Contemplative Leadership is a leadership from the “inside out.” It is rooted in a healthy and holistic self-knowledge. It is grounded in the belief and experience that life is bigger than any one of us or all of us together. Acting on this conviction and reverently bowing to the reality and enormity of life, a person is duly awed and humbled but also empowered to exercise leadership in new ways.
The importance of leadership
“Leadership is authentic influence that creates value (Cashman, 2008).” We make our lives and the world better by giving the world the very best of who we are. We create value when we express our gifts, talents and capacities in authentic ways. Thus, whether one is a professional, entrepreneur, volunteer, parent or spouse, leadership is everybody’s business. Indeed, we create endless value when we inspire growth in others by inspiring growth in ourselves.
A discipline of leadership is to take action in service of our values and the “better world” that we envision. It is a leadership attitude focused on outcome creation rather than problem reaction. This is a leadership that works to enhance our capacity to clarify what matters most, discern what is needed now and take mindful and practical action to create a more just and loving world. The challenges of our times are requiring us to find our voice, and stand up for and act on our values and beliefs.
The role of contemplation in leadership
Nurturing the contemplative part of Contemplative Leadership calls for the development of a routine of life grounded in regular periods of quiet, reflection and silence day by day. The person surrenders to the discipline of the “cushion” (or chair or mat). Making time to “listen to life” is an essential ingredient of a contemplative approach to life. It is characterized as a way of shaping our being that informs our doing.
There is a wisdom saying which states: “The senses draw us outward, so the wise person looks within.” Think of a pool of water where the dirt or sand at the bottom has been stirred up. What can one do to make the pool clear? It requires a stillness or letting go. As the sand or dirt is allowed to settle, the pool gradually becomes clear. In contrast, our efforts are like flailing our arms in the water, trying to force the particles to settle, which of course only makes things harder to see. As things become clearer we are enabled to see a broader reality.
So too, contemplative practice is a way of slowing down so that we might catch a glimpse of a more inclusive perspective as opposed to a more narrow either/or world view. This more inclusive seeing is a fruit of stillness practices.
Contrary to the “hurry up, quicker, faster” pace of our culture, a contemplative approach consists of a long (more than a snap shot or sound bite), SLOW, caring look at what is real in this moment. In slowing down, being present, the contemplative look is more likely to see more clearly, less controlled by thoughts or feelings of blame or judgment. In this way there is a greater possibility of seeing people and situations as they really are, instead of through our filters of cultural or personal assumptions and prejudices.
Practices of Contemplative Leadership
Contemplative Leadership is rooted in the foundation of honoring each person and the sacredness of all life, of all creation. The Contemplative Leader works to engage and challenge the status quo for the common good.
The three attitudes and practices of the contemplative leader include:
1. The regular practice of contemplative noticing or mindfulness
2. An intention of non-defended learning
3. The commitment to non-violence (in thought, word and deed)
The regular practice of contemplative noticing or mindfulness
The essential discipline of taking time to be still individually or as a group is a practical act rooted in the sense of the greater Mystery and wisdom of life. Submitting to the discipline of regular practices in quiet, over time, yields the fruits of a subtle increase of awareness and insights, and a sharpening of skills and capacities. I have often said that “nothing” has happened in my periods of contemplative practice—it has only changed my heart and grown my sense of connection and compassion with and for life.
I recently read an article that pointed out that we see at the speed of light and that we hear at the speed of sound. We see lightning and a few seconds later we hear thunder. The contemplative leader practices slowing down and helps the group or team slow down to the “speed of life.” Through practice, a person tends to notice or become more aware of habits and patterns, with an eye toward living more wisely and freely.
Building upon the intention to be more consciously present, the contemplative leader engages the group in periods of quiet. Through the stillness, the group creates a calmer, quieter field for a conversation that is more inclusive of head and heart, rather than just ideas and concepts.
This prepares the way for the creation of a safe space for a conversation more conducive to speaking and listening from the heart. If there is not a way for truth to flow up and down our organizations we are disconnected from reality. If it is not safe to discuss what is most important, we won’t be able to talk about what is real. Incorporating time for silence can enable us to access other parts of ourselves from which we are easily disconnected.
In my experience when preparing for a learning conversation, beginning with a time for quiet can offer everyone the opportunity to be present and to notice assumptions, judgments and preconceived notions about the issue being addressed. The mindful noticing can be more conducive to a dialogue that has a better chance of getting to the heart of the matter.
An attitude of non-defended learning
This is a posture characterized by listening with respect and compassion to the larger reality of life. We move from the certainty of our beliefs and way of doing things toward a place of being curious. We access the power of questions which can include:
· Is there another way to look at the situation, which I or we have not yet considered?
· What is our best way of acting in light of our values?
· What is the future that is seeking to emerge?
In thinking of charged interactions with family and friends, in work situations or where there exists the clash of different values or perspectives, we can tend to advocate for or defend our position, and thus are more likely to come from a place of reaction. By contrast, when we adopt the non-defended attitude, we are able to move from advocacy to inquiry, from reacting and defending to being curious about the experiences of the other person that causes them to believe and behave in a different manner. Now the participants have a better chance of reaching a deeper shared understanding rather than being entrenched in or defending positions shaped by previous experience.
A commitment to non-violence (in thought, word and deed)
The stance of non-violence is rooted in the recognition of the sacred mystery of each person and the reality of interdependence, “that we are all in this together.” Gandhian non-violence is a commitment to the non-self-interested truth. The commitment doesn’t immediately lead to the desired behavior in each and every situation. Here again, consistent practice cultivates and nurtures the possibility of a more inclusive understanding, which can lead to more committed action.
Would your organization and leadership benefit from intentionally incorporating contemplative practices? Contact The Reid Group if you would like practical guidance and support.