Research from The Center for Creative Leadership identifies the following six principal challenges middle- to executive-level managers around the world consistently face:
- Developing managerial effectiveness
- Inspiring others
- Developing employees
- Leading a team
- Guiding change
- Managing internal stakeholders and politics
A whitepaper about the research, which queried 763 participants, shares concrete skills-development strategies to address these challenges. For example, set goals, delegate more, work on tasks that maximize your unique value and gain role clarity.
Unfortunately, missing from the how-tos is a powerful tactic, which calls upon a completely different type of skill, proven to improve decision-making across all six areas of challenge: meditation.
There is no shortage of research conducted by neuroscientists and psychologists, among other experts, demonstrating the impact of mindfulness not only on our personal lives but also on our professional lives. Meditation modulates brain activities associated with cognitive control, emotion regulation and empathy, all important to how we function and make decisions at work (Sun et al., 2015). Reviews of research on meditation’s impact on decision making tend to encompass three types of meditation: mindfulness meditation (a non-judgmental, non-reactive state of awareness), compassion meditation (awareness on alleviating the suffering of all beings, including oneself), and loving-kindness meditation (a focus on being loving and kind to oneself and others).
Scientists see differences in the structure of the brains and in the neural activity of long-time meditators, as compared to non-meditators. For example, meditators have an increased cortical thickness in the prefrontal cortex (Lazar et al., 2005) and increased gray matter density in the brain stem (Vestergaard Paulsen et al., 2009). The prefrontal cortex is involved in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making, and moderating social behavior. The brain stem controls the flow of messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
Another benefit of mindfulness’s impact on the decision-making process? Mindfulness is also a key component of the ethical decision process: those who are not mindful may fail to “recognize ethical challenges or to appreciate conflicts of interest” (Ruedy & Schweitzer, 2010).
How gratifying it is to know that the simple activity of mindfulness can address such a diverse range of management challenges. Quite remarkable, really.
Sai Sun, Ziqing Yao, Jaixin Wei & Rongjun Yu (2015), Calm and smart? A selective review of meditation effects on decision making. Frontiers in Psychology.
Gentry, W., Eckert. R., Stawiski, S. & Zhao, S. (2016). The Challenges Leaders Face Around the World More Similar than Different. Center for Creative Leadership.
Lazar, S., Kerr, C., Wasserman, R. et al. (2005) Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. Nov 28; 16(17): 1893–1897.
Ruedy E. & Schweitser, M. (2010) In the Moment: The Effect of Mindfulness on Ethical Decision Making, Journal of Business Ethics 95:73–87.
Vestergaard-Paulsen, P., Van Beek, M., Skewes,J., Bjarkam, C.R., Stubberup, M., Bertelsen, J., et al. (2009) Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem. Neuroreport 20, 170 -174.
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