Some of the nation’s top MBA programs are taking a lesson from Buddhism and teaching students meditation as a business skill.

MBA mindfulness courses

At the Claremont Graduate University Drucker School of Management, Professor Jeremy Hunter teaches students how getting to know yourself can make for more effective business leadership. Students learn meditation techniques that help them quiet their minds and build focus.

A typical meditation session consists of 20 minutes of silence in which the practitioner attempts to detach from mental chatter and become aware of inner processes. This expanded sense of self fosters calm and focus, qualities prized in the business community.

Professor Hunter told Lisa Napoli of NPR, “How present you are…is, you know, essential to getting work done these days.”

Meditation in the boardroom

MBA programs such as Claremont’s are following on the heels of a Harvard research study that found meditation and intuition to be the most important business tools of the 21st century. True to its word, Harvard Business School teaches meditation as a management skill.

Those Harvard graduates will become leaders in companies such as Google and General Foods where employees can take yoga and meditation classes to reduce stress. Younger students are more accepting of such Eastern practices. As Claremont MBA student Cameron Kane, a recent college graduate, put it, “If people don’t have a sense of their own self or the ethics that they need to make a business run or work properly, then eventually it’s going to catch up with you, i.e. Bernie Madoff.”

Older baby boomers may remember the sixties when Eastern philosophy was groovy, but many mid-career professionals are skeptical of spending time just looking inward. According to aeronautics manager and MBA student Bill Taber, the mindfulness exercise seemed like a waste of a perfectly good 20 minutes.

However, Taber stuck with Professor Hunter’s course and eventually began to feel the benefits. “I’m just turning inward…experiencing what’s going on in the body and what that tells me,” he shared with Napoli.

The business of Buddhism

Experts say this attitude is smart business as well as healthy psychology. Scientific research shows that the brain is more plastic than previously believed and can learn new habits. Traits once thought to be inborn, such as the capacity for laser focus, can be cultivated. As the growth of employee mind-body classes shows, businesses are seeing the potential.

Some companies offer employees the same mindfulness meditation program taught in medical settings. Former Zen student Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, created the program as a way to fuse Eastern wisdom and Western science to help people manage stress. His books have popularized meditation as a practical tool for living.

If the Harvard trend continues, meditation may become as essential in the office as accounting.

Image Credit: RelaxingMusic