Greater Self-Other Empathy and Compassion: One of Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders

Problems in the businessWe need the compassion and the courage to change the conditions that support our suffering. Those conditions are things like ignorance, bitterness, negligence, clinging, and holding on. Sharon Salzberg

 

Jane Dutton and Monica Worline’s book on compassion in the workplace, Awakening Compassion at Work, offers a helpful lens in which to think about the significance of our seventh developmental theme of mindful leaders, self-other empathy and compassion. They equate empathy with compassion, the feeling of “suffering with” another person in a way that emotionally connects and elicits a compassionate response.  It is important to note that self-compassion is an essential element of empathy and compassion toward others as it is extremely difficult to give to others that which you do not give to yourself.

Dutton and Worline’s research indicates that employees who experience empathy and compassion from managers-leaders and the organizational context via culture, climate, structure, etc. feel seen and affirmed in their pain and thus bounce back more quickly with increasing satisfaction and organizational commitment. Furthermore, employees have more constructive emotions in the workplace while exhibiting more supportive behavior toward other stakeholders. Therefore, the growing empathy and compassion of mindful leaders act as a positive contagion in the workplace on the employee and organizational levels as illustrated in the following narratives.

Another thing is just a kind of emotional empathy. Like I think I’m much better able to read emotional states. I’m still working on that, but a lot of times I can very quickly pick up on, ‘Oh, this person is distraught right now. I can’t really come down on them about some technical question. I need to, like, address their personal issues.’ And, so that empathy is, again, something that builds very naturally. (Male middle manager and professor)

I’ve used mindful self-compassion prior to some very difficult conversations that I’ve had to have with team members. Sometimes performance improvement kinds of conversations. And looking at how can I as a leader be as empathetic as possible when I’m delivering, say, a complaint that’s been shared by a patient or a family member or even an employee to an employee kind of thing. (Male middle manager in the healthcare industry)

It is different now. I mean now, it is part of my life and I have gained so much wisdom along the way and I have noticed so much about myself which helps me see in that in other people. I can see when other people are stuck in the stress cycle and I am not taking it personally. I am able to bring some compassion to them and some kindness and help calm them even though they don’t know I am doing that. So we come to a space where we can problem solve together. (Female entrepreneur and former healthcare senior executive)

Some of us may not view empathy and compassion as significant qualities of organizational managers-leaders or for our workplaces. However, the mindful leaders in my 2015 study, as well as a growing body of research to include the work of Wolin and Dutton, indicate differently. These two lines of scholarship (mindful and compassionate leadership) demonstrate that being able to “stand in another’s shoes” and see as they see and feel as they feel, enhances the subjective states of both the manager-leader and the direct report as it relates to how they feel toward one another and toward their organization. Furthermore, as highlighted above, such positive inner states ripple outward and favorably impact the larger culture, climate, and performance levels.

 

Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D. Denise offers leader/leadership and organizational coaching and consulting for progressive change agents and organizations. Visit https://metamorphosisconsultation.com/schedule-a-coaching-appointment/  to schedule a FREE 20-30 minutes exploratory session.

Improved Work Relationships: One of 10 Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders

group_discussion_iStock_000024035586XSmallRelationships are the bridges that connect authenticity to influence and value creation. Leadership is not influence for its own sake; it’s influence that makes a difference, that enriches the lives of others. Leadership does not exist in a vacuum. It always operates in context, in relationship. Kevin Cashman in “Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life.”

The distinction between leader and leadership development is a relative recent and one I find helpful. The emphasis of leader development is on intrapersonal capacities such as identity, self-awareness, and self-regulation. Leadership development includes leader development while expanding into the critical realms of interpersonal relationships, culture, and systems. Healthy work relationships that include successful communication (i.e., mutual understanding) are fundamental to manager-leader effectiveness. The very definition of management, achieving shared outcomes with and through other people, assumes both. However, as manager-leaders and anyone who has worked in organizations know, neither successful communication nor manager-leader effectiveness is a given in today’s workplace.

Dysfunctional and contentious work relationships hurt morale and hinder performance at every level of the organization. In contrast, two fundamental characteristics of high performing organizations are constructive human relationships and honest communication grounded in general trust and positive regard for coworkers, manager-leaders, productive or service, mission, stakeholders, and the organization overall.

