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I attended the Mindfulness Leadership Forum in Sydney recently put on by The Wake Up Project. It’s my third time in three years so what has me going back out of free will to this and enjoying it? And why is it so much more appealing than the dirge of say attending the Green Cities Conference which I have to, to keep my CPD points up? There’s a few reasons and I thought it might be worth exploring these, especially if you are a conference organiser.

Firstly it is a good feeling to be at the leading edge of something. When things are developing fast (and mindfulness leadership is one of those things) then conferences are a sure fire way of finding out what is going on and in what direction sideways thinking is taking us. In my experience there are nuggets in them there tangent ‘hills’. Where the industry is more mature there are very few ways to present fresh approaches. Oftentimes in such cases the speakers are doing less startling stuff than you are.

Secondly and on the topic of speakers, the mindfulness ‘mob’ seem to be really top quality folk not only in their insights but the way they conduct themselves. They do not appear to have been in the ‘in crowd’ at school unlike many other conferences where there is a definite feeling that the popular kids ‘get the guernsey’. There is often a cookie cutter approach to the speakers with the insights shared being of a low value. Contrast this with the Mindfulness Conference where attendees appear to be somewhat in a rapture and pens are scribbling in the groovy provided note pads at some abandon. The authenticity, depth of shared experience and the baring of souls is what sets this group apart.

It could be easy to think from outside that the speakers are down from Byron Bay for a day or too and the attendees are sociology graduates who have joined a not for profit organisation. Quite the contrary. The attendees at the Mindful Leadership Forum are a mixed bunch but with so much in common; a sense that there is a better way to run organisations and that in using mindfulness and presence there is actually a formula for more successful companies. And they would pretty much be right. A survey of successful CEOs in the US recently found that they all meditated. What might surprise you is the Companies that send their people to this conference are the big banks, big pharma, big insurance, government, local government, lawyers, accountants, Virgin Australia and some NFPs too. The list goes on, but word is getting out: mindfulness works.


Lawrence Levy

To give a flavour of who spoke in Sydney there was Lawrence Levy (ex Pixar and Steve Jobs collaborator), neuroscientist and New York Times bestseller Dr Heidi Hanna, Britta Baumann head of C2C at eBay Australia, Richard Mogg from the Australian Army, Michele Bousquet head of Org Dev at GoPro in the US, Leisa Trestour Global HR lead for Accenture, Olly Bridge head of health and well being at Medibank.  In terms of putting on the conference, the advisory team draws from persons high up in the following companies – Novartis, Commonwealth Bank, Toyota Financial Services, Atlassian, Herbert Smith Freehills, Optus, Suncorp, Smiling Minds, Australian Unity and  Westpac. If it looks like I’m labouring the point I guess I am. This is not Mike’s Hemp Emporium or the NSW Buddhist Congress being represented here, although I am sure there were hemp enthusiasts and Buddhist practitioners in the audience! This is mainstream Australia advocating for something currently outer mainstream to come into the light.


Jono Fisher

A hallmark of how Jono Fisher, CEO of The Wake Up Project organises the conference is that there is mindfulness in the way the speakers have been brought together and how they interact. Most conferences I have been to the speakers pass likes ships in the night and often their presentations will cut across one another content wise. Not so for the Mindful Leadership Forum because the speakers have a get together a day prior to the Conference to build rapport and share their hopes and wishes for their own presentation and for the audience. The respect built is mutual and I am sure the bonds established in this short time are often lasting, further cementing business and personal relationships built on the common thread of mindfulness.


Chip Richards

The final standout is the way the day is MC’d. This time round it was Chip Richards, Creative Director of UPLIFT.  Unlike your run of the mill conference with a starchy introduction of the speaker read hurriedly off a cue card, Chip and MCs before him create a narrative using their own experiences, interwoven with insights from each presentation, linking, highlighting and bringing together the day as a sum greater than its parts. A rare thing but easily done if you take a mindfulness approach. If the day is about sharing honestly and authentically to advance mindful leadership, why wouldn’t you put the audience right at the centre of your thinking. As a pretty avid conference attender over the years seldom have I seen this done with such aplomb. In fact only The Design Conference comes close.


Heidi Hanna

We know that there are over 6,000 peer reviewed academic articles that point to the value of mindfulness practice for personal health and well-being and overall improvement in company culture and performance. As the concept of mindfulness and a focus on holistic well-being becomes more mainstream in the workplace so too will we see an uplift in creativity, productivity and stress reduced workers. Meditation as a core component of mindfulness builds resilience, boosts emotional intelligence, enhances creativity, improves your relationships and helps you focus according to Emma Seppala in Harvard Business Review (Dec 2015).   Fulfillment at work will become within reach for many rather than a vaguely ill-defined concept sitting impossibly high on a Maslow pyramid.

The challenge for The Wake Up team is to keep the content constantly evolving and the audience engaged as mindfulness and presence become more de rigueur. With my past experience to go by I have no reason to believe they will not rise to the occasion. Mindfully of course.