How meditation techniques and mindfulness boost CIO leadership skills

By Taylor Holland

Once considered too “new age” for most Westerners, meditation has become a respected leadership skill in the digital age — and for good reason. Technology evolves almost overnight, changing business models and management paradigms in the process. And change is stressful. To transform businesses requires heavy lifting, new learning curves, taking risks and handling pushback from people who would prefer to remain in their comfort zones.

It’s no surprise, then, that many Silicon Valley CEOs now practice mindfulness and Zen meditation techniques to combat these changes. However, this isn’t the only C-suite role that can benefit from this kind of mental clarity. Here are some ways CIOs can incorporate meditation techniques into an agile routine as a natural way to neutralize stress and inspire innovation:

From the Far East to the West Coast

In today’s fast-paced digital world, it’s not hard to believe mindfulness has become a billion-dollar industry, according to Fortune. However, it’s ironic that tech executives are among the loudest advocates for slowing down and disconnecting.

An early pioneer of Zen agility, Steve Jobs meditated for decades and credited this practice with helping him innovate, reported Inc. As he explained to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, “if you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time, it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things. That’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.”

Jobs isn’t alone. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google co-founder Sergey Brin all meditate — and provide opportunities for their employees to meditate as well. For example, Forbes reported that at the urging of a group of Buddhist monks who visited the Salesforce headquarters, Benioff put meditation rooms on every floor of the tech firm’s new corporate offices in San Francisco.

Why has meditation become a high priority in the high-tech industry? According to Harvard Business Review, a mounting pile of scientific research shows it helps relieve stress and anxiety, improves concentration and memory, inspires creativity and strategic thinking and fosters a more collaborative environment — all of which are competitive advantages for CEOs in Silicon Valley and for agile CIOs anywhere.

Meditation techniques that work at work

Meditation for stress relief sounds good in theory, but for busy CIOs, the idea of adding one more thing to their to-do lists is stressful in itself. But, for one company, by instituting a mindfulness program they gained about $3,000 per employee in productivity and $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs. The health and monetary benefits are there, so how can CIOs make time to meditate during a hectic workday?

1. Get up 10 minutes earlier

In “Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day,” internationally renowned Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests 10 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning. By starting the day with just 10 minutes of mindfulness, rather than reaching for the closest internet-connected device, CIOs can approach each day with mental clarity, calm and focus.

For CIOs who are new to meditation or who need a refresher, there are plenty of books, podcasts and apps with guided meditations and instruction. For example, Simple Habit is a popular app designed by a team of Harvard psychologists and meditation experts that offers guided meditations that are personalized for many types of life situations.

2. Pencil it in

What’s not on the calendar isn’t a priority, and what isn’t a priority usually doesn’t get done. By blocking off 10 to 30 minutes for meditation each day, whether in the morning, in the middle of the day, or at night, CIOs acknowledge to themselves and their teams that meditation is not just a break. It has business value. It contributes to innovation and agility and is worthy of time on the CIO’s schedule.

All it takes to meditate at work is a quiet mind and a quiet place — an office or empty conference room will do. “The Mindfulness Edge” is a great podcast to listen to for leaders looking to learn more about how to rewire their brain for leadership and personal excellence without adding to their schedule.

3. Take advantage of short breaks

Thirty minutes might sound impossible to busy executives, especially those who are new to meditation. The good news is that even a minute or two of meditation can be beneficial, and many meditation techniques can be practiced anywhere at any time.

For example, mindful breathing and observation can be done standing or sitting and don’t require a quiet place. The goal is simply to shut out all the noise by focusing on just one thing. With mindful breathing, the practitioner breathes in and out slowly for one minute, focusing only on their breath — how it sounds and how it feels. With mindful observation, the practitioner focuses on a natural object (such as a flower, insect or tree) without thinking of anything other than the sight of it.

This can be especially helpful in high-stress situations in which the CIO is expected to be the ultimate decision-maker. Analytics is beneficial to fuel these types of decisions, but a conscious perspective must balance it out. It’s crucial CIOs charge forward equipped not only with a concrete strategy, but most importantly, mental clarity. Sometimes all it takes is a short break to reset and discover the best way forward. To learn more about how to use meditation techniques as a leadership tool, CIOs should check out “The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness and Meditation.”

Most popular meditation books and mobile apps also offer short guided meditations that take no more than a couple minutes. So, whether CIOs are on the go, in between meetings or just need a short mental health break during a chaotic day, they can get a quick fix of Zen agility to help themselves and their teams.

This article was originally published on Mobile Business Insights.