Mindful Engagement with Tara Shyte

Profit isn’t about how busy or efficient you are—it’s about how mindful your employees are.
Tara Shyte
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Tara K Shyte PhD is an experienced Zen Buddhist practitioner, certified mindfulness instructor, fully embodied yoga teacher, transintegral psychotherapist, licensed spiritual investment coach, author and activist, committed to the integration of traditional teachings with contemporary psychological and marketing understandings. She teaches mindfulness retreats at several  Fortune 500 corporations and is the personal mentor of many 40 under 40 individuals. Tara was the first teacher to win the Buddhist Geeks Dharma MILF of the Year award for two consequtive years, in 2014 and 2015.

Tara is also the President/CEO of Mindful Holdings, LLC, a U.S. based international leadership training and consulting firm that trains business leaders and organizations in Mindfulness Based Leadership, Mindful Engagement™, and Mindful Marketing™ approaches. She is the founder and board member of The Institute of Pragmatic Compassion (TIPC), a multi-disciplinary initiative providing a uniquely effective mindfulness training to several global corporations. An advanced contemplative practitioner for several years, Tara completed two 8-week MBSR programs and teaches as an authorized, non-sectarian instructor of The Faithful Secularist Mindfulness Church in the U.S. and abroad. Her root teacher is Rev. Mark “Biff” Knucklebone. Tara is the acting resident teacher of the Pragmatic Mindfulness Institute in Santa Barbara.

We are happy to present an excerpt from Tara’s new book, Mindful Engagement — Heart Advice for Reaching Your Professional Goals as a Mindfulness Teacher.

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Why are so many employees disengaged?

The answer most often lies in a lack of mindfulness. A recent national study by Dale Carnegie Training placed the number of “fully engaged” employees at 29%, and “disengaged” employees at 26% – meaning nearly three-quarters of employees are not fully engaged (aka productive). The number one factor the study cited influencing engagement and disengagement was “relevant mindfulness training”. While this is no surprise to those in the business (and we all intuitively know that employees’ degree of mindfulness has a major impact on their feelings about work), my interest in this book is not to delve into this recent study – but to probe into why mindful management is so chronically problematic.

At enormous costs, it’s worth noting: The Bureau of National Affairs estimates U.S. businesses lose $11 billion annually due to employee turnover.

Why are these costly problems so persistent? My premise in this book is that the qualities companies traditionally look for when selecting mindfulness instructors and programs are often not conducive to forming positive, productive, renewable, and engaged employees.

When companies are concerned about turnover, productivity, and chronically high levels of employee disengagement, they need to look thoughtfully at how they’re selecting and training their mindfulness programs.

They need to look thoughtfully at the type of people they’re placing in these critical roles, and how they relate to others. This is the fabric of day-to-day business life. This is the thread from which the cloth is made. And this is why corporate mindfulness instructors soon will be out of work – unless they upgrade their toolbox and learn how to respond to needs of an increasingly challenging market.

To illustrate some of the challenges facing the contemporary mindfulness instructor, let’s consider some examples from my own experience.

As a relatively new corporate mindfulness instructor, I was told on numerous occasions by senior management, “You just don’t seem like a mindfulness teacher. You just don’t seem like an embodiment of wisdom and equanimity.”

When I’d ask why, the answer would always be something along the lines of: “I don’t know… you just seem too cynical and manipulative, too much like one of us.”

To which I’d generally respond, “Don’t judge my personality – judge results. Do I make your employees more productive? Am I able to deliver successfully?”

Over time, most of my clients came to accept my style. But my point in this book is not about me – like most in mindful management I had my strengths and weaknesses, my good days and bad. Rather, it’s about what I observed in working with and for hundreds of managers and executives over a long career.

Put simply, the qualities commonly associated with mindful management – being soft-spoken, kind, quiet, calm, attentive, “spiritual”, and so on, if not moderated by a high degree of awareness of what really works and what is the desired outcome of mindfulness programs, are also qualities that will prove themselves ineffective in the long run. And that is why we already see that successful corporations are looking elsewhere for effective management.

My simple point is this: Mindfulness may be many things, but what really counts is to create employees that are engaged, that is: productive. And as a mindfulness instructor, the first thing you need to do is to show prospective clients that you understand this. And then you need to deliver.

So what qualities are more useful in fostering mindful, engaged, productive employees? Almost without exception the most effective mindfulness instructors I know shared these five characteristics (in addition, of course, to possessing the technical proficiency, which anyone can learn in a few weeks):

They were perceptive – less focused on body scanning and the flavor of raisins than on understanding the sometimes subtle issues the company was dealing with.

They were effective – never lost focus on what really matters: to make employees more engaged and productive in the shortest time possible.

They employed skillful means – like the archetypal bodhisattvas, they were able to intuitively sense the need of the corporation and acted accordingly, often in unconventional and unexpected ways which might seem cruel to an outsider, but which served a higher good.

They were unsentimental and straight-forward – not prone to idiot compassion, they knew that fear is the mother of engagement, and how to wield the stick like a Zen Master.

They were genuinely concerned about dividends — men and women of integrity who cared about the wellbeing of all shareholders and could be trusted to keep their word.

Let me be clear: I’m no Management Pollyanna. And I’m not advocating just being a bully, or old-fashioned fear-based management. Such management strategies simply don’t work in today’s evolved world. (If you run mindfulness programs in developing countries, things are a bit different, but that is the subject of a forthcoming book.)

Still, you have to be willing to make difficult decisions. As Chairman Mao once put it, “Revolution is not a dinner party.” Nor is effective mindful management – it’s a tough, often painful business. A certain percentage of the employees you’re working with will simply not live up to the expected level of engagement, no matter how hard you try. There will be lay-offs, breakdowns and psychotic episodes, and you have to be willing to make some difficult decisions.  As a famous Buddhist Master said: “Enlightenment ain’t for sissies.”

But as the Dale Carnegie study showed yet again, “the effectiveness of the mindfulness instructor” remains the number one factor, the lead dog.

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2 thoughts on “Mindful Engagement with Tara Shyte

  1. Shyst’s insight and application of the ancient teachings clearly lives up to her name. I think any serious meditator should be doin’ it right and keepin’ it tight in corporate middle management. In fact, I’ve never come across any true sage who wasn’t all about the holla and the dolla.

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