Meditation May Be the Key to Business Leadership

An EC Field Study

Meditation @ HBS, Photo by Reena Gautam

What do Steve Jobs, Ray Dalio, Bill George, Marc Beinoff and Phil Jackson have in common? They are visionaries, have been known to lead and inspire teams, and have achieved significant success in their professional lives. They have one more thing in common – meditation. Could their focus on contemplative practices have something to do with their huge successes?

Suken Vakil & I (Nikita Singhal), both OG, are looking to answer that exact question, and we’ve designed an independent study under the guidance of Prof. Sandra Sucher, titled Meditation & Business Leadership.

How did we get interested? This past summer, I was fortunate to take a meditation workshop with the Art of Living Foundation in New York City. I have been meditating every day since, and have found that 25mins of meditation makes me think more proactively about my priorities, focus better, see issues from a new vantage point i.e. more objectively, and not get stressed about inconsequential events. Suken learned about contemplative practices through traveling in India with family.

We began to share our thoughts with friends and faculty on campus, and were surprised by the openness and interest amongst all. There seems to be an increasing awareness for contemplative studies at Harvard.

A study led by psychologist Sara Lazar at Harvard Medical School, was the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter, in areas associated with attention and emotional integration[1].

At Harvard Law School, The Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative, founded by Erica Fox, teaches mindfulness practices as essential to the art of conflict resolution. Meditation, Fox asserts, is central to achieving the Initiative’s mission, “…but is also enabling negotiators to be more successful in getting to yes.” [2]

HBS Professor Sandra Sucher is part of a cross-university study that looks at contemplative dimensions of leadership and leadership education, and they have invited guests such as Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, author of several scientific papers on mindfulness and co-author of The Mind’s Own Physician.

In A Powerful Silence, author Maia Duerr suggests that we are “in the midst of a massive demystification and democratization of contemplative practices”. At least 135 companies offer employees some form of meditation and/or yoga and the number of hospitals/clinics that provided mindfulness based stress reduction training for patients increased from 80 in 1993 to 250 in 2003.

So what does this mean for HBS? Suken and I aim to look into whether meditation can help business leaders increase self-awareness, mental clarity, focus and emotional intelligence. It is often also claimed that meditation helps a leader develop more authenticity, tolerance and empathy, which leads to a greater sense of belongingness and responsibility for the communities they live and work in.

We hope to gain some insights via a review of academic and popular literature, interviews with business leaders who practice meditation, and by meditating ourselves over the course of the semester to examine any impact.

For those interested, we’re also holding weekly meditation sessions in Spangler 271 every Tuesday evening @ 6:30pm. Sponsored by the Wellness Club, these sessions are open to all of the HBS community, including faculty, and will include simple breathing exercises in addition to a guided mediation tape.

Additionally, in association with the India Conference, we will be bringing in the International Association of Human Values (“IAHV”) to conduct an intensive contemplative practices workshop (http://www.tlexprogram.com/) targeted at an audience of young professionals. His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar founded this organization to spread contemplative practices amongst business organizations and governments. TLEX has worked with leading corporations and NGOs including The World Bank, CocaCola, Accenture, BCG, and MIT Sloan. Their programs focus on enhancing energy, developing clarity of mind and nurturing creativity, while also promoting a collaborative spirit, to advance professionals’ lives. The TLEX workshop will be held on 3 evenings of March 21st-23rd.

Please contact Nikita Singhal (nsinghal@mba2012.hbs.edu) or Suken Vakil (svakil@mba2012.hbs.edu) if you are interested in learning more about our study as it unfolds over the course of the semester, or in any of the events we are holding on campus. For more information, watch our video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJtkuApBwuw

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12 thoughts on “Meditation May Be the Key to Business Leadership

  1. Nikita Singhal

    Mindful Leadership Workshop for the HBS Community

    What makes an effective organizational leader are soft skills: the ability to connect with and inspire coworkers, to communicate with clarity and confidence, and to remain positive and transform challenges into opportunities. Yet most of our training focuses on technical skills.

