Dialogue on Leadership: Presidents who Practice Mindfulness – Two Amazing Examples from Brazil

This slide below comes from, of all people, Philip Kotler, generally regarded as the world’s leading authority on strategic marketing, responsible for introducing the 4Ps – product, price, place and promotion, the foundations of marketing which still stand today. It seems that in this latter part of his career he has discovered spirituality.

Phlip Kotler Values-Based Matrix

I have looked at this and I am not entirely too sure what Kotler means when he discusses the notion of soul in marketing. While known as the world’s greatest marketing guru, Kotler has never been known as a spiritual or enlightened guru of spirituality. What I do think though is that in coming from Kotler, the whole notion of soul is made credible as a topic worthy of discussion in the boardroom.

In a recent course I was teaching on complexity at UNICAMP (one of Brazil’s top universities) I was asked about where spirituality fitted in. I tend to avoid this topic, as for me it is up to the individual to come to their own conclusions about the meaning behind the insights of the new sciences of complexity and chaos theory.

The Holonomic Operating System

The Holonomic Operating System

What I do talk about is Jung’s mandala, and the different ways of knowing – thinking, sensing, feeling and intuition. In the west especially, and I include Brazil where I live, we can be very stuck in the thinking mode, the left-brain mode of knowing the world where we are not aware that the wholeness of experience, as mediated by the right side of the brain, is presented to our consciousness as a re-presentation by the left brain, where phenomena are split into subjects and objects, abstractions which separate us from a deeper connection to reality, life and nature. What I feel we need to do is reach a point whereby we are in the centre of the mandala, with all faculties of knowing in balance, and one way in which this can be achieved is through the practice of mindfulness.

I do not want to limit myself by defining mindfulness, rather in this article I would like to discuss what I consider to be two amazing examples of mindfulness in business at the very highest level, that of President.

Maria Auxiliadora and myself with Sérgio Chaia, President of Nextel Brasil

Maria and myself recently met with Sérgio Chaia, the President of Nextel Brazil. I have previously written about Sérgio, a practicing Buddhist, as I was lucky enough to hear his presentation at this year’s Strategy Execution Summit in São Paulo where he talked about his life and how mindfulness had been a major influence in his approach to leadership. In this talk he showed a slide which said “I am much more dependent on others than they are on me” and this is very much a reflection of his philosophy as a whole.

See Discussing sustainability at the Strategy Execution Summit 2012

Maria and I were lucky enough to spend an hour with Sérgio, and the first remarkable thing is how fully present he was with us. You really felt that he was giving us 100% of his attention, something that can be quite rare when people at the same time are also thinking about the myriad of things they have to do, but Sérgio spent much time deeply reflecting on the questions we were asking, and providing thoughtful and insightful answers.

One question we felt able to ask, and one that is perhaps a social no in most situations, was what was his relationship with money. We hear a lot now about relationship in many different contexts, such as social networking and complexity science, but almost never in terms of our emotional relationship with money. Sérgio has trained with Buddhist teachers, and he welcomed this question. For Sérgio, he sees money as being a means to an end, and not an end in itself. If we focus on the acquisition of money, and the acquisition of far more material things than we need, such as five houses, five cars, then this no longer serves us as we have five times the paperwork, five times the bills, fiver times the administration. Money should flow through the economy, rather than being stuck, and this is a wonderful philosophy in not being so attached to money itself, and focussing on how it can serve us, rather than us serving money.

Another question we asked was what is the perfect company? Sérgio answered that the perfect company can not exist, since the world is in continual flux, and therefore this state will never be one that we finally arrive at. Sérgio himself has achieved a huge amount in his career so far, but is modest in manners and for him he is only focussed on becoming the person he wishes to be, seeing himself as having much to learn still. This dynamic view of the dance of life was amazing to hear from me, since so many times I see executives at the highest level being stuck in their thinking and having no sense or need of personal development, flexibility or comprehension of flow.

Luís Norberto Pascoal with Maria Auxilidora and myself

The second example of mindfulness in business comes from Luís Norberto Pascoal, President of DPaschoal, who Maria and I recently interviewed.

See Dialogue on Leadership: Luís Norberto Pascoal, President of DPaschoal

Luís Norberto spoke to us about how he does the washing-up at home each night. This he does as a contemplative practice, and is his time away from emails and his phone. He really enjoys doing this, and spoke about staying in the sensual mode of feeling the water, soap and dishes. In using the word sensual I am just referring to that mode whereby we do not get lost in our thoughts, but are able to contemplate the embodied world through our senses. Sometimes we need to take time away from our thoughts to really notice the world around us, the colour of the trees, the song of birds. I know I can get a bit lost in thought, and I always force myself into the sensual way of knowing at times too, so as not to miss what is all around me.

Luís Norberto made the point that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. He really feels that doing this type of conscious mindful practice leads to both efficiency at work, and happiness at home and in his social life. It is interesting listening to Buddhist practitioners who talk about the act of drinking tea as being an exercise meditative mindfulness.

Sérgio made the point that of course he is not always in a mindful mode of thinking, modern business life is not the same as living in a monastery. But his practices, which start when he first wakes up, and then again before he sleeps, infuse all his waking hours, and also how he nurtures and is sentient of all the relationships in his life.

Myself with Arthur Zajonc

I first came across the term mindfulness when doing my masters degree at Schumacher College. As well as being taught about Goethe’s way of knowing by Henri Bortoft, I was also taught by Arthur Zajonc, who like Henri is also a quantum physicist as well as being a scholar on Goethe’s way of science. Arthur is the author of the incredible book Catching the Light – The Entwined History of Light and Mind, a book which explores our changing notions and comprehension of light throughout history.

He is also the author of Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, and it is this book that I would recommend as a hugely practical guide for those of you who wish to begin to explore this further. Mindfulness can also help us become open to new forms of inquiry, and this can be a huge source of inspiration and creativity.

I often say to people that thinking is the most important asset an organisation has, and that in business we rarely explore thinking at any level of profoundness. I wanted to write about both Sérgio and Luís Norberto as these are two people who have reached the very highest level within their industries, and yet they have not sacrificed any part of their authentic selves. They show us that it is possible to both be the president of some of the largest organisations in the world while having a very centred level of conscious awareness and mindfulness that focusses on their whole organisations, and the whole of society.

They show us a way of being in the world which is at ease with money, and one that sees their role as being in service to others. While Kotler may now be adding the word soul to his slides, here we have two very real examples of Presidents who live and breathe soul. I hope they are an inspiration to you as they have been to me.

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5 Responses to Dialogue on Leadership: Presidents who Practice Mindfulness – Two Amazing Examples from Brazil

  1. Hi Simon,
    Great Job! Sharing this wisdom is to leave a important contribution to the growth and sustainability of the organizations.
    Thank you!
    Best regards

    Rodrigo Leite

  2. Pingback: Braziliance! Chaos and Complexity, Philosophy and Flux Through Brazilian Eyes – Reflections from Sustentare « The Transition of Consciousness

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