I first found mindfulness, in the form of meditation, about 30 years ago when I moved from Manhattan to Washington, DC. To give you some context, Ronald Reagan was the President. Coming from Manhattan, I was not prepared for the culture shock! Years before the tech and biotech firms created a stronghold, Washington was an old-fashioned, charming Southern city, not on the cutting edge of much.
Still I was encouraged to learn there was a meditation center on my block. At the time, I was using guided meditations for pain management, and wanted to take my practice deeper. The center had a religious feel, which turned me off almost as much as the overpowering pungent odor. While I longed to cultivate inner peace, I didn’t want to feel pressured to join a religion or smell like something my mother would be ashamed of.
Since, the practice of mindfulness has exploded all over the U.S. It’s changed the way business is done—even in Washington—which I learned at the Mindful Leadership Summit in November in Arlington, VA. The organizers brought together 35+ thought leaders, including Tara Brach, Michael Carroll, Daniel Goleman, Rich Ferndandez, Janice Marturano, Sharon Salzberg, and many other visionaries.
Although each talk was unique and laced with humor, the themes covered purposefulness, presence, attention, collaboration, greater contribution, and the ripple effect, to name a few.
The Whole Person
Eileen Fisher spoke of recognizing the “whole person” not just the parts we allow co-workers to see. Often we feel pressured to leave our “real selves” at home so no one sees our vulnerability or imperfections. Yet Eileen sees more creativity, a deeper connection to intuition, and a better connection to the work when someone is recognized as a whole.
Tom Gardiner, CEO of The Motley Fool in Alexandria, VA, told a hilarious story about the year that The Motley Fool tied 20% of everyone’s bonus to whether each person could recognize all 250 employees by name—and vice versa—as a way to recognize the whole person.
What a boon for retention, teamwork, commitment to shared goals, and personal development.
Rasmus Hougaard discussed the “Paid Reality”—pressured, always on, in information overload, and distracted. Krishna Pendyala, President of the Mindful Nation Foundation, used the acronym VUCA for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world that we live and work in. I could relate.
Hougaard explained that the Paid Reality leads to an Attention Deficit Trait, where your mind is on task 63.1% of the time and wandering the other 46.9%. When people don’t pay attention, it doesn’t matter how many hours they put in. They’re likely not to get great results. Without mindfulness, you’re more likely to do a lot of things than the things that really matter.
Gardner said 70% of people go to work either indifferent or pessimistic about their work. Using an analogy of ten people in a canoe, three people are rowing in the right direction, five are watching, and two are striking the other paddlers in the head.
Effectiveness in Government
With all the squabbling and gridlock that we hear about daily, I was heartened to hear Congressman Tim Ryan and Robert Fersh speak. Ryan, author of A Mindful Nation, introduced mindfulness to Congress and his staff. He spoke frankly about mindfulness “away from the cushion.” With everyone’s opinions, finalizing a memo can take hours. Yes it’s messy and sluggish at times, but it’s democracy, and Ryan wouldn’t have it any other way.
Robert Fersh, of Convergence: Center for Policy Resolution, whose firm leads effective collaborative decision-making at national level, quipped that he’d never given a speech on mindfulness—when you work in Washington, mindfulness isn’t the first topic you think to discuss. Before Obama’s time, Fersh brought disparate parties, including representatives from the AMA, pharmaceutical companies, the health insurance industry, consumer advocacy groups, and the American Public Health Association to come up with shared recommendations on heathcare for the uninsured.
Whether you call it bi-partisan or non-partisan, both Fersh and Ryan recognize and emphasized how much better the outcome is when all voices and ideas are heard and considered.
Even in Bethesda
Barbara Krumciek, (now former) CEO of the Calvert Group is Bethesda, MD, talked about thriving economically in a corporate culture that insists on acting with integrity and ethics. A far cry from Wall Street’s culture, the Calvert Group creates investment opportunities only with companies who align with their culture of sustainability and responsible investing.
Things have even changed at the National Institute of Health, a behemoth where Dr. Rezvan Ameli, Senior Clinical Psychologist, structures, collects, and analyzes hundreds of studies on mindfulness and its positive impact on brain and overall health.
Coincidentally, the first job I had in DC was a block from the Artisphere in Arlington, where the event took place. While I worked for a very progressive firm, all I can say is boy have times changed! Here’s to living a life spent on things that matter.
To learn more about mindfulness in the workplace and beyond, go to www.mindful.org. To learn more about the 2014 Summit, go to http://www.mindfulleader.org. It’s too early to register for the 2015 Mindful Leadership Summit, but it is scheduled for the first part of November 2015.