Michelle Spehr, MA, M.Ed., MCHES, CWWPC is the co-founder and Chief Framework Officer of the Mindful City Project. With more than a decade of consulting experience, her contributions to this initiative, include developing frameworks that strengthen the capacity of communities to apply mindfulness in ways that positively change mindsets and reinvent how people connect and work together. Michelle also works as a health and wellness consultant at the Benefit Services Group, Inc. In this role, she helps employers identify and apply creative solutions that address well-being at both the employee and the organizational levels. Michelle earned her Master’s degree in both Communications and Health Education. Her professional credentials include certifications as a masters-level health educations specialist in worksite wellness consultant and a faculty designation from WELCOA.
Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Michelle Spehr. Michelle is the co-founder and Chief Framework Officer of the Mindful City Project. With more than a decade of consulting experience, her contributions to this initiative include developing frameworks that strengthen the capacity of communities to apply mindfulness in ways that positively change mindsets and reinvent how people connect and work together. Michelle also works as a health and wellness consultant at the Benefit Services Group, Inc. In this role, she helps employers identify and apply creative solutions that address wellbeing at both the employee and the organizational levels. Michelle earned her Master’s degree in both Communications and Health Education. Her professional credentials include certifications as a masters-level health educations specialist in worksite wellness consultant and a faculty designation from WELCOA. Michelle, welcome, I’m delighted to have you as my guest today.
Michelle Spehr: Thanks, Mari, this is fabulous. I’m excited to be here.
Mari Ryan: Great! Our topic that we’re going to explore today is about mindful leadership. We’re hearing a lot more about mindfulness these days, but it’s started to come much more into the realm of a leadership skill. I’m curious as to whether you can help provide some context for this by helping us understand what mindfulness is, and what is it not?
Michelle Spehr: I’m glad you asked that because one of the things I’m finding as I talk to more employers and individuals is that there are different definitions of mindfulness, and everybody you talk to has a different definition. One of the things that both you and I both found when we went to the mindfulness leadership summit is that oftentimes we think we know what mindfulness is. I know for me, personally, I thought going into that conference, I worked in worksite wellness, I understand mindfulness and has to do with ‘why do yoga,’ so there’s stress reduction involved … I think one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is that it is much more than that.
I attended a session and I think you and I were both in the one with Janice Marturano, who is the Director of the Center for Mindful Leadership, and one of the things that she said at all her trainings when she works with employers, she said, “It’s important for you to know that mindfulness is not a religion, and I want to assure you we are not going to be chanting and burning incense.” Exploring mindfulness is almost like a mental skill training. I’ve heard a lot more comparisons to we exercise our physical body, and we have so much more research now about what does it mean to exercise our brain, exercise our mind, and the benefits that come out of that.
So, I think starting out, knowing that it is so much more than stress reduction and differentiating it between some of the commonness of what it’s not is important. There are some definitions – do you mind if I share one with you?
Mari Ryan: Please do! Let’s take a look at that.
Michelle Spehr: I think that although there are many definitions, one of the mindfulness definitions that I’ve shared when I’ve done some of my presentations is the one that we have here, and that is how can we get a better capacity or skill set where we can stay focused? I know you and I, Mari, have talked a lot about the definition of “just be here, now.” What does that really mean and more in the business context? The ability for us to stay focused, being aware of our thoughts and our surroundings, but I think even more importantly is recognizing when we’re distracted and knowing when we need to move past that.
When we think about mindfulness that way, you can see where it can have a better business impact, it can have a lot more impact on our relationships with each other. There are some positive things that mindfulness skills, mindfulness practices can help us with. I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that there is so much going on, the reality of day-to-day experience has really detracted from being able to stay focused. So, I like this definition.
Mari Ryan: So, we’re thinking about mindfulness similar to a muscle, similar to we have muscles in our body that we are training to be present in the moment. As you know, and many people who’ve read some of the things that I write know, I’ve had a mindfulness practice, a meditation practice for years, and it’s so interesting to know and work at being present and know when you are focused, and the difference between when you are focused and when you’re not focused. I see this all the time when I’m sitting in meetings. I was sitting in a meeting yesterday afternoon with a client, and it was really clear who was present, who was listening, and who wasn’t. We have so many distractions and so many things that can take us away from that moment, yet we miss so much when we’re not here now.
Michelle Spehr: Actually, some of the research that I’ve done, I’ve found that they’ve studied this and 47% of the time on average, we are not paying attention to what we’re working on. I think that was a big light bulb moment for me when I thought about that from even a business standpoint – what if we could improve that by just a couple of percentage points? What does that mean in our personal relationships? I think your example of needing a workplace is definitely one that most people can relate to. I think the other aspect from the leadership standpoint is thinking about as a leader, how are you showing up with those that are on your team? Are you pulling out a phone and looking at emails, or being distracted, looking over somebody’s shoulder instead of really being with the individual and having them feel like you’re listening to them?
I’ve even learned for myself that oftentimes I interrupt people because I get so excited about a conversation. That isn’t even being mindful because I think we tend to express more when we can get a little deeper and deeper. When I interrupt people, they don’t have that ability to really tell their full story. I’ve even seen this concept of mindful listening, while it’s not anything new, I think it contributes to this bigger picture of are we showing up for other people, and how can that help us in the business side?
If we’re having a strategic planning meeting, for example, one of the things that I heard you can do from a mindfulness standpoint is let every individual contribute with a monologue, where we have each person bring their ideas forward, and they have a minute or two where they can just talk. It is their time, as much of that as they need, and we don’t interrupt them. Better ideas can come out of that. Then, we’re not thinking about what can I say, or [indecipherable - 0:08:41.5]. There is so much to this, it’s really a big concept. But, that whole idea, like I said, 47% of the time we’re not really paying attention to where we are. What are we missing?
Mari Ryan: If our audience wants to connect with you, Michelle, where can they find you, or find out more information about the work that you are doing?
Michelle Spehr: I love connecting with people who are interested in this, especially the mindfulness area. The best way to do that would be to connect with me on LinkedIn.
Mari Ryan: Great! Thank you so much for your time today. As always, I adore spending time with you. This is a fabulous conversion, and I thank you for your time.
Michelle Spehr: Thanks, Mari, I really appreciate it.
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