Peace and harmony in the workplace (and the world).

Dalai Lama-endorsed Google-created leadership seminar sprouts in Tel Aviv.

A group meditates during a mindfulness exercise (photo credit: BRIAN K. SPECTOR/VISIONPALETTE)
A group meditates during a mindfulness exercise
‘Chose your action,” participants were advised at the Google-created Search Inside Yourself leadership seminar on Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness and Neuroscience in the Tel Aviv Port at the end of May.
Brought to Israel by Wisdom Tribe, the SIY seminar is at the cutting edge of leadership training. Although others have diligently searched for effective ways to present and train emotional intelligence, it was Google that achieved an outstanding format.
As part of the giant’s emotionally intelligent corporate culture, engineers are allowed to use 20 percent of their paid time to work on projects that they themselves choose and develop. Hired in 1999, Chen Meng-Tade, Google’s 107th engineer, climbed the “Google Fellow” career ladder to a position he jokingly invented and called “Jolly Good Fellow.” His request for the whimsical title was approved. He instituted the training of mindful behavior in employees. Upon leaving Google last year, his job description had become to “enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.”
Back at Google in 2006, Meng assembled a scientist, a Zen teacher and various consultants. His book Search Inside Yourself was published in 2007 and endorsed by the Dalai Lama and former US president Jimmy Carter, and SIY became a two-day course taught only to Googlers. Now an NGO, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, with Meng on the board, offers courses to the wider public.
Effective leadership is defined by SIY as “how well we use our minds and interact with others.” Which is why Meng’s model of seminars, combining emotional intelligence and mindfulness practice with easily understood neuroscientific explanations is successful around the world. In cooperation with Wisdom Tribe, an Israel-based platform for corporate mindfulness seminars, Meng's method was presented at the Google SIY seminar.
Wisdom Tribe’s self-styled “chief executive innovator” Yaakov Lehman has much in common with Meng.
He sees SIY as “part of a wonderful phenomenon happening in the world.”
Honesty has become a value in the new “work movement,” says Lehman and adds that empirical studies show that there are very specific talmudic norms of ethical behavior, based on the focused use of words, and deeper definitions of theft and honesty, that can be adapted to improve international business practice.
His Wisdom Tribe organization is a global leader in mindfulness and emotional intelligence, producing Wisdom 2.0 Connect TLV, among other live events, in Israel and abroad.
“Looking to identify what the world is adhering to, in respect to improving humanity, and to seeing what Jewish wisdom can bring to the global dialogue” are passions of Lehman’s.
Lehman’s Wisdom Tribe partner, Zur Genosar, is “a strong believer” in “merging a commercial business approach, with emphasis on mindfulness and personal growth, into the activity of major corporations.”
He recommends “defining the corporation’s higher purpose and a set of values” it wants to stand for, “as a clear key to achieving effectiveness, a healthy eco-system and bottom-line results.”
Lehman says the workplace is “becoming more about how people are working together,” and that emotional intelligence skills are “needed for successful collaborations.”
He calls the SIY seminar “The Future of Work,” saying, “This is the most important thing that is happening in the world today.”
“The mind,” he says, “is a muscle that can be trained.”
THE CONCEPT of emotional intelligence as a serious system for identifying and controlling one’s emotions – developing self-awareness and self-management, along with understanding and connecting with others – was popularized when Harvard professor Daniel Goleman published his first book Emotional Intelligence in 1995. This past decade has seen the growth of Emotional intelligence as a prized value among high-functioning businesses.
To be able to practice emotional intelligence, people are encouraged to read each other’s body language and use empathy.
The Search Inside Yourself leadership seminar, which inspired Meng’s book of the same name, was the product of his wish to create peaceful and harmonic conditions in the world, beginning with the workplace.
Meng, who has since retired to a period of full-time meditation, cautions, “to acquire emotional intelligence you really have no choice but to train. Emotional skills require training. You can read about emotional intelligence, but you have to train, too.”
Specifically, he says, “we are training the brain and we can do this because of ‘neuroplasticity,’ which means that “what we think, what we do, and what we pay attention to changes the structure and function of the brain, even in adults. Even in engineers,” he jokes.
“Bring very gentle attention to the process of breathing. Or just sit. The idea is moving from a state of doing to not doing,” says Meng.
MINDFULNESS AND emotional intelligence seem to be both sides of a single coin. The practice of some form of a contemplative, breath-related exercise such as mindfulness (or other form of meditation, or conscious breathing) is crucial in the adequate development of Emotional Intelligence, for which attention training is needed.
