For fellow bloggers interested in mindful leadership, leader development, and self-transformation, I invite you to check out my new book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders” now available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback versions.
How can we relax and have a genuine, passionate relationship with the fundamental uncertainty, the groundlessness of being human?
In 1989, business scholar, Peter B. Vahil coined the phrase, “permanent white water” to describe the changing business environment. Vahil may have been foreseeing life in the 21st century in as the management and leadership literature recently adopted the military acronym, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) to describe the global environment. Furthermore, management guru Gary Hamel frequently reminds his audiences that the “nature of change is changing.”
Consequently, a growing body of leadership literature emphasizes the importance for leaders to enhance their tolerance for uncertainty or ambiguity. For example, leadership scholars Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky’s propose that adaptive leadership is critical given the reality of VUCA. Heifetz and his colleagues argue that “diagnostic failure” is at the root of humanity’s inability to solve our most pressing challenges. They argue that leaders are approaching humanity’s unprecedented global challenges as technical challenges, challenges with knowable solutions.
However, as evident in the repeated failure of technical solutions, the challenges humanity faces are adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges are beyond current individual and collective knowledge, capacity, and expertise. Therefore, they require higher psychological maturity, as well as capacities and competencies that many, if not most, leaders have not yet developed.
This developmental gap makes leaders and the organizations they lead vulnerable to costly missteps, performance declines, and legitimacy losses. While the literature purporting the necessary competencies for effective global leadership is vast, three comprehensive categories, highly related to the capacity to tolerate uncertainty, frequently emerge: perception management, relationship management, and self-management. Furthermore, a growing body of mindfulness scholars have indicated positive correlations between these three comprehensive categories and MBIs which my research on mindful leaders supports.
And I think in the past I probably would have made a much quicker perhaps more decisive decision in the moment and not embraced that time of interim or uncertainty. So I think mindfulness allowed me to do that and to say ‘it’s okay not to have all the answers right now,’ and let it kind of be. (Male middle manager in the health care industry)
I think embracing that sense of adventure, that sense of adventure and sometimes adrenaline that I had been avoiding [with] people sometimes …because I associated it with maybe danger or risk, but now being much more comfortable living on that leaning-toward perspective as opposed to kind of leaning on the safe side of the fence. (Male middle manager in the health and wellness industry)
Thus, mindful leaders experience a growing tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity which supports them not only in their work roles but in all areas of their lives. The VULA environment appears to be here to stay for the foreseeable future, perhaps intensifying. Thus, the critical decision we each face is whether we will attempt to navigate the white waters of our lives in the boats we have or start building stronger boats.
This essay is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders with an expected publication of October-November 2018.
When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F. Kennedy
As emphasized in the management literature, employees frequently resist organizational change for a variety of reasons to include fear of the unknown. As we all know from our own lives, resistance to change also occurs on the individual level as well as the organizational level. Consequently, individuals and collectives tend to be more open to learning and growth opportunities when they are faced with a personal or professional crisis. When a personal and professional crisis propels a leader to move into unknown territory in and through constructive action, it can serve as a transformative learning opportunity.
Transformative learning occurs when radically new experiences induce a tectonic shift in perspective in the way one views him/herself, others, and the world. Longtime leadership scholar and author, Warren Bennis refers to these types of transformative events as crucibles. He and co-author Robert Thomas wrote in their seminal article on the topic that highly effective leaders are the people who can find meaning in and learn from their most painful and difficult crucibles. Such leaders emerge from the ashes more confident, strong, and more committed to the things that deeply matter to them.
Effective leaders that use their crucibles as learning opportunities have growth mindsets. In her work on mindsets, Carol Dweck makes the distinction between fixed and growth mindsets. Leaders with fixed mindsets view themselves and others as being born with a limited amount of capacity and potential for learning. Thus, the emphasis is on protecting their image and proving themselves. From the fixed mindset, failure is feared and avoided at all costs.
In stark contrast, leaders with growth mindsets hold the view that they and others can build upon the capacities they with which they were born. They see failure as a natural and welcomed dimension of learning and development. Leaders with a growth mindset also know that success does not simply happen to them. They celebrate that success (as they define it) requires passion, effort, training, and yes, failure. The growth mindset is illustrated in the stories shared by the mindful leaders interviewed for my 2015 study (insert link).
