The 2016 Mindful Business Conference (May 9-10, 2016) in New York City, organized by The Eventful Group, Mindful Magazine, and Whil, was unlike any other business conference I have been to. We heard passionate and purpose-driven speakers from diverse industries and organizations including: Harvard, Microsoft, Google, General Electric, Aetna, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Volvo, SAP, BASF, MUFG, U.S. Army, and many more. Adding to this already impressive roster, Congressman Tim Ryan, ABC News Anchor Dan Harris, former President of Starbucks Howard Behar, and other notable speakers gave captivating keynote addresses.
“Mindful business” would have sounded like an oxymoron just four and a half years ago when I left Microsoft. Those two words simply didn’t go together as a way to gain business success, not to mention happiness, in the minds of most corporate managers, leaders, and employees. I was one of them. I also remember picking up one of the early best-sellers on mindfulness, Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, about 20 years ago, and feeling completely lost reading “What Is Mindfulness?” at the beginning of the book.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
Then in 2009, I hit a wall that I couldn’t climb over, go under, or around for the first time in my career: everyone saw me as a successful and happy professional, but that’s not how I felt inside. As that incongruence grew, I felt disconnected, dissatisfied, and disillusioned. I remember thinking, “There has to be a better way.” And I gradually discovered that way inside myself. Through mindfulness cultivated by daily meditation and journaling, I was able to reconnect with myself and dispel the feelings of disconnection, dissatisfaction, and disillusionment at work that had been also eroding the quality of my life.
Mindfulness helped me gain the clarity I needed in my vision, which in turn gave me the courage in my heart and the confidence in my gut to take a one-year sabbatical to search further inside myself. The only public commitment I made during that year was to blog about my family’s experience of living free from corporate life and being fully responsible for my own success and happiness. Looking back, it was a year of fully recovering, reconnecting, and reconstituting myself to be whole. I learned to see that work and life were not two separate domains to be balanced with some mysterious perfect ratio, but integrated as one to achieve sustainable wholeness for my mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual well-being.
I also discovered that gaining clarity about what matters to me most, which is often elusive when I’m too busy to pause and create headspace to reflect on my experience, frees me to choose to align my actions with my values. That is essential for leadership.
This week, as I went to conference sessions on the usual hot topics in business such as talent acquisition and retention, leadership, innovation and creativity, culture change, resilience and stress management, and more, I noticed that this business conference was different. The conversations I had with other participants were unusually uplifting and enriching. There was a resonance of heart and mind among the organizers, sponsors, speakers, staff, and attendees. The conference organizers and staff clearly embodied mindfulness from the beginning until the end, and created space for mindful leaders to learn and share their knowledge and experience together.
I was thrilled to see my former employer, Microsoft, being represented at the conference as embracing and encouraging mindful leaders. Ken Weyel, Microsoft’s Director of Global Sales & Services spoke about “Leading From the Follow Position: 5 Ways to Shepherd Greatness” and Michael Gervais, High-Performance Psychologist with the Seattle Seahawks and Co-founder of Win Forever Consulting, also spoke of his team’s work at Microsoft. I left the conference with realistic optimism for the growing circle of mindful business leaders around the globe who are committed to integrating humanity with the marketplace for sustainable wealth: the well-being and health of their employees, customers, and business partners—co-creating space for each of us to thrive in all aspects of life.
I notice every day that people crave genuine connection, conversation, and collaboration to be heard and seen; and to matter to those with whom they spend most of their waking hours every day. Based on my own experience, leading starts with oneself. We cannot lead anyone else unless we first learn to lead ourselves by paying attention and embodying values that are in alignment with our purpose. When we do so with mindful practice, whether through meditation or any other means, we can lead and influence with clarity as whole people in our teams, organizations, and communities, all of which are part of the greater human ecosystem.
I am grateful to everyone who was part of the May 2016 Mindful Business Conference in NYC. May we all lead, thrive, and contribute mindfully and resiliently in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world.
What does “mindful business” mean to you? We love hearing from you about your thoughts on leadership, change, or anything else you’re inspired to share. Conversations drive every engine of change.