Mindfulness & Compassion: Innovations for Leaders in Government and Business

By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support

Mindfulness is transforming many schools in the U.S. and around the world into more compassionate communities, but what’s the state of mindfulness outside the school building? How has mindfulness entered the business and government sectors? Many innovative companies and initiatives are bringing mindfulness to small businesses, large corporations, and entire cities. People at the helm of each of these programs share a common goal: to bring communities together through presence and compassion.

What Does Your Congressman Think about Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has entered into mainstream politics. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, currently running for president, is author of The Mindful Nation, a book that outlines a plan to bring America together through mindfulness. He says, “…mindfulness teaches kids how to pay attention. It teaches them how they are connected to other people, and how to be kind to other people, and to see the problems that other people may be dealing with, and then understand that in a more compassionate way (Goguen-Hughes, 2012).” Mindfulness is also being formally practiced in the U.K. Parliament with more than 95 members meeting regularly to meditate (Greiser & Martini, 2018).

Politicians aren’t just giving mindfulness lip service, they’re giving it money, too. In October, a federal bill was passed that increases mental health and school counseling services. This includes $63.8 million for the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, which advocates for trauma-sensitive mindfulness (ACA, 2018). Large grants awarded by non-profits and the federal government make headlines in cases like the $3.3 million efficacy study of MindUp, a social emotional learning curriculum that uses mindfulness to teach self-regulation in preschool children (Miller, 2018). Stories of how mindfulness is being enacted at a city-wide level are less publicized. Governments are partnering with organizations to bring mindfulness to entire cities.

Mindfulness at the Intersection of Government & Business

Many large corporations including “Aetna, Beiersdorf, Bosch, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Intel, Royal Dutch Shell, SAP, Target (Greiser & Martini, 2018)” have been using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs to help calm the nerves of their employees and to promote well-being and productivity. In fact, meditation is a common way to start the day at many tech companies including Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (Greiser & Martini, 2018). Mindfulness advocates are now looking beyond the boardrooms to city hall to reach a wider audience.

With the Mindful Cities Initiative, the Foundation for a Mindful Society is bringing together civic leaders with experts in mindfulness. They help identify resources that already exist in the community that can help leaders, such as city council members, develop a mindfulness program that will work for their unique population (Mindful, n.d.). Read more about the pilot program they’re doing in Flint, MI and other cities in a recent CEI blog post.

Bringing the Mindfulness Business Around the Globe

Non-profits aren’t just teaching mindfulness in America; they’re working to bring the benefits of mindfulness to countries near and far. This month in our newsletter, we share updates about the social labs that Ivan Sellers has been using to explore mindfulness in Portugal. He brings together educators, community members, and experts to develop individualized programs that work for each community. We also look into mindfulness in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While mindfulness is gaining popularity, there are cultural barriers to keep in mind when implementing mindfulness practices that might be perceived as outside the dominant religion in some nations like heavily Catholic Portugal and majority Islamic UAE. When teaching staff and students about mindfulness, it’s important to be sensitive to cultural differences and use challenging moments as opportunities to teach about the joy of diversity and the importance of compassion.

Brightsity: Bringing Compassion to Schools, Companies, & More

One business that is looking to help everyone gain some practice communicating with compassion is Brightsity. Dr. Daniel Martin, Brightsity CEO and Associate Professor of Organization Behavior and Human Resources Management at California State University, East Bay (CSUEB), has devoted much of his career in psychology to asking how we can measure compassion and how we benefit from cultivating this skill. He developed a system of compassionate communication dyads that matches conversation partners to engage in a course together that teaches them how to communicate with a greater degree of compassion.

Dr. Martin saw positive changes in the students who participated in these dyads from the beginning to the end of a semester and began mulling ideas for bringing them out of the classroom into businesses and civic spaces. With support from Stanford Medical School, he created Brightsity, a data-driven learning platform that virtually any community can tailor to their needs to enhance compassionate communication. Brightsity uses evidence-based theories from Paul Gilbert and Dan Siegel to inform their method of helping two seemingly different people enter into a vulnerable space where they can explore how values are universal. Video calls within the platform give conversation partners an opportunity to practice compassionate communication.

Pre- and post-session surveys allow managers and administrators to see the effects of the dyad process on a variety of job-related competencies and measures of well-being such as reliability, sales performance, or tendency towards depression and anxiety. Bar graphs like the one below help leaders visualize their employee or student’s self-development over time.

Brightsity is being used in a wide array of organizations including Stanford Health Care and IBM. But Dr. Martin has bigger dreams for this tool. He hopes that Brightsity can “offer social capital focused interventions at the individual, community, and national level (Martin, 2019).”

Schools aren’t the only communities excited about the benefits of mindfulness. Businesses and governments in America and around the world are becoming increasingly interested in how mindfulness can increase productivity, compassion, and a sense of well-being for everyone.

References

American Counseling Association (ACA). (2018). President signs law funding mental health programs for 2019. ACA Government Affairs Blog.

Goguen-Hughes, L. (2012). Video: Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan talks “A Mindful Nation.” Mindful website.

Greiser, C. & Martini, J.P. (2018). Unleashing the power of mindfulness in corporations. Boston Consulting group website.

Martin, D. (2019). Personal correspondence.

Miller, M.S. (2018). Penn State researcher receives federal grant to study early learning program. Penn State News.

Mindful. (n.d.). Mindful cities. Mindful website.

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