Social connection is important and a work culture based on strong relationships helps secure successful outcomes when the going gets tough. Building on the idea of social connection, it is important for the team to really celebrate “wins” together. When a big goal is accomplished, getting everyone together to socially celebrate and acknowledge the win, creates an uplifting environment.
Asa part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vish Chatterji. Vish Chatterji was born in the bustling city of Hong Kong, to Indian parents. He came to America to study engineering and then pursued a career in engineering and business before becoming a successful tech entrepreneur in California. Throughout his 20-years in Corporate America, he studied and practiced yoga, meditation and Ayurveda as a way to stay balanced as a leader. He now coaches business leaders in this East-meets-West approach to help more of their greatness show up at work. Vish holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University and a master’s of business administration from the University of Michigan. Vish is a certified executive coach, yoga teacher, meditation instructor and Vedic counselor and is a publicly elected Board Director for the Beach Cities Health District in California. He is a married father of three and loves to garden, bicycle and fix things around the house. His new book The Business Casual Yogi — Take Charge of Your Body, Mind, and Career was recently published by Mandala Publishing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Vish! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?
After a successful career in the automotive and tech industries, starting various businesses, I thought my “next big thing” was to build a tech startup. Cashing out my corporate stock options, and going all in, I co-founded an Internet of Things startup and took the company from concept to early revenue. In the fires of fund-raising, after my investors asked me to remove my co-founder, (the brains of the technology), I realized this was not really “my thing”, and rather than just toughing out the situation, I “woke-up” and realized my career path was actually in helping other people find “their thing”. It came to a head with an encounter with the famous yoga teacher Gurmukh Khalsa at a dinner in LA, where she asked me “Where do you teach?”, to which I confidently replied “I am not a teacher, I am a businessman, I start and run businesses… I am just a student”, to which she wagged a knowing finger and warned me “You must not die this life just being a student, you must go and teach in this life!” Not long after that, my startup synchronistically fell apart and I transitioned into teaching, coaching and writing.
What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?
I grew up in an Indian family, in Hong Kong, watching my Dad practice yoga diligently every morning without fail. His motivation was to “look young”, which he did achieve, looking like a forty-something well into his sixties! However, he did teach me a lot about yoga philosophy along the way, and when I asked him to actually teach me yoga, he advised that he was not the right teacher. “Yoga is a serious subject and must be learned properly and from the right teacher” he warned. That teacher appeared in my life during a trip to India after college, where I stayed at a traditional Himalayan yoga ashram in Rishikesh where I met my dear friend and yoga teacher of twenty years, Yogrishi Vishvketu — another Vish! Since that initial training, I have maintained a regular yoga and meditation practice throughout my twenty years of executive life and continued to deepen my studies.
How do your mindfulness or spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?
Today, my practice of daily yoga and meditation are the cornerstone of my business and personal life. It is the daily cleansing and renewal of my entire being to prepare for my workday, and helps me stay focused on my goals, and gain resilience through challenges. It helps counter the daily stresses of modern life, and most importantly helps me really show up to serve my clients the best of what I have to offer. Additionally, as I transitioned out of the business world and into executive coaching, I trained at UC Berkeley as an Executive Coach, at the Chopra Center as a meditation and Ayurveda teacher and in India at Yogrishi Vishvketu’s ashram as a yoga teacher. All of these trainings, including at UC Berkeley, were deeply spiritual in nature, and inspired me to help business leaders apply not only their body and mind to achieving their goals, but bring the level of spirit in, to accelerate their leadership journey.
Do you find that you are more successful or less successful because of your integration of spiritual and mindful practices? Can you share an example or story about that with us?
For most of my twenty years in the executive world, my spiritual practices were relegated to a morning routine of yoga and meditation that I boxed into a stress-reducing and centering practice. It helped me with successes in the business world through being able to recover better from stress, and from improving my ability to stay focused and on task. However, as I embarked on my transition to coaching, I went deeper into my understanding of spirituality and realized that these practices can be even more powerful than just for reducing stress and improving focus. Now I use my spiritual practices to have a much deeper mindful awareness of my journey through life, and can better sense opportunities that align with purpose. In essence, success is now coming to me with much less struggle than before. For instance, writing a book leveraging the philosophy and practice of yoga techniques to improve leadership was aligned with my core purpose of helping leaders manifest more of their greatness at work thought the teaching of yoga. With this clarity and a regular meditation and yoga practice, I was able to line up a publisher pre-manuscript, write a manuscript in a matter of 8 months, and launch the book with great initial success!
