Leadership & Mindfulness
Nov. 30, 2015 original
In August I attended the Academy for Contemplative and Ethical Leadership in Stowe, Vermont. I was invited (and strongly encouraged to attend) by one of several important mentors in my life, Sharon Daloz Parks, so I made the stretch to attend even though it was a significant commitment of time and resources. The event, inspired by the Dalai Lama and hosted by the Mind and Life Institute, was described as an inquiry around three questions:
In this time of disruption–
Can we conceive of a (normative) understanding and practice of leadership that takes into account those who suffer most? (The Dalai Lama’s question)
Can we move the dial on shifting the leadership spotlight from a primary focus on individual leadership formation to moving the social field?
What is the (necessary?) role of contemplation in relationship to such leadership?
Over a hundred people came together from around the globe to explore these questions with a team of pretty heavy hitters in the leadership space like Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge. It’s my personal opinion that we were not able to have a good exploration of the first questions without greater racial and socio-economic diversity among the participants and staff of the Academy. The second question is one that we and others in the leadership field have been given much more attention to in the past several years. I wanted to focus some conversation on the final question which was new ground for me.
There have been times in my life that I have had a stronger meditation practice and while I always considered it a good thing I never thought seriously, until this meeting, about its relationship to leadership. In fact, at the meeting I found myself wondering ifmindfulness practice should be considered a 21st leadership competency. (I say this recognizing that there are cultures outside of the US and outside of the dominant culture within the US for whom mindfulness is a more integrated way of being in the world.) When we discuss the second question about shifting the leadership focus away from individuals, many rebel and suggest that we can’t take individuals out of the leadership equation. This is true. Understanding leadership as a process in which many people who care about an issue work together to make change, requires a different kind of leadership….one with less ego. There is deep personal work that we have to do lead with others. In the leadership language this has been referred to as personal mastery (which can mean a whole lot of other things), source work, inner work, spiritual work.
It is hard for leadership programs to address ‘spiritual’ dimensions of inner work. Though I still consider myself a beginner in the realm of mindfulness practice, I do sense its importance and benefits to how we connect and relate to ourselves, others and the planet. As I listened, I heard others describe ‘less ego, clarity, sense of connectedness, compassion, listening, self-regulation, and more. I have renewed my practice since the gathering in August. I know personally that a lot of the folks I interact with in leadership development have mindfulness practices. I would like to dedicate guest blog space to exploring this topic over the next six months and I hope you will participate. Please contact me at Deborah@leadershiplearning.org if you would like to help by writing a blog or being interviewed about your experience.