Jan 23, 2013 • By

‘Mindful leadership’ debuts at World Economic Forum

What began many years ago with a single General Mills employee interested in “mindful leadership” is being showcased today on perhaps the world’s biggest political-economic stage: The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013 in Davos, Switzerland – where top leaders convene each year to discuss the globe’s most pressing issues.

In 2006, Janice Marturano, a General Mills attorney for 15 years before retiring last year, offered her first class for 13 company executives who were interested in learning more about how meditation, yoga and mindfulness could improve their performance at work.

While this idea may seem out of place in a corporate environment, it caught on quickly at General Mills – and eventually outside the company as well.

To date, more than 400 General Mills employees (including me) and more than 1,000 executives from other organizations – including the U.S. military, higher education institutions and companies such as Medtronic and P&G – have taken her mindful leadership courses, which are now being offered through the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

Janice’s work continues to gain international attention, most recently in the prestigious Financial Times last August in an article titled, “The Mind Business.” (The article was one of the factors that led to her invitation to attend the Davos forum.)

Every year leaders from around the world converge on Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

Today at the World Economic Forum, Janice and University of Oxford Professor Mark Williams will provide an overview of both the neuroscience and the practical experience of how this training is benefitting leaders. Their presentation is titled, “Mindful Leadership Experience.”

She will also speak at a dinner panel of experts about mental resiliency and leadership, and will be guiding a morning meditation at Davos – a first for the World Economic Forum.

“Needless to say, I am honored by this invitation and very excited to be going to Davos,” Janice e-mailed me as she was about to board her plane to Switzerland.

Janice Marturano (left) incorporates yoga into her mindful leadership classes at General Mills.

Earlier, Janice explained that the mind – like the body – can be developed through regular exercise. And that effective multi-tasking is a myth.

“The more people multi-task, the less efficient and creative they are at completing a task or solving complex problems,” says Janice. “Mindfulness cultivates our ability to sustain attention for longer periods of time – to be in the moment in order to make clear decisions.”

And it could be argued that making clear decisions is of the utmost importance for those attending the World Economic Forum. Among the speakers are the secretary-general of the United Nations, the president of the Philippines, the prime minster of the United Kingdom and several leaders of multinational companies, including Chris O’Leary, who oversees General Mills’ international businesses.

“The potential of a gathering like the one at Davos is at the heart of my passion for this work,” says Janice. “These are the influencers of our time and influencers today simply need the training of the mind to lead with excellence. Just as we now know that our body holds capabilities that can be trained to improve our physical resiliency, strength and flexibility, we also now know that we can train innate capabilities of the mind to be much more focused, clear, creative and compassionate.

“The global issues facing us are daunting. We can no longer afford to have leaders making reactive choices, or choices made with only partial attention, or choices made without seeing what is really here rather than what used to be here or what we hoped would be here. And perhaps most importantly, we need to cultivate compassion – and this begins with self-compassion, and extends to compassion for others and compassion for our community.

“So, my hope at Davos is to ‘open the door’ and give interested or curious leaders a taste of the training – enough perhaps to entice them to pursue additional training for themselves and for their organizations.”

Editor’s note: To learn more, email the Institute for Mindful Leadership or visit its website.