Many employees’ express yearnings for experiential growth and development opportunities throughout their career. Frequently, they look to their manager to bring about these opportunities without personally investing in the creation of a development plan. Astonishingly, it does not work out as either the employee or manager envision. My experience has taught me that the causes generally break down into two broad groupings. First, poor engagement leads to insufficient personal commitment. There is a whole host of reasons why poor engagement fosters this untoward condition, and a substantial amount of written work is readily available on the subject. The second major grouping consists of the role that fear and anxiety play in an individual’s performance.
Fear and anxiety fascinate me the most. Why do so many people fear and experience anxiety when pursuing new developmental experiences? I am not exempt from this condition as I often experience trepidation when starting on a new challenge. “Perhaps no condition better illustrates the intimate relationship between brain and behavior – mind and body – as the inner experience of fear.”1
I have spoken to numerous colleagues over the years that profess to want development opportunities, but I watch in bewilderment as they shy away from these experiences when the chance presents itself. This has led me to question what else we can do as leaders to help bring about positive developmental experiences for our teams. In doing some reading, I came across the powerful influences of mindfulness. I am not getting all metaphysical so stay with me here; there is a significant amount of scientific evidence to support the use of mindfulness in dealing with fear and anxiety.
- Increase the ability to maintain a stable intentional focus instead of being emotionally hijacked 1
- Avoid negative unconscious patterns of anxiety-prone thinking 1
- Reduce levels of worry, avoidance tactics, and stagnant deliberation 1
- Lessen the tendency to problem solve using inflexible cognitive styles 1
Mindfulness encourages a more productive and healthier response to feelings of fear and anxiety through awareness, intention, and self-regulation.1 Organizations search for leaders that possess a significant level of self-regulation, adaptable problem-solving skills, productive decision-making processes, and are able to readily develop emotional connections with their teams. By integrating mindfulness into our leadership and other growth programs, we may help foster the skills we seek in our leaders.
I propose that organizations consider adding mindfulness as a beginning level course in their growth and development programs. More advanced mindfulness classes would then be added to the employees’ overall development plans as they progress through various growth assignments. We want everyone to be successful in their development opportunities, but do we do enough to support their emotional well-being? Being challenged in new ways pushes people to higher levels of achievement but at the cost of greater emotional stress. We enable our colleagues’ success by enhancing their tactical skills when necessary, but we do not do enough to enhance their psychological skill sets for being the strong and well-rounded leader that our organizations need. This is something that can be corrected, but we must be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations that become inevitable. Developing the next generation of leaders with both tactical and mindfulness skills will produce higher-quality leaders, improved engagement throughout the organization, and an actual realization to the corporate bottom line by lower turnover and higher management output.
Who knows, maybe over the next few years we will see mindfulness classes being offered as a new corporate perk.
1 Greeson, J., & Brantley, J. (2009). Mindfulness and anxiety disorders: Developing a wise relationship with the inner experience of fear. In Clinical handbook of mindfulness (pp. 171-188). Springer New York.