As a student of the MBA part-time program of HHL, Victoria Dressel went to Kerala, India, from 2013 to 2014 with her son and partner. 100 days at this special place led her down a new path. She decided to step down from her demanding position as an art director and to follow her calling: independence as a yoga instructor and life coach. Victoria Dressel sees herself as an ambassador of mindfulness and she supports people in exercising their self-perception and their perception of others to help unfold their true potential. She is currently accompanying individual professional soccer players from RB Leipzig and supports companies as well as HHL students within our New Leipzig Talents Program as a coach, trainer and workshop leader.
In this interview with Timo Meynhardt (TM), Victoria Dressel (VD) talks about the vital need for mindfulness in the world – and the Leipzig Leadership Model, too.
Prof. Dr. Timo Meynhardt holds the Dr. Arend Oetker Chair of Business Psychology and Leadership.
TM: With our Leipzig Leadership Model, we kicked off a dialogue about which questions can provide orientation for executives. One important aspect in this context is a mindful approach to potential but also the tension which occurs in certain situations. What is mindfulness to you?
VD: In essence, mindfulness means focusing on the here and now. Our spirit, our thoughts are often busy with yesterday or tomorrow. However, we far too rarely live in the moment. Mindfulness means being wide-awake towards yourself and others, consciously perceiving your thoughts, action and environment.
If we assume that life is only happening right now, it means from a radical point of view that if we are not in the here and now, we are missing out on our life!
TM: That sounds like work and effort.
VD: What I keep experiencing myself and see in the people I work with is how they are becoming calmer, more relaxed and joyful, the more they integrate mindfulness into their lives. Why? To only mention a few aspects which even science has proven in many different ways; my own perception changes, I am less distracted by the outside world and less dependent on other people’s judgment, my stress level is going down while my self-confidence, my inner satisfaction and my quality of life are increasing. You could also say that the more mindfully I go through life, the more organized and balanced I feel, which creates inner calm and relaxation. This process is not about performance-oriented training that makes you mindful, but rather about a change in perspective, an inner attitude and inner growth.
TM: So you practically see yourself as an ambassador of mindfulness in your work. What do you mean by that?
VD: I want to inspire and motivate the people who attend my workshops to open themselves up to life with all its beautiful and also challenging aspects and to live in a more conscious way. I find the latest developments in society very though-provoking. We do not need to look all the way over to the U.S., our own doorstop will do just fine. The world needs more wide-awake and self-reflective people who think for themselves.
“If you want your employees to be wide-awake, motivated and creative you should train them in mindfulness.”
TM: How do you approach your interventions?
VD: I use impulses, images, stories, work with questions, I offer examples and work with exercises and techniques; for instance, from the MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) Program, my own experiences and knowledge from the world of yoga. I use the findings and approaches from current research. I find the latest scientific studies particularly interesting — especially from the fields sociology, neurobiology and psychology.
I would describe my approach as holistic, integral and interactive. I am very passionate about giving the participants an experience which cannot necessarily be understood on a cognitive level but rather challenges emotion and feeling. They can experience themselves and I have the privilege of sparking this process.
TM: What role does your own experience play in all this?
VD: In my role as a coach and trainer, I make sure that I only teach what I have experienced myself. I share my own experience for sure. Any challenges, the joyful and the painful one, which life has given me so far go into my work.The standard I have set for myself is to work with the participants in an authentic and true-to-life manner, to open up space which allows us to show, share and recognize ourselves.
TM: From the perspective of mainstream science, a lot of what you say sounds very bold. I would be interested in another aspect though: Isn’t strong introspection a renunciation of the real world with all of its problems? Didn’t we learn from the forerunner movements of the 1970s that real development can only be facilitated by specific actions; for instance, that competencies can only be developed from experience and by dealing with real challenges?
VD: Does one have to exclude the other? Honestly, what is real development to you? And does that mean that self-reflection and introspection prevent a person from developing genuinely? From my point of view it is clear that without these things, there will be no good, value-adding development serving the common good. It requires the courage and interest to understand yourself and others and to act with the knowledge and consciousness. That is what true competence, genuine development arise from in this world.
TM: I do think we are not far apart here. The ability to self-reflect has always formed the basis for successful personal development. I, too, believe that more mindfulness can be one response in order to keep up and not lose yourself in this fast-paced world. In this context, the mindfulness movement certainly has a great future. I think my reservations stem from the skepticism towards an instrumental “application”. It is at least ambivalent if mindfulness techniques are meant to serve as a handbook to deal with stress so that the person can “function” better again. One the one hand, if it helps, it helps. I have no problem with these techniques being separated from what is often a Buddhist context. On the other hand through, there is a danger of cementing the status quo if mindfulness becomes a means of compensation. It is true, however, that the core — switching off the autopilot and stopping for a second — has always been and remains reasonable.
