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Applying Informed Mindfulness to the Work of Non-profit Leaders: A Case Study

By Julie Luzarraga, LICSW, DCSW

Leadership in the Present is a program designed to teach participants how to bring mindfulness skills to the unique lives of leaders and executives looking to deepen their existing skills and increase their effectiveness as leaders both personally and professionally. Mindfulness is an intentional practice of cultivating awareness both internally and externally.  There is a variety of techniques for practicing mindfulness.  The common components of any mindfulness practice are: creating the intention; utilizing a focusing device (such as the breath); non-judgment; and self-compassion.  Over time, the results are increased self-awareness and emotional regulation; improved concentration and memory; improved creativity and ability to see the larger picture while simultaneously staying present.  There are also many physical and emotional benefits such as improved immune functioning and decreased stress, anxiety and depression, among others.

Informed mindfulness is a “concept that connects mindful self-awareness and self-regulation with educated decision-making.”  This concept was originally developed as the cornerstone of Duke Integrative Medicine’s Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare.  The Leadership Program is a robust yearlong experience teaching fundamental skills to support the vision and larger transformation of healthcare.  Informed mindfulness adds a component that goes beyond developing a mindfulness practice as a leader.  By defining five domains of integrative leadership (Self, Others, Teams, Institution and Culture), informed mindfulness calls forth a commitment to both cultural and personal change.  Coupling informed mindfulness with the training on how to practice mindfulness as a leader provides a rich experience for corporate teams outside of the health care industry.

The Women’s Fund of Omaha was founded in 1990 to create opportunities for the economic, physical, emotional, social, artistic and personal growth of women and girls in the Omaha community.  Since then, they have supported local agencies with more than $1.8 million in grants for programs that address the most pressing issues as identified by their research. They have also established their own programs to meet unaddressed needs.  The Women’s Fund has experienced significant growth in the last 18 months and taken on difficult issues such as domestic violence, adolescent sexual health and human trafficking.  Their executive director had previously attended Leadership in the Present and was looking for a training and retreat option for their team.  The combination of mindfulness training as taught in Leadership in the Present with components of integrative leadership and informed mindfulness presented an ideal opportunity for this highly effective team whose goal is creating cultural change.

A TEACHING RETREAT INCORPORATING INFORMED MINDFULNESS

“Leaders who have developed informed mindfulness are aware of how they operate in the world with and in relationship to the qualities of integrity, authenticity, compassion, courage, empathy, humility and passion.  They are committed to increasing their own capacities for these qualities, not just for self-improvement but also as a means to bring about cultural transformation and social change (Perlman, 2014).”

Similar to health care providers who have chosen a career path as service providers, the Women’s Fund team has chosen to dedicate their professional lives toward creating cultural change. They work many hours, facilitate meetings with stakeholders and policy makers, research and lead change in the community.  Thus, it seemed a natural fit to incorporate informed mindfulness into the agenda for the three-hour training developed for them.  This case study documents the potential for using the concepts of Informed Mindfulness and Integrative Leadership outside of the healthcare industry.

The Format

Seven leaders from the Women’s Fund participated in the retreat.  The small number and high level of functioning made it easy to create a safe setting, encouraging discussion about the topics.  Prior to the retreat, the facilitator assessed the team’s overall level of trust and communication as high.  The executive director and operations manager noted that they all seemed to communicate and work together well, but were often busy and unable to connect in the way they would normally like.  They also identified a sense of pressure and high expectations each staff member feels about their projects and goals.

Introduction

The first part of the session consisted of assessing the participants experience with mindfulness and/or meditation.  One participant had previously attended the facilitator’s program Leadership in the Present and felt the tools to be very helpful to her.  Another participant identified growing up with a mother who had an active meditation practice.  The other members were familiar with the term but had no previous training or significant exposure to mindfulness practice.

Five Domains of Integrative Leadership

5 Domains of Integrative Leadership

The facilitator set the framework for the training by introducing the Five Domains of Integrative Leadership using the visual shown here.  After reviewing the domains and making the connection to a mindfulness practice, it was explained that the time restraints of this training would allow the group to explore “Self/Informed Mindfulness” and introduce the domain of “Others/Insightful Functional Relationships.”

Self/Informed Mindfulness

The next part of the training focused on teaching and discussing basic mindfulness principles using Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition: “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  The facilitator introduced four steps to a mindfulness practice: 1) sit with integrity; 2) breathe with intention; 3) focus; 4) come back to your focus.  There was an organic conversation regarding how each participant is already practicing mindfulness without knowing it and how to enhance that existing practice.  Discussion also included pertinent questions and reflections on the experiences of working with constituents, stakeholders and others in often politically-charged arenas.  Participants were encouraged to have dialogue and discussion with the facilitator responding and directing as needed.

