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This interview was conducted by Jeroen Janss of the Brussels Mindfulness Institute

FullSizeRenderEinstein famously said that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Does Mindful leadership offer a different approach? I asked Janice Marturano, a former executive and renowned mindfulness trainer who has taught leaders around the world, including those at the World Economic Forum. 

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, what type of leadership do we need?

Our world is changing at the speed of an internet microsecond and it can often feel overwhelming. As leaders, we need to learn to meet this reality without becoming reactive, and without letting our fear of the unknown drive us into behaviours that are fear-based or too reliant on the old ‘playbook’.

And as leaders, we need to bring people together rather than behave in ways that are divisive. This requires courage, compassion and an understanding that in the end we will need all of us working together to meet the challenges of today.

What exactly is a mindful leader?

A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the service of others. Leadership presence is a tangible quality. It requires nonjudgmental attention in the present moment. Those around a mindful leader see and feel the presence.

In your own life you can probably recall times when you experienced leadership presence  and likely also when you experienced the opposite – when you feel the person you’re speaking with is not truly there – more connected to their phone or already with their mind in the next meeting.

How do you cultivate such leadership qualities?

Many leaders feel that they are not living their best lives – at work or at home. They feel something is missing. But what? The most frequent answer is… space. We often simply do not have the space necessary to be clear and focused, and to listen deeply to ourselves and to others. In this way sometimes “leader” seems to mean “person who deals with problems nonstop from morning till night”.

What I have found helpful is to take the time to pause and ask myself: “what is called for now”? This approach is not unique – it is part of most contemplative traditions but it seems increasingly rare that people actually disconnect from all distractions and truly pause – even if for a few minutes.

What if we are too busy to pause? 

This is the most frequent reply when I invite people to pause. “I am just too busy – I simply don’t have the time!”. While I understand that, I find it helpful to invite people to go through their agenda and reflect on the balance of a typical day.

This tends to be quite insightful; the realisation that that meeting wasn’t so essential in the end and that the most important things were actually not on the agenda.

I encourage people to introduce balance and find moments to reflect as well as to introduce things that nourish or bring positive energy. We tend to underestimate the impact of such seemingly small changes on our lives.

What role do we play as individuals?

I believe we all influence life in some ways. As Jane Goodall said: “what you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”. Sometimes we feel powerless and overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges around us. In those moments, I feel it is important to remember that we always have a choice.

In every moment, we can step away from the intensity for a few moments so we can ask ourselves ‘what is called for now?’. We can begin to see when we are being reactive, or when fear is overriding our best selves. We might even decide to turn towards the difficulty that faces us.

With openness and a willingness to understand, rather than to immediately want to solve or get rid of. History is full of examples where people made small choices that turned out to have huge consequences. Never underestimate the ripple effect…