Mindfulness – The Antidote to Macho Leadership?

Dianne Bevelander

Dianne Lynne Bevelander is Professor of Management Education and Executive Director of the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), Netherlands the full portfolio of MBA programmes as well as teaching leadership development and managing people for MBA students and executives internationally.

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David Bond

David Bond is an international retreat leader, facilitator and executive coach, focusing on personal leadership development and courageous conversations. He’s particularly interested in the use of radical presence, generative dialogue, mindfulness and storytelling to foster substantive change. He works across multiple sectors and within a number of top-ranked business schools.

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    Most students love the buzzy, busy atmosphere of an MBA programme. But is it the right way to teach them the soft skills, particularly leadership, that employees say they want? Dianne Lynne Bevelander and David Bond suggest that ‘mindfulness’ courses may be the answer.

    Are business schools teaching leadership effectively? Some critics have argued that business programme graduates are too focused on the corporate bottom line, insufficiently concerned about broader societal implications and educated in a way that overemphasises the left at the expense of developing the right side of the brain.

    While not fully accepting the extent of the culpability claimed by their detractors, business schools have responded by introducing curricula innovations that further stress the development of holistic thinking and so-called “soft skills”. The expansion of leadership, social responsibility and bottom-of the- pyramid experiential courses on both core and elective curricula around the world reflects this trend.

    Several business schools are leading the way by introducing “mindfulness” courses and retreats into their MBA programmes. IMD in Switzerland, for example, offers a meditation and self-management course.

    Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Netherlands, offered its first mindfulness leadership retreat in 2013. And Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in the US provides a six-week course on meditation and leadership. (see Financial Times feature article)

    Mindfulness courses do not entail spending extended periods sitting crossed-legged with arms outstretched meditating. Rather they are about helping participants learn to slow down and resonate with others. Being mindful helps in making choices with a richer appreciation of how these choices may be informed by our emotions and with a stronger understanding of the impact we are having on others.

    These courses are about developing an appreciation that how we view ourselves has a significant impact on how we lead others and how others see us, which impacts on their preparedness to follow.

    Mindfulness is about paying more attention to our emotional responses to circumstances and to our environment. It is about understanding oneself and appreciating the impact you are likely to have on others when making a decision or taking action before actually doing so.

    For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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