In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Nicholas Janni.
Since the age of 16 Nicholas has studied and practiced many different forms of personal and spiritual development. He bridges the worlds of creative, personal, spiritual and professional development in a uniquely powerful, relevant and accessible way.
He works with CEO’s and senior teams globally and teaches at two of the world’s leading business schools, bringing a new vision and practice of leadership. His book “Leader as Healer, a new paradigm for 21st century leadership” was published in March 2022.
In this fascinating episode, we discuss:
- New paradigms of Leadership
- The Value of Mindfulness and Meditation
Maria Franzoni (00:16): Hello. And welcome back to The Speaker Show with me, your host, Maria Franzoni. Today, we are talking about the new paradigm of leadership. The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organizations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences, and summits. Since the age of 16, my guest has studied and practiced many different forms of personal and spiritual development. He bridges the worlds of creative, personal, spiritual, and professional development in a uniquely powerful, relevant, and accessible way. He works with CEOs and senior teams globally and teaches at two of the world’s leading business schools, bringing a new vision and practice of leadership. His book Leader as Healer: A New Paradigm for 21st-Century Leadership was published in March 2022. Please welcome my guest today, Nicholas Janni. Nicholas, it’s lovely to see you. How are you today?
Nicholas Janni (01:15): Great to be here. I’m good. Thank you, Maria. Looking forward to our conversation.
Maria Franzoni (01:20): Well, in the introduction I said that you had started getting into studying and practicing spiritual development at a really tender age. I think the age of 16, that’s a bit unusual. How did that, could you tell us how that came about?
Nicholas Janni (01:35): I can and it was accidental and life-changing. You know, I was a schoolboy in London, six, 1970, living the London lifestyle, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You could say. And a friend of mine said, look, my grandmother is a nun in a Tibetan monastery in Scotland. I’m going to visit her. Do you want to come? And to be honest, it sounded like a laugh. So, you know, up, we went to 16 year olds to what was then a small place. Now I think the biggest in Europe and it was all kind of exotic and, you know, kind of interesting, but halfway through someone gave me a very classical Buddhist text and I sat in a room reading it. And Maria was literally like a curtain opened and I knew the truth of this text. And I understood in my bones what it was saying, which was fundamentally that we live in a very small version of reality. And we take that to be the whole version, but there is a much bigger reality and it was life-changing because after that, it’s the kind of thing you can’t unsee. So once, you know, literally from then on, in one way or another, when I look back, it that’s been the center of my life. It’s exploring that truth and now teaching it.
Maria Franzoni (03:12): And that’s phenomenal to discover that so young, because I normally, you don’t have that realization until far later in life. So that must have been huge for you. And as you say, it must have shaped everything you’ve done since.
Nicholas Janni (03:25): It did. And you know, it’s interesting how you say it because of course now looking back, I, as far as I can remember, it felt very natural. I was lost in the sense of how do I explore this, but I very quickly found people like Alan Watts, Carlos Castaneda became the beacon. I had one friend with whom we were like devoted spiritual explorers. We used to do things like go to Welsh mountains, walk up to the top and then run down as fast as we could to get into altered states, which we did, you know, we were like determined to what is this other reality? What are these energy fields? What are they? So, yeah, we were very devoted explorers.
Maria Franzoni (04:12): Fascinating. That’s amazing. So of course that’s been now translated in the work that you do with leaders. And you talk about a new paradigm of leadership. What is that and why is it needed?
Nicholas Janni (04:26): So the basis, it’s very simple, Maria, every everywhere I go and I do meet senior leaders all over the world. There is one phenomenon that is universal because it’s embedded in our culture. And it is the fact that our thinking mind, our left brain has become chronically overdominant, meaning it’s the way most people particularly in work, process the world. So that means that we’re disconnected from our emotional self, we’re disconnected from our embodied self, from our intuition. And we’ve forgotten that our thinking mind does not feel anything. So on the one hand, people are navigating ever greater complexity, basically with more than one hand type behind their back. Because so many of our deep wise faculties have gone offline. And it’s simply not, it’s not fit for purpose to navigate complexity primarily through the linear mind. So all of my work is about saying we need to, as Einstein, by the way, said, we need to make our mind our servant and we need to make it one of our key faculties sitting in harmony with a deeply embodied self, which feels the world is grounded.
