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Rich Fernandez is the CEO of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI). Prior to this he was a Director of Executive Education and People Development at Google.

SIYLI began as an initiative in Google in 2007 when a team of leading experts in mindfulness, neuroscience and emotional intelligence developed an internal course for fellow Googlers. It quickly became incredibly popular within Google and given the interest outside Google was so great, SIYLI was set up as an independent Not for Profit in 2012. Since then SIYLI has become a globally recognised programme and continues to work with Google as well as other Corporate, Nonprofit and Government Organisations around the world.

In our conversation, we spoke about Rich’s take on Leadership Development in a “rocket ship” such as Google and talk about the distinction between performance and potential, something that several organizations mix up. We talk about the various types of attention (open, focused and meta-attention) that we need to cultivate and discuss how one could think about baking in a meditation habit. We also discuss other themes such as response flexibility versus reaction, meta-distress, building a positive mindset, 3 levels of resilience and more.

This conversation is likely to be of value to any leader (specifically in the tech world) who is at the cutting edge of disruption and innovation and is trying to build his/her leadership capability as he/she scales up the organisation.

Published in March 2019.

Leadership Development in the Digital economy

Rich talks about how Google things about spotting potential and about Leadership Development. He quotes an interesting statistic from a piece of research by Corporate Leadership Council. He said that they found that that in 71% of the time people who are high performers were not high potentials but conversely 93% percent of high potentials are also high performers. He also goes on to talk about “Googliness” a term that encapsulates some of the softer aspects of an individual that flourishes inside Google.

Origins of SIY

Rich talks about the origins of the Search Inside Yourself programme. It started out as a quest for Googlers looking for a solution to stay agile and resilient while you are on a “rocket-ship”. He also goes on to talk about how SIY brings in wisdom from multiple domains ranging across Neuroscience, Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence to help people develop a new kind of intelligence that enables them to cope with the roller-coaster ride of a tech driven company 

Attention and Meta-Attention

We normally think of attention in broad terms but Rich breaks down the various types of attention. He speaks about Attention being the ability to focus our mind on something specific and Meta-Attention being the ability to pay attention to our attention and have the ability to bring it back when it wanders.  

Developing the meditation habit

Rich talks about how he thinks about ritualizing meditation and baking it as a hygiene in the way he goes about leading his life. He also talks about the importance of not treating meditation just as a separate activity that we do once a day but suggests that weave in meditation in the small things we do through the day. He also speaks about the importance of rituals to manage our attention in the digital economy.  

Benefits of Journaling

Rich speaks about the benefits of journaling and refers to research in neuroscience that suggests that journaling is superior to typing on a digital device given the speed at which we do each of the activities. He also has some pointers around how people can start the practice of journaling in their lives.  

Meta-distress and Response-flexibility

Rich discusses the distinction between choosing a response to a situation and reacting. He also speaks about the difference between events that unfold and the story we tell ourselves about the events that unfold. He links it to the notion of agility where he says we need to be agile in the way we stay present to the world around us and that agility is a prerequisite for us to be agile as leaders in the business context.  

3 levels of resilience

Rich speaks about three levels of resilience – Inner calm, Emotional Resilience and Cognitive Resilience. He talks about the example of Captain Sully Sullenberger (who miraculously landed the plane on the Hudson river after his plane was hit by birds after taking off from LaGuardia) to talk about how calm and composed he was and stayed present during the ~3 minutes he had between the bird hit and when he landed the plane.

Positivity and Psychological Safety

Rich speaks about why we have a negativity bias as a default setting. He traces it back to human evolution and talks about the fact that for us to survive, it was critical to attach a higher weightage to negative signals in the environment than the positive ones. He links it to the criticality of ensuring psychological safety in a team (results of Project Aristotle in Google) to drive business performance. 

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