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.
A marketing and communications leader and speaker, Ashley Waxman currently leads the Employer Brand and organic social media team at work management technology platform, Asana.
When I was growing up, my dad always instilled in me that loving what you do is a gift, and one that we all deserve. My first job out of college was at a big corporation in radio sales – it was the start of the recession and I was too inexperienced to know enough about the marketing landscape to have a strong sense of what I wanted to do. When I got laid off, I went to bartending school and then started working as a hostess and a bartender. I had never worked in the service industry before, and it’s a time in my life where I had some of my biggest learnings and growth.
I learned so much about how to communicate and engage with people authentically, how to influence someone’s experience, and of course, what not to do when you’re at a bar waiting for a drink. The five years I spent after college bouncing around different industries and finding myself really helped me become more mindful in how I approached my work. Mindfulness is a clear and nonjudgmental way of perceiving and reacting to the world around you, and taking the time to learn and experience different perspectives helps so much with being mindful.
Building mental strength
Mindfulness is truly a practice that requires attention and consistency. It’s a relatively recent skill that I’ve been honing and one that doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve realized that I need to place more attention not just on how I spend my time, but how I spend my energy, in order to be my best self and do my best work.
As someone who is early on in their mindfulness journey, I rely on a guided meditation practice. I set alerts on my calendar to hold myself accountable and remind myself to take the few minutes to check in and connect. Mental health is a crucial part of overall health and well-being, and it’s incredible how accessible mental health resources and tools are today.
An aspect of having a mindful mindset that has impacted me is self-awareness—around when you need help and what areas you need to work on to be your best self. I have benefitted so much from consistently going to coaches and therapists to help me talk through the root of what I’m struggling with and hold up a mirror so I can be a better leader, as well as reaching out to mentors for advice and feedback when I feel stuck. Taking a step back and having conversations with people you trust about the bigger picture can be so impactful to embodying a more mindful state in and outside of work.
Leading through a mindful lens
Mindful leadership means making the effort to experience and react to situations consciously, having the presence of mind to separate facts from stories. There is so much about our experience that is in our heads.
Mindful leadership in day-to-day life is being able to face obstacles and challenges with a clear mind, and showing the people around you that we can get through these things together.
Creating a mindful workplace culture is so important! In my experience working at high-growth companies, I know that most people move fast and wear many hats. Without an attention to mindfulness, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. How will this decision impact me a month from now? How will it impact the people around me? Is this really the most impactful thing we can be doing? Why are we doing this? When mindfulness is embraced, people move fast and context switch while taking the time to go through questions like these, helping them make better decisions.
One of Asana’s core values is mindfulness, and the way the company embraces this value and instills it in the culture and way we work is unlike anywhere else I’ve seen. Mindfulness is truly about presence of mind to be intentional about decisions and actions. What I’ve learned at Asana is that mindfulness isn’t the enemy of speed and action; when practiced consistently and in a goal-oriented way, mindfulness ensures that you can move fast without missing important details or considerations.
In my career as a whole, I’m most proud of my resilience. I graduated college at the start of the recession, have been laid off twice, and have gone through three acquisitions. For someone early in their career, that was a lot of change and uncertainty! It taught me about resourcefulness, embracing challenges instead of fearing them, and ultimately the power of a strong network and community.
Careers are almost never linear, and certainly don’t always go as planned. These experiences have helped me become a better leader and coach, particularly through uncertain times like the world has seen this year.
The pandemic and shifts in work environment have shaken up the safety net of routines and boundaries we grow accustomed to in our regular work environments. Lately, my biggest challenge has been balance; when you work from home and the outside world is less approachable, the lines between work and home can blur so easily. Plus, living in a city apartment with my husband means I don’t have a ton of space to claim for myself for a change of scenery!
Create balance and boundaries
I recently started journaling, which has helped me compartmentalize the time and energy I spend thinking about work; I’m then able to put it away and think about something else. Writing things down makes me feel like I’m making an effort to help myself sort through my thoughts and feelings, so when I’m done, I not only feel clear, but that I can close up the notebook and put it (and my thoughts) away.
Protecting time on my calendar for doing the things that bring me energy is so important to helping me bring my best self to work every day. I definitely have room to improve in this area, but I’ve been trying to be more intentional about setting aside time to do things that I know make me feel good and separate myself from my work world.
Even a few minutes a day set aside to be completely separated from the world around me helps fill up my cup and allow me to have a more mindful outlook in my workplace.
One of the most mindful leaders I’ve ever worked with is Sonja Gittens Ottley, Asana’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion. I have seen her work through complex, time-sensitive issues with a measured approach that doesn’t waiver no matter how quick we need a decision. She isn’t afraid to ask tough questions and is real with herself and others about where things could be improved.
Another person I look up to is Rachel Cargle, a writer and activist who has incredibly mindful perspectives on communication and balance. I follow her on Instagram and attended her Highest Values workshop, and her teachings have helped me connect with myself in a way that is authentic and balanced.
Your growth fuels your team
I find that being open and transparent with what you are working on as an individual is helpful in showing your team vulnerability that creates a safe space for them to acknowledge and share their areas of growth as well. A manager at a previous company told me a story about a manager she had who would write down the things he was making an effort to improve upon in himself on a post-it and stick it to the outside of his office door. That way, anyone who came to his office would immediately see what he was focused on improving within himself, and that he was making a conscious effort to do so. That story has stuck with me, and I believe that mindfulness is really the way that we can have an honest, non-judgmental lens on ourselves that allows us to provide feedback and coaching with empathy.
If we are open and honest with ourselves about how we can be better leaders, we are setting an example for our teams to take this perspective too.