“Pay attention. See the anger. Stabilize your attention. Don’t react,” Laura Delizonna tells the 50 participants hosted at Wix in the port. She is a Stanford-, Harvard- and Boston-trained positive psychologist (now Stanford-employed), author of four books and former wellness researcher who produces training programs that enhance emotional intelligence and mindfulness. Participants in her courses refer to them as “life-changing” experiences.
“It’s about allowing yourself to bring your mind to a state that is calm and clear, on demand. When things are falling apart, you can stay calm. This skill alone can be life changing,” explained Delizonna.
“Bringing together the tool sets of mindfulness and emotional intelligence is designed to get you in touch with your purpose, to organize your time, and to reach out beyond your socalled limitations. Dealing with what it means to be human. To make what you enjoy a larger part of your life, to stretch beyond your borders,” Delizonna told participants.
DATA PRESENTED by Robert Chender, a lawyer who trains businesses and professionals in increasing working efficiency and morale by applying Mindfulness and Emotional intelligence practices, reflected a study of 300 US executives who spent 47 percent of their time in mind wandering. Seventy percent of leaders reported being unable to pay attention in meetings (and only 2% took the time to improve this). “Volatile,” “uncertain,” “complex” and “ambiguous,” were terms they used to describe their emotions.
“We need to learn not to identify with our emotions,” he explained. A graduate of Vassar College and the New York University School of Law, Chender is counsel at Seward & Kissel in New York City and founder of the NYC Bar Association Contemplative Lawyers Group.
“We say: ‘I am angry.’ But, as we learned, emotions are physiological sensations in the body. I can have hunger in my body, but that doesn’t make me hunger. Just to have failed does not make you a failure. Just as to feel anger does not directly make the totality of you angry.” Success and failure, he explained, are “emotional reactions.”
“The good news,” as Meng would say, is that emotional intelligence and control of reactions is a collection of trainable emotional skills. “The better news,” as he would add, is that it is trainable to a meaningful enough degree in seven weeks.
Chender jumped right in to mindfulness practice with the audience. He started them at 10 seconds and had them mediating for up to five minutes by the end of the two-day seminar.
The audience concentrated their attention on their breath, and whenever their attention wandered, they brought it back. It turns out that in meditation, or at least in mindfulness, the mind wandering is in fact not the issue. What one really strives for is the ability to recognize when the mind has wandered, and to be able to bring it back. This is meta-attention, the ability to pay attention to whether you are paying attention or not, enabling us to put emotional intelligence principles to work consistently.
“This is our mind’s tool to bypass all unwanted thoughts,” says Meng.
Later, a mindful listening workshop revealed that for many, listening without intention of interrupting, for the first time in their lives, was a breakthrough experience. Observations followed: “[during mindful listening] we noted we were responding, even though we didn’t talk,” and “sometimes we forget how much we are expressing, even without words.”
FOR LEHMAN, who, through Wisdom Tribe, “seeks to gather best practices in the world of international business, of emotional intelligence and mindfulness, and bring them to Israel,” getting Delizonna and Chender to the heart of Israeli corporate society was a major step in the new world of work he is heralding here.
He also had the opportunity to lead an impromptu Tai Chi class in the early morning sun and sea breeze on the second day of the seminar.
SIY was followed by an after party, produced by Ari Zoldan, CEO of the Quantam Media marketing group. Zoldan, a fan of Lehman’s, who often travels far to be at Wisdom Tribe events, and jovially referred to himself as “a Mindfulness conference junkie,” was briefly serious when he praised Lehman and Genosar’s “energy” and “delightfulness” in pulling the whole thing off.
“I come to these seminars primarily to meet people like you,” he told the guests. “People who are engaged in this.”
Most of SIY’s pearls of wisdom come from oriental sources and resonate with “nuggets of timeless Jewish wisdom” that Lehman looks forward to sharing “on a two-way bridge” to make “available to the global audience,” as Wisdom Tribe brings seminars here, and delivers them as far afield as London, San Francisco, Denver, Seoul and Shanghai. Its Wisdom 2.0 international conferences tackle effective use of technological connectivity in support of global well-being. Sharing bridges locally too, Wisdom Tribe is planning its first Wisdom Shabbat retreat in Israel, a model it has tested in San Francisco, Singapore and Hawaii.
As the second day drew to a close, Lehman officially sealed the event by quoting from [“Redemption Song” by] “that great sage, Bob Marley.”
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”