Nicholas Janni (05:58): It has the feeling of I’m really at home in myself. Most people I meet are simply not at home. They’re up here in their minds. And as soon as we begin to do the work, they realize that it’s like a kind of exile. So my body grounds me. My body feels the world, my emotions give me empathy, compassion, connection with people. We have far too many leaders walking around to a numb. Numb emotionally, they can’t make real relationships. Everything is transactional. The world is an object. So in business, it doesn’t make sense anymore in the wider depiction. Maria, I think it’s the foundation of why we’re in such a crisis at the moment we’re disconnected. We’re fundamentally even I would say catastrophically disconnected. We’ve also deeply exiled the feminine principle. And that to me is a big topic. We have absolutely, you know, whatever, it looks like bit more equality.
Nicholas Janni (07:04): Me too is all fine that we don’t address the fundamental truth, which is that we are in a masculine paradigm at the moment. And we’re in a toxic version of it because it’s disconnected. It’s power over the world is a dead object for me to use. So in the wider picture, I believe that’s extremely dangerous. So Leader as Healer is a call to correction. It’s a call to rebalance ourselves. Stop locating myself ’cause I am thinker that I am here as deep presence who thinks in a very sophisticated way, who feels, who is embodied, who intuits, that’s the work of leaders. That’s a new paradigm.
Maria Franzoni (07:54): That makes complete a lot of sense to me. And I think it’s such a strong message. How open are leaders to hearing this?
Nicholas Janni (08:03): Very.
Maria Franzoni (08:04): Oh, fantastic.
Nicholas Janni (08:05): Which is in, well, at least the people I work with. I mean, to give you an example, I’m in the middle of a four month project, Leader as Healer program with two very senior teams from a major European law firm. Who would’ve thought, you know, I teach at the IMD Business School. I teach at the Said Business School, Oxford university, it’s a shock. My work is a shock, but I have got very good at explaining it. And within an hour or so people are like, yes, of course, of course, you’re right. I used, you know, doing and being as a fundamental kind of lens and people realized they got so over dominated by the doing, the proactive, the fixing that they have very little access to a deeper sense of being. And so once we understand and people basically agree, then we start the experiential work of reconnecting.
Nicholas Janni (09:10): And that has, you know, that becomes wonderful. It becomes easy, difficult. It depends. Because at some point we really need to address the way we’ve exile our emotions. We need to get rid of the idea that there are positive or negative emotions. If we’re sad, we need to be sad. If we’re fearful, we need to feel the fear. And then it metabolizes inside us. So a lot of the work is about bringing people back from this narrative about life, which is like out here to know let’s feel what’s happening inside. And then we become much more radically present. And interestingly, that’s when we start having a much higher level of critical thinking. That’s when the ideas come to me because we’re walking around like this, in this kind of frozen tension, doing all our thinking, and it’s not even effective. It’s actually ridiculous once we realize. And then, you know, like I have a very senior VP client I just started working with. After a month, I mean, he’s really engaging in the one to one work, he came to me for one session and he said, you know, Nicholas, I’ve just noticed in my office, no one is really listening to anyone. He woke up because before he didn’t notice that. People don’t notice that, that’s what I mean by it’s normalized.
Nicholas Janni (10:44): Tocoma is normalized and it is a kind of coma basically.
Maria Franzoni (10:50): Wow. Wow. So, so it’s interesting that you say that, you know, you do explain it very well. Actually, it makes complete sense. You, it, you do get it, but how difficult is it to do that work on the emotions and to be open, to being sad and cause we’re so used to we’re so used to sort of like, especially in Britain, the stiff upper lip, isn’t it? You don’t show any emotions and we’ve been through absolute trauma the last two years. So how do we, how do we get vulnerable?
Nicholas Janni (11:20): Haven’t we just, yes. The trauma is huge. And look at what we’re creating at the moment. I mean, it’s the basic answer, Maria, is that as best I can, I make a very safe space and that’s the key. And then I do exercise is that gently evoke a lot of emotion. And once one person starts to cry, let’s say it becomes okay. And then the other thing of course, Maria, is that we’re longing for that. People are longing to be received. People know in their unconscious they’re in exile. So if the right space is created, yes, in their own way, people will drop into it and then immediately realize how good it feels. And after two days we go through transformation and I don’t use that word lightly. Actually with this lawyer firm in the first evening, I said, look, we’re going to do transformational work. And one woman said, oh, don’t use that word. We, the firm used it all the time and it’s nonsense. I said, okay, I won’t use the word the next evening. After a long day, we were out in a wonderful restaurant for dinner and they did a toast to me. And she raised her glass and said, Nicholas today was transformation, which was very touching.
