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Mindfulness and meditation meets the boardroom

Some executives are hoping to make better decisions with the power of thought, writes John Anthony.


A university wellbeing retreat is helping business executives find their inner zen through mindfulness and meditation.

The benefits of meditation on health and personal wellbeing are no secret with business moguls including Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, Steve Jobs and even Rupert Murdoch all having been proponents of the practice.

Now AUT academics are helping New Zealand business leaders improve their wellbeing and find inner calm through a two-day wellbeing retreat.

Greenshoot Pacific NZ director Dave Watson says he would definitely recommend the Auckland University of Technology AUT wellbeing retreat.
Greenshoot Pacific NZ director Dave Watson says he would definitely recommend the Auckland University of Technology AUT wellbeing retreat.

AUT lecturer and wellbeing facilitator Dr Anne Messervy said the course takes a holistic approach to improving well being through a range of seminars which included mindfulness and meditation.

“Managers who meditate tend to increase their emotional intelligence, and we know there’s a strong linkage between emotional intelligence and your effectiveness as a leader,” Messervy said.

The university run a single two-day retreat earlier in May, attracting about 40 executives. Two shorter workshops had also attracted about 40 people, she said.

Greenshoot Pacific NZ director, Dave Watson, said he attended the first two-day course after he won a spot on the retreat.

He said it came at the perfect time because he was going through an extremely stressful patch at work.

“I had no hesitation about going on it at all,” Watson said.

He said the concepts taught at the retreat were not entirely new to him, having some past experience in meditation and yoga.

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“While I had the awareness, the reality is my life was a little bit out of control at that particular time, so it was a really good reminder for me.”

The course covered a wide range of topics, including financial wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, social wellbeing, meditation, yoga, diet, nutrition and exercise, he said.

As a result of the workshop he now meditated more regularly, and had become aware of how important exercise was to his wellbeing.

Watson said he was one of two males on the course which he found interesting and a little bit sad.

His advice to male business leaders was to make health and wellbeing a priority and look at different ways of approaching their lives to support their businesses.

“Without your health you have nothing.”

When developing the course, Messervy said she Interviewed executives at both senior and junior levels to get a sense of how important they regarded wellbeing and practices to improve wellbeing.

Many senior executives already had their wellbeing techniques sorted out of necessity – some to cope with pressure and others having gone through a personal crisis such as a health scare, she said.

Junior and middle managers she interviewed knew that wellbeing was important, but did not have a grasp on how to manage it, she said.

“They seem to be the group that would benefit from this quite a lot,” Messervy said.

The teaching was was founded on positive psychology, offering insights on how to be happy, healthy and motivated by reflecting on personal strengths, values and purpose, she said.

“Where traditional psychology looks at models of what’s wrong with people positive psychology actually says what’s right with people.”

A big part of the course focused on mediation and mindfulness which, if practised consistently, helped people find stillness and mental clarity, she said.

It also had physiological benefits such as helping reduce stress levels and heart rate and a range of techniques were taught at the retreat to suit individual personalities, she said.

“It’s kind of giving them a whole scope of activities and techniques they can use.”

Different types of meditation were suitable for different situations, she said, for example there was not always the luxury of being able to close a door to perform 20 minutes of quiet meditation.

“Sometimes just taking a minute and doing a quiet connecting to the breath – that’s a type of meditation and it has the same outcomes or the same effects as different types of meditation.

“As with anything it’s about the consistency and it’s about developing the technique to the extent that you can tap into it really easily.”

The programme utilised AUT’s Human Potential Centre and incorporated evidence based knowledge and scientific research, she said.

People who attended included leaders who were either facing burn out or wanting to better manage their stress levels or health, she said.

For others there was a sense of looking for new meaning in their work, she said.

While mindfulness and meditation helped improve wellbeing it would not necessarily turn a negative leader into a positive leader, she said.

“To be an effective leader there are still other competencies as well that you need to address.”

Mindfulness helped make leaders more aware of their surroundings and improve relationships with staff.

“You are better able to control emotions, put aside other thoughts and focus on the situation and interaction.”

The course also helped a leader make their business more profitable by enhancing employee engagement and reducing absenteeism and staff turnover, she said.

“When they start becoming more mindful they become better managers to their staff so it actually has a positive impact on the teams that they manage as well.”

The first two day course was held at Zen Garden in Whitford and cost $900.

Messervy said business leaders found it difficult to take two days out and so AUT would now be focusing on shorter sessions costing $650 for a five week series.


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