Change Your Mind, Change the World

Center for Healthy Minds

University of Wisconsin–Madison
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How Science Informs Good Leadership

Image via Pixabay

Richard Davidson, founder of the Center, has gathered research insights over the decades in order to understand well-being and alleviate distraction, dissatisfaction and suffering.

For people at work, including executives and leaders, it's become clear the workplace deeply shapes our well-being – it's the place many of us spend the majority of our days and lives.

"We've all had 'those days' at work where nearly everything seems to go awry. From that traffic jam delaying your first meeting to opening an inbox full of bad news, our patience and well-being are tested more often than we'd like."

Davidson breaks down three areas from which our workplaces can take a tip or two, including:

Focus and Presence

From neuroscience research, we know that simple exercises such as mindfulness meditation and focusing on the breath can increase focus and strengthen connections in the brain related to executive function and goal-directed behavior (aka dedicating that deep focus needed to wrap up that project). We also know that multitasking is a myth, so closing your email and silencing notifications while dedicating yourself to the task at hand will pay off and can enable you to be more focused and to think more clearly about important decisions for your team.

Listening

If leaders are bent over their smart phones rather than paying attention to an employee presenting in front of them, how can they possibly make the most informed decision about the topic being discussed? How can they expect their employees to feel heard or valued? But even less overt forms of distraction, such as seeming to pay attention but having your mind on the next meeting, will be felt by those around you.

Emotionally-Balanced Decision Making

At an interpersonal level, office politics and leadership dynamics can affect our stress and well-being. You're likely aware of the negative effects of stress, but it's also been known to shape the brain in key areas, including the amygdala (important for negative emotions such as anger and fear) and the prefrontal cortex (influencing self control and decision-making). When our brains are in "reactive" mode or are on the defense, our interactions with others are at risk of coming from a place of anger.

Studies, including one from our Center, are beginning to unearth how these relationships work, but what we know so far points to a relationship between activation of the prefrontal cortex and emotion regulation. Creating distance between yourself and your emotions by noticing them can help with this and can be achieved through mindful awareness and practice.

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