Calmness and the common good, anyone? Mindfulness can help deal with challenges in working life
– Leaders who practise mindfulness are more present, give others space, seek to understand others’ perspectives and emotional states, and act for the common good, says Laura Urrila, who will publicly defend her dissertation at the University of Vaasa on Friday 9 December.
In Urrila’s doctoral research, leaders participated in an eight-week-long mindfulness programme. The participants found simple mindfulness practices and learnings, such as conscious breathing, calming visualization and a compassionate attitude, helpful in their daily work which involved constant interaction with team members.
– It is interesting that many leaders and supervisors immediately wanted to share their learning and introduce mindfulness practices to their team members both in one-on-one and team meetings, even though they had no prior experience with the topic or how it could be applied in daily leadership work, Urrila points out.
Leaders are interested in mindfulness
In recent years, mindfulness has become popular in working life, especially among leaders and leadership development professionals. Leadership —leading people— is all about motivating others and taking an interest in the needs of others.
Urrila sought to investigate if mindfulness could help leaders tap into their orientation to others and support leaders in their role of leading others. The interviewees described their desire to ensure their team members’ well-being and development. At the same time, they found the leadership work to be challenging in many ways; Often, supervisors are burdened by heavy workloads, difficult workplace relationships, and problems with the functioning of the team.
– While there seems to be a will, the workable strategies and tools to engage in good leadership may be missing, Urrila summarises.
The ability to be present is good leadership – Awareness is a skill that can be practised
Urrila’s research confirms that the ability to be present and aware is a part of good leadership and that it can be practised. Leadership development is not easy because it happens over time as part of adult maturation and involves the willingness to engage in self-reflection. Developing oneself first may be required, as “you cannot give from an empty cup”.
Urrila’s research uncovers that mindfulness practice develops a leader’s self-awareness and supports the ability to take care of, and develop, oneself. According to Urrila, a positive personal experience of mindfulness training and practice is the key driver that motivates leaders to apply mindfulness in their work. The research highlights the perspective that the most effective form of leadership development is a combination of a formal programme and continuous self-development.
Laura Urrila examined the experiences of leaders who participated in a mindfulness training programme, taking a qualitative longitudinal intervention approach. The data for analysis were collected from 62 leaders. Materials comprise 62 written pre-intervention assessments and 62 post-intervention interviews. The dissertation consists of three papers which contribute to the literature on mindfulness and leadership by increasing the understanding of how mindfulness learning may support leaders in social relations and in their role of leading others. The findings are particularly useful for HR managers and development professionals in evaluating and selecting leader development interventions.
Urrila, Laura (2022). Be(com)ing other-oriented – The value of mindfulness for leaders and leadership development. Acta Wasaensia 499. Dissertation. University of Vaasa.
The public examination of M.Sc., MA Laura Urrila’s doctoral dissertation “Be(com)ing other-oriented: The value of mindfulness for leaders and leadership development” will be held in auditorium Kurtén at the University of Vaasa at noon on Friday 9 December. Professor (emer.) Iiris Aaltio (University of Jyväskylä) will act as the opponent and Professor Liisa Mäkelä as custos. The defence will be held in Finnish.
Laura Urrila was born in Tampere in 1979. She completed the degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in the U.K., at the University of Brighton in 2002, and the degrees of Master of Arts in English in 2004 and Master of Science in Economics and Business Administration in 2006 at the University of Vaasa. Urrila lives in Helsinki and is currently working in research and teaching in the School of Management at the University of Vaasa. In the past, she has worked as a management consultant and in expert roles in finance.
Here are Laura’s four ways of practising mindfulness in daily life, to be tried alone or with the whole team:
- Formal mindfulness practice. Allow yourself to pause and still yourself for a set time. You can follow a guided mindfulness meditation practice or just set the timer for five minutes, to start with, to observe the natural flow of your breaths in and out. Focusing on breathing is the quickest and easiest way to calm yourself while awake.
- Informal mindfulness practice. You may add a bit of presence to normal daily activities. By paying more attention, you practise focusing on one thing at a time and avoid splitting your focus between multiple things. A mindful way of living may, at its best, be sensing your environment with all the senses, for instance on the usual way to work.
- Mindfulness attitude. You may adopt a kind, compassionate, accepting, and curious attitude to yourself and all situations. Take a pro-social stance towards the community and other people, too. You may consciously choose how to take on each challenge and reflect on how constructive your attitude is.
- Self-reflection. You can practise becoming conscious of the content of the mind also by reflecting; asking yourself questions, writing a journal and taking notes of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.