As Search Inside Yourself, a leadership and mindfulness training that was born at Google and is based on neuroscience, is approaching fast, we would like to shed more light on one of the trainers that will guide you through the 2-day journey of self-discovery.
Allow us to introduce Michelle Maldonado, a former attorney, turned business leader with more than two decades of experience across the technology, legal, education, and nonprofit communities. She brings expertise, compassion and wisdom cultivated from her professional experience and over 35 years of meditation practice to her work with leaders to help their people and organizations thrive with purpose, resiliency and high performance.
We asked Michelle to answer a few questions for us and present her answers in full below. It's a delightful read full of Michelle's wisdom and nuggets of her rich and diverse experience.
What has been your mindfulness journey so far?
I was introduced to mindfulness meditation when I was six years old. What I loved about my introduction to contemplative practice was that I did not learn any of the traditional terminology. Instead, I was offered simple language that I could understand and translate as a young child.
As the years went by, I grew into my practice and found that it sustained and replenished me. Whether it was during college, as a young corporate/technology/start up attorney or, later, as a seasoned business leader, I found mindfulness to serve an incredibly resilient foundation for me to see things differently, innovate through deeper connection and perspective taking, and perform with positive impact. I know that sounds like a lot of doing. But it's actually not. There is a misperception by some that mindfulness is just one more thing to add to an already full plate or "to do" list. However, I have found on my journey that mindfulness is not something more to do. But, rather, it is a way of being that informs how you do what you do. And, for that, I am grateful for my daily practice, the tools it provides and the contributions it enables me to make in the world.
What does your daily mindfulness practice look like? Does it ever change?
As a working mother and leader at a corporate organization, not one day is the same as the next. Like everyone else, my life is full of dynamic flow. I depend on my mindfulness practice to help me stay grounded, resilient and sharp. I have a dedicated meditation practice where I set aside time each morning and evening to sit for 30 minutes (or longer, if I can).
However, I believe in mindfulness as a way of being so my efforts also are keenly focused on integrated practices throughout the day and evening - mindful walking as I transition between meetings, 1-3 breath practice in conversations and meetings, purposeful pauses while putting together strategic initiatives, operational plans, mindful listening and engagement with partners and clients, and, of course, daily self-care.
Although I listed self-care last, I actually am trying to do a better job of elevating its priority. I am frequently heard to say that we can't give from an empty well - self-compassion, patience, tending, etc. - has to start with me before I can show up in that way for anyone else. My practice has nuances to it - it changes and yet also stays the same. As you can see, there are as many ways for a day's mindfulness practice to unfold as there are minutes in the day.
What has been something that surprised leaders about what they were able to implement after attending SIY?
I have had the privilege to work with leaders across industries in the U.S. and abroad and I have noticed a few common themes. Most notably, leaders are often surprised that they seem better positioned to overcome product or service challenges due to a higher level of clarity and innovation that is born out of their new sense of groundedness and self-awareness.
As many also work on their own triggers, grow their empathetic responses, and strengthen their self-management competency, I also frequently hear leaders surprised about being able to make good progress with relationships they previously considered toxic or dysfunctional. This has been the case with both professional and personal relationships - once again showing the powerful ripple effect of this inner work.
Lastly, and obviously there is no guarantee with this part, I have noticed some leaders who are surprised to see their team relationships and productivity improve along with a corresponding increase in performance and sustainable outcomes. Example outcomes have included revenue generation and innovation as well as improved employee retention, engagement and well-being - the latter of which also results in reduced overall organizational costs. I see great resonance with this and other parts in the Conscious Capitalism® / Conscious Business and "Going Teal" movement that we see currently transforming organizations in the U.S., UK and other countries.
What do you do when you find yourself in a volatile and conflicting situation?
The first thing I do is stop and take a breath - just that split second decision to take a pause and check in has saved me from having said or done things out of frustration that I could have regretted later - or more importantly, that could have damaged vital relationships.
I do this automatically now. It is a natural habit. However, sometimes, I still have to remind myself to check in with my body to see how my emotions are playing out their own story and sending information from within. During times of conflict, I try to look for the best outcome. Sometimes it resolves the way I desire and sometime it does not. I am comfortable with those ups and downs because I am not trying to be "right" or to make someone else "wrong." With a bit of detachment from ego (because, let's face it, too much ego can get us in trouble during times of conflict!), I try to keep my energy, focus and intention on what serves the highest good.
Lastly, I do my best to show up both compassionately and with clear boundaries about what is an appropriate or acceptable way to treat one another as fellow human beings. Being mindful in conflict does not mean you are someone's doormat and that you let them say or do whatever they want to you. It is about being courageously compassionate and responding with clarity and insight to know the best foot to put forward in a way that lets the other person feel heard and valued, even (and especially) when you do not agree with each other's positions. One of the great things about mindfulness is that it allows us to strengthen the communication between our amygdala (the oldest part of our brain responsible, in part, for the fight, flight or freeze response) and our prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain that is responsible for executive functioning/processing). In this way, we enable ourselves to move from unmeasured, compulsive reaction to a more choiceful response.
What would you say to people still sitting on the edge about booking SIY?
I would encourage them to do their homework. Use discernment, do your research on what it is and what it isn't. I also would encourage them to speak with others who have attended a public program and/or have brought one of the many SIY programs to their organization. The reality is that everyone and every organization has their own journeys. We have to be patient, without judgement or projection, and allow people to come to this work in their own time. I look at the SIY team and programs as a way to do seed planting, nurturing and cultivation. It is ready to meet you wherever you may find yourself on your personal or professional journey.
Additionally, I like to remind us that we all have more things in common than we have differences. We all want to live a meaningful life, to be valued and contribute value, to achieve success, to feel connected and to know love and joy. It is in this commonality that I see opportunity for each of us to access practices and tools that allow us to bring our best selves to the table. Whether it be in or out of the workplace, the not-so-secret, secret about the SIY program is that it positively impacts every area of your life, allowing you to align your purpose and values with your work, strengthen your leadership presence and enhance your well-being as well as improve your daily performance and deepen your impact. It pays dividends (literally and figuratively) and is a gift that keeps on giving.
You can book your place on the Search Inside Yourself programme in London on 5-6 October 2017 at Friends House Euston by clicking on this link.