Interview by Katharina Linnepe
Photo by Consuelo Guijarro
How can meditation improve the empathic skills of leaders? And is the effect measurable? To GASH, Mashanti Alina Hodzode revealed how she is moving from practitioner to researcher with her university project „Soulful Leader Program“.
There are spaces that we can physically explore. And there are those that we cannot see, but feel: interpersonal, energetic spaces. Even those can be shaped by us – Mashanti Alina Hodzode from Berlin is convinced of this. In her work as a Soulful Meditation teacher, she helps companies and organisations to unfold the invisible forces of leadership: creating spaces of humanity, community feeling, connection. Not only in times of the Corona pandemic, these values are more and more demanded from leaders.
Leadership requires interpersonal skills and it seems like nowadays, certain values are more important than ever. If you want to lead people into empowerment, this includes empathy and a basic understanding of solidarity …
Depending on what you understand by leadership. There are different leadership styles. It has a lot to do with one’s own personality. And: In my understanding, it does not necessarily have to be the leader who ultimately holds such a level of relationship in a space for a team. Quite often, other team members fulfill this task. However, the leader always has the power over the team members developing and living this potential. They can also close up this space. (laughs)
Your “The Soulful Leader Program” addresses a very specific leadership style: the Soulful Leader. What characterises this type?
The Soulful Leader has a perception and awareness of the invisible spaces of exchange in the team as well as a good awareness of themselves. This does not necessarily mean that this person knows at every moment, in every situation – or even before the situation – exactly what will happen, how, where, and how they will behave. It is rather about knowing resources within oneself at the moment something happens – for example when a conflict arises.
These resources help to perceive: What is happening right now (this is connected to Mindful Leadership) and then to be able to act consciously. A Soulful Leader can then say: Uh, okay. I notice that the room has just changed. This and that is happening here right now. And it may also resonate within me. If I work on this very point with myself and release this, I can also release it for the group, with the help of my own energies. This is how a Soulful Leader works.
And meditation is a means to be able to come into this perception?
In this case, it is a specific form of meditation: Soulful Meditation. You have learned it, you practise it in private life and professionally and pass it on as a teacher. What is it about?
Soulful Meditation is a dynamic form of meditation. What many people might know by now is Mindful Meditation, or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This is about observing and perceiving the current state. And through this observation, of course, a lot changes. If I become aware of how I feel at the moment, how I am breathing, how I react to certain situations around me, then I can be much more conscious of my existence, my thoughts, but also my exchange with others – with my environment.
The additional, dynamic element of Soulful Meditation is conscious handling of one’s own energies. Soulful Meditation leads into an immediate energy contact, via the love in the heart, specifically via the heart chakra. This may be familiar to some from yoga. One learns to expand this energy bit by bit, more and more, and also to use it consciously to cleanse and free one’s own system. One also learns to use it in spaces, as you could see from the example of the workshops. In this way, Soulful Meditation goes far beyond the understanding we have of meditation: that one sits around alone in silence. Because the form of meditation has a direct effect on all levels of everyday life.
The Soulful Leader has a perception and awareness of the invisible spaces of exchange in the team as well as a good awareness of themselves.Mashanti Alina Hodzode
Together with the Institute for Social Psychology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main, you and your colleague Kun Ya Andrea Schmidt have just started to play a crucial role in research – with your current project “The Soulful Leader Program”. It is about investigating the effect of Soulful Meditation on leadership skills. In every research project, there is a hypothesis and a research design. What do these look like? And above all, how can you make the connection between meditation and leadership competence measurable?
That is a very good question that we have been working on for the last three years. (laughs) Regarding Mindful Meditation, there are already some research results. So we have had the opportunity to orient ourselves. But we have also been confronted with the challenge that there are actually no measuring instruments for many things – at least not yet. For the subtle, invisible exchange energies, the exchange levels that we have between people, but also in ourselves and in all these spaces that we share with people.
That is why we are going in two directions: We measure classical mindfulness and record the changes in the leaders‘ mindfulness based on a self-assessment. This is done with questionnaires while they go through an eight-week online meditation programme with us. Secondly, we look at: How does the leader assess their own leadership skills? How good, confident and relaxed do they feel in their leadership, with their team, and in the exchange with their team? So one focus is on the interpersonal relationship level „leader – team“.
In addition, we included a team survey: The team members of the leaders are also asked whether they recognise differences. They can tell whether the relationship with the leader, but also the feeling of being well-led changes during the meditation programme – or not.
Regarding the tasks in the current “Soulful Leader Program”: How will the leaders meditate online during the eight weeks and how do you help them?
For the research to be investigable and comparable, everything must be recorded. The participants receive video content and audio content. Via video, they receive short impulses that explain the respective topic twice a week. The audios are the concrete meditations. The contents are released one after the other. The new meditations, which appear twice a week, can be repeated by the participants as often as they wish.
The starting point of the project is interesting. We are in the middle of a world event that is having a huge impact on our private sphere and our working environment. COVID-19 has also required leaders to rethink from the very first minute. Emotional care for a team has become a more obvious issue. How big is the impact of the pandemic on leadership?
