Being in the top job within any organisation is a privileged position but it also carries a lot of responsibility. Most people are affected by pressure, by mood or because of the impacts of events happening around them. While for any member of a business team making an error in judgement will lead to repercussions, decisions that take place higher up the chain of command will generate stronger ripples that reach further afield. In this article we are going to explore the effects of meditation on the decision making process and show how meditation can benefit business leaders.

It’s tough at the top

A business is only as strong as its employees who, working as an organised team, deliver the products and services it provides to its customers. In an effectively run company, staff will be well scheduled to work hard for their monthly salary. That is real pressure and nobody can doubt that stress can be a factor in any job. There is a difference however between the kind of pressure that an employee will feel and the pressure that the business owner is exposed to, and this difference is important because it highlights vulnerabilities that will impact on leadership decision making. When you realise the mindset of leadership and the vulnerabilities that go with being in command, it is easy to see how meditation can benefit business leaders.

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Different perspectives

Assuming you have the right people in place, your team members will be determined to do the right job for various reasons from professional pride in their work, ambition, the desire for bonuses and other incentives as well as the fear of failure and the consequences of poor performance. A strong company culture will want to instil a sense of ownership within the hearts of all staff; the idea that their fortunes lie in the success (or failure) of the organisation and not just in their personal career progress. However, the reality is that for many, your business will be their place of work; not their life’s work. The lifetime job seems to have all but disappeared and most people know that they could lose their job through no fault of their own because of events outside of their control. Likewise, poor decision making may cost them their own jobs but not the jobs of their colleagues. Today’s working people are also more inclined to move from one job to another to get further faster, so while their work may be fantastic, they don’t have as much at stake as the business owners.

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Bigger picture stresses

Business leaders are more aware (or should be) of the bigger picture than anybody else within the organisation. They can see if the company is haemorrhaging money on a daily basis. They often stand to make a large personal loss if the company fails. Sometimes there is borrowing involved and the business owner has the pressure of making repayments even if the company is not doing so well. When the computers are down and people are sat at their desks playing with their phones while they wait for the the IT department to fix the problem, the business owner is aware that they are losing money with every second that passes. They are paying people to do nothing. The company can’t generate income while its people are not able to work.

Pressure of leadership

Let’s break down some of the causes of discomfort and pressure for the owner of a company, how they affect the business decision making process.

  • Personalities – if a team member is not showing the right skills or attitude, it is easy to feel that they are hurting your business and YOU personally. If feelings affect how you interact with them or others in the team can feel your frustration, your leadership will be less effective. Imagine all the personalities we have to deal with. We must rise above our feelings.
  • Financial risk – your business is not a job to you or a stepping stone. It is your money, your financial risk, your baby. How do you manage the emotions that go with that? Fear in particular can affect the decisions you make with risk aversion leading you to miss out on the very opportunities you should seize to enable business growth.
  • Responsibility – people are depending on you. You are the one steering the ship and if it starts getting into difficulty you may have to let people go. When you can see trouble ahead and your staff can’t, it can be a very lonely place and further exacerbated if you are dealing with personalities that seem to lack drive and appear oblivious to the iceberg approaching.
  • Reputation – this is your business. If you are smart, you have consciously built up a brand and tried to nurture a culture that is manifested within the company’s mission statement. If you start to feel this is slipping, small molehills can look like mountains as your perspective is warped by the fear of losing your reputation.
  • Too many fires – As business leader, you get to see exactly how many tasks and projects are going on and how many critical situations need to be addressed. It can feel like an old fashioned shoot ’em up video game. Just as one issue is addressed, another three appear in front of you. You need to be able to make effective and critical decisions on what task to focus on next and maintain concentration on that task despite the other distractions.
  • Company mood – Your mood is more important than anybody else’s because you are the key decision maker in the building. Even in the most egalitarian organisations where job titles are not used and everyone is a colleague, there is still a sense of who the boss is. If the boss is in a bad mood, the team may wonder why and whether it is because of something that is ultimately going to impact on them.

Take a step back

Meditation has clear benefits for business leaders and the reason for that is because it is one of the most powerful tools we have for dealing with emotion and it is the emotional reaction to the various pressures of leadership that can lead to poor decision making.

