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LinkedIn’s Head of Mindfulness and Compassion Wants to Bring More Empathy to the Workplace—and Your Résumé

November 21, 2018 | Filed in: Your Career

Scott Shute started out in sales because he liked interacting with people. Then he realized that he was more interested in organizational and people development. Now, as LinkedIn’s newly minted Head of Mindfulness and Compassion, he’s embarking on the ambitious quest to, as he puts it, “operationalize compassion.” Below, he shares how LinkedIn built its program, why companies should transition “from ‘me’ to ‘we’,” and what makes for a self-aware résumé. 

We have never been busier at work and in life than we are right now. How do we deal with it all?

As organizations, we continually try to find things that will help us collaborate and be more productive. For instance, email is way more convenient than writing memos and having somebody fax them or walk them over to someone else’s desk. I think that each one of us in the modern workplace probably accomplishes what multiple people would’ve been expected to do in the past. But that convenience comes at a cost.

Now that we’re grappling with that cost, we decide that we don’t want to get rid of email, but maybe we want to switch to instant messaging. But that creates its own problems. With each new technology we introduce, we have to find a way to deal with it. I don’t see anything that tells me that the workplace of the future will be any less busy or less crazy, so the natural next step is to ask, “How do we evolve as humans to deal with all of this?” And I think that one of the best solutions for each of us is to get control over what we can control. That’s where mindfulness comes in.

How does one become the Head of Mindfulness and Compassion?

About three years ago, I started leading a meditation class at work, because it was something I wanted to share with other people. Then people started to say, “The marketing team is having an offsite. Why don’t you come in for 45 minutes and do something with us?”

It grew from there. An interest in mindfulness at work was happening organically at different LinkedIn offices around the world. So I raised my hand and agreed to be the executive sponsor for our program. I started reaching out to people from other organizations—Google, SAP, eBay, and about 10 other companies—and we started meeting about once a quarter. That group continues today, and we just launched a website with a playbook that anybody at any company can use to launch their own program.

As I got more involved, it started to make more sense to do this full time. Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO, gave a commencement address at Wharton about compassionate leadership—and the next few times he was interviewed, that’s all the reporters wanted to talk about. They would have one question about LinkedIn, and ten questions about compassion. I thought, It’s time. I made a pitch and we agreed that I would take on the role of Head of Mindfulness and Compassion.

What I want to do now in this role is answer the following questions: What does it mean to be a compassionate leader? And what does it mean to build it into our culture, products, and services so that our customers notice?

Tell us more about what that looks like.

The way I like to organize it is “from ‘me’ to ‘we’,” which is a four-part concept:

The first part of “me” is being present. When I ask colleagues what makes them happy, almost everybody gives me the same examples: “Hanging out with my partner,” or “Hanging out with my kids,” or, “Doing the hobby that I enjoy.” And it turns out that the act of being present enormously magnifies the satisfaction we get from those activities. It’s the idea of really being there—not being consumed by a device when you should be in the moment.

The second “me” piece is self awareness. The more you are aware of what’s going on with you, the more choices you have. One exercise I do is that in three minutes, I’ll have someone write down everything that they were thinking about. Then, at the end of the three minutes, we plot all of those thoughts on a two-by-two matrix of past and future, positive and negative. It starts to build this awareness of where you’re spending time in your mind. Are you thinking about the future and feeling anxious? Are you worrying about the past and feeling regret? Or are you right here in the moment? You start to build greater awareness of where your mind is going.

When you’re more self aware, you have more choices. For instance, if I’m spending a lot of time worrying about a meeting next week, that’s a choice. There’s some amount of time I need to spend thinking about it, because I have to prepare. But now I can decide, I need to get back to preparing for the meeting instead of worrying about what’s going to happen there.

Then we get into the “we” part, and the first part of that is about being present for other people. If I’m sitting with you, I’m going to practice being present, like I learned to do when I’m just with myself. I’m going to practice being a great listener. There’s a ton of research that shows that good listening builds relationships, and building relationships at work creates more collaboration and healthy teams.

The second “we” piece is going from being self aware to being “other” aware. This is all about emotional intelligence and being able to read people. And this leads to even better relationships.

When you put all of those parts together, you start to think about things differently. You start to think about serving your team, and serving your customers. Both you and the company become less “me” centered and start becoming more “we” centered. The companies that intentionally take care of their customers, and intentionally take care of their employees, are the companies that last longest, and are most successful.

Since you’re a LinkedIn executive, we have to ask—how can this be useful for someone looking for a new job, or just brushing up their résumé?

These same principles can be applied to anyone looking to network, or for a new job. For instance, I’m really interested in photography, and I include that on my LinkedIn profile. That’s the “me” component. I like to include it because at a minimum, it gives us something to talk about versus just having things on there like, “I’m an expert in outsourcing and third party arrangements.” I am an expert in those things, but that’s super boring. I think it’s important to be open about what you’re passionate about, because, honestly, if every one of us could find a job doing something we’re passionate about, isn’t that the nirvana of work? Why hide it?

I tell people, “Look, your LinkedIn profile is not your résumé. Your résumé is a list of facts and figures, and how long you worked somewhere. Your LinkedIn profile is a chance for you to tell your story.” Bringing some of you in there is crucial.

Then there’s a “we”component. One of the biggest turn-offs for me when I’m interviewing people is if it’s very me-centric: “I did this,” “I did that.” Of course, when you’re writing a résumé, it’s hard not to do a bit of that. But you can also see how someone thinks about their accomplishments: What was the value that they provided the company? What was the value that they provided their team, or they provided their customers? If they think that way, that shows compassion.

And what about networking?

I was in sales for a number of years, and I had an experience where I was trying to get time with a more senior person in my company. I finally got a meeting with him, and we went to lunch. After we got through the initial pleasantries, the first thing I asked was something like, “So what are the big challenges you’re working on?” He went from being kind of excited to looking like I had punched him in the stomach. His whole body deflated, his shoulders dropped, he looked down at his food, and then he started answering the question. I knew instantly I had asked the wrong question. I never asked that again.

Now what I ask people when I’m trying to make conversation, or when I’m trying to get them excited, is, “Hey, what are you really excited about at work?” If that answer leads nowhere, I’ll ask, “What about in life? What are you excited about outside of work?” I want to get them talking.

If, in your LinkedIn profile, or your résumé, or your cover letter, you write about twenty challenges or obstacles you overcame versus five things you’re super passionate about, which do you think is going to have more energy? More excitement? When someone else reads the latter, they’ll pick up on it. They’ll think, This person’s alive, versus Okay, here are ten hills they climbed. They’ll see the things you’re most excited about—and they’ll also see that you’re going to bring that excitement to your next job.


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Sarah Devlin is the Director of Content for MM.LaFleur. She's worn many different hats over the course of her career — from writer and web editor, to social media editor and marketing strategist — but her hardest-won title is Kardashian Historian. Read more of Sarah's posts.


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