In this article Kate Griffiths explores the traps that prevent CEOs from maintaining optimum performance. She goes on to explore a way forward for leaders and their organisations
What is it that you want? Health, wealth and happiness according to Tony Robbins. Think about it why do you strive unceasingly at the office? How is it that you end up convincing yourself that responding to one more request, spending just another few hours working will make the difference?
Probably at some level, possibly not even consciously you have bought into a number of ideas without questioning them. Ideas like bigger is better; it is a competitive world out there so I have to keep on striving to perfect myself to stay ahead of the pack….and so on you get the picture. There is that pressure to come up with a break through idea which will ensure that you leave everyone else far behind you.
However life is not a sprint and if you maintain that pace as a leader you are likely to burnout and end up like Antonio Horta-Osorio. As it is most CEOs stay in post for a maximum of 18 months to two years! Eugene O’Kelly, the CEO and Chairman of KPMG in 2005 had mapped out where his career post that role would take him. Then aged 53, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Within 100 days of the diagnosis he was dead but he did write a book about his final days. We will never know for certain why he contracted this fatal disease however his relentless pursuit of excellence probably had something to do with it.
His book is inspiring and O’Kelly explains that his approach in those final days was to create perfect moments by focusing on gratitude and the simple things in life; along with elevating his consciousness through meditating. He was supported in this by his wife and it was not all straight forward. It took him some time to find the ideal spot where he could relax and access a state of bliss. The key was realising that he needed the sound of water in the background to be able to do it. What is telling is the bigger story here which is the implication that his quality of life was far higher in those last 100 days because he deliberately stepped away from his high powered career and gave himself space to take in his surroundings and be with those he loved most in the world.
This is an extreme example of what can happen however there is no doubt that with recognition comes success and money and power. The trouble is that increased power also brings with it the danger of losing the very qualities that are most essential to good leadership. Research carried out by Hogeveen, Inzlicht and Obhi into how power changes how the brain responds to others showed that increased power lowers an executive’s ability to empathise. Galinsky, Magee, Inesi and Gruenfeld’s research on perspectives in leadership showed that power makes people “prone to dismiss” or misunderstand others’ viewpoints.
So how do you avoid falling into traps around power? Are being healthy and wealthy incompatible? What does this mean in terms of the productivity of your organisation? As business professors Michael Porter, Elizabeth Teisberg, and Scott Wallace wrote in the HBS Working Knowledge, studies show that U.S. employers spend 200 to 300% more for the indirect costs of health care — in the form of absenteeism, sick days, and lower productivity — than they do on actual health care payments. They recommend that companies mount an aggressive approach to wellness, prevention, screening and active management of chronic conditions.
One of the best and cheapest ways to become healthier and happier is through mindfulness. Mark Williams, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, is an expert in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and the co-author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding peace in a frantic world. Williams points to a National Institutes of Health study that showed a 23 percent decrease in mortality, a 30 percent decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems and a big decrease in cancer mortality as well.
This effect is equivalent to discovering an entirely new class of drugs (but without the inevitable side effects).
Mindfulness is a great antidote for burnout and has gained mainstream acceptance of late. Ariana Huffington in her book, Thrive, lists the number of CEOs who now openly embrace meditation. What is clear though is that you only get the benefits of mindfulness if you practise it regularly. There are some CEOs who will only pay for their employees to attend mindfulness classes if they go for more than six months.
Finally it appears that there is a direct correlation between happiness and productivity. According to the iOpener Institute, in a company with 1,000 employees, increasing happiness in the workplace:
- Reduces the cost of employee turnover by 46%.
- Reduces the cost of sick leave by 19%.
- Increases performance and productivity by 12%.
And the happiest employees, compared with their less happy colleagues, spend 40% more time focused on tasks and feel energised 65% more of the time. So if get in touch if you want to find out how we could bring mindfulness into your organisation AND remember that for the best results you need to practise mindfulness daily.