Looking for a foundation to better balance your mindful leadership practice? Then search no further than Sounds True founder and CEO Tami Simon. Her wisdom offers mindful leaders a beautifully simple place to start: human dignity.
By using human dignity as your foundation, you’ll always remember that your employees are human. Treating them with the dignity and respect all humans deserve will be better for them, for you, and for your business.
In 1985, Simon launched the wisdom-based multimedia company Sounds True. The organization publishes work on topics including mindfulness, psychology, and therapy by internationally-known innovative thinkers. In collaboration with LinkedIn, Wisdom 2.0, and MindfulNYU, Simon and Sounds True has also established The Inner MBA, a nine-month program designed to teach business leaders how to be forces of good.
Nearly four decades since starting Sounds True, Simon has stood firm in her purpose to share mindfulness and spiritual wisdom with the world. It’s not just a business for her—it’s a calling that we can all heed in our own ways.
How to Honor your Employees as People
To Simon, an “employee” is not a separate category from a “person.” Everyone who works for you has all the complications and the gifts that come with being human. That doesn’t stop being true when they’re at work. In fact, it’s what empowers them to do their jobs.
As a leader, it’s essential to recognize and value that innate humanity in everyone you meet—including your team members. Simon refers to this as practicing human dignity.
“It’s taking a moment to take in their uniqueness, their originality, and their singularity as a human being,” says Simon, “and then respecting and appreciating that.”
But don’t stop at just acknowledging their humanness—actively promote a culture that encourages people to bring their true selves to work, and encourage every team member to value the humanity in each other.
“Part of what makes a really healthy ecosystem is having all of these unique members who want to create an ecosystem that is truly welcoming,” says Simon. “It’s where people feel that they belong in their unique humanity.”
Why Personal Growth Benefits your Business
Just as your humanity doesn’t check out when you clock in, the lessons you learn in your personal life don’t stop being true for relationships with your team members.
When it comes to managing relationships in your organizations,” Simon says, “I see a lot of the same skills that are needed to be successful in an intimate relationship.” In fact, it was building a healthy relationship with her life partner Julie that inspired one of Simon’s favorite core values at Sounds True—to grow and transform.
“When I met Julie, it was obvious that unless I committed to grow and transform, I would get the same result I had gotten in previous relationships that didn’t work,” she says.
In practice as a CEO, this means acknowledging that she doesn’t know everything. It’s being open to learning from others while shifting the organization’s vision and strategy based upon their insights.
“People will see the areas that are your blind spots,” Simon says. “They’ll see where you’re not listening. If you have a culture that’s committed to growing and transforming, they will name it, and you will listen. You’ll commit to a path of growth.”
“An organization can only grow its business impact as much as the leadership is willing to grow as humans.”
How to Balance Efficiency and Humanity
Efficiency is held up as one of the most important business goals—even if it means valuing time-saving strategies over people’s feelings.
In Simon’s experience, however, prioritizing relationships as the heart of your business will ultimately save more time and money.
Simon saw this first hand when she brought in an efficiency expert to streamline operations within the leadership team. One recommendation was to eradicate personal check-ins which were part of team meetings. During the check-ins, everyone shared how they were feeling on that particular day.
“People call it a weather report,” she says. “For example, I like to give people some information about where I’m at emotionally, so they know how to read my signals. If I’m edgy, I try to give them a little context.”
Cutting this out saved about 15 to 20 minutes per meeting. But, employees soon were missing the empathy, compassion, and connections that this simple communication helped the team build. Soon, Simon reinstated the check-ins, and she believes that decision has made the meetings more effective—even if they are slightly longer.
“We re-humanized the meeting,” she says. “On the one hand, it might have been more ‘efficient’ [without the check-ins]. But I think I would have found people saying, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna come to the leadership team meeting today.’”
It does take trust and effort to give team members the resources to build emotional connections through vulnerability. But in the long term, a team built on this foundation will be stronger when challenges come up.
“There are times when you need to call the people you work with and say, ‘I really need your help with something,’” says Simon. “Or that, ‘I’m really behind, and I need to go out of town because my father is ill.’ When you’ve built that relational rapport, you can draw on that goodwill.”
Additionally, she’s found that when people can share problems openly, it’s easier to avoid any drama that can arise in workplaces without a culture built on strong connections and clear communication.
Sure. It’s more time-intensive to lay down a solid, people-first foundation vs. skipping straight to building up your business. But when the inevitable storms hit, your structure will undoubtedly be sturdier.
Is the Business World Ready for Mindful Leadership?
It’s been over 35 years since Simon founded Sounds True—and she finally believes that she’s seeing top-level business leaders open up to mindfulness.
Initially, she mostly saw some leaders embrace the concept about ten years ago. But even then, it was only deemed useful if it could make companies richer. But now, these leaders—from CEOs of billion-dollar companies to small business owners— are starting to appreciate Simon’s view of mindfulness—it’s valuable to the soul first and the bottom line second.
“We want people to be more mindful because then they’ll be more focused and more productive,” she says. “Then, we’ll make more money.”
In addition, people are reevaluating the traits that make a good leader. Simon cites the book Humility is the New Smart by Edward Hess and Katherine Hedwig, which posits that future generations will overwhelmingly prize leaders who can accept their own flaws over those who claim to know everything.
“It’s the intelligence that comes with saying, ‘I’m good at a couple of things, and I’m not very good at all these other things,’” she laughs. “I’m going to surround myself with people who are really good at all these other things, and then I’m going to listen,’” she says.
After all, CEOs are only human too.
The conversation continues with Tami Simon on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. We talk more about mindful leadership, how he built her multi-million dollar business, why she chose open-book management vs. ESOPs, and so much more. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.