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When Janice Marturano, now Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership but then a VP/Deputy General Counsel for General Mills, invited me to participate in a Mindfulness Retreat she was hosting at General Mills, I immediately said yes. My friend Becky had attended the very first Mindfulness Retreat the year before and promised I’d love it. I had no idea what I had committed to. The first evening, as we gathered as a group of 20 to share the motivations that had brought us all there, some said “to be present for my kids” or “to be a stronger leader” and I said merely, “Becky.”

I had no idea that the 5-day agenda started at 6am and continued through 9pm, included hours of yoga & mediation, no alcohol and even a long period of time where you weren’t allowed to speak or make eye contact with anyone (which at least had the benefit of eliminating the need to wear make-up or brush my hair). If you’d have asked me what mediation meant prior to going, I would have said the goal was to completely clear your mind of any thought, knowing that there was no way my always-on brain would ever achieve that.

What I learned instead, was that mindfulness is a deliberate act of choosing where to aim and sustain attention and that mindful meditation involves practicing choosing a focus for your thoughts.

With this description, it’s easy to see the link between Mindfulness and Leadership. Imagine the greater effectiveness of a leader who deliberately chooses where to spend her time v. one who permits the fire drill of the day or the constant onslaught of electronic communication to choose it for her. The key question that a Mindful Leader asks is: What’s called for now? In this moment, what is needed of me and my time? Where should I be directing my energy? It’s taking a break to re-center on what’s important and ensuring you are present in the moment.

Teams feed off the vibe given from the leader. Try this experiment. Instead of rushing into your next meeting still processing the discussion from the last one, perhaps speaking urgently at the beginning because there is a lot to cover and little time to spare, try centering your thoughts before walking into the room. Walk in deliberately, calmly, perhaps even silently. See what that does to change the tone of the room and provide a space for everyone to take a breath and focus.

Or try this experiment. Settle yourself comfortably and give your brain a topic of focus (your breath, sounds in the room, how your body feels in the chair, etc) or download a guided meditation. See how long you can sustain focus on your chosen topic before your brain wanders off to think about what’s for dinner that night or the presentation that needs to be done before tomorrow. The muscle you are trying to develop is the ability to quickly notice when your brain has veered off your chosen topic so that you can gently, firmly return it to the focus you’ve chosen. Your brain will go off on its own, so do not define success as the instance where the brain never wanders. The goal is to notice immediately when the brain goes somewhere unintended and return it. Quickly refocusing when reflexes have taken over proactive thought is the habit to be developed that can make you a more effective leader. And a more effective parent.

One mom who participated in Janice’s retreat reported how she’d used Mindfulness to stay responsive to her teenage daughter. Her daughter often seemed to choose moments when she was in the middle of something else to reach out … and by experience the mom knew that if she told her daughter to wait 10 minutes the precious moment where her daughter had been willing to connect was gone. Mindfulness helped her to mentally switch gears and choose to be ready for her daughter at the moment when her daughter was most receptive.

There are a lot of ways to put Mindfulness into practice … regular meditation, choosing Mindful “triggers” like using the turning of the door handle of a conference room as a reminder to be present in that meeting, taking a break during the day for silence … and I don’t do as many as I wish I did. But I do remember the key question: What’s Called for Now? And I remember that where I focus my energy is a conscious choice, not to be delegated to my fickle attention span.

Kymm Bartlett Pollack is Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer Latin America, General Manager, General Mills, MBA


Interested in learning mindful leadership? Join us June 2nd-3rd, 2016 for the upcoming Leading Differently retreat at the Hilton Garden Inn in Wayne, NJ.


Leading Differently: The Power of a Purposeful Pause© Retreat

June 2nd-3rd, 2016 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM

During this 2-day nonresidential retreat, we will explore mindfulness meditation and practical applications to enhance our ability to lead and live with excellence. For a limited time, special Early Bird pricing is available for this program. Click below for more information.

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