Janice Marturano believes so deeply in the power of mindfulness to transform leadership, she once accosted colleagues in the hallway to tell them the good news.
Mindfulness, however, wasn’t always on her leadership-training radar. While today she’s the Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership and author of the book Finding the Space to Lead, in the early 2000s Marturano was a “twenty-first-century juggler” living the sandwich-generation nightmare: school-aged children, aging parents, a demanding job at a Fortune 200 company, and a high-stakes assignment overseeing an acquisition. During the eighteen months that assignment took, her parents died—first her mother, who’d been ill, then six months later, her father, who had not.
“I did what most professionals do. We keep going because that’s what we do. We’re still that juggler. We still have children to care for, and spouses, we still have our responsibilities at work, and that particular deal, if I wasn’t able to get that through the FTC, thousands of jobs would be lost, so I carried that as well.”
The deal went through, and when she didn’t bounce back as she thought she should, a friend urged her to spend a week at the spa. Marturano was reluctant, until she visited the facility’s website and saw one of its offerings. “’The power of mindfulness, an intensive retreat for executives and innovators.’ And at that moment, in my very warped brain, I said, well, maybe if it’s intensive, it’s okay to go to a spa.”
Connecting the Dots from Mindfulness to Leadership
It would be a game-changer for Marturano. “I met Jon Kabat Zinn. And that was my introduction to mindfulness.” The spa intensive led to years of practice and study with different teachers, and a deep dive into neuroscience research and the way cultures around the world have used mindfulness. As she studied, Marturano began to notice something. “There was overlap between contemplative practices and training the mind with what had been a passion of mine for decades, which is the development of leadership excellence.”
Once she made that connection she started spreading the word. “I would literally see a colleague in the hallway and say, hey can I tell you about something. And the most common response I got was, ‘Oh, that’s what’s been so different with you these last few years—That’s how you stay calm!’ The nature of the job I was doing, I was always in the middle of the chaos, the heated conversations, the crises. So, my colleagues were like, ‘Okay, I want some of what you’ve got.’”
“I would literally see a colleague in the hallway and say, hey can I tell you about something. And the most common response I got was, ‘Oh, that’s what’s been so different with you these last few years—That’s how you stay calm!’“
Mindfulness was not mainstream when Marturano started bringing it into her workplace, and leadership and mindfulness were ideas that had not yet been brought together. But Marturano’s passion for both led her to co-develop the very first mindful leadership curricula at the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness.
The first group that went on retreat with her was comprised entirely of women.
“Though this has been accepted by men and women equally, some of the tenets, the idea of listening to your own wisdom, making room to see if you can find that win-win-win, comes a little more naturally to women leaders, but I would also say that that’s been changing,” she said. “As more women are leading in that way and having good results, I think it’s being seen as a model—as any kind of new leadership avenue appeals to people when it’s successful, or beginning to affect the culture in a positive way, people want to know about it.”
How Mindfulness Leads to Success at Work and Beyond
That “win-win-win” is a key feature of what Marturano calls “the leadership we need in the twenty-first century.” Leadership is about influence, she notes, so it’s important for leaders to look at how they’re having influence, whether at home, at work, or in society.
“We have an epidemic of people who are living on a kind of autopilot treadmill. They are so overloaded, overwhelmed, over-connected that we have autopilot leadership. So people are more likely to miss things, to react rather than respond. They don’t have the spaciousness to find what we call the win-win-win, the choices that we can make as individuals that are good for the organization, good for the employees, and also good for the community or the big picture. When we’re on autopilot, we don’t have clarity, we don’t have focus, we have very little space in our brains for creativity and innovation, and compassion is really a stretch.”
Compassion has to start at home, she says, with self-compassion—something that doesn’t come naturally to many leaders. “If compassion and self-compassion are anywhere on their to-do list, they’re at the bottom.”
She believes mindful leadership is a necessity for the way we live now. “It’s an absolute imperative if we want professionals to do the work we need them to do, both for themselves, for their organization, and for that big picture. Boy, do we need it. Government can’t do it. Non-profits don’t have enough money to do it. We need these folks to have the spaciousness to find the win-win-win.”