In any case, I see that qualities and skills are much more in demand that were not so prominent before. This is due to the fact that almost all teams have been moved from larger offices to home offices and have only exchanged information digitally. A large part of the everyday, carefree exchange has disappeared. There was, and is loneliness. At the same time, there was an enormous additional burden for families and for all people who have a caring role. The working hours and the organisation of work as it had been before could no longer simply be carried through. Managers are confronted with these challenges.
And, of course, also with creating a team feeling and communication in the digital space. Previously, video conferences were mainly used when spatial distance made it absolutely necessary. But even then, people often preferred to take the next flight. (laughs) Now, especially those who lead a team have to learn: How can I create an exchange space where everyone feels invited, wants to participate, feels connected? Of course, this is also a topic we address in our online training.
Can you already foresee whether this research project will continue to grow or whether there will be follow-up studies in this research field?
That is quite conceivable. We have already talked about it with Goethe University. Already from the current research design, we have thousands of more ideas about what else we would like to investigate: Aspects such as openness, the ability to change, for example in relation to diversity orientation. But there are a lot of ideas. And I am pretty sure that there will be follow-up projects.
The question of meaning or the orientation towards meaningful action is something that is gaining more and more importance. This is a development in society as a whole, which is of course also reflected in the professional world.Mashanti Alina Hodzode
We have talked a lot about spaces. Spaces to connect, ones that can be seen or you cannot see. Now, the door to the space of research has opened for you. What other ones do you want to open or shape with your work in the future?
I like to accompany projects, organisations or even companies that are not only superficially oriented towards humanity, but that actually strive to contribute to social peace. This happens through their work in a specific area, their sector. I can and like to support them in this. There have been projects I led, and there will be more in the future. The current research programme, the data collected with it, and meditation can be wonderful tools.
But there are more approaches to help an organisation taking on a role within its industry, to become a power source for peace, for love. (laughs) Even though this might sound a bit romantic. This effect can radiate into an industry and also serve as a model for other organisations on how to live and realise all this: togetherness and working for the community, for society.
Meditation has also led you to reflect a lot about yourself. As a result, you describe yourself on your website as a „critical, optimistic and enthusiastic change maker“. Change maker is a strong term we know from the business world. What kind of changes are you currently identifying in the economic field?
The changes are complex and many different levels are overlapping. For years, we have been talking about, discussing, working on, and working in the digitalisation process. I believe it is a major driver of change, which was once again catalysed by the Corona pandemic last year – forcibly. Parallel to this is the orientation towards New Work that is taking place in many organisations. Roughly speaking: leaving classic hierarchical structures towards more agile process design, flatter management constructs, more self-leadership of employees.
We have been able to observe this for years here in Berlin in large organisations which have formed their digital hubs. In these, the new way of working is being tested, and the engineers, programmers and whoever else works there can enjoy more freedom within these actually quite classical structures. In this change towards New Work, there are also many overlaps with the area of spirituality and personal development. This is because the orientation points towards more humanity in the world of work. It focuses on the people who work together. This also includes topics such as diversity orientation, but also the classic New Work topic of reconciling work and family. In short, there is a lot of change.
We are having a conversation on topics such as mindfulness which have arrived in the business world. There are yoga courses, meditation offers, and coaching for personal development. But will it stay or could soulful-based development in the world of work be just a fancy trend?
I am deeply convinced that it is and will be a sustainable development. I do not look at all this in isolation. It takes us back to the question: what are the changes that are working on and in organisations? There is almost no way around being more human and thinking more compassionately and putting people in focus – and also meaning. We have not even talked about meaning yet! (laughs)
The question of meaning or the orientation towards meaningful action is something that is gaining more and more importance. This is a development in society as a whole, which is of course also reflected in the professional world. That is why I believe that all this will not disappear again, but will work its way through, more and more. Even if there will certainly be counter-developments.
Thank you for the interview!
Mashanti Alina Hodzode started her own business as a marketing consultant and had previously been employed for three years in various start-ups, including online marketing. At the time she became self-employed, she met trainer Kun Ya Andrea Schmidt, who was running a small meditation center in Berlin and is now her business partner. That’s how Mashanti Alina Hodzode got into meditation. She then attended a few courses and realised what effect Soulful Meditation and consciousness work had on her – in a private context and professional field. Gradually she started to use this kind of energy work in her marketing workshops as well.
Website Mashanti Alina Hodzode: https://mashanti.de/
Soulful Leader Program: https://soulful-meditation-corporate.de/soulful-leader-beta
(Registration is still possible and will end in June 2021)
Instagram Mashanti Alina Hodzode: https://www.instagram.com/mashanti_alina/
Website Katharina Linnepe: https://www.katharinalinnepe.com/
Instagram Katharina Linnepe: https://www.instagram.com/katharinalinnepe/
This article is part of the GASH theme series „Values on the rise: Empathy and solidarity as the basis of unity“.