Calmness and the Common Good, Anyone? Mindfulness Can Help Deal with Challenges in Working Life

At work, mindfulness, ’present-moment awareness’, benefits not only the individual but the whole work community, comes up in Laura Urrila’s doctoral dissertation in human resource management. When an individual participates in mindfulness training, the implications spill over to the wider work community.

– Leaders who practise mindfulness are more present, give others space, seek to understand others’ perspectives and emotional states, and act for the common good, says Laura Urrila, who will publicly defend her dissertation at the University of Vaasa on Friday 9 December.

In Urrila’s doctoral research, leaders participated in an eight-week-long mindfulness programme. The participants found simple mindfulness practices and learnings, such as conscious breathing, calming visualization and a compassionate attitude, helpful in their daily work which involved constant interaction with team members.

– It is interesting that many leaders and supervisors immediately wanted to share their learning and introduce mindfulness practices to their team members both in one-on-one and team meetings, even though they had no prior experience with the topic or how it could be applied in daily leadership work, Urrila points out.

Leaders are interested in mindfulness

In recent years, mindfulness has become popular in working life, especially among leaders and leadership development professionals. Leadership —leading people— is all about motivating others and taking an interest in the needs of others.

Urrila sought to investigate if mindfulness could help leaders tap into their orientation to others and support leaders in their role of leading others. The interviewees described their desire to ensure their team members’ well-being and development. At the same time, they found the leadership work to be challenging in many ways; Often, supervisors are burdened by heavy workloads, difficult workplace relationships, and problems with the functioning of the team.

– While there seems to be a will, the workable strategies and tools to engage in good leadership may be missing, Urrila summarises.

The ability to be present is good leadership – Awareness is a skill that can be practised

Laura Urrila

Urrila’s research confirms that the ability to be present and aware is a part of good leadership and that it can be practised. Leadership development is not easy because it happens over time as part of adult maturation and involves the willingness to engage in self-reflection. Developing oneself first may be required, as “you cannot give from an empty cup”.

Urrila’s research uncovers that mindfulness practice develops a leader’s self-awareness and supports the ability to take care of, and develop, oneself. According to Urrila, a positive personal experience of mindfulness training and practice is the key driver that motivates leaders to apply mindfulness in their work. The research highlights the perspective that the most effective form of leadership development is a combination of a formal programme and continuous self-development.

Laura Urrila examined the experiences of leaders who participated in a mindfulness training programme, taking a qualitative longitudinal intervention approach. The data for analysis were collected from 62 leaders. Materials comprise 62 written pre-intervention assessments and 62 post-intervention interviews. The dissertation consists of three papers which contribute to the literature on mindfulness and leadership by increasing the understanding of how mindfulness learning may support leaders in social relations and in their role of leading others. The findings are particularly useful for HR managers and development professionals in evaluating and selecting leader development interventions.

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