Wellness at IA: Practicing Mindfulness as Leaders

The qualities cultivated through mindfulness meditation are the ideal characteristics of leadership.
McKesson in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Eric Laignel.
McKesson in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Eric Laignel.

The practice of mindfulness meditation in the workplace has gained great prominence in corporate America, with major organizations like Google and the United States Marine Corp espousing the benefits of a consistent practice among leadership. When applied through the lens of leadership, a mindfulness practice can drive higher levels of attention and concentration; help practitioners be fully present amidst multiple demands; drive authenticity and innovation through focus and clarity; and help support resilience and wellbeing.

Physiologically, there are changes that occur in the body of a mindfulness meditation practitioner. Through brain scan testing, it has been revealed that eight weeks of consistent practice builds new neural pathways in the brain. Scans also reveal a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, where the brain stores stress, and increased activity in the left pre-frontal cortex, which houses executive functions.

Incorporating mindfulness meditation into your company routine, or even your local office, can successfully balance an interest in indigenous culture with support for wellness strategies. What works well in a market recognized as a beach community may be harder to replicate in a Boston or New York market. However, Forbes contributor Jeanne Meister reminds her readers: “If you consider mindfulness has penetrated both Goldman Sachs and BlackRock, it’s clear that even businesses with no reputation for so-called “new age” practices see mindfulness as a good investment.”


Confidential Client in Toronto. Photo by Tom Arban.
Confidential Client in Toronto. Photo by Tom Arban.
Trickle Down Meditation

What we’ve seen from companies like General Mills and Aetna is that the degree of acceptance at an organizational level starts with the practice of its leaders. And because mindfulness teaches us to do things like actively notice new things and activate higher levels of concentration, it has been described as a “capability accelerator.”

“For me, mindfulness is about health and wellness,” says Los Angeles-based IA Managing Principal Helen Watts, who began her mindfulness practice as a stress management tool. “I liken designers to creative athletes: They have to train for optimal performance, and similarly, for their  abilities to be optimal, designers have to take care of their body, and that level of awareness in the work environment is a component of balance.” To promote this degree of thoughtfulness in the LA studio, Watts hosts a daily meditation session for anyone who happens to be in the office—staff and visitors alike.

Here in San Francisco, our office also hosts daily meditation and weekly yoga sessions to support staff well being. Though the roster of participants rotates regularly due to deadlines and other professional commitments, the opportunity to lead by example and facilitate healthy life choices cannot be overstated in value.



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