Consequently, it is highly significant that the mindful leaders in my 2015 study reported improved interpersonal work relationships at every level—interpersonal (coworkers, direct reports, superiors, other stakeholders), team, and group as a developmental result of their mindfulness practice as demonstrated in these select quotes.

Sitting (meditation) helps me slow down, and I think it has helped me—-in all my interactions with coworkers, so that you don’t have, you know, if you feel irritation you feel it first before you react and, you know, you–if you feel anger, you feel that too, before you react. So, it kind of–I guess for me, it’s slowed me down enough to make those kind of more difficult relationships better or more positive. (Female middle manager in higher education)

So, I think that’s, I don’t know how to quite encapsulate that, but I think maybe remembering a bigger context of my relationship with the direct report and never just being too goal-oriented to remember that there’s a relationship happening as well. (Female middle manager and technical writer)

So, it has switched. It has changed a lot of things. I think even with my relationships with people. So, letting go of the blame and how things should be done and really saying, ‘how can we work together? We all want the same thing?’ So, I think I am a little–much more compassionate type of leader now than I was before just because of my own understanding of myself. (Female business owner and former senior healthcare executive)

Thus, active and consistent mindfulness meditation practice cultivates leader and leadership development in powerful and highly relevant ways as it relates to healthy and productive interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Anyone who works (or has ever worked) in organizations knows that healthy and productive interpersonal work relationships greatly impact their workplace motivation, satisfaction, and commitment.

 

Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D. Denise offers life and leadership coaching with a holistic-transformative approach to support and guide partner-clients in creating and living a life they love! Visit https://metamorphosisconsultation.com/schedule-a-coaching-appointment/  to schedule a FREE exploratory appointment.

Self-Awareness: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

Portrait Artist's Studio“Self-aware leaders are attuned to their inner signals. They recognize, for instance, how their feelings affect themselves and their job performance. Instead of letting anger build into an outburst, they spot it as it crescendos and can see both what’s causing it and how to do something constructive about it.” Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, & Annie McKee in Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence

An ancient teaching of philosophy and the wisdom traditions to, “know thyself” speaks to the significance of leader self-awareness, an element of emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ represents a developmental concept, supported by a weighty body of research, that examines “how should I feel about this?”

The interest in EQ has been growing in popularity and influence since 1995 when Daniel Goleman published his seminal book based primarily on the research findings of scholars, Peter Salovey and John Mayer. Since that time, thousands of research papers and hundreds of books on the topic have been published. While a trendy and popular topic of the leadership literature for years, EQ and its four elements (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, social management)  are as relevant today, if not more so, when it comes to leader effectiveness in our ever increasing VUCA environment.

The good news is that the ten developmental themes that emerged from my research (and my experience as a meditation practitioner for the last seven years) reinforce the growing understanding that mindfulness meditation can and does cultivate self-awareness and EQ in general. Without self-awareness, leaders are inclined to react from unconscious habitual patterns of thought, word, and actions (i.e., blind spots) that often have negative impacts on the work environment. The more blind spots leaders have, the more at risk they are for costly missteps.

Greater self-awareness provides the “inner-space” one needs to notice sensations and see thoughts arising within and to choose a constructive response over a destructive reaction.   Expanding self-awareness also typically evolves into the capacity to comprehend more complexity, which naturally involves a transition toward a more inclusive self-identity. Consequently, greater self-awareness translates into more intentional leading and living over time as illustrated in voices of these mindful leaders.

So, it (mindfulness practice) has helped me to notice how I am in relationship and how I come across. It has helped me to continue to refine how I am with others so that I can work better with people. It has helped me to manage conflict with people when there is conflict. It’s helped me to just kind of have a better sense of my strengths and weaknesses and how to bring that into meetings and working with the team. (Female middle manager in the personal-development industry)

So through self-awareness, I take a bigger picture approach, so I’m more open to what they (more senior leaders) are wanting to achieve and I can see the bigger context of why decisions are made. And in direct relationship experiences with superiors, I find that I’m more…probably more balanced, more open to discussion as well and having more confidence in myself and belief in my ability as a leader and manager of a group then I can integrate with persons of a higher authority and I’m not feeling challenged or inferior. I can see, not necessarily as an equal in status or rank, but an equal as a person to person kind of thing…discussing the ideas and then making it happen, so that’s been a definite change in me. (Male administrator higher education)

Thus, mindful leaders are more attuned to their inner worlds through growing self-awareness that makes a positive and powerful difference not only in their formal leadership roles but in all areas of their lives. This developmental theme of mindful leaders and the nine others that emerged from my research, as well as my own life-experience, support the transformative potential of mindfulness meditation. So, what are you waiting for? Try mindfulness meditation for yourself and begin reaping the developmental fruits associated with an active, consistent, and persistent practice (i.e., the path of mindfulness meditation is a PATH, a very rich one, but it is not a quick fix).

 

Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D.

 

Commitment to the (Mindfulness Meditation) Practice: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

young man exercising yoga

Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me. Paulo Coelho in The Zahir

 

 

Modern neuroscience is illuminating humanity’s understanding of the nervous system including the human brain and the evolutionary discovery that the human adult brain has a quality of neuroplasticity, the ability to change. This ability to change permits rewiring of the neural pathways or circuits established by longtime habitual cognitive-emotional-behavioral patterns throughout the entire lifespan.

It is difficult to emphasize the significance of this finding (and numerous others), because it undercuts a paradigm historically held by scientists and mental health professionals that the human brain becomes “hardwired” in childhood. Thankfully, humans can and do rewire our brains and form new habits throughout our lives which is extremely good news for individuals, organizations, and humanity’s collective future!

Despite the good news of neuroplasticity, we all know that changing longtime habitual patterns is not easy. This is in part due to our highly efficient human brains that naturally seek to conserve energy by autopiloting repetitive thoughts-emotions-action loops so as to free up cognitive capacity for new, creative, and more complex endeavors.

However, a growing body of scientific findings on meditation and the brain indicate that practices such as mindfulness meditation support the replacement of self-defeating habits with more constructive habits (to include meditation itself!) while also facilitating structural changes that enhance well-being.  The mindful leaders in my 2015 doctorate study demonstrated the capacity of the adult brain to rewire neural pathways and form development-oriented habits through a commitment to their mindfulness practice as depicted in the following example.

And when I don’t practice, I miss it.  I long for it, and I feel, it helps being married, having a barometer [laughs] that lives with you. Who says, ‘Has it been a couple of days since you sat?’  ‘Or a couple of weeks, perhaps?’  You know, ‘What’s going on?’  And, usually he doesn’t have to say that.  Usually just my own reactivity speaks to me, his responses to me speak to me that show me that I’m off base.  And I do miss it and it was profound for me when I realized that meditation is like food.  It’s nurturing.  So, there’s no longer the hammer of a should, if I don’t practice there will be negative consequences.  It’s more that I really long for my own sanity I think.

Thus, the mindful leaders studied appear to be experiencing the fruits of their practices and the promise of neuroplasticity. They are freeing themselves from unproductive habitual patterns and choosing new constructive habits for better (and more sane) lives to include commitment to their meditation practices.  For more information on the good news of neuroplasticity and additional (r)evolutionary findings in the realm of neuroscience and meditation, check out “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

 

This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, PhD, Holistically-Oriented Transformative Coaching and Management Consulting (http://www.metamorphosisconsultation.com).

Revised 7/12/2017

More Integrative or Balanced Leadership: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

tao symbolWhile there is no universal definition of leadership, popular definitions often include a reference to power and influence that shape or inform others’ thinking and acting. In Western societies, particularly the United States, leadership is highly associated with traditional masculine qualities such as assertion, control, achievement, competition, and material success. In other words, leaders are typically rewarded for doing.

In contrast, in the United States, traditional feminine qualities such as receptivity, cooperation, relationship-orientation, humility, and harmony have historically been deemphasized in leadership and the workplace. While this is starting to change (i.e., the growing recognition of the importance of these qualities in leadership effectiveness), the emphasis is still overwhelmingly on doing.

Consequently, today’s organizational manager-leaders report long hours and high demands that leave them overstretched, depleted, and disconnected. Consequently, the modern organizational manager-leader often lives an extremely unbalanced life with work consuming most of their days (and nights) with minimal time available for self-care, family time, spiritual renewal, or community engagement.

