent everywhere, and can only be changed by action.
Like Gandhi once said, “Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use.”
Working out your mental muscle and toning your mindfulness is a door-opener to endless beneficial skills for leaders, such a resilience, open-mindedness, self-control, patience, and regulating impulses. Being patient with yourself as you develop your mindfulness will indirectly slow down your impulse to judge situations quickly.
If you wake up one morning after doing nothing but sitting on the couch and eating chips for weeks and decide to run a marathon, chances are you will not succeed. Similarly, you cannot wake up in the morning and decide, “Today I’m going to be in complete control of my emotions,” or, “Today I’m going to take total charge of my impulses.” In order to become directly in charge of your emotions, you must work at it indirectly layer-by-layer through training in mindfulness practice.
Emotions are fickle and sometimes can never be directly controlled. Because emotions are deeply functional and have been our survival method for millennia, your boss can’t simply approach you and say, “Just be happy now!” However, you can follow this “work-out program” to begin your journey to a happier, more mindful life.
If you can begin to grasp those concepts, you are taking the first steps to creating a link between mindfulness and resilience, and becoming an effective decision maker in both your personal life and within your organization.
Dr. Jutta Tobias has been published in the Journal of Business Venturing for her work on entrepreneurial and social change in Rwanda, received several academic awards (including the President’s Award from her doctoral alma mater, Washington State University), worked with clients such as Goldman-Sachs and the United States Congress, co-facilitated non-violence workshops in United States/United Kingdom prisons, and holds counselling qualification from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Tobais is also a contributor to our Praxis You course, Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit.
You’re invited to preview our new online course, Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit for freehere. Module 1 is now available for purchase.
With the growing popularity of mindfulness, it seems worthwhile to pause and ask this simple question.
“Mindfulness has reached such a level of hipness that it is now suggested as a cure for essentially every ailment. Anxious? Broke? Sneezing? Definitely try meditating. This vogue is in part due to the real benefits of mindfulness, a form of attention and awareness often (but not always) achieved through meditation or yoga. It’s a trend for a reason. But its increasing application to every situation under the sun has some people concerned.” –The Mindfulness Backlash, the New York Times, June 30, 2014
References to Mindfulness in Books, 1930-2008
Roots and Meaning
Those who popularized the term mindfulness were influenced by Buddhist traditions. “Right mindfulness” translates from the PÄli words samma sati. This is not “right mindfulness” as opposed to “wrong mindfulness.” Think of “right” as complete, wholesome, thorough, or ideal.
Samma sati (right mindfulness) ispart of the Eightfold Path, which is the last of the Four Noble Truths foundational to Buddhism. According to the Four Noble Truths, we suffer because we personally identify with our experiences of craving and attachment, when they are really just universal struggles. We could let go of that identification–as well as the suffering that results from it–through the Eightfold Path, which involves cultivating wholesome intentions, actions, and mindfulness, among other virtues and the wisdom and compassion that arises through this cultivation.
The What is Mindfulness? Podcast
To avoid advancing a particular partisan agenda and instead help you understand a few different perspectives on the meaning of mindfulness, More Than Sound has interviewed contemporary mindfulness instructors and scholars from a variety of traditions. You can listen to their descriptions of mindfulness for free as part of our What is Mindfulness? podcast project. We hope these leaders and their decades of experience help provide clarity and add to the conversation surrounding the subject, allowing you to formulate your own opinion about mindfulness.
Wendy Hasenkamp PhD, Senior Scientific Officer at the Mind and Life Institute where they take a more secular, contemporary and scientific approach to mindfulness.
Present Moment Awareness
Most of the teachers in the podcasts first describe mindfulness as being aware of the present moment. Mindfulness in this regard is a type of awareness, attention, observation, or focus.
Different teachers highlight slightly distinct aspects of attention. While Joseph Goldstein emphasizes “bare attention,” Wendy Hasenkamp describes adding a “meta-awareness” of what you’re doing while you’re doing it, in addition to your regular everyday attention. Surya Das describes mindfulness as having an open, friendly, and incandescent quality to it. From these teachings and others in the project, we can summarize some basic themes:
While Practicing Mindfulness, You…
focused on emotions, sensations and thoughts in the present.
ruminating about the past OR unproductively worrying about the future.
accepting of what is.
fighting with your mind because it doesn’t conform to your idea of what you want it to be.
friendly to yourself and others.
attached, getting stuck on solid, fixed ideas of reality.
aware of yourself as interdependent with other people and things.
consciously proactive or responsive.
reacting out of habit.
Ethics & Wisdom
A characteristic of being mindful in the Buddhist tradition is remembering our ethics and wisdom. While Buddhist scripture does include the Buddha’s teachings about awareness and focus, it also includes more literal uses of sati. In the text Samyutta-nikaya, the Buddha says:
“And what, monks, is the faculty of sati [mindfulness]? Here, monks, the noble disciple has sati, he is endowed with perfect sati and intellect, he is one who remembers, who recollects what was done and said long before.”
Our podcast contributors also speak to mindfulness’s connection to memory and intellect.
Joseph Goldstein explains that mindfulness can be understood as remembering both what is wholesome (generosity, love, and wisdom) and unwholesome (greed, hatred, and delusion).
Juliet Adams asserts that mindfulness helps us choose the “wise response.”
Surya Das describes mindfulness having an intelligent, peacemaking quality, that includes insight into interdependence, impermanence, and the nature of causation.
What Mindfulness is Not
Those interviewed for the What is Mindfulness? podcasts also pointed out what is decidedly not mindfulness. Here are a few of their helpful observations:
Mindfulness is Not Passivity
It is worth noting that “accepting what is” and “avoiding judgement” should not be interpreted as tolerating hardships as they are, without expressing preferences or working to improve circumstances. By contrast, in developing the ability to clearly observe situations and accept them as starting points, mindfulness can makes us more capable of effectively engaging in our relationships and working in ways that will have truly beneficial impacts.
Mindfulness is Not Mindlessness
The interviewees contrast mindfulness to a few other states in which you are likely to habitually find yourself. Mindfulness, they explain, is the opposite of mindlessness or inattention. Even though the black lab chasing its nose or the cat chasing a mouse might be very focused on the present moment, they do not have the heightened awareness that is a defining characteristic of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is Not Attachment
Mindful attention is free from our clinging attachments to desire and our powerful habits of aversion that are considered to be the central causes of suffering in the Buddhist tradition.
Mindfulness is Not Religion
And while this article highlights the Buddhist origins of the concept of mindfulness, it is also important to note that the psychological benefits of mindfulness practice are enjoyed by secular people as well as practitioners of other traditions. You don’t need to be Buddhist to reap the benefits of mindfulness. Furthermore, as Surya Das explains, there are parallel and compatible concepts in a variety of other traditions.
To access these podcasts, scroll to the top of morethansound.net/mindfulness, and use the filter buttons. You can either “Search by Topic” or “Search by podcast guest.”
You can also listen to brief mindfulness practices at the right of the page. We will continue to publish more podcasts, blog posts, and audio practices as we expand this project. Thank you for your interest in mindfulness.
The following is an excerpt of Elad Levinson’s interview with Leadership Development News.It’s no secret that the “softer” personality traits aren’t as valued in organizations. Empathy, self-reflection, and goodwill take the backseat to efficiency, results, and profits. What would you say if I told you that fostering the former skills would actually improve the latter?
Jane Dutton, one of the founders of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship and University of Michigan Roth School of Business, has been studying and researching compassion in the workplace. Her research shows that when you train in mindfulness, it has an immediate impact on the quality of your relationships with your colleagues.
Mindfulness and compassion in the workplace happens in three ways:
You take more responsibility for your own reactions to situations. Instead of being unaware of the impact you have on the people around you – whether it be the team you manage, the project you’re a part of, or even in your personal life outside of work – you begin to step back and observe. Once you are able to view yourself from a semi-objective standpoint, you will find that your actions, positive or negative, may have been really influencing outcomes.
Your listening skills will be immediately impacted. When you are mindful, you tend to be able to put aside your internal reactions to things and really listen to someone and what they are experiencing. As a result, you will improve in being able to include other people and their experiences with the problems you’re trying to solve, which will make not only you, but your team, happier and more efficient.
You just might become warmer. You become more interested in others. There is a sense of concern that the people around you might translate as, “I’m with you, not against you. I’m here for you and interested in your growth and development.”
What people like Jane Dutton and myself are trying to say is that there is room for compassion in the workplace. Work should not be a place you have to completely turn yourself off. Practicing mindfulness and compassion in the workplace can start with you; give it some time and you just might notice your colder co-workers warming up to you, and your workplace become a more enjoyable place.
Preview the free Introductory Module from Thriving on Changehere.