Naropa University President Chuck Lief recently sat down at the Mindful Leadership Summit with some of today’s most influential leaders in business, the nonprofit sector, government, and within the mindful movement to ask what mindful leadership means to them. This week we are featuring an interview with fashion icon and Chief Creative Officer Eileen Fisher, who launched EILEEN FISHER, Inc., in 1984, a clothing company that became known for its simple, beautiful designs. With nearly 70 stores across North America and Europe, Eileen has built a company guided by a distinctive aesthetic and an ongoing commitment to supporting women, human rights, and making a positive impact in the world.
What is mindful leadership?
Mindful leadership is leading with awareness. It starts with awareness of your own inner-life, and connecting that to how we work together. Mindful leadership means asking “why”—why we work, and why we do what we do. I think it’s about bringing awareness, and that’s why we stop to remember who we are or who we think we are.
Do you consider yourself to have been a leader before you were a mindful leader?
When I started the company, it was founded on a vision of loving clothes and fabric and making women look good, but I always cared about how people treated each other. When I started meditating more regularly it created a shift, and it’s something that continues to deepen. I’ve been meditating and doing yoga more regularly over the last 10 years.
I was into understanding myself through therapy and journaling and reflection, and learning to slow down through meditation made a different kind of space for me, which has in turn created a wonderful dynamic at the company. At the company there are more people now who are willing to stop and ask more questions about important issues, such as, “What are we doing about environmental sustainability?” and, “How can we become a more intentional company?”
How do you distinguish mindfulness for your colleagues and employees in a way that addresses mindfulness as a practice versus mindfulness as a one-time credential like other professional development training?
I think it’s about creating opportunities for employees to feel they can have those moments to stop, and have a meaningful conversation about what really matters. I also believe how we talk about it matters. At the company we offer meditation and we offer Sunday meditations. Focusing on personal growth and development is important, and we conduct mindfulness training as part of our leadership training. We are also opening a Learning Center and thinking more about how to provide mindfulness leadership classes to our employees.
You’re in a notoriously competitive industry that isn’t necessarily associated with mindfulness. How does the contemplative or mindful part of you feed into your work?
For me being mindful creates more awareness and a more holistic view, so you notice more. It’s harder to walk by workers who may be struggling, or not notice things aren’t right. We want to do things right and for the right reasons; this feeds a sense of wanting to help make things better.
Check out more interviews from this series:
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Chuck Lief
Editor: Travis May
Photo: courtesy of the author