We speak with pioneer in the corporate application of positive psychology and mindfulness, Dr Juan Humberto Young, Academic Director and Professor at the Executive Master of Positive Leadership and Strategy at IE University, Madrid, and author of Mindfulness Based Strategic Awareness Training about his definition of positive leadership and his Mindfulness training protocol.
Interview by Declan Noone
I was recently reading Martin Seligman’s book Flourish, and I came across your name as one of the students on the first ever Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at the University of Pennsylvania. What in your professional and personal life’s journey led a businessman with your experience to study Positive Psychology?
There is one moment, which I remember in my life, where I was first introduced to the potential impact and power of positivity. Growing up, I would visit my father’s business nearly every day, he was a certified public accountant and financial advisor, and I would see how he would develop relationships and interact with his clients. On one occasion, I was talking to one of them, and this man had been going through a difficult period. He explained to me, with tears in his eyes, how my father had taken him under his wing, had acted as a mentor, and had helped him change his own mind-set. He told me that he believed that my father’s positive approach and his help in changing his mind-set had resulted in some significant improvements in his own life. His joy and energy were a clear demonstration of the power of a changing mind-set and positive emotions.
A number of years later, when I had moved from Panama to Switzerland, I too was experiencing a number of challenges. I had moved from a place where I was known and recognised, to a new country and culture, where I did not have the same name recognition or status, and in addition struggled with the German language. After a while, and unbeknown to me, these pressures and challenges had started to change me. I was no longer the happy person I once had been. So I decided to use mindfulness, something which I was first introduced to in the 1980s, to help me meditate on my life and my purpose. I decided to start my own business and to have greater control over my own life, and as the business developed and evolved I began a PhD at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. It was there that I was first introduced to some positive organisational approaches, and these intrigued me. So much so that I ended up on the first MAPP with Martin Seligman. Here I learned that positive emotions are grounded in robust scientific research, which also confirmed in my view the validity of positive organisational approaches. In essence, my life journey to that point had afforded me the opportunity to both witness and experience the impact of both the positive and the negative, and to appreciate the incredible potential of positive psychology in business and management.