Recently, we sat down with executive coach, Scott Eblin, to discuss leadership. This time, we turn to the concept of mindfulness, which Scott examines in his most recent book Overworked and Overwhelmed. The topic, which Arianna Huffington termed the “third metric” of success, is extremely timely. In our fight or flight culture, we are beginning to understand that accomplishment can no longer be measured simply by fortune and power. Instead, we must figure in the quality of our life – our health and happiness – as measures of our achievement. But in our 24/7 corporate culture, how can we ensure our net worth and title are in line with our mental health? We spoke with Scott to find out.
getAbstract: How can companies in today’s world support their managers and executives to perform to the best of their ability and to be the best leaders they can be?
Scott Eblin: I think it’s more and more true today that leadership preference requires being present. We need our leaders to exhibit leadership presence, to set the vision to engage people, to contribute to getting the work done and all of that. However, many leaders are so overworked and overwhelmed with a 24/7 world and all the input that’s coming in through so many different channels that it’s very hard to exhibit the leadership presence that is needed. From a company standpoint, I think, leaders need to acknowledge the impossibility of keeping up with everything and expecting people to always be on. This only leaves them in a chronic state of fight or flight and in this mode they don’t make their best decisions.
getAbstract: Right. People can go from being lower level management to being upper level management, and they really don’t know how to manage a larger team.
Scott Eblin: It’s because they keep trying to do things the way they’ve always done them. Most people that reach upper management have a reputation of being the go-to person. You have to make this shift from being the go-to person to someone who creates teams of go-to people.
getAbstract: It’s very interesting, not to mention timely, that you speak about mindfulness in your book. How do you propose we fit that into our daily work schedules?
Scott Eblin: Let’s start with the meaning of mindfulness. For me, mindfulness equals awareness plus intention. Awareness of what’s going on inside of me, in reaction and response to what’s going on around me. Once I’m aware of both, I can be intentional about what I will or won’t do next. Many professionals and leaders today are in a chronic state of fight or flight because they’re trying to cram so much into the 168 hours of a week that they end up in a state of low-grade or maybe even high-grade fight or flight. They don’t make good decisions, they don’t make strong relationships, and they don’t have good health. The opposite of fight or flight is rest and digest – one is the gas pedal and the other is the brakes. They need to work together in concert just like they do in a car.
getAbstract: How exactly do you make them work together?
Scott Eblin: There are many simple things you can do, which I discuss in my new book Overworked and Overwhelmed. I refer to these as “killer apps” for different areas of routines. In the physical domain, movement is the killer app because rhythmic repetitive motion activates your rest and digest response. Every hour, in little 5- and 10-minute increments, we should move because it’s fantastic for your health and wellbeing, and research shows that it increases your mental focus by 30%. Another simple thing is breathing. Most meditative practices focus on the breath and I suggest that people should meditate for even as little as five minutes every day. It clears out your mind from whatever you’ve just done in preparation for whatever is coming up next.
getAbstract: The points you raise are very reasonable, and I wish that we could all achieve that. But the nature of the beast is that the American corporate culture does not give us the environment we need to practice these things. So how is the average American employee in corporate America meant to evolve to the state of mind of 2015, but still work in a culture that’s very much rooted in a time that has long past?
Scott Eblin: Right, right. For me it starts with the belief that the only person who is going to take care of you is you. It’s rare when your boss is going to say, “You know, I think you need to take the evening off,” or “Why don’t you go home early today?” That’s usually not going to happen. I have this tool called the Life GPS, which is designed to help people ask and answer, on one page, three important questions. How are you at your best? What are the routines (that you either have in your life or need in your life), that will help you show up at your desk? And what outcomes would you hope or expect to see in three big arenas of life (i.e. at home, at work, in your community), if you were showing up at your best?
getAbstract: Scott, when you were a Fortune 500 exec, did you practice all these things or is this something that you’ve learned or evolved?
Scott Eblin: It was 15 years ago now when I was a Fortune 500 exec. I was learning about mindfulness back then, but – like so many people – I would come and go with it. The big turning point on this journey was back in 2009 and 2010 when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I was really struggling with the drugs for it. So I kind of quit taking the drugs and started going to yoga. The yoga teacher said, “If you come here three days a week, it’ll change your body. If you come here more than three days a week, it’ll change your life.” So I started going more than three days a week, and she was right. What I saw back then was a near immediate benefit in the way I felt physically. What I’ve seen since then, not just through yoga but through meditation, good nutrition and good, strong, healthy, vibrant relationships, and so many things, is that they help me manage my stress.
getAbstract: Now with your new sense of awareness and what’s important, how do you go about setting your own achievable goals and objectives? How do you create a more meaningful routine for yourself?
Scott Eblin: I have my own Life GPS. I create a new one every year. My wife and I both do that by the end of each year. We’ll have a weekend that we designate for a retreat for ourselves and we talk about the year that’s ending and our hopes and dreams for the year ahead. Then we each spend some time creating our new life GPS. I’ve been doing that for almost 20 years now, so I have a pretty good sense of the routines that work for me. These days, it’s definitely yoga.