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.
We 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.
Relationships 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-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.
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).
While 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.
These last few weeks have me dazed and confused. No doubt, we live in uncertain and complex times. It seems that life, as we know it is in a major state of flux and flurry. We face unprecedented challenges to our quality of life and the lives of future generations such as global climate change, gun violence, growing inequality, global terrorism, and mass extinction of species, just to name a few.
Given the scale of our collective challenges, leaders are called to “show up” with their gifts, talents, and resources and ask, “How can I contribute to real solutions that address the global challenges most concerning and meaningful to me? Real leadership and real solutions call us into our higher natures. It does not separate, rouse hate against some “evil other,” nor play to our animalistic fears. Consequently, real leadership and real solutions necessitate a global mindshift, because underlying all our mayhem is a separation consciousness that operates from an either/or mindset.
As Einstein and many others have stated, we cannot and will not solve our most pressing challenges with the same thinking that created them. Consequently, solving our most urgent global challenges requires a global mindshift to more holistic thinking and acting. However, holistic or integral thinking does not mean that everything is equal. It requires movement from either/or thinking to both/and thinking as well as discernment of breadth and depth.
Ideally, as highlighted by American philosopher Ken Wilber and numerous other thought leaders (e.g., Warren Bennis) a holistic or integral mindset needs to include the individual “I” or subjective, the collective “we” or cultural, and the collective “it” or systems (social and natural) dimensions. Leaders have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help midwife this essential global mindshift at every level of society. While there are numerous areas demanding more holistic thinking, for this essay, I would like to focus on one critical issue on many hearts and minds, gun violence.
Gun violence tragedies are ravaging our lives in increasing numbers. Approximately 30,000 Americans die from gun violence annually (www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org). A holistic or integral mindset would require questions and solutions from the four basic areas highlighted above. For example, possible questions include:
- The individual “I”: How do individuals cultivate ethical sensibilities? What role do identity and human consciousness play in gun violence? What role might contemplative practices play in helping people thrive in a changing and uncertain world? How can individuals increase capacity for peaceful conflict resolution? What type of capacities do people need to live peacefully in uncertain times? What is true security? What role does fear play in gun ownership? How does a person decide if he/she needs a gun? If one decides that he/she needs a gun, how does one decide what type of gun?
- The collective “we” or cultural space: What role does the prevalence of violence in our movies, music, video games, television shows, books, etc. have on our gun violence crisis? How do we continue to heal our cultural wounds of racism?
- The collective “it” or systems space: What would responsible gun reform public policy look like? How do we hold our elective officials responsible for upholding all of the Constitution—protecting our right to bear arms, providing for the common defense and promoting our general welfare? How do we continue to right the systemic wrongs of racial discrimination, inequality, and poverty? How do we ensure that our elected officials put our (the public) interest over corporate interests? How do we address growing inequality in America?
Gun violence in America is a complex and difficult issue, and I do not claim any expertise here. However, like many Americans, I am deeply troubled by our current gun violence crisis, and I offer these questions as a starting point. Furthermore, I yearn for real leadership and real solutions on this issue, which I propose will only come about through a global mindshift to more holistic thinking and acting.
Consequently, 21st century leadership requires a global mindshift from either/or thinking to BOTH/AND thinking. Sounds good, but how do leaders go about making this type of perspectival shift? This is THE question of personal transformation for which there are no easy and definitive answers. However, we start where we are and begin the transformative journey toward psychological maturation or self-actualization and awakening (please see the essay, Waking, Up, Growing, Up, and Showing Up). There are numerous transformative practices, East and West, to help facilitate this global mindshift. However, presently meditation is the most evidence-based transformative practice available. Furthermore, the power of meditation is enhanced with a wellness lifestyle that honors body, mind, spirit in self, society, and nature. Yes, this is a tenuous and lifelong journey, but it promises to be the greatest adventure one will ever take!