Exclusive Interview – Mathieu Côte, VP EMEA Sales Development, Salesforce
We’ve entered an era where it’s undeniable meditation has gone mainstream. And this includes in the modern workplace where employers are investing in meditation and mindfulness trainings, digital meditation and mindfulness apps and openly encouraging staff to integrate these practices into their lives. While it’s accepted that there are numerous benefits, many of us still may feel intimidation toward giving them a try.
To recognise this World Meditation Day (21 May) I had the pleasure to share a conversation with an admired leader who attributes part of his professional success to his daily meditation practice, Salesforce’s, Mathieu Côte. Mathieu shares how simple it can be to get started, the benefits meditation can have for us both professionally and in our personal lives, how his practice has supported him to stay resilient as a father and a leader through Covid-19, along with insights on Salesforce’s progressive approach to staff wellbeing.
Would you share with me the story of how meditation practice became part of your life?
I first got started with meditation through the Headspace app. I was suffering from insomnia after changing jobs from VMware to Salesforce, working in a fast-paced industry and in a growing company.
I put a lot of pressure on myself to do more. To be more. I was striving for perfection.
I had the imposter syndrome, which you hear a lot of leaders talking about. I was always thinking to myself, “One day you’ll be found out”. I had that thought for a long time. I still do to some extent.
The insomnia was coming from this.
I was looking for Headspace to help calm my mind at night. The secret to meditation is simplicity. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
What does your meditation practice consist of?
About 3 to 4 years ago I moved from Headspace to Mindvalley. The work Vishen Lakhiani does through Mindvalley isn’t just about releasing thoughts. It’s more about being aware of yourself, your thoughts.
There are six phases of meditation in the programme and every morning my practice is focused around these:
- The Circle of Compassion – It’s all about positive feelings that are connected to other people and creating a sense of compassion towards them. I picture someone I love.
- Gratitude – I focus on what I’m grateful for in my life, and in myself.
- Forgiveness – It’s about recognising conflicts I’ve had with people, letting go, forgiving. I even focus on this with my kids
- Envisioning the Future – I envision the next three years in a sensory way. Things I want to see, taste, smell.
- Your Perfect Day – How I want the day ahead to roll out, envisioning it.
- The Blessing – I send a blessing to the universe.
Do you feel your meditation practice has benefited you as a professional, particularly in a leadership position. If so, in what ways?
Yes, absolutely. I want to be in the corporate world and to keep talking about this ‘hippy dippy’ meditation stuff. In ten years, people will be asking why we didn’t do this sooner!
I learned what kind of leader I didn’t want to be early in my career. My goal is to change how leadership is perceived. I think the leaders of the future are more caring, starting with ourselves!
For a long time there has been a dichotomy that says you can’t be kind and compassionate and succeed in the corporate world. I don’t agree and proving this wrong. Thankfully, things are changing.
What’s important to me is for my team to feel they can be who they really are and know that we will all support each other. I want my team to really get this message and I’ve made it clear with them to put their families and health first.
In our meetings, it’s not rare to see my team members with their kids on their knees. I think the crisis has connected us better. We’re able to be ourselves. Let’s not go back to the old ways of putting on a mask when we’re at work.
In terms of being a parent/in your personal life, how has your meditation practice has benefited you?
As parents we always put ourselves at the bottom of the pile. But we should put ourselves at the top. Self-care is crucial.
The catalyst for me really is mental health. And how we can perform better at work and as parents.
Eric Edmeades from Wildfit says, “We don’t have a healthcare problem, we have a self-care problem.” Whether it’s in terms of what we’re eating or how we’re prioritising spending our time, we’d be better parents and professionals if we made self-care more of a priority.
I get up at 5am to do things for myself before the family wakes up. I try to cram in as much as I can. It’s what’s good for me. The morning routine.
After I do my six phases of meditation, I do Wim Hof breathing (which involves taking 30 quick deep breaths, then taking a deep breath, exhaling and holding until you need to breathe, then inhaling again and holding for 10 seconds. Then repeating.)
After I finish the breathing, I do Wim Hof cold therapy where I spend 30 seconds at the end of my shower in cold water. This gets me out of my comfort zone!
If I slip from my meditation, from this routine, I feel it. I’ll find I’m not performing as well. Then only when I go back to my self-care practice do things start re-setting.
Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff openly speaks about his meditation practice. Does Salesforce promote meditation and mindfulness programs for its staff?
Salesforce is values driven and encourages staff to have a sense of purpose, to see the impact we can have around us. Wellbeing is ingrained into the culture.
All offices have a meditation/mindfulness room and Camp B-Well, our global wellness programme is focused on strategies for enhancing the wellbeing of our people and teams, including a focus on mental health, nutrition and exercise.
We have a culture that’s very open to talking about these things. In team meetings we often talk openly about resilience, for example.
What kind of wellbeing support has Salesforce offered staff through Covid-19?
Since the crisis hit, our leadership have been incredible. I’m amazed at how the business has responded to the crisis.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Salesforce community and compassion on our company all-hands calls with the executive team. They are making it clear to everyone that our families and health come first, even bringing in the Plum Village Monastics to offer support to staff.
We have an employee volunteering programme and since the beginning of the pandemic 11,000 voluntary hours have been logged for the Dublin office alone. It’s remarkable.
How has your meditation/self-care practice supported you both as a parent and professional during the time of Covid-19?
In the beginning of the quarantine, I was trying to juggle work and kids throughout the day and it just wasn’t working. I’ve now decided to dedicate half my day to my kids.
They know when you’re there but you’re not really there, you know? So, I switched my schedule. I’m now working 6.30am-2pm, then I trade off watching the kids with my wife who’s more of a night owl.
I’m a fan of the philosophy of stoicism. It has a lot to do with how you react to things. The actions you take. It helps me to accept I can’t do everything I did before Covid-19.
I’m passionate about working with my kids to help them value themselves. To practice self-care. It’s the world I want them to be immersed in. I tell them that not having a big job and a big house is okay.
I think it’s important to go back to the simplicity within us.
Is there any advice you’d offer to other professionals, particularly leaders, who are considering the idea of starting a meditation practice?
What I’d say is you can’t look after your team if you don’t look after yourself. You’ll be a better leader if you look after yourself.
And for those of you who’ve tried and think “I just can’t meditate,” look, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be a Zen master. Just find a moment for you, to find some focus.
What I’d say is don’t delay. Start tomorrow.
About the Author
Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.