Can Mindfulness Make Your High Potentials Higher Promise? (IO Psychology)

Topic: Burnout, Leadership, Talent Management
Publication: The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist (JAN 2012)
Article: Accelerating the Development and Mitigating Derailment of High Potentials Through Mindfulness Training
Authors: R.A. Lee
Reviewed By: Chelsea Rowe

High Potential employees (HiPos) are the highly sought after, cream of the crop, high performing, next generation leaders.  Senior management proactively seeks these stars and then sends them through numerous assessments, coaching, special training, and other rigorous developmental opportunities with the intention of producing a bigger, better, faster, stronger next generation of leadership for their company.  Despite confidence and extra investment in these HiPos’ promise, these shining stars often fail to live up to their fabled promise or worse: burnt out.  So how can companies increase the likelihood of retaining their stars and develop them without burning them out?

Some researchers are pointing to something called mindfulness. Andy Lee (2012) describes mindfulness as “being fully present and aware of what is going on right now.”    Lee ascribes three primary components of mindfulness: 1) present focus – thinking about the here and now, not the past or future, 2) awareness – actively monitoring one’s own thoughts and emotions and, 3) non-judgment – keeping an open mind, allowing one to see things for how they are (without evaluating value).  Lee (2012) suggests that developing one’s mindfulness leads to improved personal well-being (also related to increased commitment and reduced turnover intentions) and social functioning.  Additionally, increased mindfulness may serve to prevent irrational decision making, lessen the need to defend one’s ego, lead to greater empathy, stress relief, and improved mood.

Sounds great! Now what does mindfulness training look like?  Mindfulness is a more widely used concept in the therapeutic setting – only recently is it making its way into the workplace.  While Lee says there are no current standards or best practices for this form of development yet, some companies have already developed mindfulness training programs.  Quality programs will measure an aforementioned outcome (e.g., improving employee well-being).  They will involve some form of coaching and consistent advice towards developing mindfulness, and apply mindfulness principles to work-related challenges.  Value is may also be added by working to specifically identify one’s biases, values, and priorities. Lee (2012) emphasizes the importance of patience – mindfulness does not happen over night.

Lee (2012) says that mindfulness training as a HiPo development tool produces several work-related benefits.  Because it improves one’s capacity to take in and consider information about the current moment, mindfulness training may hasten learning during challenging and stressful situations.  Additionally, mindfulness may help to abate risk of derailment.  These are meaningful outcomes for retaining top quality talent and developing a strong succession plan.  Who couldn’t benefit from a little stress relief these days?

R.A. Lee (2012). Accelerating the development and mitigating derailment of high potentials through mindfulness training. The Industiral Organizational Psychologist, 49, 3, 23-34.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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