Why Mindfulness Is the Next Leadership Frontier

Updated: Apr 24, 2018

The demands of the 21st century make mindfulness a critical part of a leader’s toolkit.

By Due Quach, author and founder of Calm Clarity

Image courtesy of Unsplash

“Mindlessness is the application of yesterday’s business solutions to today’s problems. And mindfulness is attunement to today’s demands to avoid tomorrow’s difficulties.”
~Dr. Ellen Langer, Harvard University [1]

Too many companies have discovered only after it’s far too late to course correct that yesterday’s solutions have an expiration date. Blackberry, Yahoo, Kodak, Blockbuster, and Sony are examples of companies that didn’t respond early enough to signals that once dominant products and services were no longer relevant to consumers. In the new economy, organizations can no longer afford to let mindless patterns and ingrained ways of thinking and doing drag them down. Nonetheless, the challenge is that people’s brains can get so overwhelmed by change and uncertainty that they cannot think straight, create, or innovate.[2]

In my work as a neuroscience-based leadership consultant, I have found that many executives are baffled by how management practices that worked in the past no longer apply to today. In the old economy, it was possible to execute according to a five-year strategic plan and anticipate how the world would evolve. Today, it is getting harder and harder to predict and forecast even six months to one year into the future. No one can tell when a new technology will revolutionize their particular field or industry. No one knows how long certain expertise or skills will remain relevant. No one can anticipate when what they do for work will become obsolete.

Yet some things haven’t changed. Human beings still don’t like uncertainty. We still don’t like losing our sense of control. We still don’t like having the rug pulled from under our feet. We still resist change. These responses are still normal because it is the way we are biologically wired. Change, uncertainty, disruption, and unpredictability trigger our brains and bodies to unleash high levels of stress hormones that put us into a state of fight-flight-freeze.[2]

To make brain science easy to understand in the Calm Clarity Mindful Leadership Program, I describe the underlying neural structures of the fight-flight-freeze system as Brain 1.0. When Brain 1.0 gets activated, it reduces blood flow to our frontal lobes, thus impeding our ability to think clearly and respond effectively to challenges. When our frontal lobes are impaired, we essentially become “mindless” (the book Scarcity explains that under stress, people’s IQ may drop by an entire standard deviation [3]). Without fully functioning frontal lobes, we can’t come up with new solutions. So in that state, we tend to throw whatever we’ve seen work in the past at the problem and hope it will go away.