Honing strong decision-making skills is an absolute must for business leaders. After all, a wrong move can adversely affect the organisation, your team and your career.

Yet, oddly, few leaders receive formal training in the subject. Instead, they typically learn through trial and error. While certainly effective, this method is less than ideal for obvious reasons.

For those looking to enhance their decision-making abilities, there’s one surprisingly simple technique that can make a world of difference, and that is mindfulness.

“Mindfulness has a number of real-world applications.”

The mindful advantage

It may sound like some kind of “out there” concept more appropriate for the yoga studio than the business world, but in truth, mindfulness has a number of real-world applications. In terms of decision-making tools, the evidence is mounting to show that it can have a powerful, positive impact on the process, leading to both better decisions and faster implementation. This is why INSEAD started incorporating mindfulness training into their MBA programmes.

According to Natalia Karelaia, Associate Professor of Decision Sciences at INSEAD, this once esoteric idea is now becoming more generally accepted in the mainstream. Meditation and other mindfulness practices are being introduced in corporations worldwide (for example at Apple, Google, Nike, General Mills, Proctor & Gamble and more), and the trend is only expected to continue. Leaders who want to remain at the forefront of progressive ideas are wise to consider the value of mindfulness as a business tool.

Making mindful decisions

So, what makes mindfulness such an important tool for business decision-making? Simply put, it’s all about awareness. Remaining mindful means that you’re present – conscious of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.

With mindfulness, the decision-making process becomes a thoughtful, cognitive exercise, rather than an impulsive reaction to immediate needs. Analysis of mindfulness research shows that this kind of heightened awareness allows for:

  • Early identification of decisions that need to be made
  • More creative problem-solving
  • More thorough ethical evaluation
  • Improved ability to recognise the limits of knowledge
  • Improved ability to identify trade-offs and unintended consequences of potential decisions

These benefits are just the beginning. Ultimately, those who practice mindfulness in the workplace are more capable of aligning their intentions with their behaviours — a key trait for gaining respect as a leader.

Mindfulness: A Powerful Decision-Making Tool
Mindfulness: A Powerful Decision-Making Tool

Mastering mindfulness

Meditation has long been considered the primary strategy for building mindfulness. Randel S. Carlock, INSEAD Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership says, “Meditation creates space in one’s mind to think.” Research indicates its positive effects also include stress reduction, improved clarity and focus, and enhanced physical well-being.

“Like anything, it requires practise.”

Doing meditation is easier than some people think. In fact, Carlock suggests to make it part of your life, and you can start by setting aside a simple five minutes of mindfulness before you start your day, and again before you go to sleep. Then cultivate the habit as you become comfortable with it.

Strange as it may sound, incorporating meditation into day-to-day work life may also have a positive impact on the bottom line. From better decisions to greater emotional intelligence and higher morale, this simple tool can dramatically improve the overall work experience for every employee at all levels.

Understanding its powerful business effects, Carlock has brought meditation to the classroom.

Students of the INSEAD MBA programmes not only learn how to use mindfulness in the decision-making process, they experience it first-hand. Like anything, it requires practise. Learning to do this successfully in a training environment improves students’ ability to leverage the skill in the real world.

A mind is a powerful tool, but in today’s busy world, it’s seldom given the space it needs to really process information fully. Mastering mindfulness allows leaders to reflect more deeply on important decisions, and come to better conclusions.