Sunday, June 19, 2011

Authentic Personal Leadership: Making the Shift

In our ARC training we were asked to list the qualities of good leadership.  In this instance, we were talking about authentic personal leadership.  But, what struck me so clearly then, and what still resonates in my deepest being, is what I already “knew” about leadership. Although I was viewing it through a different lens, I found the ideas very familiar.
As we named different aspects of healthy leadership, and listed them on the white board, I realized that these were qualities I had already developed through my years as an educational consultant, coordinator, and administrator. What was unfamiliar, and new territory, was how to apply these concepts on a personal level.  I began to wonder, could my professional experiences help me develop a more authentic personal leadership? 

I sat nurturing this question for some months, and from this period of gestation came a new beginning.  My wonderings grew into a very personal understanding of what authentic personal leadership means.

Using the skills I had honed throughout my career to inform my personal growth at first seemed a bit backwards.  Then I realized that those skills were not simply tools I had used to help me in my career but were, in fact, part of who I had become.  They were more than skills – they were values that were dear to my heart and a core part of who I was.  And so, I began to reflect on those values and how they might help me in my current life.

For starters, there was respect. As an educational leader, I found it critical to respect all stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, principals, trustees, and the community as a whole.  Through respect I valued their needs and viewpoints.  I knew that good planning and decision-making depended on hearing from all parties, not just the ones who were the loudest, the most powerful, or at the “front of the line”.  Respect is about inclusiveness – valuing all the stakeholders.

Another skill that was critical to my success as an administrator was crisis management.  Interestingly, I often found that it was the crises that helped me become more effective. In a crisis there was not only the need for immediate attention and response, but also to process the event in the aftermath when things died down – questioning what part of the structure or system needed to be addressed to prevent, or at least decrease, the likelihood of a similar problem reoccurring. With proper crisis management the whole system ran more efficiently and provided a sense of security and confidence.

Finally, a skill that was critical for smooth organizational functioning was the development of clear and shared understandings of who we were, what we believed, and how we would put this into practice. In other words, developing a mission statement or shared vision – and then, expressing our philosophy in clear short-term and long-term goals that all stakeholders could understand.

It seemed to me that these professional skills could have real implications for personal leadership.  Although some of the language might need tweaking, surely the underlying principles were the same.

For instance, with the notion of respect, is this not what we want to bring to our thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and actions?  Valuing all of their perspectives and insuring they have an input in decision making, is at the core of personal development.  Listening to all these parts; encouraging the quieter ones, and putting healthy boundaries around those who tend to take over, is critical if we are to develop into truly authentic individuals.

I also see a parallel between managing administrative crises and handling the challenges of my life today.  Recently, as I dealt with a personal crisis I became quite aware of how my various parts (thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and actions) were dealing with the situation as it happened.  And afterwards I was able to reflect on the experience to gain a better understanding not only of what happened but why it happened.  In listening and respecting my parts in this way, I gained clarity on new and better ways to handle similar situations in the future.  My emotions had demanded immediate attention, but other parts needed to have time later on to make their position known.  I even heard from parts in the post-crisis processing who, if I had listened to them earlier, might have helped me avoid the crisis altogether.

For a while, I was puzzled as to how mission statements, values and goals might inform my personal leadership. These workplace concepts, at first, did not seem to apply.  And yet, the way a clear vision and goals give an organization a compelling sense of what they are about is definitely powerful.  I struggled with this for some time.  And then, one day, I realized that personal integrity and knowing what I was about is just as important to me as it is to any organization.

With this in mind I reflected on my personal life vision.  To my surprise I discovered I had been living under a false assumption – I thought I had a clear idea of my life values. This just wasn’t true!  My mind might tell me one thing but my heart and gut often have other opinions.  By not recognizing this, I was setting the stage for self-sabotaging behaviours.  Assuming that I knew, and not checking that all my parts were in agreement, left them no choice but to make their dissention known – often in very disturbing ways.

While understanding and working with these differing perspectives is a work in progress — one that will keep me busy for the rest of my life — I am beginning to forge a deeper, better-rounded understanding and acceptance of who I am.  And, as this clarity of purpose deepens, it empowers me to live my life with greater integrity.

This success brought me to consider whether goals might also inform my personal leadership.  At first, I rejected the idea — surely nothing so cut and dried could possibly work!  Goals, by their nature, are meant to be measureable so that you know if you reach them and can tell if you are “successful”. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure.  But if not goals, then what does inform my actions and responses?  What guides me as I make my daily decisions and choices?  

As I pondered this question, I realized that my intent, like goals, informs and guides.  But, unlike goals, my intent does so in a dynamic, flexible, non-judgemental manner.  Intent allows me to be open to a range of options and to respond with integrity to any situation.

My intent, for example, to “return to consciousness” again (and again) and to pay attention to my thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and actions serves as a powerful guide.  It helps me to be present in a holistic, non-judgemental and accepting, yet discerning manner – facilitating the necessary dialogue between my parts and also with the world at large.   This is a dynamic, self-informing process.  As it unfolds, my intent evolves and more clearly informs my life.
And so, my experience as an educational leader has informed and instructed me in my understanding of personal leadership.  Indeed, what I already “knew” about leadership has empowered me make the shift to authentic personal leadership.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go

I just finished reading a book by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest.  The book is called "Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go".  He speaks of contemplation in a way that, for me, is akin to meditation.  I was impressed.  Here is a brief quote that inspired me.

I’m sure that most people in the Western world have never really met the person who they themselves really are.  Because at every moment, all our life long, we identify ourselves either with our thoughts, our self-image, or our feelings.  We have to find a way to get behind our thoughts, feelings and self-image.  We have to discover the face that we already had before we were born.  We have to find out who we were all along in God before we did anything right or wrong.  This is the first goal of contemplation.

I ask you to imagine a river or stream.  You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past.  While the stream flows past you inner eye, I ask you to name each one of these vessels.  For example, one of the boats cold be called “my anxiety about tomorrow.”  Or along comes the ship “Objections to my husband,” or the boat “Oh, I don’t do that well.”  Every judgement that you pass is one of those boats.  Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.

For some people this is a very difficult exercise, because we’re used to jumping aboard the boats immediately.  As soon as we own a boat, and identify with it, it picks up energy.   But we have to practise is un-possessing, letting go.   Pp. 94-95

Of course, we have to return to our “boats” but we can’t have any genuine freedom unless we know who we are apart from them.  In the final analysis the purpose of letting go is so that we can freely lay hold of something.  And the purpose of this new liberation from bondage is so I can commit myself from free and healthy motives.  The effect of contemplation is authentic action, and if contemplation doesn’t lead to genuine action, then it remains only navel-gazing and self-preoccupation.  P.98