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Managers: how about practising meditation?

Adopted by top athletes and military officers under pressure, it’s time for meditation to enter the corporate world.

There has been a shift over the last 10 years: meditation is no longer seen as an esoteric activity practised by neo-hippies yearning for spirituality. Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Teddy Riner… These top-level sportsmen meditate regularly and speak out about its key benefits for their performance. Likewise, fighter pilots, the army’s special forces and military officers working in a life-threatening environment all practise meditative exercises as a way to effectively achieve their goals.


What’s the point of mental preparation and breathing exercises? For athletes and military officers, the practice of mindfulness serves to improve mental performance, optimise their cognitive abilities, enhance their judgement in risky situations, and make fast decisions without ever losing sight of the final goal. In short, to reach that fragile state of balance, somewhere between hyperstress and hypostress, allowing you to perform at full capacity without being drained by negative or brooding thoughts.


A bulwark against distraction


The ill of our time is our chronic inability to focus for a long time: the distractions of digital devices are a real modern scourge harming our private and working lives. Meditation is a type of bulwark against this situation. In a corporate environment, it also helps us to better understand our co-workers and to enhance interpersonal communication: the better we know ourselves, the more empathetic we can be, adopting a communication style that will move others and create alliances. Lastly, regularly practising breathing exercises helps us to better define the barrier between our private and working lives.


Scientifically, this age-old practice, which has returned to the forefront, is recognised for its benefits: although it increases our concentration and blocks out distractions, it also has an impact on brain plasticity and grey matter density, according to Harvard neuroscience researchers (read the article : “How can mindfulness have a beneficial effect on your brain?”)


A practice reimbursed by some health insurance policies


Meditation has become a real social phenomenon. Searches in Google France using the keyword “meditation” multiplied by 3.6 between 2014 and 2019. Written by Frédéric Lenoir, Christophe André or Matthieu Ricard, thousands of books on meditation are also sold every day. Lastly, in terms of apps, Petit Bambou is a hot topic on account of being reimbursed by Alan health insurance. Created in 2014 by Ludovic Dujardin and Benjamin Blasco, it claims to have 1,5 million subscribers and 400 000 active users every week.


A solution to the problems faced by executives


Given the widespread presence of meditation in society, why has it not really been integrated into the corporate world? Why does no business school include meditation in its course, following the example of the Teachers College at Columbia University ? It’s surprising, given that executives and managers attach so much importance to being effective in an environment where the brain is over-stimulated.


Public speaking, making the best decision in a short time by breaking down a wealth of information, managing teams, focusing on the problems of various parties and having a more informed understanding of them, knowing how to set boundaries between our private and working lives: those are the issues faced by executives and which mindfulness can resolve. Far from being a fleeting trend, the practice of meditation has certainly crossed the “Chasm”. Theorised by Geoffrey Moore, this refers to the critical phase in the adoption cycle, when an innovation or trend can, after a promising start, fall into the chasm and never emerge again.


An inexpensive discipline that is simple to exercise


How can this phenomenon, external to the corporate world, become an internal practice? In other words, can meditation fully integrate businesses with the benefit of wellness and effectiveness for managers and executives? In reality, there’s nothing simpler and, above all, more cost-effective. No more concierges and other “gadget” services that incur a substantial expense without personally supporting managers: welcome to meditation.


  • Setting up a space dedicated to meditation is quite simple, as it requires no special equipment or a large surface area. The only requirement is peace and quiet. Areas away from the open space, usually reserved for phone calls or small group meetings, can easily be converted into areas of relaxation where all employees can catch their breath.


  • Meditation is not time-consuming… it’s actually time-saving. Concentrating on your breathing for five to ten minutes when your attention naturally flags (generally at 11 am and 4 pm) lets you handle more tasks and process more information during the rest of the day.


  • Businesses can even take things further by registering their employees on apps to encourage them to practise mindfulness. From Headspace to Petit Bambou, offers are abundant and inexpensive.


  • By making meditation a part of their daily lives, executives can lead by example.


First, they must be intellectually curious and humble enough to learn and simply try out a few sessions. Furthermore, if they begin to practise meditation, they must be open about it, which runs counter to our French tradition of Cartesian leadership, reluctant to share any form of intimacy. American business leaders like Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, Bill Ford, the President of Ford, and Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, are very laid-back about the subject. Conversely, few French executives speak about their mindfulness practice in public. But why don’t they share the fruit of their discovery with their employees and campaign for the cause, including an HR ambition or daily practice in their business?


At heart, the practice of meditation can become an incredible internal and external communication tool to attract and retain a young generation of managers hungry for meaning and eager to work in a warm environment. Some major business leaders have already understood this and are trying it out with success. They include the CEO of EY France, Jean-Pierre Letartre, who recently appeared in a series of videos to encourage his employees to incorporate a meditation and yoga programme into their everyday routine. These executives set an example and pave the way for a mindful business.





Article written by Lawrence Knight, featured in the Harvard Business Review