All posts by Mark Spears

How Meditation Benefits CEOs

Mindfulness is quickly following yoga in becoming a billion-dollar industry. It’s no surprise, then, that the popularity of meditation – one way to practice mindfulness – is also growing among CEOs and senior executives. Why are business leaders embracing meditation rather than, say, massage or ping-pong? Because there’s something to meditation that appears to benefit CEOs more than recreation or relaxation do alone. As CEO of the TLEX Institute, Johann Berlin specializes in bringing mindfulness training to CEOs and corporate teams. He says he’s seeing a growing interest among leaders in meditation as a way to build leadership skills – and achieve business goals. “Most of our new clients … are not sold by mindfulness as a novelty. They want to see how these approaches … are truly beneficial to existing priorities like retention, talent advancement, innovation.” For example, one of Berlin’s clients, a Fortune 25 company, has integrated mindfulness techniques into its high potentials program with the goal of creating agile and flexible mindsets as a foundation for leadership. The research on mindfulness suggests that meditation sharpens skills like attention, memory, and emotional intelligence. I spoke with a number of executives about their experiences with meditation, and saw again and again how their observations about meditation in the workplace connected back to the findings of academic research. Meditation builds resilience. Multiple research studies have shown that meditation has the potential to decrease anxiety, thereby potentially boosting resilience and performance under stress. That’s certainly been true for Alak Vasa, founder of Elements Truffles, who started meditating as a trader at Goldman Sachs and ITG. She claims meditation helped her keep fear and panic at bay, even under duress. “There was this one instance where the market tanked and there was panic on the desk. The trading desk was an organized riot. Thanks to my meditation practice, I was able to keep my composure and propose solutions to reduce the impact of the market crash.” How to bring calm and focus to your work routine. Jonathan Tang, founder and CEO of VASTRM fashion, first introduced meditation to his staff after 9/11. “In the aftermath of 9/11, the employees at my company were noticeably shaky and distracted.  I decided to bring in a meditation facilitator to offer people the ability to sit silent for 20 minutes.  The room filled up quickly as people really needed an outlet for peace.   When the session was over, people who had never meditated before were filled with a sense of calm.  It helped them be more present at work and even carried forth to being more present with their families at home.” Meditation boosts emotional intelligence. Brain-imaging research suggests that meditation can help strengthen your ability to regulate your emotions. Archana Patchirajan, successful serial entrepreneur and CEO and Founder of Sattva, shared that in her early years as a leader, she wanted things to happen in her way and on her timeline. “I didn’t tend to understand what my team was going through. I would just get angry if they did not perform according to my expectations. ” Given research that shows anger’s impact on cardiovascular health, it is critical that leaders be able to manage their anger, and put themselves in others’ shoes. “Thanks to meditation I have developed patience.” Archana says. ”I have a better relationship with my team. Best of all, I maintain my peace of mind.” Dr. James Doty, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, also values meditation for its ability to cultivate emotional intelligence. A colleague had developed a cutting-edge medical device, but the company he had started to develop and sell the device was on the rocks. Doty, an early investor, became the CEO. At a meeting with vital – but disgruntled – stakeholders, he faced an angry, unreasonable investor. He credits his mindfulness practice with helping him respond with empathy: “I paused and slowly took a few breaths… This led me to actually listen and understand not only his situation, but what he wanted and expected. By not responding in an emotional manner, it resulted in his not only becoming supportive but also becoming an ally in making the company a success. The company ultimately went public at a valuation of $1.3B. ” Meditation enhances creativity. Research on creativity suggests that we come up with our greatest insights and biggest breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind. That is when we have “eureka” moments. This is likely because meditation encourages divergent thinking (i.e. coming up with the greatest number of possible solutions to a problem), a key component of creativity. Charly Kleissner credits meditation with helping him come up with new ideas and ventures that would otherwise not have occurred to him. “I co-founded the 100% IMPACT Network because of my meditation practice.” Meditation improves your relationships. While stress narrows your perspective and that of your team, and reduces empathy, negatively impacting performance, meditation can help boost your mood and increase your sense of connection to others, even make you a kinder and more compassionate person. Chirag Patel, CEO of Amneal Pharmaceuticals and Ernst & Young 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year, credits meditation with helping him feel more connected to his clients. “In a business you start connecting to your customer as your family rather than merely a business transaction.” The same goes for his relationships with his colleagues and staff. Meditation helps you focus. Research has shown that our minds have a tendency to wander about 50% of the time. Add in work interruptions, text messages, IMs, phone calls, and emails, and it’s no surprise that employees have a hard time staying focused. But studies show that meditation training can help curb our tendency for distraction, strengthening our ability to stay focused and even boosting memory. Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Investors, attributes his ability to invest wisely to his meditation practice. “Being an investor requires the distillation of large volumes of information into a few relevant insights. Meditation has helped me discard interesting but unnecessary information and focus on the few things that make a difference to long run investment performance.” *** Importantly, meditation is not just “one more thing to do.” If you’re thinking that you have enough on your plate and don’t need yet another thing, consider this advice that Arianna Huffington shared with me. “Although I’ve known its benefits since my teens, finding time for meditation was always a challenge because I was under the impression that I had to ‘do’ meditation. And I didn’t have time for another burdensome thing to ‘do.’ Fortunately, a friend pointed out one day that we don’t ‘do’ meditation; meditation ‘does’ us. That opened the door for me. The only thing to ‘do’ in meditation is nothing.” But as both research and experience show, doing nothing can have real results.

