The Mindful Executive

By Tom Henschel

Maria was getting coaching thanks to her boss, Jocelyn. After coaching Maria for several months, Jocelyn and I met to discuss Maria’s progress.

After proudly updating me on improvements she’d observed, Jocelyn reflected. “I’m not sure why Maria gets such good results in her coaching. Not everyone does, that’s for sure! Do you experience her as different?”

I told Jocelyn that I experienced Maria as being particularly mindful. I said it was my experience, having been a corporate coach for more than twenty-five years, that mindful executives did particularly well in coaching.

She laughed, saying, “When I think of people being mindful, I think of monks and stillness and bells. Not exactly what’s happening around here!”

I laughed, saying I thought of mindfulness quite differently. To me, I said, mindfulness has two constants: curiosity and acceptance.

Speaking of Maria, I said, “When she read her feedback report, she was very curious about some of the comments. We had a really interesting conversation about what people might have meant. And she accepted – full out – that she provokes those responses sometimes. She was completely non-defensive. To me, that’s someone who is pretty darned mindful.”

Jocelyn and I talked a little more about curiosity and acceptance. Then she said, “So you’re suggesting mindfulness is about how you approach life in general. Not about improving performance?”

I asked her to say more about her question.

“Well,” she said, “when you said Maria was mindful, I recognized that. When I give her an assignment, I can tell she thinks about it. She thinks about how she is going to approach it, how she is going to delegate the tasks, what the deliverable will look like. All of that is mindful, isn’t it?”

I agreed that indeed it could be, then said, “Help me connect that sort of mindfulness with improving performance.”

“Oh! Well, she treats her own development the same way. She’s always thinking about improving herself. She always wants to learn what could be better. I was wondering if that’s mindfulness, too. And if that’s why mindful people do well in coaching.”

I agreed that I experienced Maria the same way: curious about herself, which led her to try new things. At the same time, she was accepting of herself, which allowed her to make mistakes with grace.

Jocelyn asked, “So was I wrong about that monk stuff? Isn’t mindfulness like meditation?”

I told her yes, but that these were two different ideas. One, as we’d discussed about Maria, is about people being mindful in their daily lives. The other is about having a daily mindfulness practice. Both are mindful, but they are different.

We went on to discuss the flood of research which points to profound long-term benefits of any daily mindfulness practice, even if only a minute or two. I pointed out two apps that would help her begin a practice: Headspace and 10% Happier. With Maria as inspiration, Jocelyn was curious to explore becoming a more mindful executive herself.



To assist you with your own work in becoming more mindful in your life and work, contact Tom today for further conversation.