“Mindfulness is part of our environment now—it’s no longer the alternative,” says Kimie Porter. Her official title at Liberty Tax is vice president of human resources, but at heart she’s a corporate mindfulness Sherpa, guiding her colleagues toward transformational leadership.
As the name implies, the goal of transformational leaders is to transform the environment in which they work—an accomplishment achieved through heightened awareness of their words and actions, and how both can impact the people around them.
“It’s really about emotional intelligence,” Porter says. “When you become mindful and contemplative and aware of your emotional triggers, you learn to have emotional control and can respond consciously and with empathy, versus blindly reacting to situations.”
The result is subtle, but powerful. “Leaders establish the tone at the top and it trickles down,” Porter says. “If you can learn to respond thoughtfully to something negative, it ends right there and the negativity doesn’t filter out to everyone else. You can take a challenging situation and turn it into something productive and cohesive and beneficial for the entire group. It lights a beautiful fire of contemplation, kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude that work together as a unified force.”
The path to transformational leadership is mindfulness through meditation, and much of Porter’s work centers around helping her colleagues incorporate a meditation practice into their daily lives. When she joined Liberty Tax in 2015 after taking a sabbatical to care for her children, the first thing she did was establish a Thoughtful Thursday meditation program.
Each week, Porter distributes a short meditation that fits in with a monthly theme (examples include focus, reducing stress, and dealing with change). Employees can choose to practice on their own or join a group meditation. She’s also designing a Conscious Development program for leaders that will teach them to integrate consciousness into their everyday work.
“The mindfulness program benefits the workplace because it prevents you from going straight to the negative or worst-case scenarios,” Porter says. “It keeps you focused on what you can control now instead of wasting your time on ‘what ifs.’ It also promotes forgiveness. We all make mistakes and have bad days. We all irritate one another every now and then. Meditation makes you aware of how we’re all connected and helps you not take things so personally.”
“Leaders establish the tone at the top and it trickles down. If you can learn to respond thoughtfully to something negative, it ends right there and the negativity doesn’t filter out to everyone else.”
Porter’s own journey to mindfulness and transformational leadership began in her college days as a psychology major fascinated by the brain. While a stay-at-home mom, she began a guided meditation practice in an effort to reduce stress. That quickly turned into Porter hosting monthly meditation sessions with her friends, which snowballed into Goddess Gathering Global, a Facebook community of women that hosts speakers on expanding consciousness, dream interpretation, and related topics. Over the years, she has also earned certifications in feng shui, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, and reiki.
Porter was inspired to take her passion for expanding consciousness corporate after hearing about Google’s Search Inside Yourself program, a mindfulness leadership institute. She reached out to the CEO of Liberty Tax and told him she wanted to be the director of mindfulness, and the rest is history.
While meditation and mindfulness may have seemed decidedly uncorporate a few decades ago, the idea is now gaining traction in many companies—due in no small part to extensive research showing the physical and mental benefits.
“On the emotional side, you gain greater inner peace, confidence, appreciation, and emotional resilience,” Porter says. “On the physical side, mindfulness improves your immune system, blood pressure, brain function, cardiovascular health, and attention span. All this leads to happier, healthier employees and more connected teams. When your employees are healthier, insurance rates reduce. When your teams are more connected, they can more effectively work toward the larger company goals.”
“When you become mindful and contemplative and aware of your emotional triggers, you learn to have emotional control and can respond consciously and with empathy, versus blindly react to situations.”
Porter still runs into opposition from some employees, though. “My biggest challenge is the preconceived notion that meditation and consciousness are just some frivolous ‘woo woo’ practices that have no place in the corporate world, when in actuality it is a scientifically proven practice that delivers legitimate results,” she says.
She overcomes this challenge by translating it all into a more corporate language, leaning heavily on scientific data and return on investment (ROI). For instance, research has shown that your brain starts to decline when you’re twenty-five, but meditation—even just ten minutes a day—reverses the trend and helps you maintain neuroplasticity.
“You have to help them understand the scientific value because if they think it’s mystical, it’s not real to them,” she explains. “In the corporate world, it has to affect the bottom line in order to be taken seriously.”
Porter says employees regularly express deep appreciation for the programs she’s implemented at Liberty Tax. “Our business is chaotic, seasonal, and demanding, but being a mindful leader helps you maintain stress, stay creative and keep the team dynamic, and it helps you do all this with gratitude and the resilience to bounce back from any change. It’s a ride—enjoy the journey.”