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October, 02, 2023  |    |    |  

How Mindful Leadership Can Boost Your JEDI Efforts

Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of our attitudes and biases. Corporate and non-profit leaders should lean into mindfulness techniques to further social harmony inside and outside their organizations.

Menaka Albuquerque
Menaka is a senior consultant in Junxion's Canada office and thrives working at the intersection of organizational strategy, sustainability and social impact.

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” This is an oft-cited definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn, acclaimed author, and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts. 

There are other definitions, of course, but whichever we choose, mindfulness is an intentional practice that empowers us to be more present in the current moment. Developing a steady, non-reactive, attentive state can change how we perceive and experience the world, and the people in it. What was once the reserve of quiet monks in far-off places is now a mainstream practice.

Mainstream attention also encourages us to pay attention to the differences of educational and cultural backgrounds between us. With different worldviews and lived experiences comes an inevitable clash of opinions—voiced or unvoiced—that result in internal and/or external conflict. 

If conflict is not dealt with in a timely, healthy and productive way, this can cause significant stress. Extreme stress causes the body’s fight or flight mechanism to kick in, clouding clarity of thought and rational judgement. Repeated cycles of stress trigger our brains to forge neural pathways that further reinforce defense mechanisms like prejudices. 

In this way, pervasive implicit biases can lead to unintended discriminatory behaviour.

On the reverse end of this phenomenon, experiences of racial discrimination tend to re-wire the brains of individuals from marginalized groups to emotionally ‘blunt’ the repeated trauma they face. While this neural feature actually increases attention to threatening stimuli, it also simultaneously degrades the brain’s gray and white matter in cognitive and emotional regulation areas, leading to dulled reactions.  

Reassuringly, mindfulness, when it manifests as one of the three elements of self-compassion, can help buffer against the adverse effects of racial discrimination for marginalized individuals.

Mindfulness is Brain Training

Intentional mindfulness is brain training. We can teach our brains to become more self-aware, to pause, passively and calmly observe our feelings in response to a stimulus, and allow ourselves to feel the rising and passing of each emotion. 

Over time, this can help us recognize and question our biases when they present themselves as ‘gut responses.’ Biases are subconscious judgments, so inextricably woven into our understanding of life that they form a ‘filter’ for our reality. Uprooting biases is not always possible, but through mindfulness we are empowered to observe curiously and compassionately, without judgment, our instinctive reactions to people and situations. 

Several studies have shown that mindfulness can actually have long and lasting effects on the structure of the brain.

The implications of this for dismantling stereotypes and discouraging prejudice are extraordinary. 

How Can We Make Our Workplaces More Mindful? 

Start with ourselves

Mindfulness at work can start with us simply building awareness of what we most need at each moment, and then either showing up or stepping away to care for our bodies, nurture our minds, or work through our emotions. 

Work to progress JEDI is often grounded in the foundation of self-acceptance, which invites us into three practices:

1.     Self-alignment: being in sync with our values and our higher purpose

2.     Self-regulation: recognizing and anticipating our triggers and navigating the accompanying emotional ups and downs

3.     Self-compassion: treating ourselves with love, forgiveness, and kindness

It is only when we love ourselves that we can extend this love, empathy and understanding to others. 

Workplaces that encourage and promote self-acceptance, a healthy appreciation of differences, and mindfulness create a space of psychological safety for employees. 

Establish new norms

Organizational transformation, particularly optimizing workplace culture, takes time, patience, and concerted effort. 

In the New York Times bestseller Range, David Epstein explains how humans thrive on routines. They offer us stability and predictability; however, they often help us drive through life on ‘auto-pilot.’ Similarly, biases lull us to comfort in our black-and-white world and prevent us from thinking deeply or assessing our situation before we form split-second judgments. 

In organizations, the status quo manifests as group think— ‘watercooler cliques’, hiring biases, affinity biases, consensus priming and largely lower self-awareness among management.

Mindfulness-based interventions can have a positive impact on workplace social capital and psychological safety, which may in turn contribute to improved mental well-being of employees and managers.

Centre authenticity

Mindfulness needs transparency and authenticity to be meaningful and powerful. For authentic conversation, and consequently, genuine connection, co-workers need to tap less into their analytical or thinking brain, and more into their hearts. When we replace politeness with appropriate, professional vulnerability, and small talk with deep caring, the magic truly begins to occur.  

As we normalize and model tough, courageous conversations, we deepen mutual respect and trust. Organizational mindfulness can help workplaces to collectively centre and validate the experiences of racial and other minorities. 

Look beyond the individual: leadership and community

True, generous, generative mindfulness creates ripple effects in adjacent social structures. 

Embracing mindfulness at work can help break barriers and hasten structural shifts, which can transform systems and processes to be more accessible. Drawing on Indigenous wisdom and practise, when we shift focus from profit and outcomes, back to process and people, this has implications for everything from the way we conduct performance reviews to how we keep our management accountable. 

Even further, organizational mindfulness can build communities—both within the organization, and beyond. Mindfulness can serve as nourishment for leaders and educators when it incorporates what they call ‘generative mindfulness.’ These practices have been foundational to ways of life for centuries. They enable us to open to rich interdependence between each of us and the natural world.

Junxion strives to bring a mindful, unbiased approach to our clients’ strategy and planning, impact measurement, and organizational engagement. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help your team learn, envision change, and activate its full potential.