We once counseled an executive who liked to joke that whenever he needed to make a decision he would, “sit down and meditate on it.” It was his way of saying that his method for making a decision was to go to his office, drum on the desktop for a few minutes and blurt out a reaction to a pressing issue. This is far from the concept of mindfulness meditation that we stress at VIM Executive Coaching. Incidentally, the executive did eventually learn the practice of meditation, but it was only after he started to receive negative feedback from his superiors that he “isolated himself” from staff members.
Isolation is Not Meditation
There is an old expression, going back to biblical times I’m told, that says, “A doctor who treats himself, has a fool for a patient!” I have also heard a variation that is applicable to the legal profession, “A lawyer who represents herself in court has a fool for a client!” There are other variations to be sure but the point is the same.
When we isolate ourselves in the work place as well as in life, we reach a point of tunnel vision. Instead of our decision-making capabilities being heightened, in isolation we tend to take counsel only in our own narrow view of the world. It is a “dangerous” practice. Taking the counsel of others into our hearts, or listening to alternate points of view with our hearts, can often lead us to a place of greater understanding and wisdom.
Let’s take the over-simplistic idea of an executive vice president of a major food company who hates the taste of coffee. The R&D and Marketing teams develop a caramel flavored coffee creamer that has tested well. The EVP, a real hard-charger, is known for his quick and sometimes capricious reactions.
He listens to the data and rejects the idea. “Why have you rejected the idea outright?” asks his vice presidents. His answer was that he couldn’t imagine anyone drinking it. A year later, one of their competitors introduces the same product and they score a huge multi-million-dollar success in the hot beverage market.
Had he carefully listened and then reflected on the information, he might have considered that despite his personal biases toward coffee, the input was important, valid and carried weight and meaning.
Meditation forces us to go outside our isolation. It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but it is not. In meditation, we open ourselves up to possibilities. In that reflection, in taking in what is there, rather than in ignoring the world and what is around us, we respond to situations. We can better see things for how they are and not for how we wish things to be or not be.
Going back to the example, the executive vice president might have considered, “I detest coffee, but the research from some very good people who work for me, suggest that despite my biases, what they are telling me seems promising and exciting for the company.”
Meditation affords us the possibility that what we initially think may not be true. It may not be true to new product launches, or our co-workers, or policies and procedures, or not even to ourselves.
Isolation is dangerous. Isolation can take our emotions and fears and magnify them. Isolation can lead to all kinds of negative emotional states. At one point in business it was desirable, even “fashionable” to isolate. Today, with the interconnectivity of the organization, profit or nonprofit, isolation can prove to be catastrophic for executive leaders.
Mindfulness meditation breaks the mold of isolation. Mindfulness meditation might not lead us to enjoying the taste of coffee, but it can certainly help us to appreciate that others in our lives might enjoy it very much. Meditation helps us consider that there might be more than one path besides our own.