One of my favourite grounding statements is “We are human beings not human doings.” A quick search on the internet reveals that this statement has been attributed to many, including the Dalai Lama. For me, this statement speaks to the importance of our inherent humanness, including the fact that we feel and experience thoughts and emotions in the workplace, which give rise to actions and responses that are deeply connected to and have impact on ourselves and those around us. Each action and response creates ripples across our organizations.
This year has brought rise to constant change and challenge in our workplaces. We have adapted to situations that most of us could not have imagined. Technology has both connected and distanced us. The global pandemic has impacted people and organizations differently. For many, it has drastically shifted workplace and personal practices. It has increased feelings of uncertainty, emotional exhaustion, isolation and stress. We have witnessed disproportional impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable populations and equity-deserving groups, and many of us have struggled from poorer mental health and well-being (Aristovnik et al, 2020; Brazeau et al., 2020; Giorgi et al., 2020).
As a leader, the global pandemic has challenged my decision-making abilities, with the sheer load of required resources, responses and actions often exceeding my cognitive capacity. I have found some relief in grounding my practice through a lens of conscious leadership.
What is conscious leadership?
Being conscious or mindful is about, “observing and attending to the changing field of thoughts, feelings and sensations from moment to moment” through self-regulated attention, and non-judgmental acceptance of experience (Bishop et al., 2004, p.232). It is often described as a being in the present moment, or “present-moment awareness” (Goldstein, 2013, p. 13). Mindfulness helps us intentionally respond (as opposed to habitually react) to our thoughts, emotions, and surroundings as we reflect upon and broadened our perspective on experience (Bishop et al., 2004; Goldstein, 2013).
Conscious leadership can be understood through three key processes: 1) awareness, 2) transformation, and 3) intentionality (Hofman, 2008; Jones, 2015). Conscious leaders are aware of these processes across multiple levels. First and foremost, from the perspective of oneself, then of others through to their organizations and community. Conscious leaders are aware that everything across an organization is connected and impermanent (in constant flux), and that these interconnections influence continuous change. They act from a space of acceptance, curiosity, and reciprocity, recognizing that every organization is bound by human relationships and emotions (Bishop et. al, 2004; Hoffman, 2008; Jones, 2015). They act through a lens of empathy, compassion, and shared leadership, and are oriented towards observation, openness, acceptance, reflection and ongoing learning.
Essential questions to guide a conscious approach to decision making
- What is my understanding of the challenge (or opportunity)?
- Who is involved or connected to this challenge?
- How does this understanding change if I view it from the perspective of those around me, and/or the organization as a whole?
- What is happening for me, others and the organization right now?
- What interconnections, emotions and/or patterns are associated with this issue for me, others and/or the organization?
- What possibilities for change exist for myself, others and/or the organization?
- How could I involve others in exploring these possibilities?
- What actions could result in change and transformation for myself, others and the organization?
- What influence might these actions have on myself, others and the organization?
- What is most important right now for myself, others and the organization?
- What is the most appropriate response? How should others be involved in responding?
- What emotions and reactions may be associated with this response for myself, others and the organization?
- What actions could I take to demonstrate empathy and compassion to myself, others and the organization in light of these emotions and reactions?
Like all leaders (and humans), the joy, happiness and success I experience in the workplace is balanced by challenge, defeat, failure and pain. Never has that been more apparent than over this past year. The above questions have brought mindful grounding to these peaks and valleys. I’d love to hear how/if this approach resonates for you!
Aristovnik, A., Keržič, D., Ravšelj, D., Tomaževič, N., & Umek, L. (2020). Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on life of higher education students: A global perspective. Sustainability, 12(20), 8438.
Brazeau, G. A., Frenzel, J. E., & Prescott, W. A. (2020). Facilitating wellbeing in a turbulent time. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 84(6).
Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., … & Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 11(3), 230-241.
Hofman, R. E. (2008). A conscious‐authentic leadership approach in the workplace: Leading from within. Journal of Leadership Studies, 2(1), 18-31.
Goldstein, J. (2013). Mindfulness: A practical guide to awakening. Sounds True.
Giorgi, G., Lecca, L. I., Alessio, F., Finstad, G. L., Bondanini, G., Lulli, L. G., … & Mucci, N. (2020). COVID-19-related mental health effects in the workplace: a narrative review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(21), 7857.
Jones, V., & Brazdau, O. (2015). Conscious leadership, a reciprocal connected practice. A qualitative study on postsecondary education. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 203, 251-256.
Xiong, J., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Lui, L. M., Gill, H., Phan, L., … & McIntyre, R. S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders.