Guest Blog: Jodee Allanson from University of Queensland on Mindful Leadership
Left Field invited Jodee Allanson to join us this week for a guest blog…
What inspired you to explore mindful leadership in the workplace?
As I have been working in the field of Organisational Psychology for 20 years, and in particular undertaken a vast amount of work in the field of leadership and executive development, I have regularly observed the challenges leaders experience in improving their leadership behaviour. While leaders develop some abilities through coaching, participating in leadership development programs and seeking feedback from a range of sources, they often feel consistently challenged to grow and cultivate more effective behaviour, particularly those associated with emotional intelligence and their cognitive capacity regarding the pre-frontal lobe executive functioning (eg., decision making, attention, focus, creativity).
Mindfulness is an extremely powerful way for leaders to develop their emotional intelligence (EQ) skills while sharpening their cognitive capacity. Daniel Goleman, for instance, discusses how crucial emotional intelligence (EQ) is to leadership roles which make up the majority of the capability set required of effective leaders. Yet leaders often continue to struggle to display high levels of EQ particularly in times of high demands, ambiguity and stressful situations common to our modern workplaces.
There is a strong connection between the mind and body, which through the passage of time, leaders lose touch with during their daily ‘grind’. As such, leaders become less effective over time – working relationships deteriorate, decision-making becomes less effective, ethical beliefs get compromised, and ultimately, work performance suffers.
Mindfulness is my passion. Its broad application can pave the way for our organisations to become more innovative, creative, productive and fulfilling workplaces to work. Mindfulness enables us to build stronger, more resilient and highly effective workplaces in the long run. Ultimately, workplaces where people thrive rather than shrink! The flow on effects of healthy workplaces to our society and community are numerous!
What has been some really interesting insights or outcomes of your research or practice in the field of mindfulness?
There are many great researchers in the field of mindfulness, particularly in the area of neuroscience. Some of these include Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson, Jon Kabat- Zinn, Michael Chaskalson, Russ Harris, Dan Seigel and Craig Hassad to name a few. There are also a number of prominent universities conducting fabulous and ground breaking research in this field such as, Monash, Harvard, UCLA Berkeley, Stanford, University of Massachusetts and Oxford Universities.
What I find extremely interesting is the way technical and highly evidence-based, scientific people have embraced the practice. Based on my extensive training and study in the field as well as my evaluation research on the Mindful Leadership program I have conducted at UQ, I found that a sustained and consistent mindful practice transforms lives. Those who previously struggled to develop their EQ skills and improve the psychological flexibility required to enhance the executive functions of the neuro-cortex have been able to grow and flourish as a consequence!
Our brains are a muscle and mindfulness is the mental exercise we need to change our unhelpful habitual response and routines that lead to poor behaviours and outcomes.
The beauty is that mindful practice applications are far reaching and include behavioural improvements in at-risk populations including children, prisoners, people with mental illness, the elderly and those in lower socio-economic groups. I have also recently been studying the impact of the Global Maharisi Effect where scientists have identified that surrounding cities and populations are positively impacted by groups undertaking mindful meditation. This means the practice may have the potential to transform our businesses beyond just formally engaging in the practice. For instance, Professor David Edwards at the University of Texas in Austin has been investigating this concept with statistical evidence in the field of conflict resolution. It may sound like pseudoscience but I am seeing more and more scientific research to indicate the contrary.
The possibilities seem endless!
What techniques would you advise to our Left Fielders to try or consider?
I would consider starting with 10 minutes of daily mindful meditation and allocating a consistent time for the routine so the practice becomes sustainable. Creating such a routine will help individuals commit to the practice required to reap beneficial shifts in behaviour and support potential enhancements to the neuro-cortex.Setting realistic goals are essential for a sustainable practice. Creating a practice that is too greater a leap means we are less likely to maintain consistency in our practice. From time to time, individuals may consider a longer period of practice once they become more familiar with mindful meditation.
Research shows that we need to engage in sitting concentrated mindful practice in order to see changes in our brain structure over time. For beginners, I would also suggest downloading some guided mindful meditation apps. There are a number of free or low cost apps available on-line, and these are often very valuable in starting a mindful meditation practice.I also suggest engaging with credible experts in the fields as there are a number of myths and misconceptions regarding mindful meditation floating around cyber space. Like any form of practice, it is essential we consult the experts to gain quality learning.
What message would you like to impart to Left Fielders from your personal experience and research regarding Mindful Leadership in the workplace?
It is important to learn to be gentle with ourselves and also to foster patience through our practice. Practicing self-compassion is imperative as this is a key underlying principle in mindful meditation – being non-judgemental of self will help to strengthen our practice.
It is also important that people have expertise supporting them in cultivating their practice. The fear is that people with limited knowledge and practice in this field will lead people astray such that they will be unlikely to achieve the benefits associated with mindful practice – the saying a ‘little bit of information can be dangerous‘ rings true here!
The application of mindful practice in organisations needs to be conducted over time and not isolated to one-off events. Organisations obtaining the benefits of mindfulness have created sustainable programs that become part of individual’s daily practice and routines.
What is next for you in the world of Mindful Leadership?
Practice, practice, practice and hopefully grow, grow, grow! I have committed to continuing my professional and personal learning in the field. This includes my own personal practice as well as learning from prominent practitioners and researchers in the field.
I also intend to add to the growing body of research into the field to identify the key personal and workplace benefits achieved through practical mindfulness applications across a range of populations and contexts. I will also be conducting more programs due to the great demand from teams and leaders across a broad range of disciplines. I intend to impart as much of my knowledge and skills in this area to as many people as possible so that we see our workplaces, society and community reap the benefits and ultimately, grow and thrive!
- GUEST BLOGGER: Jodee Allanson, University of Queensland