VD: I would like to ask you something in return. In what situations would you describe yourself as particularly mindful and why?
TM: I feel particularly awake and alive when focusing on a task that demands everything from me. I often need an external challenge to get into that mode. It works best when I am focused on anything but myself, whatever that may be.
VD: Okay, I can understand that very well but at the same time I would suspect that you are probably very centered when you feel awake and alive in these moments and that your subconscious is focused on yourself. I am sure you know those moments when everything is running smoothly and you are incredibly effective and productive finishing several things very quickly, without feeling stressed. This is called a flow-like state; you are with yourself, not distracted by anything, in the here and now. But why don’t we experience that more often? Every day, we face thousands of distractions from emails, messages, media etc.
You also touch upon the spirit of your leadership model; giving something to others, making a contribution and feeling better because of it…
TM: By all means. The real artistry lies within maintaining tension and keeping the give and take in balance. “Giving is better than taking” applies now more than ever to executives in my opinion. No one expressed this stance better than Bertolt Brecht, who said:
“Don’t let anyone rot, not even yourself, fill everyone with happiness, even yourself. That is good.”
VD: To what extent is this mindset preserved in the Leipzig Leadership Model?
TM: When our team of authors developed the Leipzig Leadership Model, we knew exactly that it is a challenge in our era to be mindful and awake to the fundamental questions of the why, wherefore, what and how of entrepreneurial actions. That is why the purpose plays such a major role. We are not looking for a new generation of leadership philosophers but rather a sense of what is often not said in management training or questioned in everyday business. Many people doubt the purpose of ‘higher, faster further’ idea these days. Joy and purpose have become central motivational factors in today’s working world. I am fully aware though that these are ‘first-world problems’ from the perspective of other countries in light of our labor market situation and wealth. I see them both as a chance and a challenge for executives to find answers for themselves which can also inspire others.
VD: What is your ‘suggestion’?
TM: Be led by the contribution to a bigger picture while seeking individual fulfillment. On the one hand, people cannot live without a relation to transcendence, be that a religious belief or a world view in which they find themselves and from which they draw strength. Looking at the working life, our suggestion is for the executive to not only focus on achieving corporate goals in the narrow sense but also on the development of employees and especially to the contribution to the common good. In an ideal world, it all goes hand in hand and good axes of resonance occur — as expressed by the sociologist Hartmut Rosa.
VD: Does HHL have special events where people can deal with the model and its philosophy?
TM: Yes, the model is introduced, discussed and positioned in its own separate lecture. This happens at the very start and is a recurrent theme of the program. We also have a very special extra-curricular offer — our “New Leipzig Talents” coaching program (NLT). It allows students to work with a coach on their individual competencies to develop a corresponding stance over the course of nine months. You also work in this program. How do you approach the coachees at the group events?
VD: By confronting them with their own experience as a first step. One example: Everybody knows this moment when it all becomes too much, you can’t take in anymore and lose focus. Then it is very helpful to stop time for a moment, get out of the autopilot mode, reduce speed and find yourself. If I learn to be good to myself, take care of myself, appreciate my work, it will also work better with other people. That is how I understand the principle of the Leipzig Leadership Model as well. I help the participants to deal with themselves, their colleagues and environment in a more conscious manner. What I manage to do with myself, I can also do with others.
TM: Yes, that is an important message of the model. We do not claim to be the first ones who developed this mindset. We simply integrated it into the model while gearing it towards the latest leadership research. However, we try to avoid one-sided focal points and see the openness of the model as a chance for people to include their own perspective. I would also be interested to know where you think this might lead.
VD: My vision is big and bright but that’s what a vision can be. I see people treating other in a mindful and respectful manner in the street, in their private and professional space, I see peaceful, friendly, happy people who support each other, communicate in an appreciative way and are awake in their interactions.
I imagine all those companies and institutions that I am accompanying at the moment — the RB Leipzig soccer players, children, young people, employees and students. I imagine how they meditate in their classrooms, offices, training space quite naturally.
“I am convinced that, in a few years from now, meditation will be an integral component in our everyday lives just like checking our emails.”
That is my vision and mission at the same time. Mindfulness will become necessary for us as human beings. When I talked and wrote about a slower pace and mindfulness in 2014, people gave me slightly patronizing smiles. Now, I am booked for just that. The world is undergoing changes. Developing a consciousness for mindfulness is a change that seems indispensable to me. What is your vision?
TM: If I’m being honest, I am a rejectionist when it comes to vision. Being more of a radical pragmatist, I see the necessity to constantly review things and — even if it is difficult — to rethink the future. With the model, we built a foundation to ask better questions at least.
VD: Good questions are of high value. If I may provide you with some feedback: Even if you call yourself a rejectionist of visions, I see you as a very future-oriented and open person who drives development in a very smart and human way. That is what makes our collaboration so exciting for me again and again.
#mindfulness #goodquestions #leadership #coaching