At the time, I was really struggling with depression and anxiety, and it had been recommended for me to take that (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) class. And the unexpected side effect was the really powerful impact of helping me create a daily mindfulness practice, which for me is a combination of meditation, daily taking time out for just mindfulness moments, trying to do things in general, everything I do, more mindfully, being more aware of it. (Female middle manager and marketing researcher)
But in terms of my more recent delving into it (mindfulness), it’s been maybe about 3 years, 2 and a half to 3 years where I’ve been seriously getting into meditation, and to be perfectly honest with you, what prompted me was my wife’s illness and being able to get myself to a place of being able to deal with and handle that. The self-awareness, the centeredness, the calm, the ability to sort of control the uncontrolled, I think were the more attractive things about it and just not only that, the relieving of stress was one of the things that attracted me to it, ‘cause I was undergoing a lot of stress and I felt like I needed to get a handle on it. I exercise, I walk, I do those things, but you know, I felt that there was a, maybe a better way to attain that, I think, so yeah. (Male senior manager and administer in higher education)
Thus, leaders yearning to be and become more self-aware and effective turn their crises into opportunities for constructive action. By choosing growth mindsets over fixed mindsets, they open themselves to unforeseen possibilities that alter their lives in powerful and profound ways. So, next time you face a personal or professional crisis, follow the lead of mindful leaders who turned their crises into opportunities to turn inward and experiment with mindfulness meditation and other transformative practices.
Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D. Denise offers leadership and organizational coaching and consulting for spiritual activists, evolutionaries, progressive change agents and their organizations. Visit https://metamorphosisconsultation.com/schedule-a-coaching-appointment/ to schedule a FREE 20-30 minutes exploratory session.
There is a criterion by which you can judge whether the thoughts you are thinking and the things you are doing are right for you. The criterion is: Have they brought you inner peace? Peace Pilgrim
While the term spiritual is used in different ways, I often use the term to refer to a sense of relatedness or connectedness to others, life, and all that is and ever shall be (i.e., God, Spirit, Source, Allah, etc.). Also, my use of the term spiritual includes finding meaning and purpose in a way that contributes or benefits others or life beyond the self.
Cindy Wigglesworth, in her 2014 book, SQ 21: The 21 Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, expands this working definition to include a sense of inner calm and peace regardless of circumstances, internal or external while also having a sense of relatedness to life in all its diverse expressions. Wigglesworth proposed that spiritual intelligence (SQ), along with intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ), and physical/kinesthetic intelligence, is a core intelligence for living a healthy and fulfilling life in the 21st century.
Wigglesworth’s proclamation about the essential nature of SQ in the 21st century is highly significant for individual leaders and organizations given that the topic of spirituality is often undiscussable in the work environment. Interestingly, the mindful leaders in my 2015 study identified the dimension of SQ, greater inner calm and peace, as well as the increased capacity to tolerate uncertainty (Theme 10) as a result of their mindfulness practice as demonstrated in the following narratives.
It’s interesting, through a downsizing, I started practicing (mindfulness meditation) formally, approximately 2, 2 and a half years ago, almost 3. In the middle of that time period, we had a major reshuffle or reorganization by my employer, so my role expanded in size by about 40 to 50% of what it was previously. So we had two smaller departments, the two were merged and became one super department. We still had the same amount of hours in a day to get the work done, still the same amount of limited resources, however, I found that that through mindfulness I’m able to better handle and focus on the different tasks that are coming at me at any given time. I’m able to free my mind to keep that calm atmosphere and a particular focus on the paths [projects] given, and I’m also able to complete more tasks in a more timely manner. (Male middle manager working in higher education in New Zealand)
I think too there’s a sense of peace you get when you meditate. It really is a stress reducer and anxiety reducer. And, I don’t know if you [have to] do (experience) that necessarily….but it’s a really nice byproduct that I think allows you to be a better leader. (Female middle manager and marketing researcher)
Oh, there is a much bigger sense of calm for me because there is time. There isn’t as much frantic energy being expended. It is a lot more–softer. It’s not a hard push. There is an acceptance, a peace around it that I know the resolution will come. Let’s just give it the time and the opportunity and staying with it. (Female senior manager in information technology).
Perhaps, we can borrow from Peace Pilgrim’s quote at the beginning of this essay and extrapolate that the criterion by which you can determine if a developmental practice is right for you is: Has it brought you greater inner calm and peace? For the 20 mindful leaders in this 2015 study, the answer is yes and perhaps unbeknownst to them, all the while cultivating spiritual intelligence!
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 exploratory appointment.
“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.