A Talk with Marc Lesser, author of Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader

Marc Lesser is a CEO, Zen teacher, author, and leads trainings and talks worldwide. He has led mindfulness and emotional intelligence programs at many of the world’s leading businesses and organizations including Google, SAP, Genentech, and Kaiser. He is currently CEO of ZBA Associates, a company providing mindfulness-based leadership trainings and creating community by supporting ongoing groups. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, whose core programs he helped develop within Google. Marc was a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center for 10 years and former director of Tassajara, Zen Mountain Center. He currently leads Mill Valley Zen, a weekly meditation group. Marc has an MBA degree from New York University. More information at MarcLesser.net.

  **I don’t love my work and I feel stuck. What practice is going to help me with this? 

 If you don’t love your work and feel stuck, you are not alone. A 2015 Gallup poll found that less than a third of all U.S. workers feel engaged in their work. Even those who absolutely love their work, don’t always love their work and feel stuck at times. A core mindfulness practice is to pay attention to what is – to your thoughts and feelings and the quality of your time at work and in all parts of your life. Noticing what is, without criticizing and judging is an excellent place to start. Experiment with paying attention to what isn’t working as well as envisioning what actions might you take to move toward enjoying and appreciating your work, even a little bit more.

**There is a lack of trust in my workplace. What might I do?

 Lack of trust is easy. I sometimes say that if you are not building trust you are building cynicism. We humans by nature are cautious and doubting creatures. Creating trust in your workplace means that people need to care about one another, to admit mistakes, and be vulnerable. I suggest starting with you – what can you do to trust yourself and trust others more?

**What is the essence of mindful leadership and how will it help me to manage change and the stress and pressures of my daily work? (continued)

 One way to describe the essence of mindful leadership is through the Seven Practices I describe in my book. Any one of them can shift the way you work – to manage change and stress, and help you be a more aware, creative, and compassionate leader. What are these practices: Love the work; Do the work; Don’t be an expert; Connect to your pain; Connect to the pain of others; Depend on others; and, Keep making it simpler. Pick one and practice it each day.

 **I’m unable to turn off my work when I get home. It’s wrecking my family life. What do you suggest?

 One practice for finding more calm in the midst of activity is to be more aware of how you use your energy at work. In between periods of focus and intensity, take a few minutes to stop and rest, to notice your breath and body. Then at the end of the day, take a few minutes to stop, relax, and breathe. Be conscious about letting go of your work and shift your focus toward taking care of yourself and being with your family.

**I want to have a meditation practice but don’t have time. What do you suggest? 

 Start with a daily practice that you can do, even if it is three breaths a day. Once you have established that practice, explore a meditation practice of five minutes a day. Another strategy is to sit with others, once a week, for 20 – 30 minutes.

**What do Google and Zen monasteries have in common when it comes to leadership?

 They represent different facets of mindful leadership. Google represents precision and scale. Zen represents presence and creativity. At the center, of course, is that work at Google or in a Zen monastery is all about people – people wanting to produce the best results possible, to develop each other, and to help others.

**Where did these seven practices originate?

These seven practices were first taught by Zen teacher Norman Fischer. I was CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and invited Norman to address a group of Google employees who were being trained as mindfulness teachers. These practices were Norman’s instructions for principles and practices for teaching mindfulness. I adopted them for practices for becoming a more mindful leader and practices for living a more engaged and creative life.

**Why does Google embrace mindfulness and mindful leadership?

Google understands the importance of cultivating high performing leaders and high performing teams. They made tremendous effort to study what supports great leaders and great teams and found that mindfulness practices are a central factor in supporting both.

**What is a practice? Is it the same as a habit?

A practice is a combination of an intention, an aspiration, and an action. It is something that you do as a way of cultivating useful, positive traits. A practice can also be described as the way you live your life. It may contain a habit but is usually broader and deeper.

**What has been your biggest success in bringing mindful leadership into organizations?

One success has been with Google where many thousands of employees have been trained in mindfulness. There is a good deal of data to support the positive impact of these trainings in cultivating wellbeing as well as business results.

**What has been your biggest failure? And what did you learn from it? 

Ah, so many failures!  Hard to say which is my biggest. I love the quote by Michael Jordan, perhaps the world’s greatest basketball player ever who said that he fails, over and over again, and that is why he succeeds.


Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader:
Lessons from Google and a Zen Monastery Kitchen, By Marc Lesser
Foreword by Daniel J. Siegel, MD
Category: Self-help / Business
Pub. Date: February 12, 2019
Price: $16.95 / Trade Paper
Pages: 224
ISBN: 978-1-60868-519-6
Published by New World Library
Distributed by Publishers Group West