Mindfulness and Compassion: Two Oft-Missing Ingredients That Would Bolster the Success of Teams and Companies

by | Jan 1, 2015 | Education, Thought Leadership

Dr. James Doty (center, pictured with Dr. Fogarty and Andrew Cleeland) was one of the featured speakers at a recent Fogarty Institute educational seminar.

“When you understand yourself and your strengths and open yourself to listen to others, you establish an environment of trust and create a situation where everyone is on the same team. Trust has a profound effect that leads to success.” – Dr. James Doty

In today’s fast-moving, technology-driven, high-achieving society, it is easy to overlook the toll that our personal and business “successes” have on our health, relationships and lives. Many modern workplaces have created a high-pressure culture that de-emphasizes the value of human interaction. Unfortunately, this has led to an astonishing 50 percent increase in healthcare costs for employers and higher human resources costs due to increasing job dissatisfaction.

What is often overlooked is how using a different leadership style – one of compassion and leading from the heart rather than our typical intensity – can actually improve not only your health and personal life, but also your business.

No one is more aware of this possibility than James Doty, MD, whom the Fogarty Institute had the pleasure of hosting during one of its recent educational seminars on building successful teams. An accomplished neurosurgeon and entrepreneur, Dr. Doty is the founder and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University School of Medicine (CCARE),

of which the Dalai Lama was the founding benefactor; a clinical professor in the department of neurosurgery at Stanford University; and author of New York Times bestseller “Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart.

To each of these many diverse roles he brings his authentic self, drawing from his personal experiences to share his insight.

Dr. Doty first learned about the value of mindful and compassionate leadership at the age of 12. He grew up in poverty, raised by an alcoholic father who was in and out of jail, and a mother who suffered from depression and attempted suicide on several occasions. His life changed in 1968 when he happened to walk into a magic shop and met Ruth, who changed the course of his life by re-training his mind and heart.

First and foremost, Dr. Doty was able to use mindfulness to combat his stressful adverse childhood experience, which can have a devastating impact on a child’s health and ability to succeed in life, at a time when the mind wasn’t thought to have neuroplasticity.

Over the years he has found a number of mindfulness lessons that are applicable to business success. Here are a few he shared.

  1. Demonstrate authenticity and transparency to truly connect with others.

    Trust is always an issue in any relationship due to the nature of interactions in modern society, particularly in competitive environments. We always want to put our best foot forward, which ultimately separates us from others because whether we like it or not, we all have that less-impressive side that we prefer not to show.

    But to be truly self-actualized, we need to accept both parts and realize that it is only by showing your weaknesses and failures that you can ultimately connect to others, which is key to fulfillment in life. The ability to develop the type of long-lasting, trusting relationships that successful leaders desire is by being open to criticism, showing empathy and acting with kindness.
  2. Stay in the present to increase your focus.

    When we are stressed, we cannot focus because we are not present. Studies have shown that 75 percent of us are consistently thinking about the past or the future, instead of being in the moment. When you are not present, you lose focus, which prevents you from connecting with others – a critical element to success.
  3. Turn off the “internal DJ.”

    We all have an internal dialogue in our heads, and unfortunately most of it is negative. The challenge is that when you tell yourself something negative, you are building a “jail” – you are defining what is possible and what is not. Ruth taught Dr. Doty that our dialogues are self-created, and the key to success is to avoid an emotional response to that dialogue. By engaging with a negative response, your body has a physiological reaction (“fight or flight” syndrome), causing an increase in heart rate, release of proteins that cause inflammation and a suppression of the immune system.

    Anxiety also negatively affects the executive control function, which you need to be thoughtful in decision making. By staying calm and mindful, you reach maximum potential for creativity and productivity.
  4. Realize that long-term success and self-actualization is driven by kindness and compassion.

    Considerable research has shown that self-compassion and the ability to replace negative internal dialogue with positive self-affirmations, kindness and acceptance are critical to success. To connect authentically with others, you must first be kind to yourself. This is particularly important in Western cultures, where connecting with others without fear is especially difficult to find.
  5. Don’t judge.

    Between a stimulus (an event) and a response, there is a gap. In that gap, there is a choice of what you are going to do and how you are going to respond. In that pause is your greatest freedom and opportunity for growth.

    But often we fill in that pause with a negative narrative – assuming, for example, that the person scowling is rude or angry with you, when really they just had a fight with a family member or learned some sad news.

    In that gap, don’t jump to conclusions and rush to judgment as the latter taints every action and decision. Events are just events and don’t have power – we are the ones who define them and give them power as being positive or negative. When we stop judging, we stop reacting, and it changes how the world interacts with us. You never know the potential someone may have and how connecting with that person may positively impact everyone around you.
  6. Establish an environment of trust for true leadership.

    When you understand yourself and your strengths and open yourself to listen to others, you establish an environment of trust and create a situation where everyone is on the same team. Trust has a profound effect that leads to success.

Thanks to Ruth’s teachings, Dr. Doty went from a childhood with little hope for any future to touching countless lives — attending college and medical school to become a successful and empathetic neurosurgeon; becoming CEO of a medical technology startup that helped change how radiation therapy is delivered, which went public for $1.3 billion; founding CCARE and inspiring millions of people worldwide to embrace a world of compassion and pursue a life of meaning and connection.

As he shares these ideas with others, he plants the seed that he hopes his audience will nurture in their own lives, just as he did.

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