THE BLOG
09/25/2014 02:45 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

From Locker Room to Board Room: Tips on Bringing Mindfulness Into the Workplace From Down Under

Imagine yourself sitting in a room with a bunch of young, sweaty, strong, fit, fast, tough Aussie men and inviting them to close their eyes and focus on their breath ... sound crazy? Well that is exactly what Paul Roos, a legendary Aussie Rules Football player and coach, encourages his players to do every day in the interest of helping them become "better players and better people."

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of interviewing Paul as part of the Global Mindful Leadership Forum in Sydney organized by the Wake Up Project. I asked him why he encourages his players to practice mindfulness. He said, "We spend so much time conditioning our body to perform at the highest level, why wouldn't we do the same with our mind?"

Since my work is bringing mindfulness into corporate environments, I asked how he would translate the value of training the mind from the locker room to the board room. He said, "It is no different. If you want to be effective in life, if you want to be able to act in accordance with your values and the standards you have set for yourself, you need to be mindful." His advice to the business leaders in the room was simple, "Get over the fear and just do it."

And Paul wasn't alone in encouraging leaders to bring more mindfulness into their organizations. The Forum included a number of senior executives from large Australian companies that spoke plainly and passionately about the benefits of mindfulness. Gordon Cairns, chairman of David Jones, Origin Energy and World Education Australia, shared his wake up moment that set him on a journey that changed how he leads and lives.

Several years ago, Gordon received the worst 360 degree feedback the external agency facilitating the process had ever seen. After he got over the denial, anger, and resentment, he decided to ask for help. Through various channels, he was introduced to the ancient wisdom practices of training the mind. Gordon spoke about how mindfulness helped him develop more self-awareness which enabled him to have greater awareness of others. He talked about how the training has helped him be more effective and successful as a leader and more kind and compassionate as a human being.

Even though mindfulness has become very trendy, in my experience leaders like Paul and Gordon are still pretty rare. But there is hope.

As part of the Forum, Jeremy Hunter, from the Peter Drucker School of Management, and I led a full day workshop on how to be a more mindful leader and how to bring more mindfulness into your organization. It was truly inspiring to be in a room with over 200 people interested and engaged in bringing more mindfulness into their lives and work environments.

We had discussions on what it means to be a mindful leader and what gets in the way. People talked about the many pressures they face and how easy it is to get sucked into the busyness of daily life. People also talked about barriers to mindfulness related to existing systems, behaviors, beliefs, structures, and cultures.

When we invited people to consider simple steps they could take to bring more mindfulness into their work environments, the room began to buzz. It was amazing how easy it was for people to come up with ways to sprinkle more mindfulness into fast-paced, high pressured working environments.

Here are some of their suggestions:
  1. Start meetings with a few moments of silence to let everyone "collect their thoughts."
  2. Create space in the office for "quiet time and reflection."
  3. Offer regular "get out of the office" walks during working hours.
  4. Encourage people to take time for lunch and enjoy the taste of their food.
  5. Share articles on the benefits of mindfulness for productivity, creativity, memory, sleep quality and well-being.
  6. Offer short sessions to introduce the topic of mindfulness and discuss potential benefits for individuals and teams.

And now that I am back in North America, I have a suggestion for anyone seeking ways to inspire their colleagues to consider mindfulness training. Tell them that if a bunch of hard hitting Aussie footballers and highly successful business blokes on the other side of the planet can see the benefits of training their minds to enhance performance and well-being, surely it is worth giving a try!