What if students were to practice mindfulness meditation?


For the last two years, Mindfulness Meditation has been participating in the IÉSEG School of Management’s “Grande École” program, through a course entitled “Mindfulness & Management”. This course is today one of the highest rated by the students, if one refers to the evaluations that they fill at the end of the session. On the Lille campus, there is even a waiting list to register. Success can seem fast. Yet he was not won in advance. If the general public is more and more interested in meditation and techniques to focus on the present moment, if the introductory manuals of the psychiatrist Christophe André or the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard prancing at the head of the sales, the schools of management do not offer the most favorable context for the development of contemplative practices.

At present, these institutions remain torn between two paradigms: on the one hand, that of the dominant neoliberal narrative of profit maximization and endless growth, embodied in Milton Friedman’s 1970 article in New York Times, on the other hand, the model that is beginning to take shape as an economy at the service of wellbeing and dignity for all. In this context, where the notion of financial performance remains a fundamental matrix, our students are acculturated to the importance of managerial action as a key to success. However, this is often done at the expense of deeper reflection on the meaning of the action. Our students are bathed in “doing” at the expense of “being”.

A personal commitment

The business school culture partly explains why the introduction of meditation sessions was not so obvious. It was after a retreat and readings about the impact of “mindfulness” on decision making that I started two years ago. Initially, it was about integrating half an hour of meditation practice into one of my courses on corporate social responsibility. But the reactions of the students were very mixed. Some of these Grade 4 students felt “too immature to really understand such an experience,” others would have preferred to “focus on the main themes of the course.”

Behind these reproaches, experience has brought to light another obstacle, beyond the context of management studies: that of compulsory courses. Whether it’s a complete session or a simple exercise, Mindfulness Meditation is not just another managerial technique. It involves regular training and one can not under any circumstances require students to meditate outside of class. And, indeed, it was when we were the subject of an optional course that the eyes of the students completely changed and the requests poured in.

Today the elective “Mindfulness and Management” is designed as a mini-retreat and runs over four mornings for a total of 16 hours of classes, including at least eight hours of contemplative practice inspired by the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. ) of Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Listens to others

We approach the discussion with academic readings that address management issues – leadership, marketing, organizational change – connecting with the practice of mindfulness. But we do not stop at the rational understanding of the practice and its benefits. We also practice mindfulness meditation every day inspired by the MBSR program and its different modalities: sitting meditation, walking meditation, body scan , hatha yoga. Another key element of the program is to help students be more attentive to themselves and nurture their inner lives. This is why they are invited to keep a journal and some students say they feel “more engaged”, enjoying “having the time to explore a subject deeply”.

The IÉSEG School of Management fully supports this approach and is currently funding my MBSR certification at the University of Massachusetts . Next year, with a full-time MBSR instructor, we will be offering six-week six-week modules to members of the administration and faculty who wish to do so. The objective is to assert itself as a place of training for actors of change who listen to and serve society. And meditation is a way of taking a step back from the accelerated march of the world and reconnecting with its environment and the signals it sends us.

Today, despite a rather overflowing literature on the positive impact of meditation in the medical context, there are still few studies on its effects in the context of organizations . Knowing that companies need more than ever to change the way they do business to face the challenges of the XXI th century, participate in the integration of meditation practices in a business school is an exciting adventure that could to help train future managers of organizations with a socially responsible identity , contributing positively to future developments. The new model of B-Corps, based on social and environmental performance criteria, for example embodies such a posture.

Author Bio: Julie Bayle-Cordier is Professor of CSR at Iéseg at the IESEG School of Management