Introducing Compassion into Leadership Development

In the previous post, I discussed the approach of YMCA of USA on how to build mindfulness into leadership development. The principles and strategies for the implementation of this change revolved around a core tenet of patience – moving gradually to insert mindfulness into existing leadership development programs. Wendy Saunders who has focused on compassion for many years identified the cultivation of compassion in the organisation as a more complex change process with some different challenges. This is despite the fact that YMCA is focused on compassionate action within the community and is totally dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Most organisations today recognise the need for diversity and inclusion. While much progress has been achieved in creating diversity in workplaces, the real challenge has been translating that into compassionate action through conscious inclusion strategies and actions. YMCA of USA recognises that the nature of their organisation’s focus and their worldwide reach makes diversity and inclusion paramount. Their strong commitment in the area is reflected in conscious inclusion practices, including having a “supplier diversity program”.

What are the challenges in embedding compassion into leadership development?

Despite the focus of the YMCA of USA on compassionate action (as the reason for its existence), Wendy found that there were real challenges to integrating compassion into leadership development in the organisation:

  • some staff believed that there was no place for compassion in the workplace – a strong task and outcomes focus challenged the desirability of compassion (a people-focused activity). Resource constraints and the ever-increasing need for YMCA services would cement this belief.
  • others experienced “cognitive dissonance” resulting from what they perceived as decisions and actions by the organisation that were lacking in compassion, e.g. laying off staff.

The concept of compassionate love, the title of Wendy’s personal website, is often viewed as “touchy feely” – an arena where feelings and emotions are more openly expressed to the discomfort of others. Feelings and emotions are often suppressed in the workplace and people have real difficulty openly discussing them – particularly, not wanting to be seen as “soft”. However, the reality is that it takes real courage to show compassion.

Introducing compassion into leadership development

Wendy suggests that, given the nature of the challenges to embedding compassion into leadership development, a central strategy has to be introducing compassion through “conversation and dialogue”. She indicated that at a YMCA retreat attended by 400 people, most people expressed the desire for “more compassion in the workplace”.

Besides making compassion a part of the conversation and dialogue, other strategies include storytelling (making people aware of compassionate action taken by others), discussing the benefits of compassion and the neuroscience supporting it and helping leaders to be aware of the ways to model compassion in the workplace, such as:

  • the way they “see and treat” people in the workplace – overcoming basic attribution errors, including where they judge themselves by their intentions and others by their actions. Associated with this is the need to avoid ascribing a negative label to a person because of a single act or omission on their part
  • being aware of the suffering of others and taking action to redress the suffering e.g. constructive action to support someone experiencing a mental health issue, taking action to overcome a toxic work environment or being ready to explore the factors (external and internal) that may be affecting the work performance of a staff member
  • actively working on addressing their own “unconscious bias” and blind spots that potentially result in decisions that unknowingly cause unnecessary suffering for others
  • providing opportunities to practice compassion meditation and group activities to support meditation practices.

Resourcing compassion in the workplace

Wendy stressed the need to provide resources on compassion to help build the knowledge base of the leaders in the organisation and to engender a commitment beyond a single individual such as the CEO (who can change frequently). Resources include courses, books, videos, podcasts, research articles and presentations/workshops by experts in compassion. She recommended books such as The Mind of the Leader and Awakening Compassion at Work and highlighted the resources on compassion available on her own website.

Wendy also recommends a course that she participated in that really stimulated her longstanding interest in compassion – CBCT (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) conducted by Emory University. She is continuing her own studies by completing an Executive Masters in Positive Leadership and Strategy. Her thesis will address approaches to compassionate reorganisation and the evidence in terms of positive outcomes for individuals and the organisations involved.

As leaders grow in mindfulness through integration of mindfulness into leadership development, they will be developing the awareness that provides the impetus for compassion. Providing specific strategies to engender compassion in the workplace, such as introducing and supporting compassion meditation, will enable leaders to model compassionate action for others.

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Image by TheDigitalArtist from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

How to Build Mindfulness into Leadership Development

Wendy Saunders, Senior Member of Leadership Development at YMCA of USA, presented at the recent Mindfulness@Work Summit on the topic, Embedding Mindfulness and Compassion in Leadership Development.  She discussed the principles her organisation employed to build mindfulness into leadership development.  In the process, Wendy identified the challenges the leadership development group encountered along the way and the strategies they employed to overcome them.

YMCA of USA is a diverse, massive organisation comprising women, men and children amongst its 20,000 staff and hundreds of thousands of volunteers.  Besides the central resource centre responsible for activities such as leadership development, there are 2,700 YMCAs spread across the country.  The areas of focus of “the Y” are “youth development, healthy living and social responsibility”.

Wendy explained that YMCA of USA offers layered leadership development programs comprising the following:

  • Executive Development Institute
  • CEO Preparation Institute
  • Leadership Certification courses covering three levels – (1) team leader, (2) multi-team managers and (3) organisational leaders.

The fundamental challenge was how to build mindfulness into ongoing leadership development activities that were built on a “cause-driven leadership” model incorporating experiential learning.

