How a Mindfulness Practice Can Calm Your Mind and Also Refresh Your Managerial Approach

You'll feel more centered and patient, and your work-life balance can also improve

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If you’re like me, you’ve made the rounds at management training conferences. And after enjoying the sweaty cheese cubes and boxed chardonnay, you also may have walked away with some “tips” on how to get the most out of your people.

Set expectations for how you like to be managed. Communicate your preferences for how you like to receive information and output from your teams. Set the energy in the room and the pace you want for any discussion. Keep the dialogue moving and on track with consistent input. Do any of these ring a bell?

Basically, we’ve been trained to manage like it’s all about us, what we need and want from the people we lead. When the truth is, it’s not about us. Our job as managers is to create the environment that allows our people to thrive, which when you think about it, really means it’s all about them.

My epiphany on this topic came when my partners and I went through mindfulness training with our friends at Wisdom Labs. Let me clarify, mandatory mindfulness training (thanks, Paul Venables). For those of you who don’t know, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a particular way: in the present moment, without judgment and with real purpose. It is often credited with developing self-reflection, resilience and emotional intelligence (things we could all use in this business).

[Mindfulness is] the thing you swear you don’t have time, energy or patience for and then realize it’s exactly what will give you more time, energy and patience.

I was a bit skeptical about mindfulness training from the start. I don’t know how to meditate. I don’t like to sit still. I talk fast, my mind is always racing and I have a long to-do list (much to my husband’s delight). The thought of slowing down, tuning into my body, thoughts and what’s going on around me (basically, being more mellow) sounded neither interesting nor achievable.

But after putting it off a few times, I attended over six hours of mindfulness training and can now say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s the thing you swear you don’t have time, energy or patience for and then realize it’s exactly what will give you more time, energy and patience. I suspected that mindfulness training might teach me to be a more in-touch person (a pretty tall order). I didn’t expect it to give me two of the most valuable management tips of my career.

First, before you walk into a room (whether it’s a one-on-one or a meeting with 20 people), set your intention for that interaction. Your intention is not the goal of the meeting (i.e. “let’s align on next steps”). It’s the approach and behavior you will bring to it. Positivity. Support. Vulnerability. Perspective. Your intention should be based on your values and ultimately your goals, but most importantly, your sense of what the people in that room need in order to be successful.

And second, be present in that interaction the entire time. That means not thinking about your next meeting or your to-do list or (I’ll admit it) what you’re going to have for lunch. Instead, actively participate in the conversation, which also means really listening to what someone is saying and not waiting for them to stop talking so that you can interject. And being willing to pivot if your intention is not in line with who you’re talking to and how they’re responding. (All of this is infinitely more do-able if you leave your phone at your desk.)

OK, I realize I may be getting an eye roll. This may sound like “squishy” stuff that gets in the way of the actual work that needs to get done amid shrinking budgets and timelines, crazy client demands and the never-ending hamster wheel of new business. But before you give up on me entirely, here’s a few data points.

Studies conducted by Pepperdine University and the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley found that employees with managers who practiced mindfulness had lower emotional exhaustion, less stress, a better sense of work-life balance and, most importantly, higher productivity. In addition, these employees were more effective peers and managers themselves as well as more emotionally intelligent. And let’s not forget that numerous studies have shown that the number one reason people stay at a job is due to their relationship with their manager.

And there’s actually nothing “squishy” about mindfulness. In fact, this practice has been employed by Eve Ekman (our amazing mindfulness guide) with doctors and nurses at trauma centers, with statistically significant results in reducing stress, anxiety and depression, and in turn, reducing mistakes and driving outcomes. (And if trauma centers aren’t a good comp for ad agencies, I don’t know what is.)

So, to all you managers out there: just give it a try. When you walk into your next meeting remember that it’s about everyone who’s there except you. And that if you set your intention based on what they need and are truly present in that interaction, you may just get more out of them. And you’ll maybe even feel more mellow in the process.