Managing the Whirlwind Mindfully

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy        Sage-Hayward

Leading in a family business is layered with complexity due to the integration of the family in the business environment. This complexity is highly rewarding but also stressful and challenging at times especially for family business leaders. When trying to balance the demands and needs of the family and the business it can feel like managing in a whirlwind. New research on the brain helps us better understand how we can deal more effectively with the daily whirlwind of the family business.

Typically we perceive a stressful event using one of two automatic brain responses:

  • Adrenalin based reactions – saving ourselves from danger by fighting with, running away from, protecting or camouflaging ourselves… ….fight, flight and freeze OR
  • Problem-solving processes – where we attempt to fix or resolve a perceived problem with higher level thinking. This is where we respond wisely and appropriately, rather than adding to the stress by engaging in automatic uncontrolled reactions. Neuroscientists call this a mindful reaction.

Mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally….” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Mindfulness is a mental discipline which involves focusing our attention. It is not a method of distracting ourselves or tuning out. In fact, it is about tuning in. Research by Jochen Reb previously at The University of Cambridge shows us that leaders perform better when they are mindful. They make better decisions, are in a more positive mood, and effect change more successfully in their businesses. The anxious, stressed or depressed state of mind is a distracted state (i.e., mindless rather than mindful) and has a negative impact upon a leader’s performance.

Many research findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation increases our mindful abilities and has many positive impacts on our physical, emotional and mental well-being including “neuroprotective effects” which result in reduced mental decline associated with normal aging (Pagnoni and Cekic).

Incorporating mindfulness practices into the daily routine of family business leaders promises to bring about more thoughtful, positive and constructive leadership to both the family and the business. Mindful practices are simple and yet have a powerful influence on our family and business relationships. Here are two simple ways to practice mindfulness:

  • Attend to something easy like your breathing for one full minute. When your mind drifts away, bring it back to your breathing. The repeated returning to a focal point trains your attention.
  • Take a few minutes and focus on each part of your body starting at your toes and moving slowly up to your head. This is called body scanning.

The benefits gained by family business leaders from engaging in these virtually effortless, yet influential daily practices are quite remarkable:

–   boosting teamwork, cooperation and well-being amongst family and non-family employees

–   reducing unconstructive thoughts and emotions which waste valuable mental energy

–   renewing energy and creating a clear focus to address decisions and tasks at hand in the business

–   arriving home with a positive mood after the day’s whirlwind of activities

Mindfulness deserves our attention!

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