Experience and Self Reflection

The next part of the session participants rotated through various activities.  Participants were receiving body work, reflecting on the internal qualities of integrative leadership, participating in guided meditation or practicing mindful communication.

Bodywork: Bodywork was used in this training specifically to encourage participants to be mindful physically as well as a way for them to receive healing treatment.  Some had never experienced the type of bodywork they received.  One participant noted that she used the mindfulness skills she learned to stay fully present and felt she appreciated the experience even more because of this.  Another participant commented, “The reiki was definitely amazing. I’ve never been able to relax and really shut things down even with massage, yoga, etc. And for me my goal would be how to sustain that affect and not just simply begin to autopilot again.”

Reflection on the internal qualities of integrative leadership:  After a brief introduction to the internal qualities of integrative leadership, (integrity, authenticity, compassion, courage, empathy, humility, and passion) participants were asked to spend some time reflecting and journaling on these for themselves.  Many commented that they had not thought of some of these qualities in terms of their work and relating to others.  This activity was done individually though some chose to share their experience during the mindful conversation exercise.

Mindful Conversation: Using Google’s Search Inside Yourself (Tan, 2012) as a reference point, participants broke into two and three person groups and practiced mindful conversation.  This practice involves mindful listening, “looping,” and “dipping.”  Mindful listening involves giving the speaker your full attention, knowing your thoughts will stray and directing your attention back to the speaker.  The speaker was given three minutes to talk about anything they wanted while the listener just listened without interjecting. “Dipping” refers to the speaker and listener being mindfully aware of their emotions and physical responses to what is being said.  The term “looping” is essentially reflecting back to the speaker what the listener heard.

Guided Meditation: Each participant was also able to experience a guided meditation and some were able to experience a more formal silent meditation.  The facilitator answered questions about how to sit, where to look and other practical inquiries that arise when someone first experiences meditation – guided or unguided.

Wrap Up: The last 20 minutes were spent reflecting and discussing the concepts learned.  This was an active conversation in which participants shared their personal insights as well as their ability to relax in a way that they weren’t normally able to relax.  Participants were able to talk about how they could utilize these skills moving forward both personally and professionally.

Feedback: A month later, participants were asked to share how this training impacted their personal and professional lives.  They were also asked how they were using the skills learned and to share any other difference they have noticed in themselves.  Had it changed how they lead?  Had they noticed any change in how they communicate with others?  Below are some of the responses:

What did you take away from this training?

“[This helped me see] the need to slow down and be aware of the crisis response I’ve been operating in. Look at what is impacting that, and how to begin to retrain myself to be mindful. I’ve been struggling with sleep since I took this job and that has been a good tool to use in the middle of the night when my mind takes off into 100 different directions.”

“To be more intentional about creating a space for reflection, for pause. The importance of stealing moments of time to just be present, without worrying about the past or next moves in the future. That work/life balance is important to carry our good work forward.”

How has the training changed the way you lead?

“It was an excellent reminder that many of us feel overwhelmed by competing thoughts and multiple distractions. Creating the space, time and energy to re-connect and truly listen is key to building authentic relationships. That mindful approach to leading with integrity is key to getting the work done with trust and sincerity.”

“I try to be more prepared which has been easier as I am doing one thing at a time. I feel less scatterbrained from focusing on one thing rather than trying to do too much at once which leaves me more available and more focused.”

How has the training changed the way you communicate with others?

“It’s a work in progress but I’m working hard to be fully present, less distracted, more focused. We tend to be oversaturated with information and with many demands on our time; how can we communicate with efficiency but yet slow down to build a true connection. Not everything needs to be task-oriented; it could simply mean sharing a moment in time. Over time, that builds true partnerships.”

“It all seems more purposeful. I am able to listen better and that helps all around.”

CONCLUSION

Leadership is an advanced skill requiring the ability to pay attention to self and other.  Many companies are embracing mindfulness techniques as an effective tool for their managers and executives.  Learning mindfulness is just the beginning.  For leaders, adding the components of Informed Mindfulness and Integrative Leadership create a more robust and sophisticated skill set.  These concepts are beneficial to leaders in the healthcare industry and leaders in the corporate and non-profit industries.

 

REFERENCES

Perlman, A. I. (2014). The Pebble in the Pond: How Integrative Leadership Can Bring About Transformation. Duke Integrative Medicine.

Tan, C.-M. (2012). Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). New York, NY: HarperCollins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Luzarraga, LICSW, DCSW, is the founder and executive director of Omaha Integrative Care, an integrative healthcare facility bridging complementary and traditional therapies.  In addition to seeing patients, Julie provides training and consultation on integrative practices to individuals, groups and systems, and has extensive training in mind body practices, meditation, trauma and women’s health.

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