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