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Centaur Stage Ep. 6: Mindful Leadership with Nitesh Batra

Centaur Stage is a weekly video series where we explore bold ideas about the future of work and learning. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 2:30 PM UAE-time, Marilyn Zakhour, CEO & Founder of Cosmic Centaurs is joined by some incredible guests to share insights, opinions, and perspectives about the future of how we work and learn.

In this episode, Marilyn discussed mindful leadership with Nitesh Batra, a Mindfulness Teacher, Host of The Mindful Initiative Podcast, and a Certified Compassion Cultivation Trainer. They explored what it means to lead mindfully, its benefits and impact on teams, organizations and classrooms as well as how it will shape the future of how we work and learn.

About Nitesh Batra

Nitesh Batra is the founder of The Mindful Initiative and Ashtanga Yoga Sadhna in Bangalore. He also hosts The Mindful Initiative Podcast. He has been teaching Yoga, Mindfulness and Compassion in NGO’s, organizations, schools and universities for over 9 years. Prior to teaching Yoga, Nitesh worked in the corporate world for 10 years. He also produced two award-winning Feature films in India.

In 2019, Nitesh was awarded the Compassion Corps Grant to teach Compassion Cultivation Training© in underprivileged communities. He is the only certified teacher of Compassion Cultivation Training© from Stanford Medical School’s Center of Compassion and Research in Education (CCARE). in India.

Nitesh learned Yoga Philosophy in the Krishnamacharya Tradition and he is currently enrolled in the 5-year basic program of Buddhism at Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London.

Nitesh holds both a Bachelors's and Master's Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park and he completed his MBA from Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

About the topic

Before kicking off the discussion, Nitesh conducted a small meditation exercise that put everyone in the right mindset!

Marilyn opened the session by asking Nitesh to define mindfulness. A word that she tends to be skeptical about. An (HBR) article describes it as the ability to stay focused while being aware of your thoughts and surroundings and being able to recognize and move past distractions as they arise.

As Nitesh explained, the term mindful comes from traditional teachings in India. In Yoga philosophy, it was defined in a book called “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. Buddhist practitioners have also adopted it and practiced it in many ways. They've gone much further, in exploring what mindfulness is, but also in understanding what the mind is. So the real question is: Where is the mind? Most people don't have an answer.

Here’s what we learned from Nitesh

Where is the mind?

The mind is something that we experience. It's something that we're experiencing in many ways. One of the best ways that you experience it is by doing something that you love, something that you really enjoy, it may be, an outdoor activity, painting... for some it may be watching television. It doesn't really matter, it is something that stimulates you.

In modern terms, it’s being in the present moment, being aware of your thoughts. And, that is something that is helping us understand that we don't know where the mind is. We're just imagining that it is this invisible force. An infinite space. Think of the memories that you have from your childhood, they keep going in and in, and, I think science, somewhere says that every day we have 60,000 thoughts that we are observing. Where are they going?

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is defined as being in the present moment, but it's a gateway to starting to understand what our mind is composed of. Once you start entering that domain magic starts to happen.

Another topic that we explored in this talk was self-compassion and the concept of impermanence and how it impacts people at the individual level, at the team level, and at the leadership level.

What is self-compassion?

In the past few years, Kristin Neff and Chris Germer introduced this idea of self-compassion, and they have three components that relate to being mindful, being kind and the idea of common humanity. Beyond that, I think self-compassion is just loving yourself as you are.

What is impermanence?

It's the experience that stays with us when that moment passes. When that experience is happening, when you're mindful, and when you're aware of those thoughts and what is happening at that point in time, you can make a decision of responding versus reacting. Impermanence is the entire encapsulation of that because nothing stays with us.

Our mind is such that we like to create labels so that things become easier for us.

How do you foster empathy and mindfulness in teams, especially the ones working remotely?

Marilyn and Nitesh agree that it’s all about putting the Human at the center and creating an environment where people appreciate each other. Leaders should always remind themselves that a person isn't a click, they're not a KPI, they're not a metric, they're not a deliverable, they're a person.

How can leaders inspire that mindfulness and self-compassion as role models, while still having a bias for action? What trigger can you place in your own mind to stop yourself sometimes from doing that?

"One of the great examples that comes to mind is this writer, Joan Halifax, who in her book “Being with Dying” talks about compassion. She says that you have to have a soft front and a hardback. What it means is that you're able to handle things in a way that you're kind. Let's say you have to make a difficult decision of letting someone go. You can do it kindly. You can work it out in a way that they understand because at the end of the day, you are running a business. Or let's say you have a difficult customer, and you decide that you do not want to work with them because they are being difficult at this point of time. You can just tell them that it's not possible for us to work with you at this point of time. The idea of hard back comes in that you are steadfast in your belief system. That for me to grow, I have to make difficult decisions and I will live by those decisions because at that point of time, you made the best decision. I cannot go back in history. I don't have a time machine right now. Even if I did, I don't even know if I want to go back, or if I want to go to an alternate universe where I can make a different decision, this is who I am. This is the decision I need to make right now. And I make that decision. The way those decisions are made are by practicing mindfulness and compassion. With meditation certain parts of your brain grow, which helps you to make better decisions so that you can respond better, rather than reacting."

It's becoming more challenging to lead by example, while not being in physical proximity. How can managers and leaders approach this?

As a leader, I think you have to be more of a friend as you go forward. You'll wear multiple hats at the same time. We have to be extremely clear in our communication. Because we're sitting in front of computers, most of us are working remotely and we have to take care of our health while sitting for long hours.

Complete this sentence: The future of work is...

Depends. The future of work depends on us. It's like the climate, what is the future that we want for our mother earth? What is the future that you want for the work environment to be? It depends on you, what you want your work to be, what you want your organization to be. If you're a founder, if you're a CEO, if you're looking at longevity and not short-term goals, then you can and should make decisions accordingly.

Other episodes of Centaur Stage

Episode 5: Watch Marilyn's debate with Rama Chakaki on whether remote work creates more opportunities for refugee talent, or read the key insights here.


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