Executives of Yesteryear Would Have Scoffed At These 4 Critical Leadership Skills

There’s a particular brand of humor conjured by “Mad Men” and other retro workplace dramas. The outdated office culture — from the way women are treated to the nonstop drinking on the job — provides a throwback reason to snicker and commiserate about the “old days.” Add in the prototypical business leader of generations past (rigid, fierce, gruff and intimidating), and you’ll see a picture that’s completely different from the modern corporate climate. Today’s successful business leader is an emotionally intelligent, collaborative visionary. Explain that to your grandpa, and he’ll likely have a good laugh. But if you want the bottom line on what it takes to be a business leader today, read on.


Empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling — to put yourself in his or her proverbial shoes. When your middle manager, Caroline, tells you her son is sick, you know she needs to pick him up from school because she’s a single mother. An empathetic person immediately understands the stress and frustration Caroline must be feeling, and validates it. The empathic leader approves her request to leave early. In addition, the empathic executive empowers Caroline with the option to work from home during the next few days so she can tend to her son. Business leaders of the past would have been indifferent toward Caroline’s situation, feelings or options. Today’s successful leaders recognize the critical nature (and bottom-line business impact) of taking care of their employees. They know that when employees are happy, they’re more likely to be engaged — and engaged employees are more productive. Gary Vaynerchuk described it this way during a recent episode of his “DailyVee” program: “You work for your team — they don’t work for you. How many times have you sat down with [them] one by one for three hours and asked them what they care about in life and how can you help them? That’s the answer, bro. How do you get your team to care? Care for them first.”

Data-driven decision-making.

Data-driven decision-making means relying on analytics to guide every business decision. Data-based evidence leads to insights, and executives then can turn those insights into actions that position the business for success. Back in the day, technology limited the amount of available data. It made sense to make decisions based on a combination of gut feelings and past experience. Today, however, the truth is out there, and 60 percent of companies regularly analyze four or more internal data sources before making decisions. “Every company has its problems, and often data-driven methodologies can help solve these problems,” explains Eran Levy of the business-intelligence (BI) platformSisense. “Whether it’s high customer churn rates or ballooning operational costs, data analysis can help you understand where your business is stumbling as well as suggest possible causes and solutions.”


To succeed in business in the past, you had to succeed on your own. Success, power, raises, promotions and market share resulted from what you could do better, faster or cheaper than the next guy. Building, inspiring and motivating a team didn’t make sense. Today, we value the power of accomplishment in groups. We know we can get more done if we work together. The Larry Tates of the world never would have asked direct reports for ideas or direction. He was the boss, and he dictated thusly. In his mind, lower-level employees were supposed to work their way up and respect their elders. Today, however, successful executives are not only comfortable relying on their teams for new strategies, they actively foster a culture of collaboration.


Corporate transparency is a commitment to informing employees about what’s going on in the company, whether it’s positive or negative. In the past, business leaders kept this information to themselves. Only those in positions of power needed to know the score. Today’s leaders understand that being transparent about company goals and earnings makes employees feel more valued. Corporate-culture consultant Glenn Llopis reinforces the idea that transparency helps cultivate trust. “If you are transparent, especially during the worst of times, you actually strengthen your leadership as people begin to trust you as person and thus will respect you more as a leader.”

Be today’s leader.

Although business leaders of the past did help us get to where we are today, let’s stop relying on them for inspiration. It’s time to turn over a new leaf and embrace the modern executive.