Maria Franzoni (12:53): That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Fantastic. You talk about that embodiment is so essential. So embodiment, tell me what you mean by embodiment.
Nicholas Janni (13:03): So what I mean is that, you know, when we were children, we felt everything through our body. Life was a moment to moment physical experience. Then we get to school, we start getting educated out of that, basically into our left brain. And very literally it’s like we come up out of our body. Someone actually recently said to me, my body is just something that carries my mind around and he was happy with that. That’s catastrophic because our body, first of all, it’s how we feel grounded. That’s a really important word. And most people have not much experience of that. It’s like a coming down in our body to our pelvis, our legs, our feet. That’s very important in the leader when she or he enters the room to people feel that she or he is grounded. Secondly, we begin then to notice that our body is an extraordinary source of information about the world.
Nicholas Janni (14:18): We feel that’s, the body is designed for that. When we were children, if a stranger walked in the house, we knew immediately, if we trusted them. We knew because we felt with our body. If you look at indigenous tribes, their relationship with the natural world is extraordinary. They feel everything, but that’s what we’re hardwired for. So the loss of that is huge. You think about people go to a great yoga session or something like that. They come out in the street for a few minutes. Reality is different. It’s like their light went out. I feel alive. I feel everything. Everyone wants more of that. And then we switch it off because that’s our habit. So embodiment re embodiment is a really deep part and fundamental part of the work in the wider picture. Maria, it’s not surprising. We don’t care about nature ’cause we don’t feel our bodies. We don’t feel the earth. So of course we can trash it. It’s an object out there.
Maria Franzoni (15:32): And boy do we trash it.
Nicholas Janni (15:34): And boy do we trash it.
Maria Franzoni (15:35): And actually not only that we trash our bodies. We don’t look after ourselves and our own health. And we, you know, it, the statement you made about, you know, the body is there to carry your brain around, at least look after your body. If that’s how you feel about it. You know, because you look after your car more often, better than you look after yourself. It’s a,
Nicholas Janni (15:56): It’s very true.
Maria Franzoni (15:56): It’s incredible. And it’s interesting about the point about, you know, trusting your feelings, trusting your intuition, trusting what you are, you know, your sensing, we sort of, you are right. You, we switch it off. You end up talking yourself out of it. Your mind talks. I’m imagining myself doing this. I’m going to try not to do it anymore. Okay. You’re helping me a lot here.
Nicholas Janni (16:16): Einstein said something amazing. Einstein said the rational mind is a faithful servant. The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. And we have created a society which honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
Maria Franzoni (16:37): Wow! That’s such a powerful statement.
Nicholas Janni (16:40): From a scientist.
Maria Franzoni (16:42): Such a powerful statement. I’m gonna have to quote that. I like that. I’m gonna write that down. Thank you. So you mentioned, yoga and I know that you practice meditation, you started practicing meditation very young and for you and for many mindfulness and meditation’s really important. Talk to people like me, who haven’t quite got that. Tell me about the value helped me to start to meditate and to be more mindful. I’ve got to a very old age and I have not managed to do it.
Nicholas Janni (17:12): So why is it important? Firstly, because, when we, the basic principle of mindfulness is that we consciously pay attention. Let’s say just to our breathing. And we literally, we just start to notice every sensation that happens. Now, what’s interesting is that we now know if you are wired up, let’s say. We now know that the moment you start to do that, your brainwave frequency changes. This is the marriage of 3000 years of spiritual knowledge and neuroscience. It’s a very good marriage. And what the change is is that you start to move from beat wave frequency, which on a screen is very jagged into alpha wave frequency, which is much more harmonious. It’s what all sports people go into when they’re in the zone. So it’s a deeply harmonized and much more wider field of perception. The principle is to pay attention and it’s nothing to do with thinking and you, you don’t try and stop thinking, never try to stop thinking. You just let your thinking be happening. So you become the one who is paying attention.
