Walking the Tightrope: The Dance of Leadership

There's a lot of discussion these days about the practice of mindfulness and presence in the world of business.  At the same time, organizational leaders are calling for more agility, flexibility, resilience, and adaptability.  How does one find balance between these two extremes and get results?  

Let's start by defining the poles on either side of this tension.  On one side we have mindfulness---an ability to focus intention and attention on the present moment without judgment.  Psychologist Daniel Goleman, most noted for his work in emotional and social intelligence claims that there are three modes of attention:  focusing on self, focusing on others and focusing on the larger world. Leaders who are tuned in and aware on these levels are better able to strategize, innovate and manage. In a study conducted with British bankers and traders, researchers discovered that the most successful investors, were consciously aware of a wide range of emotions and used them to evaluate the worth of their intuition.  The least successful investors ignored emotional signals and relied mainly on their gut or instinct (Goleman, HBR 2013).

It's entirely possible, then, that the traders' mindfulness to the present moment and to their full range of emotions and thoughts allowed them to "slow down to go quickly," drawing on their internal focus to weather the "wider world" or varying climate of the market.  In other words, they behaved with agility and flexibility.

Resilience, according to Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte, authors of The Resilience Factor:  7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles, is "the ability to persevere and adapt when things go awry." People who possess resilience are able to "bounce back" after a crisis or transform struggle, stress, and hardship into energy, commitment and success.

The ticket to resilience is to possess the inner knowing and other knowing that Goleman describes, and  to be able to understand yourself and others in relationship to the VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).  Once we are clear on who we are and why we behave and think the way we do in times of high stress and pressure, the more prepared we become for the threat in the moment, and the threat that is yet to come.  To adapt.

So, what's to be done?   Like any other skill or ability, it requires us to learn, practice and reflect, and that requires carving out time.

Here are some resources below for practices you can start today to walk the tightrope between mindfulness and agility:

The Center for Spirituality and Healing offers a wealth of resources and tools on their website including whole systems healing modules on leadership, reflective practices, and social entrepreneurship.

Search Inside Yourself (SIY), written by Google engineer, Chade-Meng Tan provides a wonderful introduction to mindfulness and emotional intelligence concepts and offers a great road map of practices to get you started.  The SIY Leadership Institute offers a blog, videos and programs for leaders.

Mary McGuinness, M.Ed., PCC is a career transition and shift-it coach based in Chicago, IL USA.
Mary uses visual coaching and design-thinking techniques and practices to accompany her clients on a journey of self-discovery that results in creative solutions, faster results, and happier, more fulfilling careers.  

Mary McGuinness