“Just do it.” “Take no prisoners.” There are many different leadership styles; these are just two examples. Two pretty hard-core examples. They all produce results in the short term. The question is: how do they work in the long run?
We’ve all had bosses who led using one of these ancient tenets of leadership. Did it inspire you? Probably not. You and your co-workers probably did your work, but not much more. Work became a survival game, not a place to thrive. As workplace performance declined, the attempt to control increased.
Nobody wants to be led like this. We want to be trained to be our own leader. But most bosses can’t train us to self-lead because they haven’t been trained to lead in an inspiring way. We all need to learn a new paradigm of leadership.
Harvard Business Review article Developing Mindful Leaders, by Polly LaBarre, lays out not only a new paradigm, but also the how-to’s of implementing it. She starts out describing what we all know too well:
Organizations invest billions annually on a success curriculum known as “leadership development,” which ends up leaving so much on the table. Training and development programs almost universally focus factory-like on inputs and outputs — absorb curriculum, check a box; learn a skill, advance a rung; submit to assessment, fix a problem. Likewise, they leave too many people behind with an elite selection process that fast-tracks “hi-pos” and essentially discards the rest. And they leave most people cold with flavor of the month remedies, off sites, immersions, and excursions — which produce little more than a grim legacy of fat binders gathering dust on shelves.
She then suggests, “What if… we focused on deepening [people’s] sense of purpose, expanding their capability to navigate difficulty and complexity, and enriching their emotional resilience?” That sounds radical! What company would want to do that?
LaBarre goes on to describe how Todd Pierce, the former CIO of biotechnology giant Genentech, teamed up with Pamela Weiss to develop a program for his division that used Mindfulness as the core skill. “Personal Excellence Program” (PEP) uses “human capability, resilience, compassion, and well-being” to actualize the potential of each employee.
Their five core principles:
1. Developing people is a process — not an event.
2. People don’t grow from the neck up.
3. Put mindfulness at the center (but don’t call it that!).
4. It’s hard to grow alone.
5. Everybody deserves to grow.
The article describes the studies that were done on the sustainable results this program creates. After developing one of the leading Mindfulness Stress Reduction companies back in 1995, I can attest to the power and the simplicity of mindfulness. Both Pierce and Weiss play down the “Mindfulness” aspect, as we did. Like we did, they found that it wasn’t about teaching a new spiritual philosophy; it was about teaching new skills.
The men’s groups I developed evolved to be leadership training groups. Our success mimics Pierce and Weiss because we aren’t teaching intellectual theories, we teach skill on how to be present. When you are present, you have the greatest access to all your resources. When out of the “stress response,” or the survival state life puts us in, we are able to be more intuitive, creative, compassionate and joyful.
These are straightforward skills that we all have the capacity to practice. What we need is a safe space to learn them, and tools for how to embody them. As the article points out, one of the keys to success is the support that comes from regular groups. Without regular groups our Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program classes and our men’s groups would not work. Having a place to learn from others, share experiences, and practice is critical to learning a skill set that is not readily practiced in our culture.