You’ve met them before. People who can walk into a room and effortlessly win the hearts and minds of everyone they meet. And thanks to this seemingly natural ability, achievement, influence, and happiness seem to land in their lap.
Mandar Apte is one of these people. When you meet him, it’s no surprise he won the People’s Choice Award at the inaugural League of Intrapreneurs awards, an event that convened the "who’s who" of the growing global social intrapreneurship movement. Apte’s humble energy is captivating. And his dedication to being a catalyst for unlocking the potential of his colleagues at Shell is inspiring.
Ten years ago, Apte was on track to have a successful technical career as a chemical engineer. But the trajectory of his career wasn’t exactly making him feel passionate. He felt he could do more with his life, but he struggled to find the answer.
The answer turned out to be as simple as breathing. Apte had grown up in India and knew about the tradition of yoga and meditation, but he had never given it much attention. A chance meeting with renowned humanitarian leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the international non-profit Art of Living Foundation, changed that and inspired Apte to focus on breathing and meditation. You might not think much about your breathing, despite the fact that you do it all day and it keeps you alive, but meditative breathing has been used by a host of successful entrepreneurs and thinkers. Oprah does it. Even Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein practiced it.
In the decade since that meeting, Apte has practiced the Art of Living breathing techniques on a daily basis, making the personal commitment to find time for at least 20 minutes of yoga, 20 minutes of breathing, and 20 minutes of meditation each day.
But it’s not his own practice that made him a winner of the League of Entrepreneurs. It’s the grassroots, employee-driven initiative that he co-created at Shell called Empower. The initiative encourages employees to bring their authentic self to work, helps participants unleash their leadership potential, and enables them to identify and overcome the blockers to creativity and innovation. Embedded in the nine-hour training program are practical yet profound instructions on breathing and meditation techniques along with interactive processes to master the skills for boosting creativity and cultivating the mindset for innovation. At the heart of his innovation learning program is the belief that silence is the mother of all creativity, and each employee can play a role in the innovation process.
More than 2,000 colleagues have now gone through the Empower program, and based on Apte’s personal transformation and success, it’s hard to discount the merits of conscious breathing, no matter how skeptical you might be.
Luckily, it isn’t that hard for us to test. The formula appears pretty simple—every emotion has a breathing pattern and the reverse is also true—therefore, using rhythms of breath we can manage our unwanted emotions one breath at a time.
But Apte’s true innovation might not be breathing itself, but rather his commitment to bettering himself through dedicated practice. Could the secret to unlocking our own potential rest not so much in breathing, but rather in making a personal commitment to win over our own heart and mind?