This post explores persuasive benefits or leaders to create stillness in their own lives.
Stillness is relevant for twenty-first century professionals. Professionals, indeed all individuals seek significance, yet faced with insecurities, rejection, failures and shame can be rendered immobilized or otherwise inhibited in their authentic contribution to the greater whole of the organization. Stillness is considered an antidote to these negative realities so often a part of organizational life (Freeman, 2019; Holiday, 2019).
Professionals in a globally competitive world are regularly stretched to the limit and this busyness has consequences. Busyness limits our thresholds of patience, increases distractibility, preoccupation or fixation and threatens our ability to be fully present. In turn, a reduced ability to be present impacts our recognition of others’ needs and restricts our grasp of the challenges and complexities they face. This can result in less empathy and compassion and may additionally pose a challenge to our capacity for fairmindedness. Integrating stillness into the rhythm of professional life can lead to clarity about oneself in the presenting reality, more critical analysis in uncertain and ambiguous situations as well as nudge us towards a course of action that is grounded not only in the intellect or affectation but in a more embodied, living wisdom. Ying Gao (2018) asserts:
When a leader repeatedly cultivates a state of stillness and a new level of awareness, his or her physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capacities develop accordingly. These capacities, in turn, support a more agile, creative, compassionate, collaborative and ethical leadership behavior. (p. 118)
A leader’s ability to create and nurture a healthy atmosphere in the workplace is enhanced by their practice of stillness. Ying Gao’s narrative inquiry identified the following organizational benefits: more respect, collegiality, collaboration, openness, willingness to listen and empathize; a safe atmosphere free from fear, suspicion, backstabbing, and hostility.
In addition to increased leadership capacity, there are persuasive health benefits for leaders who create stillness in their lives. Neuroscientific evidence supports practitioners’ testimonies that stillness promotes physical and emotional health. Meditation is good for the cardiovascular system, heart and blood pressure (Freeman, 2019; Pascoe, Thompson and Ski, 2020). It is good for the immune system and reduces stress (Allen et al., 2017; Strait et al., 2020). Duke Medical School’s Imke Kirste found that silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory (Kirste et al., 2013). During the practice of meditation the prefrontal cortex lights up and after a six week period of regular meditation, the brain’s ‘grey matter’ becomes thicker than in the control group (Lazar et al., 2005; Saleem and Samudrala, 2017).
Regardless of the evidence supporting positive effects of stillness, mindfulness and meditation, many leaders remain insufficiently convinced to the point of making lifestyle changes and rather continue to live and work at a frenetic pace. Admittedly, resisting what’s good for us is not uncommon. One compelling example of this is a study by Viswanathan et al. (2012) which identified twenty percent to thirty percent of medication prescriptions are never filled, and that approximately fifty percent of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed. We know that taking our medication is necessary and good for us, yet many choose not to. The same is true in other areas like exercise and nutrition. Knowing the research base that stillness can help us flourish and “become a more resilient, compassionate, productive, inspiring and conscious leader who leads from within” (Friedland, 2016, p. 355), leaders are advised to figure out ways to apply practices of stillness in their lives.
Allen, T.D., Henderson, T.G., Mancini, V.S. and French, K.A. (2017). Mindfulness and Meditation Practice as Moderators of the Relationship between Age and Subjective Wellbeing among Working Adults. Mindfulness, 8(4), pp.1055–1063.
Freeman, L. (2019). Good Work: Meditation for Personal and Organisational Transformation. Singapore: Meditatio.
Friedland, D. (2016). Leading well from within : a neuroscience and mindfulness-based framework for conscious leadership. San Diego, Ca: Supersmarthealth.
Holiday, R. (2019). Stillness is the key : an ancient strategy for modern life. London: Profile Books.
Kirste, I., Nicola, Z., Kronenberg, G., Walker, T.L., Liu, R.C. and Kempermann, G. (2013). Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain Structure and Function, [online] 220(2), pp.1221–1228. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4087081/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2020].
Lazar, S.W., Kerr, C.E., Wasserman, R.H., Gray, J.R., Greve, D.N., Treadway, M.T., McGarvey, M., Quinn, B.T., Dusek, J.A., Benson, H., Rauch, S.L., Moore, C.I. and Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, [online] 16(17), pp.1893–7. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361002/.
Pascoe, M.C., Thompson, D.R. and Ski, C.F. (2020). Meditation and Endocrine Health and Wellbeing. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, in press.
Saleem, M. and Samudrala, P. (2017). Meditation Experience Associated with Structural Neuroplasticity. Annals of International medical and Dental Research, 3(4).
Strait, J.E., Strait, G.G., McClain, M.B., Casillas, L., Streich, K., Harper, K. and Gomez, J. (2020). Classroom Mindfulness Education Effects on Meditation Frequency, Stress, and Self-Regulation. Teaching of Psychology, [online] 47(2), pp.162–168. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0098628320901386?ai=2b4&mi=ehikzz&af=R&cookieSet=1 [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
Viswanathan, M., Golin, C.E., Jones, C.D., Ashok, M., Blalock, S.J., Wines, R.C.M., Coker-Schwimmer, E.J.L., Rosen, D.L., Sista, P. and Lohr, K.N. (2012). Interventions to improve adherence to self-administered medications for chronic diseases in the United States: a systematic review. Annals of internal medicine, [online] 157(11), pp.785–95. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22964778.
Ying Gao, C. (2018). A Narrative Inquiry into Contemplative Leadership: Concepts, Characteristics, Challenges, Opportunities. [online] pp.1–269. Available at: https://scholar.google.ca/scholar?cluster=5419158117977677381&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&as_vis=1 [Accessed 20 Sep. 2020].