PRESSURE + EMOTION

REACTION TO EMOTIONAL RESPONSE = POOR DECISION MAKING

How does this translate into real events?

PRESSURE – Negative attitudes among the team

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE – Frustration

REACTION TO THE EMOTIONAL RESPONSE – Irritability with your team, low expectations from the team, lack of faith in the team.

DECISION MAKING – Micro-management, policing, pressure tactics, lack of effective coaching.

RESULT – Low morale, unhappiness, high turnover of people, under-performance

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Rather than reacting to the emotional feelings that the real pressures bring what business leaders need to do is to focus on RESPONDING to the actual situations they face.

PRESSURE + EMOTION

RESPONSE TO THE SITUATION = EFFECTIVE DECISION MAKING

Let’s look at this in real life:

PRESSURE – Negative attitudes among the team

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE – Frustration

RESPONSE TO THE SITUATION – acknowledge what is happening, identify causes, look for patterns

DECISION MAKING – Effective communication with the team, constructive coaching sessions, identifying plans of action to improve performance

A change in mindset

Where the switch in mindset takes place is not in the elimination of emotion – we are all human – but in the ability to bypass the emotion and deal with the problem head on. That is a leadership quality. Emotions are useful drivers of action. So our stimulus/response equation now looks like this.

PRESSURE – a set of circumstances

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE – Are we comfortable with what is happening? Is action required?

RESPONSE TO THE SITUATION – take the appropriate action to resolve the matter

How does meditation benefit business leaders?

Meditation practice can benefit business leaders because it brings about the change in mindset required to enable people to respond to the situations they face, rather than reacting to the emotion. Without meditation, people become consumed to some extent by the emotion itself so they become frustration, they become disillusionment, they become fear. Therefore the decision making switches from the leader (who has the skills and judgement to navigate the business to calm waters) to the emotion itself. IE it doesn’t matter if you are Professor Stephen Hawking or Homer Simpson, if you have a temper tantrum you will both look equally silly.

It is very easy to learn how to meditate and there are literally hundreds of techniques for doing it. Some prefer to talk about mindfulness practice which focuses attention on every sensation here and now as the practitioner eats or walks or breathes for example, and others talk about visualisation, contemplation or the chanting of mantras…but what it all boils down to is actually very simple. The aim of meditation is to neutrally observe what goes on inside our heads so we can be a witness to our emotions (and mental chatter) rather than a victim of them. Once emotions become a part of our environment that we perceive rather than a filter that we see the world through, we are free to look at situations directly and see them for what they are.

A simple introduction to meditation for business leaders

An easy way to bring about a meditative state is to look at bringing about stillness. Find a quiet space and sit down comfortably. You can make a big deal about how you sit if you want but the main thing is that your back is straight and you are able to maintain a posture that is not going to impair circulation or cause aches and pains. Once you are sat still, allow your abdomen to relax and focus you attention on your breathing.

Breathing is usually an unconscious action so our breathing patterns are often affected by emotional responses (shallow breathing, gasps, rapid breathing for example). By maintaining a slow and steady breathing pattern with conscious awareness (5 seconds breathing in, 5 seconds held, 5 seconds exhaling for example) we are able to appreciate the link between how we breathe and our state of mind. Inhalation brings in a world of goodness into bodies through our lungs. Holding almost allows us to stop time and contemplate where we are while all the oxygen we have breathed in circulates around the body. Exhalation is a letting go and allows us to relax more with every breath. Just by calming our bodies and our breathing, the mind will start to become more settled.

When you practice this you will start to hear more – the ticking clock, the sound of the traffic outside, the buzz of the electric light, your own breathing. The process also switches you from “do-er” to “observer” and so watching what goes on in your own mind becomes a more intuitive next step. Don’t worry if you get carried away by some trains of thought. When that happens just remember what you are trying to achieve and let go. Lots of thoughts and feelings will come and go.

“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

As a business leader you can never know where the next threat or opportunity is going to come from although you can try to remain switched on. Meditation can benefit you greatly because, above all else, it will teach you how to appreciate every experience you go through.