Nicholas Janni (18:41): And when you notice you’ve gone into your thinking, which always happens, you just, ah, okay, let me notice my breathing. But you see the very act of doing that is you are changing who you are. I’m not mainly the thinker. No, I’m actually awareness. That’s the fundamental principle. And that’s why it’s so transformative. Now, the deeper we go, the deeper we go into, every culture for thousands of years has mapped consciousness and has mapped that there are many dimensions of reality beyond the one we call reality. So in meditation, you go into a deeper and deeper kind of inner silence, which feels very spacious. It feels very timeless. And it becomes a resource because if you can stay tapped into that in your day, and I teach people how to do that’s in the book as well. You, you are operating on a much bigger game board.
Nicholas Janni (19:50): You’re not obsessed in this little world of detail. You’re engaged with that, but you’re also sitting in a much bigger space inside. I mean, it’s a big topic, but I hope that gives a flavor. Basically, it’s to pay attention.
Maria Franzoni (20:06): Yeah, it does.
Nicholas Janni (20:08): And do it. And I have audios that I give people and they’re very simple. And they’re, you know, in one of the CEOs I work with in America, you know, at first she, so there’s mindfulness throughout the day. And then there is which doesn’t take any time. That’s very important. It’s like I teach people. What does it mean to practice mindfulness when you’re in a meeting on zoom? What does it mean to practice mindfulness? It changes everything. Then there is sitting meditation 20, 30 minutes a day. So, this CEO, I remember saying to her at the beginning, you know, you need to start meditating. She was, I have a family, I’m a CEO. I don’t have time. I said, I promise you. I promise you. If you really start to meditate, you’ll get far more done, far more easily. I don’t have time. Okay. Three months later, Nicholas, you were right. It’s because it changes everything. When we sit in that bigger spaciousness, we get far more done, far more easily. So the whole argument, if I don’t have time is absolute nonsense.
Maria Franzoni (21:27): Okay. I like that. I’m going to pursue that. I’ll let you know how I get on. I might be cool. I might be making that call in three months time. And you mentioned the book. So I do want to talk a little bit about the book. So this is Leader as Healer: A New Paradigm for the 21st Century Leadership. You talk about in your final chapter the call. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Nicholas Janni (21:49): The call let’s, let’s take the example of a real artist, musician, painter. They know that the deepest creative moments come when they are totally silent, as it were literal metaphorically and receptive, and then something starts to come to them. We, we use the word, the idea came. So that’s the essence of the call. And in the chapter on purpose, I ask people to ask themselves two questions. The first is what is the work that is mine to do? That’s a very important alignment, not what I should do, could do what’s really me to do in this world. And then the deeper question is what is it that is being asked of me now? That takes us to a whole other level of surrender beyond what I want to do. I want to do. No, we’re fed up with you. Actually, it would be like when an actor used to come to me, you know, I was 20 years a theater director, and sure.
Nicholas Janni (23:03): He would say, I don’t know what to do with this Shakespeare speech. And I would say, that’s not the right question, because the only thing that’s actually interesting is what it will do with you. And when an actor would say, okay, I think I understand. And they would start to be receptive, really receptive. And they would start to say one line and suddenly be flooded with an emotion they could not possibly have planned. That’s when we’re in a much more interesting territory. So the call is, does a leader, does, does a team have the capacity to go into such a listening that they begin to understand what’s being asked of them now not what they want to do. Does it make sense?
Maria Franzoni (23:55): Yeah, I think it’s a really powerful way of
Nicholas Janni (23:57): It’s a new paradigm.
Maria Franzoni (23:59): Yeah, it is. It is.
Nicholas Janni (24:01): And I’m doing that with senior teams. Once we’ve done all the work and we’ve really reconnected and people are much more present, then we can sit together as a team in deep meditation. And I’ll ask the question. So what is being asked of us? And people start to get downloads. It’s like downloads. And if nothing to do with what you would’ve thought you would answer.
Maria Franzoni (24:29): Fantastic. I’m going to ask myself that question. There is so much I have taken from this discussion, this chat I feel I might be entering a new paradigm. Nicholas. I hope you have enjoyed it yourself.
Nicholas Janni (24:41): I’ve enjoyed it enormously. I, your receptivity is lovely. Thank you.
Maria Franzoni (24:45): Thank you. Thank you so much for your time. And I want to thank everybody for listening to The Speaker Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating on Apple Podcasts and you can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, which is (speakersassociates.com) or your favorite podcast app. Now, if you want to book Nicholas to speak at your next event, get in touch with Speakers Associates in plenty of time. So you won’t be disappointed and make sure you grab a copy of Leader as Healer: A New Paradigm for 21st Century Leadership. Thank you. I will see you next week.
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Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.
As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.