The context in which leaders need to operate has changed significantly since the turn of the century. Global challenges today include political and economic instability, climate change, rapidly increasing globalisation, the proliferation of social media and the threat of terrorism in cyberspace as well as in our places of work and home. Conditions are described as increasingly paradoxical, with leaders embedded in diverse relational networks and systems which are complex rather than ‘simply’ complicated.
As a result leaders today are called on to develop the capacities for relating and working well with others and coping – indeed thriving – in situations where they lack the capacity to engineer or control outcomes. Many advocates of mindfulness training suggest that it can help leaders to be more effective in this sort of environment.
However, others deride the approach as a fad, pointing to a lack of evidence for its use in organisational and leadership contexts. And it is certainly true that there has been, until now, scant robust research examining what the actual impact of mindfulness training with organisational leaders is, and we have been left with little idea about whether, why and how mindfulness practice might impact leadership effectiveness.
It was our concern with this lack of evidence as well as our desire to understand how to effectively develop leadership that led to a two-year research project at Ashridge Executive Education. We sought to explore the links between mindfulness practice and three specific capacities: resilience, collaboration and leading in complexity.