Dr. David Brendel is founder and director of Leading Minds Executive Coaching, LLC.
For some time I’d been feeling unease, yet a sense of opportunity, about writing something I knew would cause a firestorm. Ironically, I stepped into the flame on a cold day at home during the Boston blizzard of February 2015. It was finally time, I decided, to address the cult of “mindfulness” in the American business world. In the process, I hoped to hone a tool that is so helpful for many executive coaching clients. Mindfulness is most powerful when its benefits and risks are understood, its limitations and boundaries clearly defined.
The resulting article in the Harvard Business Review went viral the following week and positioned me as a thought leader on how to avoid letting mindfulness become mindless. After delineating some core benefits and research evidence in favor of mindfulness strategies (like meditation and yoga), the article identified two potential downsides: disconnection from rational thinking, and coercion of employees to participate in mediation groups that might make them uncomfortable. A subsequent article I wrote in the Huffington Post noted other potential misuses of mindfulness, such as companies offering it to employees instead of actually reducing workplace stress by other means.
The response to my Harvard Business Review piece was swift and potent. Some congratulated me for courageously speaking out about the possible downsides of such a wildly popular, blindly accepted phenomenon in our culture. Others were not so kind. Rather than directly addressing my points, some critics wrote vehemently that I didn’t understand what mindfulness actually is. They stated that mindfulness is simple self-awareness, but they neglected to discuss how mindfulness strategies can be applied for better or for worse in the workplace. My sense that mindfulness had attained cult status was reinforced.
In more recent articles, I’ve written about how to implement mindfulness strategies in a careful, nuanced, and client-centered manner. An article co-authored with my close colleague, Emmie Roe Stamell, addressed how mindfulness can improve executive coaching. Emmie and I continue to explore with clients how mindful self-awareness and acceptance of present experience “in the moment” can actually empower positive self-development and strategic thinking oriented to the future. When utilized carefully, mindfulness actually improves cognitive functioning and innovative thinking.
These writing projects taught me valuable lessons about how a series of articles on the internet can develop a body of thought with power to change people’s lives for the better. In my case, a critique of a mindfulness led me to identify more clearly the benefits and risks of using it in the workplace. These articles led to my giving interviews to publications including Fast Company and the Boston Globe. And with a balanced view of how mindfulness works most effectively, new clients are hiring my company, Leading Minds Executive Coaching, to deliver executive coaching and leadership development programs that meaningfully keep the mind in mindfulness.
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