I have been thinking and reading a lot about mindfulness. Generally, how mindfulness is essential to effective leadership; specifically how mindfulness will be an area of my professional leadership development plan.
Being a strong leader is about truly knowing yourself. With this reason in mind, a few years back my employer paid for a High Performance Systems assessment of all their system leaders. The thinking was once you recieved your feedback, you were to write a personal leadership development plan on how you were planning to address you weaknesses as a leader, and capitalize on your strengths.
Most notable for me, when I received my results, was that I performed very well, though an area of feedback stuck with me.
In the emotional/ social intelligence assessment (EQ-i 2.0), your results were exceptional if you received a perfect circle. This meant that all your social and emotional qualities where strong and in balance (all aligned and in check with one another).
Comparing mine with remarkable leaders that I worked with; my EQ-i 2.0 results were very close to the optimum outcome. It was as close of a circle as one could get – with one little area that was out of balance. My circle looked like this:
When I had my feedback interview, I was told that this area was my assertiveness. My assertiveness was stronger than my other balanced social emotional qualities. Assertiveness is good for a leader to have, though I would need to be careful as my assertiveness may influence /take precedence over the other qualities.
At the end of that school year, the Superintendent changed, and we never had a formalized opportunity to write and submit our leadership development plan. But the results stuck with me.
Over the last few years, I have reflected at times that my desired outcome of being of service to others may have been impacted by my assertiveness. I know as leaders, we feel at times our efforts may not have quite have hit the mark we were expecting. Could that staff meeting had been closer to my target outcomes? Did I support the work of that teacher as effectively as I can? Did that parent truly understand their child’s learning difficulties? I know as intentional school leaders, we have all asked ourselves similar questions.
What strategies can help my leadership be more intentional to my goals?
Recently, I just finished reading Mindful Leadership by Maria Gonzalez (MBA), which provided some reflection in my own practice. The basic idea of mindfulness is to truly be present and aware, and to use mindful action to inspire others. So I have been working on developing my mindfulness; by slowing down my mind and really focusing on being present in everything I do. In today’s world of multitasking and system demands, it is harder than I had thought. I have developed an appreciation of the intent and focus it takes to truly develop mindful leadership. Following are two of my areas of focus. My goal is to re-balance my assertiveness with mindfulness to effectively be of service and inspiration to others:
1. Mindful Interactions: People know when leaders are going through the motions (faking it). Have you ever been to school PD where the leader was busy checking their blackberry throughout the session? Or the leader introduces someone, just to stab at the pronunciation of their name, or when they started? I have. What did that signal you as a staff member?
Mindfulness is also a pivotal skill while speaking – to say what is necessary (no more, no less), without rambling or editorializing. A leader’s speech should be open, sincere and on target; to promote clarity, and meaningful engagement. They should be present and focused to see if the message is successfully being understood, and to respond in kind.
Mindful interactions also means being aware that others ideas are being respected and heard; essential to build trust and effective communication. Trust is pivotal for successful leadership, as it develops authentic relationships with staff and community members. Just like students don’t learn from people they don’t like (as noted in Rita Pierson’s recent Ted Talks), staff will not perform to their up most ability for leaders they don’t like or trust; for starkly similar reasons. Without trust, teachers will be hesitant to take the risks necessary to move their practice forward. (Another great read on the power of conversations Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott)
2. Equanimity through Mindfulness: Equanimity is about noting and accepting what feelings arise throughout your leadership practice, but at no point reacting angrily or out of emotionally driven haste. A strong leader should determine exactly how they should respond; behavior is not randomly selected by current, and often fleeting, emotions. A mindful leader intentionally derives the best possible outcome from the situation and moves forward in the most effective and productive manner.
Through mindful awareness and action, we are goal focused through intention and service. An important part of equanimity of mindful leaders is not to be over invested in the outcome of an initiative or action. Mindful leaders do not become wrapped up /demobilized with difficult or ‘impossible’ tasks, or their own personal agendas; both being outcome driven. By practicing equanimity, mindful leaders react in a manner that promotes thoughtful action for the organization to move forward, in times of success and failure.
I want to note that I believe this is quite difficult to do in practice. Good leaders are passionate about their organizational goals, and their work. We are invested in the outcomes of our schools and our students. At times, we will all experience feelings of failure and disappointment. This is the reality of any occupation. Equanimity through mindfulness supports the notion that as good leaders, we are compassionate about our work through our focused intention; regardless of the outcome. Our mindful intention and action is all that is truly in our control. By practicing equanimity, we create a calm, open, positive and resilient school community. Equanimity through mindfulness gives leaders critical space to fail, refine and ultimately persevere.