Overtime, this takes an immense toll on manager-leaders on many levels as they start “killing the goose” as illustrated in the wisdom of the Aesop Fable, The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg:

A man had a hen that laid a golden egg for him each and every day. The man was not satisfied with this daily profit, and instead he foolishly grasped for more. Expecting to find a treasure inside, the man slaughtered the hen. When he found that the hen did not have a treasure inside her after all, he remarked to himself, ‘While chasing after hopes of a treasure, I lost the profit I held in my hands!’

Ideally, manager-leaders make positive life changes before “slaughtering the hen.” Unfortunately, it often takes a significant crisis before a manager-leader recognizes the self-destructive path she/he is on. However, the first developmental theme of the mindful leaders in my study indicates that the growing interest in and practice of mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) by an increasing numbers of manager-leaders is resulting in a potential shift toward greater balance in their approach to leadership as depicted in the following example.

I guess another thing that changed for me is I’m starting to kind of shift my views on decision-making.  And, so I mean that’s the primary role of a leader, right, is to make decisions about certain things.  And I used to sit there and agonize, ‘Oh, well, what’s the right decision?  What’s going to, you know, satisfy this criterion or, you know, make this person happy or, you know, achieve this goal or whatever?’  And I still kind of do that, but now I’m shifting a little bit more towards letting go of that process a little bit.  It’s not that I don’t make a decision.  It’s that I see the decision as kind of emerging on its own, which is a little bit strange, but again, it ties back to that aspect of, you know, the not sell or, you know, not (over) identifying. (Middle manager and academic in higher education)

Thus, a more integrated or balanced leadership style was the first and most represented theme of the mindful leaders studied followed by greater self-regulation, the topic of my next blog essay.

This essay is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders with a projected publication of December 2017.

Sustainability Leadership in the Age of Trumpism

Multiracial Hands Making a CircleAs I write this blog essay, I realize it is my first one since the 2017 United States Presidential Elections. Over these last few months, I have reflected deeply about many aspects of my life to include my dreams for our country and world. I have also reflected deeply about how I need to respond to the outcome that had me in despair for over two weeks following the election results and continues to challenge me at every level of my being. This is so for me not because I dislike Mr. Trump (I do not know him obviously), but because, thus far, the actions of the Trump Administration contradict many things I believe to be good and true for our collective future (Americans and humanity in general).

Reputable scholars from across the disciplines (e.g., Johan Rockström, Will Steffen, Jeffrey Sachs, and Lester Brown) continue to inform us that we have crossed (e.g., concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere, genetic diversity) and are in danger of crossing multiple planetary boundaries (e.g., acidic levels of our oceans, land-system change).  Reputable scholars and scientists also continue to tell us that crossing these boundaries have broad reaching adverse consequences, and crossing several or all planetary boundaries certainly will not bode well for humanity’s collective future. However, the Trump Administration appears to be either unaware of or unconcerned about crossing planetary boundaries. For example, the Administration chose to nominate Scott Pruitt for the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mr. Pruitt has a long public record of fighting environmental regulations to protect our air, water, land, and climate. Furthermore, the Trump Administration has already started repealing current environmental protections while also releasing a national budget that reduces EPA funding by over 30%.

These actions and numerous other similar such actions contradict the evolutionary imperative before us to live more lightly on our planet while the population continues to soar and more countries strive for a Western standard of living. Consequently, the times may require a complete reimagining of what it means to be a sustainability leader in the age of Trumpism. For me, this inquiry has resulted in being engaged on a level in which I have not been engaged before in my life. I am reevaluating priorities; taking more time to call, tweet, and petition my elected officials; joining marches and rallies, and rethinking the causes in which I donate time and money.

However, more than any of these actions, I realize that a daily routine of a transformative life practice (i.e., multiple complementary practices that nurture body, mind, soul, & spirit) is the most important action I can take at this time in human history because ultimately, we are ones here on Earth now. For good or ill that means those of us that yearn for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world have the evolutionary responsibility to choose love and unity over fear and separation. I know I cannot consistently do that in our current political environment without a transformative life practice which includes daily meditation. While this may seem naïve and “soft” to some of my fellow sustainability leaders in the Age of Trumpism, how we show up, is as important as showing up.