Leaders Share Their Experiences with Mindfulness

In the past ten years, many leaders have brought mindfulness to their workplaces. Allowing employees time for and access to wellness programs, including mindfulness, has become increasingly common. If you’re looking to bring mindfulness into your own life or want to become a mindful leader, you can learn from the example of leaders who have. As mindfulness becomes increasingly popular in the corporate world, there are so many more offerings and resources out there for those interested. Now is the time to take advantage of these opportunities and learn about mindfulness.

“Taking time to meditate and unplug helped me to manage it all. It’s almost like a reboot for your brain and your soul. It makes me so much calmer when I’m responding to e-mails later.”

-   Padmashree Warrior, President and CEO, Fable; former Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Cisco Systems

Padmashree Warrior, known for her leadership in technology firms, has spoken about her mindfulness practice and how much it has helped her come out of “doing” mode. It is essential for leaders to take time to rest and breathe, shifting from the mindset of constant doing to allow themselves the chance to just “be.” Warrior meditates for twenty minutes every day and spends her time off doing creative activities, such as photography.

Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter, has a similar outlook. In a 2016 blog post, he explained that people look at him, a person who works in an online space, and assume the worst. They imagine him to be an internet addict, someone who doesn’t sleep often, works 24/7, and overshares far too much online. And, to be fair, that used to be true, but he turned to mindfulness meditation and found a better sense of balance. He describes his practice as similar to Warrior’s: “Twenty minutes of sitting (or sometimes walking) per day is enough to stay relatively grounded amid everyday anxieties.” Over the years, he found out that not only was the 24/7 work culture unhealthy for him, but it also wasn’t even good for his work output. Now, with a set weekly schedule that makes time for work, family, and fun, he describes feeling much better.

Mindful leaders can also pass this on to their employees. Companies where leaders advocate for mindfulness programs and create space for them have seen positive returns, as Ariana Huffington describes in this HuffPost article. Often, a leader is the one who sets the company culture and if you’re working like Williams used to, your employees will feel pressure to do the same. Mindfulness can help with your own health, the health of your company, and, if they show interest, the health of your employees.

Huffington, the founder of HuffPost, is also well-known as a mindfulness practitioner. In her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, she explained advice that her mother gave her as a child. “And whenever I’d complain or was upset about something in my own life, my mother had the same advice: ‘Darling, just change the channel. You are in control of the clicker. Don’t replay the bad, scary movie.’” It can be incredibly hard to actually follow through and change that channel, but practicing mindfulness can give you the tools to redirect your attention. Dwelling or ruminating isn’t healthy, and it also isn’t useful as a leader. While you should learn from your mistakes, it is important to be able to move past them and continue to grow.

Mindfulness can also be critical in times of immense stress. Bill Ford, the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company and great-grandson of the founder, has spoken about how mindfulness helped save him. When Ford was at risk of needing to declare bankruptcy, he meditated often, later saying, “The practice of mindfulness kept me going during the darkest days.” He expanded, explaining that he would set an intention each morning and would deal with whatever arose with compassion and kindness.

“Every day I get up at 5:30 to do my practice because I know I’m headed into a chaotic world where I’m going to hear a lot of good and bad things, and I’m going to be challenged about my own worth.”

-   Mark Bertolini, CEO, Aetna

Mark Bertolini, former CEO and Chairman of Aetna, also finds that a mindfulness practice can be essential for his own personal self-worth and help him make difficult decisions at work. When something goes wrong, the person in charge is the first one people blame, so it’s important for leaders to feel confident in their decisions. One thing you have to remember is that the primary reason to practice mindfulness as a leader is because it helps you,  not because it makes you a better leader for your employees or your company’s bottom line (although those can certainly be perks too).  

Perhaps the most famous tech practitioner of mindfulness was Steve Jobs, the cofounder, chief executive, and chairman of Apple. He talked about mindfulness often, positing that it, not greed, was the reason that humans evolved. To Jobs, mindfulness created clarity and expansiveness: 

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try  to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”