Expert Interview: Michelle Spehr (Part 2)

September 11 2018 / by Mari Ryan

videoMichelle 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: Hi, this is Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. Thanks for joining us today for this expert interview. My guest today is Michelle Spehr. We are continuing the conversation that we started that you can see in another video. Our topic is mindful leadership. I think you will enjoy this conversation and find that many of the aspects of how mindful leadership is an essential skill for today’s leaders.

Mari Ryan: Can you talk a little bit about what does it mean to be a mindful leader?

Michelle Spehr: I absolutely love – and I brought a copy of it just so I could show – a recent book that came out, I know I shared this with you, The Mind of the Leader.  Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter wrote a lot about what skills do leaders need in the 21st century to succeed. They found that there are three; mindfulness is one of them, compassion, and selflessness. What’s fascinating about it is they said our concept of an effective leader is outdated. The MBA coming in and is going to take over. While you need skills to help manager budgets and all that, really creating human-centered workplaces is a global movement. Having those skills as a leader to create a human-centered organization and integrating those three capacities is what leaders need to be successful moving forward. That’s very inspirational for me, and the best part about it is they said all of it can be trained for.

Mari Ryan: It’s good to know that it can be trained, so we all may have to start with the beginner’s mind, but at least there’s some skills that we can learn. Why is this mindful leadership important? Why do we need it then?

Michelle Spehr: It’s interesting, some of the research that they did, they talked to some 35,000 leaders across the globe, and many of them felt that they are not mindful on a regular basis, and a large percent want to be more mindful. Even more telling is this leadership crisis that we have. One of the statistics that really stood out for me is that – let me check this because I don’t want to get it wrong – 65% of employees would forego a pay raise to see their leader fired. If you think about that if you are a leader, that says a lot. I know many of your audience may have read some of the Gallup work, but employees aren’t necessarily engaged. As leaders, what can we do to help change and reverse that? I think that’s important, but maybe even a bigger aspect is what our work environment and our daily lives are like. One of the things that Rasmus and Jacqueline talk about is this concept of the “paid reality.” If you don’t mind, Mari, I’d like to share one of the other slides with you.

Mari Ryan: Sure, let’s take a look at them.

Michelle Spehr: This is fascinating because what we’re seeing is that in day-to-day, where we experience pressure, we’re always on, we have 24/7/365 information overload is part of it, and being distracted. So, in this paid reality, we need the skills to really focus and to be aware and not be distracted. As we look at leadership moving forward, and all of us, regardless of what position we’re in, this is our reality these days. There is so much more science that says we can train our brain so that we can be more effective in this paid reality

Mari Ryan: Yes, it’s very exciting and the fact that there is so much science that is emerging on this topic is one of the other things that is so important. I think for a long-time people have said this is fluff, this isn’t serious stuff, it’s not going to impact my business, and yet we’re seeing that’s not the case. We see this in athletes; athletes are the perfect example of the power of focus. They have peak performance times where they are completely in the zone – we have all these words; in the flow, all those things that describe that experience, but fundamentally they are completely in the moment. When they are in their rejuvenation part of their regiment, then they can be not quite so focused. We’ve got lots of role models for this and I think one of the key things is that leaders have the opportunity to really be role models in their organizations for these skills and for what it means to be present. We’ve talked with some of our clients about establishing habits within team structures where we put all our distracting devices to the side when we come together so we are honoring the relationship and the time that we’re spending with each other. It’s hard for some people to put that cell phone on the chair next to the door, or on the window sill and leave it there while we are together, but it makes people much more efficient.

Michelle Spehr: Oh, absolutely. I feel like there are small things that we can do, and maybe because they are so simple, people are like will this really have an impact? I think some examples of organizations that are trying to build mindfulness practices into their culture have been a great example. One in particular is Aetna; they look at their meeting schedules and they don’t schedule them back to back. Their meetings might be fifty minutes instead of an hour so that individuals have a little bit of space to leave the last topic behind and then focus on the new topic, or take a break to use the bathroom and breath and transition. I think there’s a lot you can bring to the next meeting when you’re not going back to back. I liked your comments about the athletes because I think looking at it from a corporate athlete standpoint, is one word. I think that whole concept, like I said before at the beginning was is mindfulness a buzzword, or can we translate it in a way that individuals can connect to it? I think the corporate athlete can define part of it, or a brain-break, can we give our brains a moment to just settle and refocus? The mind skills training I think is also another phrase that can help this be more of a concept that is accepted. Like I said, I think there are misconceptions about it and what it is.

Mari Ryan: Are there any other examples of mindful leadership, and how it’s practiced in everyday business that you can share with us?

Michelle Spehr: There are a lot of things, even from the recent news that I think stand out for me. This concept of being on autopilot, or reacting versus responding, I think is one thing that we can see with the recent Starbucks issue where one of the Starbucks managers called the police on two patrons who were there who hadn’t ordered. That led to a lot of training on unconscious bias and how can we look at that might be an example of where this skill set, these competencies, come into play of can we see what is really in front of us, what’s really there, versus what we expect to see, what we hope to see.

Another example that stood out for me was the Southwest Airlines pilot who recently had to have an emergency landing in Philadelphia. I listened to the audio and she was so focused and so calm, despite being in a situation that many of us would never be in, but the distractions that she had as she faced that situation, I think underscore and are perfect example of a definition of what it means to be fully present and to perform under very distracted and very stressful situations. I think some of those that we look at and do those things, stand out.

Mari Ryan: It’s a good way to think about it. I appreciate those examples because I think sometimes most of us are not flying airplanes in situations where a lack of focus or distractions can have some severe ramifications. Most of us are in different types of roles. But, it’s so important to remember that there are some individuals for whom this has to be an essential part of their jobs. We talk about this in the safety elements in the workplace. When we think about safety training in the workplace, to a certain extent safety training is a large part about being present, being aware, and dissipating some of the things that are going on, so as to prevent accidents from happening. There’s a real relationship here between our everyday lives and how we can apply some of these skills.

Michelle Spehr: I think that’s why it was of such interest to me, having worked with employers in wellbeing. I guess I was surprised that there wasn’t more emphasis on mindfulness because of employee physical health, the safety aspect, the resiliency – all of that contributes to what it means to be well individually, and how does that contribute to the organization overall. I felt like there was this gap that needed to be filled, or that could help us move the field forward in ways that could help people otherwise. Some of the research, too, underscores how it can help the individual [indecipherable - 0:25:49.1] and it can help the organizations. Lots to learn, but tons of possibilities.

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.

 [End of audio]

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, workplace culture, wellness, leadership skills, employee wellness, worksite well-being, leadership support for wellbeing, mindfulness, mindfulness at work, mindfulness research, hr, wellness strategy, wellness program

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.