Leaders of great companies meditate. Why?

When Steve Jobs died at age 56 of pancreatic cancer, researchers say his brain would have resembled that of a 27 year old due to 30 years of meditation.

Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater (the world’s largest hedge-fund), Jeff Weiner, Chairman and ex-CEO of LinkedIn. The list goes on. Many great business leaders practice meditation.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

The science on meditation is clear.

Consistent meditation creates new neurological networks and even reverse the brain’s aging process. It increases self-awareness, focus and self-regulation; decreases stress and anxiety; and helps us develop a greater sense of calm, clarity and creativity.

Transcending Our Own Ego

But most interestingly, meditation can help us move beyond our own egocentric perspective where we are now more open to new ideas, have greater empathy and feel a greater sense of connectedness.

Masters of meditation can transcend or even dissolve their ego.

So what?

In my experience, the most successful founders grow themselves faster than the pace of their start-ups.

To do this, successful leaders have to shed old ideas and ways of thinking, and be flexible and expansive in their thinking. They need to transcend their egos.

In his seminal study on what makes companies truly great, Jim Collins found that it was:

the presence of a leader’s “gargantuan ego” that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of a company.

Our egos can make us do silly things. Mine certainly does.

We get defensive. Take things personally. We hold on to anger and vendettas. We make decisions based on biases. Or worse, charge ahead reckless as to the result.

Meditation is “the single most important reason for my success”, according to Ray Dalio, who urges us to:

Go beyond the “ego barrier,” which he defines as our “subliminal defense mechanisms that make it hard for you to accept your mistakes and weaknesses.”

Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, quit Oracle in the late 1990s and went to India for 6 weeks to deepen his meditation practice. Meditation helped him develop a clear vision on the future of the internet regarding cloud computing and software-as-a-service. By escaping his ego, he built a company that “integrates culture with service”.

Benioff softens his ego by developing a “beginner’s mind”.

“Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style. I’m trying to listen deeply, and the beginner’s mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was. I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment”.

Resistance and Flow

Great leaders have to be in flow with themselves, their team, their environment and their strategy.

But how do you find flow if you’re fighting your internal demons, or what Steven Pressfield calls your “Resistance”.

Being a leader requires deep inner work. What Jerry Colonna from Reboot.io refers to as “radical self inquiry”. What I call radical self-discovery.

Meditation and mindfulness training forces us to face our own demons. To know ourselves better. To see our behaviors and attitudes for what they are. To recognize our patterns of behavior. Our judgments. Our mistaken beliefs. Our biases. Our prejudices. Our ruminations. Our fears.

And if we can sense when our demons are emerging — then we can truly act consciously and see the whole.

We know we are anxious, but act with courage.

We know we are judging or blaming, but we lean in and listen with humility.

We see our fear of conflict, but now have the difficult conversation (we can “disagree without being disagreeable”).

We get angry, but self-awareness helps us to better regulate our behavior (we “respond rather than react”).

We are now mindful of our fear, but also of our courage to move beyond it. There is no longer aversion.

Steve Jobs was quoted by biographer Walter Isaacson as saying:

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”

Great leaders work on their inner game.

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