Apply Mindfulness to Leadership
Insurance Experts' Forum, July 24, 2014
By the time most women in insurance achieve long sought-after, executive-level career objectives, their management styles are well in place. Many describe the process as just that: a learn-as-you-go experience evolving slowly over time. And if you are in management now, or you’ve been a direct report to an upper level manager, you know that each management style is as unique as the person exhibiting it.
So what happens when female insurance executives are introduced to new management theories?
One such theory — mindfulness — has scientists confirming its practice enabling actual organic changes to the brain. According to Greatergood.com, a University of California Berkeley website, mindfulness is the ability to maintain a “moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”
Not a new concept, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation. Yet surprisingly, it’s not about emptying your mind of any and all thoughts. And it’s not about religion.
It’s designed to help us improve attention, reduce stress hormones and rebound efficiently from dealing with negative information or circumstances. It’s more about intentionally paying attention in an objective way to the present moment.
According to its chief advocate, Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness increases activity in neural networks that contribute to regulating emotions and an understanding of the suffering of others. Although you may wonder whether men or women executives would benefit equally from its ability to foster compassion and altruism, the bottom line is that, since 1979 when Kabat-Zinn launched his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, thousands of studies confirm the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness to both genders.
Yet the founder of the Institute for Mindfulness Leadership happens to be a woman. Janice Marturano, former deputy general counsel and vice president for public responsibility at General Mills, approached mindfulness as a part of her executive management leadership style after dealing with several personal and corporate challenges. Helping establish General Mills’ Mindful Leadership Forum in 2004, she has since left General Mills to found the nonprofit Institute for Mindful Leadership.
The GlassHammer, an online community designed for women executives in financial services, law and business, notes another pioneer in mindfulness theory: Ellen Langer of the Langer Mindfulness Institute. The first female professor to gain tenure at Harvard University’s Psychology Department, Langer offers some tips to those looking to quell the constant harangue of emails, voicemails, meetings and deadlines, such as inserting breaks into your calendar, avoiding multitasking for approaching one thing or issue at a time, and plan some “me time,” a 10-minute break each day that enables you to step back and assess your physical and psychological state.
That mindfulness can be incorporated into an executive’s ability to lead is just one element that has spurred this theory to popularity (it’s covered regularly on the Huffington Post).
To date, mindfulness is being practiced by everyone from elementary school students to prisoners. So rather than consider this just another fad introduced by the CEO that may be politically correct to follow, try to apply this theory first to your own career aspirations and then to your interactions and expectations of staff. It would be great to hear from those who are forging the path.
Pat Speer is president of Speer Consulting, a communications and content management consulting firm. She is also the former editor-in-chief ofInsurance Networking News.
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