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Creating Space for Mindful Leadership

--Janis Daddona, on Jan 22, 2014

     Janice Marturano did not expect to become a champion of mindfulness for leaders.  She was enjoying her role as Vice President, Public Responsibility and Deputy General Counsel at General Mills at a time when they were buying another company.  She imagined the engineering of the merger would take six months of hard work.  Eighteen grueling months later and having lost both of her parents during that time, she found her life completely altered and herself missing from it.  But then she took a one-week intensive meditation retreat for executives with Jon Kabat-Zinn, which she just happened to spot on the web. “That was the beginning of a journey that would eventually lead me to seeing the way this training deeply affects leadership excellence.”   
     How did she make the leap from her personal experience of mindfulness to teaching others in a leadership capacity?  “For two or three years I was a closet meditator.  But within a few months I was able to see how it affected my family and my work as a senior strategist.  I loved mentoring and training people, and I began to see that many of the things my colleagues struggled with could be enhanced through mindfulness training.  It took many years to experiment with and teach that curriculum at General Mills.  Then in 2008 I began to teach it at other organizations.”
     What Janice learned is that whether you are leading a household or a multinational organization there are four keys to leadership that could be enhanced with creating the space for mindfulness:  focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion.  Not exactly the stuff of best-selling corporate leadership books.  So how did she develop the confidence to bring this countercultural concept into the workplace?  “It first came about as a training of the mind rather than the heart, and I used neutral words like ‘focus’ and ‘leadership presence.’  Then I encouraged people to connect these words with a somatic sensation.”  “Bright minds and warm hearts,” is how she likes to describe the effect.  Work environments can be overwhelming and complex.  “So people need the spaciousness of mind and heart to find the win-win-win in their decisions—good for the corporation, the community, and the employees.”  She was blessed with wonderful colleagues at General Mills who participated in these practices and gave her feedback.  It became so successful that she shared it with other organizations around the country until finally she had to leave her job to continue this work full-time.
     The organization Janice then founded, Institute for Mindful Leadership, offers many programs to accommodate different needs for corporate as well as nonprofit leaders. Online trainings are soon to come.  She has recently published a book, Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, which makes the concepts approachable for those a little leery of non-Western ideas.  Meditation, purposeful pauses, and leadership reflection are the three pillars of their work at the institute, and they make a positive difference in the way her new converts influence their organizations.
     It became work of the heart for Janice to share the journey with others and see their suffering lessen as they practiced mindfulness.  By being present in all we do, in all decisions we make, we align our choices with who we are.  Even successful leaders realize how much more they could have been present to others and created the triple win had they been more mindful, bringing more of who they are to the moment.  As Janice pointed out, our distractibility interferes with our capacity for personal connection and productivity.  But once we diminish distractions and develop connections, we quickly notice a desire rising up within us to support others.  This is the compassion key to leadership. “I just have this optimism and trust that people will find the best solutions if we help them become more of themselves.”