Leading Mindfully? Make It Practical. Feel It to Believe It.


Logistical confusion and last minute overflow seating only heightened excitement among the 500+ attendees at the inaugural Mindful Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. Leadership service and an "inside out" approach fueled three days of keynote and breakout sessions on the neuroscience, practice, and workplace application of mindfulness. Throughout the summit, thought leaders from Government, Education, Health Care and Business made it clear that mindfully "paying attention on purpose" is key to successfully navigating today's global leadership challenges. Mindful attention and awareness touch every corner of a leader's role -- from strategic insight to social intelligence, from employee engagement to personal "vertical" development. Rich Fernandez, recent head of executive education at Google and Co-Founder of Wisdom Labs, hit the mark in his final day keynote, aptly identifying workplace mindfulness a "macro-force" in today's business economy.

How can you make a move towards mindfulness? Two key takeaways for leaders in the trenches:

As a Cultural Change Agent: Make it Practical

Take simple, small, tangible steps that stick. The Eileen Fisher Company starts every meeting with three minutes of silence, equipping every meeting room with a small chime as a visual reminder to pause for a moment of stillness. Not that everyone in the company is Jedi master - one particular manager occasionally reinforcing the chime with a practical order to "shut up" -- but consistent implementation of this small pause pays off. Employees appreciate a moment to settle in, and business is more productive with increased intention and focus. Rasmus Hougaard from The Potential Project International related that clients experience similar results from their Corporate Based Mindfulness Training; The Carlsberg Group estimating they gained a 30% productivity boost in implementing mindful meeting strategies.

As a Leader in the Field: Feel it to Believe it

At the individual level, feeling is believing. Several breakout sessions pointed to the "felt sense" of breath and body as a tangible, "in the moment" way to cultivate leadership insight, open mindedness, connection and resiliency. Feeling your way to more effective leadership was the play at hand when Jeremy Hunter, PhD from the Drucker School of Management and Lili Powell from the Darden School of Business shared an exercise in leadership resiliency from their upcoming Leading Mindfully workshop. The two recruited 20 members of the audience on stage for somatic practices from yoga and theater rhetoric, literally exploring the capacity to center and re-center in action by standing in Tree Pose. Likewise, Conscious Leadership coach Jim Dethmer spoke eloquently to the "BQ" of body intelligence and the power in understanding personal somatic patterns -- noting that body posture and gut feel provide crucial information for leadership development. Likewise, closing keynote remarks from Dan Goleman touched on the supporting neuroscience of proprio-intelligence, that "gut sense" that tells us if we're doing right or doing wrong.

Tomorrow's leadership excellence requires a new kind of thinking - less harried and reactionary, more collaborative and openhearted. The good news is that cultivating a mindful leader's mindset is as simple as an intentional pause and as easy as a relaxed breath.