Mindful Leadership Series: A CMO’s Journey to Strength, Vulnerability, and Authenticity

In our Mindful Leadership Series, we interview impactful leaders to explore the importance of mental fitness, best practices for building resilient teams, and how mindfulness has fueled their success.

First up, Joanna Lord. Past roles include Chief Marketing Officer for iconic brands, like travel search engine Skyscanner and fitness subscription service ClassPass. 

Joanna's story

I’ve spent my career building technology companies of all stages, in several categories across the globe. Throughout my 15+ years in technology leadership, I’ve had to overcome many challenges, and all have made me stronger in one way or another. I’ve led seven startups, some of which have ultimately failed, and others which grew incredibly fast; all of those seasons in my career challenged me in different ways. While I love building companies, my absolute favorite part of the challenge is the teams—building them, supporting them, and growing them into thriving cultures. I’m incredibly passionate about authentic leadership and how we can best show up for each other day to day and improve each other's lives. I find I spend more time of my career thinking about that than anything else and it keeps me growing. 

 

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Tools for success

To me, mindfulness truly is a constant journey. I started meditating a couple years back. I was working in a particularly fast-paced work culture, living in NYC, and couldn’t seem to find my footing. I remember I had probably half a dozen people recommend trying meditation to me in a relatively short period of time. It’s like everyone could hear the burnout in my voice, and they knew I had no tools or resources to lean on to reset and find my way. 

These days, I meditate every other day. And even more importantly, I take a lot of the tools with me—whether it’s breathing techniques, or just remembering a session that left an impact on me. I can lean on these at any point of the day, even if I’m not actively in a session. It’s made a huge difference for me.

I try to set myself up for success with a mix of activities. Fitness (running, spinning, boxing), mindfulness (meditation, breathing sessions), and performance tracking (sleep tracking, nutrition support, etc.) has always been part of my life. I do believe you need to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy to show up for others best. I am constantly reading and exploring new ways to do that best.

The power of a mindful mindset

Over the last few years, mindfulness has helped me in so many ways. The most vital thing it has taught me is how important it is to take the time to take care of myself and my thoughts. It’s helped me stay grounded and keep perspective. The last two years I’ve moved to another country, traveled extensively, started my most challenging job, and married the love of my life. It’s been incredibly busy and many times I felt overwhelmed or confused. But probably the best gift mindfulness has given me is a sense of gratitude. 

It helped me cut through the noise and see the simple things right in front of me—a great man I love, a career I enjoy, a beautiful sunset over the coliseum in Rome, or maybe the gift of a long flight where you can listen to your favorite songs. I often turned to meditation to bring me back to right where I was, so I didn’t miss out on life as it was speeding by. My last few years were fuller for it.

Mindful leadership in practice

Mindful leadership, to me, is deeply intentional. It means you show up—you’re present and open to what your teams need from you. It also means you empathize with them, and you fully commit to being the best person you can be for them during the times they need you. For me, that can be really hard as the to-do list gets longer, teams grow, and responsibilities increase. It’s easy to forget how important it is to show up fully and be present for your teams—but it’s the most important part of the job. 

Day-to-day this means you need to find time to think, and just plan through how to support your teams. That could be in 1:1 conversations, in group meetings, or a quick note saying thank you. It could be as simple as celebrating a win, or as hard as exiting toxic people who are fundamentally hurting the broader team. But to know what is needed you must really hear your team, and show up for them with patience and passion—all at once. 

I think a lot about how I ensure my teams have the right culture to show up as their best selves for our business, for our customers, and for each other. I think one of the biggest things you can do is advocate for it. This could mean being honest with them when you aren’t showing up well, and what you did to show up better. Or it could be reminding teams that taking time to take care of themselves is important, and encouraged. Or it could be taking five minutes at the beginning of a meeting to ask everyone how they are feeling and if they have anything they want to share or anywhere they need support. I do all of this, but even more so, I think it’s about encouraging a vulnerability in the culture. 

 

Helping others see that all feelings are valid, that we’re all figuring this out together, and that we’re open to any and all ideas that can help us all show up more grounded, more open-hearted, and more energized as a team. 

A ripple effect

The teams I have built and the cultures I have created are my biggest professional accomplishments, and I think often about all the amazing people I’ve worked with, what we’ve built together, how they’ve grown and what they have gone on to lead. Hundreds of marketers, creatives, and entrepreneurs have worked on my teams, and all of them have gone on to have impact in other beautiful and life-changing ways—and I am in awe as I watch them continue their journeys.

This year has been so hard on so many. For me, I lead a team in the travel category, which was largely destroyed by COVID-19 and the travel restrictions. I had to lead a team through a large layoff, and ended up leaving my role to start the move back from the U.K. to the U.S. All of this, during what was supposed to be my newlywed year, as I got married in January. This year has brought many challenges—becoming a wife, leading through a devastating work season, and kicking off an international move during a pandemic. Oy, it’s been a doozy. 

But for me, a big part of this year was about keeping perspective, and ultimately not letting any single emotion own me. I tried to feel everything I could, but not become defined by those emotions. Mindfulness has played a massive role in this. I had to find a way, through the many context shifting roles of my day, to let the hard pieces exist simultaneously with the joyful pieces. It’s been hard, but really important for me. Because even though this was the hardest year professionally for me, this was the best personally, and I feel so much love and optimism for the years ahead.

Embracing workplace well-being to thrive

Companies I’ve been a part of have seen the value of mindfulness in the workplace—some more than others. I’ve seen some introducing meditation sessions, or a meditation room, but maybe more on the surface than truly encouraging or supporting mindfulness as a practice.

 

However, I have worked for a few companies where the idea of intentionally exploring your thoughts, investing in yourself, and being mindful was really celebrated and talked about in many different ways. Those cultures are of course the ones where my teams have done their best, most creative work. Not surprising at all.

 

My best advice is to spend time investing in yourself. Get to know what you’re scared of, what motivates you, and get confident with your whole self—the good bits and the bad. Because the day you can show up as an authentic, flawed, vulnerable leader is the day you start leading. To best support and empower our teams, we must let them know that failure is part of the path, and that they are already capable of everything they hope to accomplish.

Joanna Lord

Joanna Lord

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