What would you say is the foundational principle for one to “lead a good life”? Can you share a story that illustrates that?
I believe a foundational principle is to live with a clear sense of mission. As part of my volunteer work, I coach ex-military that are transitioning from military leadership to civilian leadership roles. One soldier, a battle-hardened tank commander, was struggling with substance abuse and family issues as well as feeling listless in his career. As I learned about his various combat tours, I sensed that he seemed to be more satisfied with his prior military life than being a civilian. I hypothesized that within the military, with a clear sense of mission, this soldier was able to endure extreme hardships and mental and emotional strain. Outside of the military, without a clear mission, life didn’t feel as good. So, I asked him what his mission in the military was, and he gave a succinct, clear answer delivered with a good dose of pride and passion. When I asked him what he felt his mission in life was, he stared at me blankly, “I never really thought of that”. With some coaching, we created a solid mission statement, which became a core motivation for him. This then manifested in a huge improvement in his mental health and family relationships, reduced dependence on alcohol, and landing a senior leadership role at a medical devices company.
Can you share a story about one of the most impactful moments in your spiritual/mindful life?
My meeting of Yogrishi Vishvketu was a major moment. I had just graduated from Northwestern Engineering, and had a great job lined up in the automotive industry in Detroit. I was able to carve out a few months before the job started to explore my roots in India. And as part of that, I decided to embark on a spiritual quest — a 4-day solo trek through the Himalayas. By being alone in the mountains, navigating with compass and topo map, I had the intention to “find myself”, and instead I got horribly lost, and injured on the 3rd day in. After a harrowing journey on my hands and knees, I was able to get to a village where I was taken in. A week later when I was well enough to walk, I made my way to Rishikesh, a world center of yoga, where I thought it good to recover. I picked one of the oldest and most traditional yoga ashrams (like a yoga monastery), and when I showed up to yoga class in the morning, I “found myself”, in front of a smiling Indian man with piercing eyes, Yogrishi Vishvketu, who became the guide on my spiritual journey.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My yoga teacher and friend of twenty years, Yogrishi Vishvketu has been a mentor, listening ear, and spiritual guide and I have deep gratitude for him in my life. When my startup was going through its implosion, and I lamented to him how it felt like my dreams were being crushed, he cryptically said to me “Vishwajeet (my full Indian name), you do more yoga business, your business will be ok”. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of this, did he want me to start a yoga studio, did he want me to do some free consulting work for him? This set into motion getting more involved with the yoga world, helping him with his strategy and his growing global yoga presence and during his visits to California, teaching at yoga festivals, I regularly volunteered to assist him. On one of those visits, he introduced me to Gurmukh and I encountered her prophetic words. On another visit, after assisting him in a yoga class at Bhakti Fest, I pitched him on the idea of collaborating on a book together, which culminated in The Business Casual Yogi.
Can you share 3 or 4 pieces of advice about how leaders can create a very “healthy and uplifting” work culture?
1) I think a clear sense of mission for the department or the company is key to help align the multitude of micro decisions that enable success in business. The mission also helps inspire and motivate the team towards a common goal.
2) Social connection is important and a work culture based on strong relationships helps secure successful outcomes when the going gets tough. Building on the idea of social connection, it is important for the team to really celebrate “wins” together. When a big goal is accomplished, getting everyone together to socially celebrate and acknowledge the win, creates an uplifting environment.
3) Meditation training for the team. I have found in my coaching practice, that once we set clear goals, the key to achieving those goals is a diligent meditation practice. It helps with focus, resilience and also improves the gut instinct, which is often lost these days in business as we paralyze ourselves with analysis. Data is critical to making sound decisions, but we can’t lose sight of human insight and ingenuity, which is enhanced through meditation practices as we access deeper levels of our creative being.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A real meditation movement, of quiet, stillness, regularity and discipline (i.e. not guided, seated, not varying in technique or timing and on a regular cadence). I believe a practice of quieting the mind, sitting in stillness, and connecting to the soul level would bring about the most good to the most people. Most of our troubles reside in our body, and even more so in our mind and emotions. With quiet meditation, we access a deeper level of our being, call it spirit or soul or intuition. By transcending the limitations of our physical, mental and emotional constructs, we can lead ourselves and others from a more inspired place, and that alone would create a more inspiring world, with better decision making, and better consideration for the whole.
How can people follow you and find out more about you?