How to Build Emotional Intelligence in Your Child

You have probably heard the term “emotional intelligence” many times but what exactly is it? And why is it important for children to develop their emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ) is a “person’s ability to identify, evaluate, control and express emotions.” It helps us communicate with others, negotiate situations and develop clear thought patterns. Leading psychologist and author, Daniel Goleman argued in his New York Timesbestselling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ (1996), that EQ is a more important measure of how successful a person is, than Intelligent Quotient (IQ). Goleman’s revolutionary ideas around the science behind EQ started the movement towards incorporating EQ into many organizations and school curriculums. IQ measures a person’s academic intelligence, whereas EQ measures emotional intelligence — a person’s ability to interact with others or ‘social intelligence’. People with high IQ do not always have social intelligence and may lack the skills to be successful in many current work environments. According to a Forbes article in 2013, “research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology highlights 85 percent of financial success is due to skills in ‘human engineering’ including your personality, ability to communicate, negotiate and lead.’ And only 15 percent is due to ‘technical knowledge.” People with a strong EQ make good leaders and managers and are better at working collaboratively in team environments. If we foster EQ with our children when they are young, we are setting them up to communicate well, develop strong relationships, negotiate tricky situations, be leaders in their field and according to TalentSmart even earn more money. They will be more empathetic and compassionate to their friends, partners and own children, relate more easily to others and have a greater self-awareness. Can we teach our children emotional intelligence?  Absolutely. Some kids are more instinctively in tune with their EQ and will be ready to deal with new or different situations and people more easily. Others have a lower EQ from the start and need us to teach them in a more focused way. Regardless, all children need to have their EQ nurtured and be supported through the minefield of emotional experiences as they grow. Since its inception, the education system has strongly focused on developing IQ and improving children’s intellectual ability. However, since the advent of the EQ movement started by Daniel Goleman in 1996, many schools are now teaching children to identify their own emotions and perceive the emotions of others around them. However, there is still along ways to go in many educational settings and so parents need to play a pivotal role in fostering their children’s EQ. Here are four ways to build emotional intelligence with your child; 1. Help your child recognize their own emotions. Once you help your children “name” their own emotions, whether it be frustration or anger or disappointment, they can start taking ownership. Here you will not only spell out what they are feeling, but in what context it is affecting others. When they are feeling upset or discouraged, ask them to describe what they are feeling or get them to write it down or draw it. Do it often so they get to know what it feels like to be sad or angry or frustrated and they will learn to name their own emotion. Don’t forget to do it with good emotions too. My daughter’s preschool teacher uses images of emotional teddy bears and the children pick which bear they are feeling. They say what made them feel like that way and explain the emotion. For example, my daughter picked the happy bear because she felt happy after playing on the swing with her friends. 2. Talk about your own emotions with your child. The best way to foster emotional intelligence is to show it. Tell your children how you are feeling and allow them to perceive it for themselves. We often only think about emotions when they are big and hard to deal with, like feeling disappointed or sad or angry and your children will likely know when you are feeling any of these. You can also demonstrate here how you deal with your own big emotions and “get over” anger or disappointment. It is important to talk about the positive emotions too. For example, I am feeling so happy today because we just bought a house. Tell them what it feels like for you. And demonstrate how your emotions might affect theirs. As a parent, our own emotions have been sparked or triggered by something our child may have done (good or bad). One of the most important things here to remember is not to blame your child for making you angry or sad — they haven’t made you angry — you have made you angry. This is invaluable to teach our children, however it is a hard concept for adults to understand and even harder for children. Once they know their own trigger points with you and others, it will be much easier to control their emotions. 3. Recognize the mood or feeling inside your house. The mood and feelings change within your house. If you have people over, it might feel fun and jubilant. If you wake up on a Sunday morning and the house is quiet, it might feel calm and relaxed. Discuss these differences with your children. Allow them to recognize the different moods inside your house and see how their own emotions impact what happens in the house. At some stage, especially in the holidays, the mood feels so high it might explode and this is the time you would take your children to the park or break the pattern somehow — discuss this with your children. 4. Recognize the mood or feeling when you go places. Going into a crowded shopping mall will “feel” different from being at a playground. Talk to your children about the different moods. A sunny, hot day will feel different to a rainy, cold day and it will be different for each person. As we approach summer, I was asking my own children which season they like best. Two said summer and one said winter so we explored why we liked each better and it came down to memories and activities, but mostly moods. Two liked being outdoors with space to run around and a less crowded, relaxed atmosphere. One liked winter and to be in the house playing games with us because it was happy and fun. Each could explain the feelings or emotions that went with the seasons. Try this activity with new and familiar places you go and at different times. So if you go to the supermarket and it is really busy, ask them what mood they pick up and then if you go the next time and it is really quiet, they will pick up another mood. Bringing awareness to the emotions and moods that are felt or perceived in different situations helps your child assess the emotional intelligence of each place. If they have just started at a new school, they will know what the mood is or if something changes for the day at school, they will be able to deal with it much more easily after knowing what they feel and how it affects them. They will also be aware of how they pick up the moods of others in their day. Building emotional intelligence now will help your child be a good manager, good leader, be able to contribute to a team environment personally and professionally and more importantly have the ability to develop strong, connected relationships now and later in life.