While CEOs might look put together on the outside, the celebrity persona could easily be a mirage. Staying at the top takes focus, stamina, vision and self-care.
A list of top CEOs incorporate mindfulness as a popular technique for better leadership and exceeding goals. CEOs like Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Def Jam’s Russell Simmons, Thrive Global’s Ariana Huffington, Oprah Winfrey (OWN) and Bill Gates (former Microsoft CEO) all practice mindfulness and encourage others to do the same.
If practicing mindfulness can impact our home lives by deepening relationships and improving overall health, it can also boost productivity and reduce stress at work.
Let’s look at what mindfulness means, its potential benefits and our top tips for incorporating meditation into your daily lifestyle.
What is mindfulness?
Being mindful isn’t just a concept that can improve our personal lives. It can also benefit the longevity of our businesses. Creating a happy work culture for leaders and employees is a trend we can all get behind. Mindfulness can help calm stress, depression and anxiety, as well as increase productivity and creativity, and improve relationships and health.
Why should CEOs embrace mindfulness?
Not only can meditation enhance your leadership skills, it can also help set an example for all participating employees. In addition, embracing mindfulness regulates mental, physical and emotional awareness that can help accelerate business goals.
Improves mental health
Long-term meditation can improve memory and focus. Keeping the brain healthy makes it easier to self-regulate and make effective decisions.
Maintains physical health
Meditation is also good for the immune system. In addition, maintaining physical health can reduce job absences and overall healthcare costs and improve morale.
Improves emotional intelligence
Meditation can build emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence encompasses empathy, patience and better decision-making. When you practice mindfulness, you take better care of yourself, which in turn helps you treat your co-workers with respect and compassion.
Tip: Ariana Huffington largely credits meditation to her successful leadership skills. Huffington said, “Meditation is not about stopping thoughts, but recognizing that we are more than our thoughts and feelings.”
When your mind is free of distractions, it is easier to concentrate on the work at hand. Meditation can improve concentration, reduce anxiety and stress, and boost productivity.
Meditation can encourage critical and divergent thinking. Divergent or lateral thinking is the process of brainstorming multiple solutions to a problem. By relaxing the mind, you can access higher bouts of creativity and find better business solutions.
How do CEOs deal with isolation and loneliness?
CEOs tend to deal with isolation and loneliness by reaching out for help. That aid can be in the form of peers, mentors or executive coaches.
Bill George, a professor of management at Harvard Business School, recommends meeting with peers who, over time, form a tight-knit emotional support group. Some CEOs belong to formal or informal groups that share experiences and perceptions, although the issue of confidentiality can become a problem.
Some CEOs, particularly new ones, have found it useful to seek out experienced mentors who are willing to impart their experiences and advice.
Others have hired executives coaches to provide confidential, trusted, honest and direct conversations and advice that may be otherwise unavailable.
How can mindfulness help with isolation and loneliness?
CEOs can use mindfulness to gain greater self-awareness and emotional regulation. In addition, a mindfulness practice can help control reactive behavior. Mindfulness also provides potent strategies to counteract the adverse effects of isolation and loneliness.
Mindful awareness practices emphasize paying attention to your moment-to-moment experience, attuning to internal emotional and mental activity, and noticing the shifting dynamics of your interactions with other people.
Practicing mindfulness can also improve empathy. This growth is comparable to the skills that the latest social cognition interventions strive to develop.
Regulation of emotions
Mindfulness helps expand the space between what is actually happening and what might be an automatic reaction. For example, you might be able to dismiss a thought or behavior that has become habitual over time so that new, more helpful, healthier ones can emerge.
Why feel sympathy for CEOs who express isolation and loneliness?
It’s important to sympathize with lonely CEOs because this may have a negative effect on their performance and their organizations.
The job of a CEO is unique from a couple perspectives:
- No one else is the focus of criticism when things go wrong.
- No one else is the final decision-maker on complex and often lose-lose decisions.
Dr. Thomas J. Saporito is chairman and chief executive officer of RHR International, a global firm committed to the development of top management leadership. He says, “The notion that it’s lonely at the top is not just a trite phrase. I’ve been at this for over 30 years, and I’ve spoken with 200 plus CEOs. There are precious few that didn’t, in the privacy of our discussions, talk about loneliness.”
Bottom Line: Nick Jonsson is the co-founder and managing director of Executives Global Network (EGN) and the author of Executive Loneliness: The 5 Pathways to Overcoming Isolation, Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in the Modern Business World. Through a survey administered prior to the pandemic, Jonsson found that 30% of executives feel isolated, Crestcom reported.
The phrase, “It’s lonely at the top,” appears to be more accurate than ever, and that has severe implications for the performance and well-being of CEOs. Mindfulness practices can be a powerful strategy to address this growing problem.
The picture most people have across the spectrum about CEOs is relatively consistent:
- Their compensation and benefits are excessive.
- They wield absolute power.
- They enjoy high and often celebrity-like status.
In other words, CEOs may feel lonelier and more isolated than they did in the past because the spotlight is much sharper than it used to be.
For today’s leaders, “the biggest difference is that CEOs in this era are undergoing an incredible level of scrutiny,” Saporito says. “They’re under the gun from just about every angle. As a result, shareholders, regulators and analysts expect a much greater level of transparency.”
Five tips to incorporate mindfulness
1. Create a welcoming space.
Mindfulness doesn’t need a unique space in the office, but it does require a respected space. Practicing meditation at your desk may be the most convenient, but that can also make it easier to let that intention slide on a busy workday.
Consider choosing a schedule and place that works for most leaders and employees in your business for maximum participation potential. The area should be free of electronics, noise and overbearing odors. Ask different people to rotate leading sessions to help engagement and inclusion.
Did you know? Marc Benioff, the co-founder and co-CEO of Salesforce, is a leader in employee well-being. Salesforce designs meditation rooms in every corporate office and encourages employees to meditate daily. In addition, Salesforce provides free online guided meditations called “B-Well Together” for its employees and the general public. These feature top mindfulness experts like Deepak Chopra and Jack Kornfield.
2. Form healthy habits.
Full adoption of meditation isn’t going to happen overnight. Consider adapting to the practice first and then introducing the concept to employees.
Leading by example provides trust and priority to the practice. Encourage skeptical employees to maintain the habit for at least a few weeks to see if they notice any changes.
Plus, if you are forming your healthy habits through meditation, employees should also see a difference in their CEO.
3. Ensure inclusivity.
It’s vital that everyone can participate. Although it may be difficult to schedule one time that everyone can meet, offering a few different sessions during the day can help with flexibility. Be sure to include remote workers so that they can allocate the time to attend while still being able to meet production goals.
4. Be intentional.
Meditation shouldn’t be an office fad to claim that your business has a positive work culture or is listed as a benefit on a job posting.
Determine what goals you want to achieve incorporating the practice and stick to them. If you wish to decrease employee absentee days, boost productivity or deepen relationships, being intentional about mindfulness can help you achieve that.
5. Go above and beyond.
Practicing mindfulness and teaching your employees how to incorporate meditation into their day can have a positive impact on their lives, as well as their relationships with family and friends.
Consider offering mindfulness seminars on a scheduled weekend where family or friends can participate with employees. You can also look into meditation app subscriptions like Headspace or Calm if a weekend retreat isn’t in the budget.
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.