Laura Berland is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Compassionate Leadership. She is a serial tech entrepreneur, former Fortune 500 executive, meditation educator, yoga therapist, nonprofit founder/board member, executive mentor, and digital media veteran. Most recently, she built Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk science media network into a top-ranked podcast, Emmy-nominated TV show, and significant social media footprint.
Q: Please describe your career and what you were doing before you founded the Center for Compassionate Leadership.
Before founding the Center for Compassionate Leadership, I had spent over 40 years as an executive, entrepreneur, and consultant in tech and media. I also spent over 25 years deepening my contemplative practices through meditation and yoga training, teaching, and guiding other teachers and practitioners.
Q: What events or thoughts motivated you to found the Center for Compassionate Leadership?
I was motivated to start the Center for Compassionate Leadership as my business life and contemplative life, which had existed as separate silos, started merging into one whole life. As I strengthened and deepened my contemplative practices, I became a better human being, a better mother, and a better leader. I wanted to fuse all the knowledge and wisdom that I had gathered in the contemplative wisdom traditions with all that I had learned over decades in business.
My reevaluation of my contribution to the world was also influenced by external events. The increasingly divided nature of the US and other countries around the world, the climate crisis, global inequities, and the level of increasing human suffering were urging me to pause and rethink how to have a greater impact in the world. I've been compelled to bring compassionate leadership to a much wider audience and share the teachings in ways they can be easily be applied and put into action around the globe.
Q: How have you been running the Center? How do you connect with experts and thought leaders?
We run the Center for Compassionate Leadership as a nonprofit educational organization. We develop curriculum, training, community, and thought leadership around the emerging discipline of compassionate leadership. We have had the great privilege of connecting with experts and thought leaders around the globe through conferences, webinars, symposiums, research collaborations, and our social media and newsletter community.
Q: What are some of the goals for the future for the Center?
Our major goal is to continue sharing and spreading knowledge and skills around compassionate leadership with leaders around the world. In just two years, over 1000 people have participated in our leadership trainings and events. We are already seeing how so many of them are rippling compassion outward to their own spheres of influence. We also plan to initiate more primary research in the field to help advance understanding, connection, safety, and belonging in organizations.
Q: What are some major characteristics of compassionate leadership?
Compassionate leaders are strong, courageous, authentic, transparent, heart-centered, and fully committed to creating a thriving environment for the common humanity. This may sound contrary to the common assumption that compassion is weak, soft, or ineffective. In fact, compassionate leadership has proven to increase safety, connection, and belonging in organizations, which leads to individual and organizational thriving.
Q: What message do you have for people who want to become more compassionate leaders?
Compassionate leaders must start with themselves and cultivate the inner work of self-compassion, awareness, and resilience. Compassionate leaders also need to put the well-being of their fellow humans and the planet before profit. So, the old paradigms of traditional leadership where human capital is viewed as expendable and a means for productivity are no longer relevant. That said, such views are still highly prevalent, so compassionate leaders must demonstrate the courage and fierce compassion to change existing systems into a new way to work, live, and take care of our human community.
Q: What advice do you have for young women or girls?
Oh, what I only wish I knew when I was growing up or when I was a young woman! The world is full of potential and each of us carries a unique gift and contribution to weave into the greater whole. Our uniqueness as individuals makes competition obsolete. Instead, we need to collaborate and support each other so that we can all learn to develop these unique gifts and capacities in service to the world.
If only I had known about self-compassion, and learned to talk to myself with the same kindness and care that I would share with a good friend. If only I understood awareness and being fully present “in the now” instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. If only I knew that my inner critic was not telling me the truth but was speaking from fear, and that I had a deeper well of wisdom and knowing within my inner landscape. If only I had known that true success is not measured in your title, your bank account, the brands you buy in the store, the way you look, or measured by the car you drive. True success is a deep feeling in the heart, knowing that I am contributing in meaningful and purposeful ways to the evolution of all people and our planet.