    Join us for a unique 3-day workshop to look inward, increase your energy levels, develop clarity of mind, and nurture creativity through ancient techniques like yoga and meditation. Become a mindful leader.

    Limited spots available, so registration will be on a first-come first-serve basis.
    Sign-up here: http://poll.hbs.edu/poll/taker/pollTaker.jsp?poll=132275

    Reply
  2. Sarika

    This is beautiful!
    The age-old art is finding grounds amongst current leaders – towards being mindful leaders :)

    Reply
  3. Claire Austen

    I had no idea Steve Jobs practiced meditation. It makes sense though – meditation really is an amazing practice. Here is a great article (yes, I wrote it myself) on meditation for beginners: [ed note. link removed]

    Reply
  4. shiva iyer

    Pretty wonderful article. Meditation brings focus. Focus enriches thinking and organizing faculty. Of course Meditation brings thinking on higher plane.

    A gentle comment. Sri Sri founded AOL from his inner experience..

    Reply
  5. Suresh

    Nice read about meditation! Power of meditation, an integral and essential part of ancient Indian spiritual practices – needs no explanation. Modern Scientific experiments has validated even Material benefits of this spiritual practice and more so about Sudarshan Kriya discovered from nature and gifted to mankind by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravishankar, Founder of The Art of Living.

    I would like to bring forth a small hitch here though! It is not accurate to state that IAHV was founded with HH Dalai Lama’s blessings but founded by HH Pujya Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar from HIS spiritual experiences. It was conceived and founded to promote human values by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravishankar and HH Dalai Lama has nothing to do either with Art of Living or International Association for Human Values. People involved are in this link : [ed note: link removed] and you can find more information from its home page [ed note: link removed]

    Having clarified, I wish this initiative all the success and
    Jai Gurudev and Loads of Love

    Reply
  6. Michael Apollo

    Thank you for this great article and I am very exited for the findings that I’m sure will be quite powerful, as many publications on Mindfulness are changing the way we view our subjective experience.

    I’ve trained hundreds in mindfulness and emotional intelligence and most will agree the difference moments of focused contemplative practice has the ability to transform our relationship with our present moment experiences. Infusing resilience, clarity, focus and poise into everything we do.

    If anyone is interested in learning more I have a few articles I’ve written on leadership, google and the power of mindfulness in organizations on my site [ed. note link removed]

    Wishing you the best of luck in your research.
    Sincerely in light,
    Michael

    Reply
  7. arvind goel

    Its a Wonderful workshop,the kind of revelations you have in the workshop are amazing yet Practical,Sudarshan Kriya is the most awesome thing i have ever come across in my life !
    After i started Implementing what was taught in the workshop,life suddenly became easy,stress was kicked out of life and leadership became a way of life !

    Reply
  8. Chandrakant Rathi

    All the meditation programs created by Art Of Living Foundation which has been founded by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are very powerful way to assist every individual develop himself / herself as a LEADER! I have personal experience for my own life & over thousands of people who has shared their stories with me!
    These programs are must for todays busy life and stressful existance for every manager.

    Reply
  9. James Scouller

    I look forward to reading the results of your study. However, I must admit, I’m already convinced of the benefits of meditation – especially mindfulness meditation – to leaders. So much so that I would change this article’s title to “Meditation is A Key to Business Leadership.” Note that the “may be” has been firmed up to “is” and “the key” has become “a key”. You see, I don’t think meditation is the whole answer, but it is essential in my view if we want to become the best leaders we can be.

    I have, by the way, summarised my views (and some of the science, including the Sara Lazar study) in my 2011 book, The Three Levels of Leadership. This offers a new model of the psyche and this model explains why meditation is so valuable.

    Reply
  10. Jayesh

    Yes, meditation does help improve productivity at work place. It does help work efficiently and enable take wise decisions. Thanks to AOL team and Parm Pujya Gurudev for making it available for everyone. Every corporate should inculcate this in their training carriculum, especially it’s mandatorily required for software/BPO professionals who go through lot of stress. JGD!

    Reply
  11. bonvoyage

    Is this the new corporatism hypnosis, does it work for worker’s rights? Does this fit the needs of government over the individual?

    Reply