Mindfulness, in simple terms, is the mental state achieved by focusing on your own awareness, while also acknowledging and understanding other people’s feelings.
This viable skill is a welcome tool for professionals navigating within a fast-paced and volatile business world.
But reaching this stage of enlightenment takes a lot of patience and practice—even when you’re being taught by a practicing Theravada Buddhist, a religion that is big on self-reflection.
That man is Peter Lenney and he’s the senior lecturer for the unique Mindful Manager module, part of the full-time MBA at Lancaster University Management School.
Inserting mindfulness into academics
The Mindful Manager module was first introduced to Lancaster’s curriculum by deceit, Peter explains.
He realized the importance of managers pursuing practical wisdom after his 20 years of business experience in international markets and marketing. However, introducing a not-quite academic module into an academic program proved to be difficult.
Eager to bring this concept to Lancaster’s business students, Peter introduced Mindful Manager into induction week instead, with the help of a former Lancaster MBA program director.
They built it into the first two weeks of induction without asking for permission. Two years and many happy students later, the module is running as a core part of the MBA course.
“One of the central teachings of the Mindful Manager program is that managerial work is a socio-political practice about melding perspectives and interests in pursuit of collective objectives,” Peter explains. “It’s quite ironic that we used a lot of cunning intelligence to get it into the program to start with!”
Mindful Manager explores the motivations that inform a professional’s decision-making skills, judgement, and collaborative skills.
Students are taught through the typical lectures and workshops, but they also spend a great deal of time on reflective assignments detailing their MBA experience.
“We get them to focus on their attitude towards issues and problems,” explains Peter.
“They have got to be careful that they don’t force fit their past learning and models that they’ve had stuffed into their head onto circumstances. The world is a bit more complex than that!
Practicing what has been preached
Current MBA student and consultant, Dominic Roberts (pictured), says the Mindful Manager module has helped open his mind.
“You always think that people think the same way,” he says. “Or you think people understand things the same way and have similar ways of looking at the world.
“What’s been challenging is, when you’re working in a group with somebody from India or somebody from South America and you’re having to actually try to listen, understand and put yourself in that other person’s shoes before assuming that you’re right.”
In the feedback students give to one another, Dominic’s team told him they wanted to see him as more of a leader on their assignments.
“I was sitting on the fence a bit and looking back, that actually caused our group to not do as well,” he says.
Once he reflected on his progress with his team, he then put himself forward to lead the next assignment and received a distinction.
“It’s impacted me by taking more responsibility for my own actions, which in the future is going to be more powerful than trying to blame other people,” he continues. “It’s going to drive more ownership of my career.”
Fellow MBA student Vivian Ephraim (pictured) says she wants to use mindfulness for international growth by educating businesses that wish to sustainably develop African countries.
"Some of our leaders lack that mindful leadership; they take positions on the short-term, rather than the long-term view of how society can be better," she says.
“You make a decision that impacts the world and community you serve and gives the organization a long-term sustainable goal.”
The theme of mindfulness isn’t just confined to one module at Lancaster, but throughout the full-time MBA as a whole.
Within the core strands taught at Lancaster, students also engage in Core Capabilities, which focuses on improving conduct within group work.
This is followed by a Leading Mindfully module. Students reflect on their previous experiences of management and identify what works, what doesn’t, and how they can be a more effective leader in the future.
“Mindfulness is focused on doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason to the right people,” says Peter. “That means taking responsibility for what you do.”
This article was originally published on June 27th 2019