Principles and strategies for building mindfulness into leadership development

During her presentation, Wendy identified some key principles and strategies that helped YMCA of USA integrate mindfulness into the existing suite of leadership development offerings:

  • have patience – a fundamental requirement for success. Wendy explained that the leadership development team had been working for 5 years to get to where they are now with mindfulness integration and they still had a long way to go to achieving the goal of embedding mindfulness into all leadership development programs of YMCA of USA
  • make small insertions – in line with the patience principle, a starting strategy is to make “small insertions” into existing leadership programs, adopting a gradual approach to building mindfulness integration
  • offer short meditations – while experienced meditators practise meditation for 30 minutes or an hour a day, meditations incorporated into leadership development programs should be brief so that they can be experienced as realistic and achievable
  • build on what already exists – e.g. mindfulness was built onto the emotional intelligence focus of the Executive Leadership Institute. This is in line with the approach of the two-day Mindful Leadership training provided by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute which incorporates the three pillars of mindfulness, emotional intelligence and neuroscience
  • make it experiential so that participants can experience the benefits of mindfulness through different meditations and mindfulness practices
  • offer an introduction to mindfulness workshop on an optional basis and when mindfulness integration is bedded down, make some elements compulsory (e.g. the online Introduction to Mindfulness Workshop is now mandatory for participants in the Executive Development Institute)
  • assist people to discover the “faith inclusive” nature of mindfulness – YMCA of USA set up a task force of people who practise different religions to help them explore the compatibility of mindfulness with their religions
  • offer ongoing related workshops – to enrich the conversations about mindfulness, assist mindfulness practice and encourage reflection
  • match the mindfulness content to the focus and level of the leadership program – e.g. for CEO development the YMCA of USA has focused on mindfulness for creativity to assist CEOs to build a culture of innovation; for the team leader development course they are planning to introduce basic level mindfulness approaches and concepts such as mindful breathing, how to reduce stress and increase productivity, how to build intention
  • complement development courses with extensive resources such as books, articles, podcasts, links to guided meditations, mindfulness blogs.

As leaders in organisation grow in mindfulness through the progressive and carefully planned integration of mindfulness into leadership development programs, the organisation can experience the benefits of improved productivity, increased levels of staff engagement, better organisational integration and improved outcomes for clients and customers.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

What If I Fall Asleep During Meditation?

I have been discussing feelings and emotions – recognising your feelings and naming those feelings.  But what If I fall asleep during meditating on my feelings?  That happened to me the other day when I was doing a mindful breathing meditation for five minutes.

The natural tendency is to “beat up” on yourself.  It was only five minutes, why couldn’t I stay awake for that short time?  I must be doing it wrong.  How can I ever sustain the effort for 20 or 40 minutes?  I’ll never be able to master this meditation process!

Being non-judgmental about sleepiness during meditation

Jack Kornfield suggests that it is important to be non-judgmental – doing so, is not only counter-productive but may feed your natural tendency to judge yourself negatively.  He suggests that you can get in touch with the feeling of sleepiness and treat yourself with kindness.

Sometimes, we feel sleepy because of the strain of dealing with negative feelings – of allowing them to come to the surface.  The body may feel overwhelmed by the strength of the emotion and decide it is too difficult to handle. Alternatively, your body may take this opportunity to catch some rest if you have been living a very fast-paced life.

Meditation involves relaxation – relaxing into our breath and freeing our body from points of tension.  So, it is only natural that this will open us up to the challenge of falling asleep during meditation.  However, if it happens in the early stages or only occasionally, it is nothing to worry about.

If falling asleep does occur in the early stages of your learning to meditate, accept that this is part of the learning process.  Your body and mind have to adjust to the new pace and focus (the present)- and this takes time.  It will help you to build your patience to persist without judging yourself – a patience that will increase your capacity for self-management.

If sleepiness during meditation persists for months, you may need to take a serious look at your lifestyle – it may indicate that you are constantly consuming your emergency energy supply (drawing on a second breath all the time or persisting through sheer will power).

Some helpful hints for overcoming sleepiness during meditation

Mindspace.com has some very good suggestions to manage your sleepiness if it occurs frequently during meditation.  These suggestions relate mainly to considering your environment, your timing and your posture during meditation.

It is important that your environment is conducive to meditation.  Having a flow of fresh air by opening a window may help – this is similar to the recommendation to open the windows of a car if you are feeling drowsy as the fresh air may help to keep you awake as it blows on you.  Location is important too – so avoid meditating on or in your bed.  Besides inducing sleep because this is where you go to sleep each day, it potentially develops the habit of wakefulness when in bed – which is the last thing you want!

Timing for your meditation is important.  I have suggested having a set time each day to meditate to build the habit of meditating.  However, if this timing coincides with when your are typically very tired, then you will have great difficulty overcoming sleepiness during meditation.  If you are a “morning person” (who wakes up early and declines in energy as the day progresses) perhaps a morning meditation session is best; if you are “night person” (slow to wake up and gains energy as the day progresses) then maybe a night meditation session is best.  You need to find what best suits your own body clock.

Your posture can affect your meditation and your capacity to stay awake.  It is suggested that you sit upright rather than lying down during meditation.  Some even suggest placing a pillow behind your back to maintain this upright position.  If you are a yoga practitioner, then a sitting yoga position may be conducive to effective meditation.

Other hints to avoid sleepiness during meditation relate to food and drink.  Meditating immediately after a meal can induce sleep because your body tends to be drowsy as it digests the food.  Coffee, on the other hand, can act as a stimulant and can create dependence as well as reinforcement of the linkage between the stimulant and the act of meditating.  Meditation is a natural process and involves becoming attuned to your body, so using stimulants, such as coffee, can work against the goals of meditation – hence it is good to leave the coffee to after meditation.

I will leave the final word to Andy Puddicombe who has some summary advice in his video on Why do I keep falling asleep?

As you grow in mindfulness, you will progressively overcome sleepiness during meditation because your body and mind will gradually adjust to the unfamiliar activity.  You will not overcome sleepiness during meditation entirely – there will still be times when you are very tired and fall asleep while meditating.  However, if you treat yourself non-judgmentally and gently, you will overcome these minor setbacks to your progress in mindfulness.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of JessicaJohnson on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.