The following excerpt from my book, What Matters at Work, seems timely for us to review this week… I hope it helps as we consider how to express leadership in these uncertain times. – Harry
A lovely little book, The Art of Possibility, by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander (2000) always inspires me. Among the gems included is the idea of “leading from every chair,” where Benjamin Zander recounts stories from the youth orchestra he conducted for many years and relates them to his philosophy of leadership. The lesson for us all is a simple one: Consider your position to be one with boundless potential to provide leadership in service to the greater aspirations and challenges before your group, wherever you may sit on the hierarchy and perceived power structure.
The practical questions are, “How do we offer Leadership in a way that is sustainable, healthy for us and nourishing of others, while also expending necessary energy towards the challenge before us?” And “How do we lead from everywhere in the organization, regardless of positional power or status?”
Exercise: Refocusing to Offer Leadership
WHY: The routine practice of centering techniques allows us to return to a place of rest and focus again on those core Intentions whenever they are needed. This activity helps us remain focused on What Matters, to be sure. But it also relieves stress, allows positivity to engage our minds, and physically enables us to access resources in our brains that can ultimately be applied to solving the pressing challenges we face. Finally, it allows us to be prepared to listen empathically and non-judgmentally to those with whom we need to engage, from which we may discover the key ideas and feelings that we must understand and negotiate through our workdays.
Step 1: In his book, ACT Made Simple (2009), Russ Harris offers a straight-forward format for constructing mindfulness exercises:
- Notice X.
- Let go of your thoughts.
- Let your feelings be.
Using this approach:
- Take a moment to notice your surroundings;
- Focus on what you are noticing, and let go of other thoughts; and
- Feel whatever you are feeling, and be aware of these feelings in the moment.
With practice, this simple exercise can bring you back from distractions, whether they are worries, feelings of apprehension, or feelings of being overwhelmed in the moment. Once achieved, you may return to the task at hand, or otherwise reframe your problem-solving efforts.
Step 2: In a quiet place (though perhaps with some background sounds to muffle outside noises):
- Focus on your Intention. Get grounded physically so you are relaxed and open to sensing what is important to perceive at this time, with distractions reduced as much as possible;
- Recall two or three key Values that guide you. As you notice them, remember that you are a capable individual who offers your skills and talents in service to others and consistent with these Values.
- Take 2-3 minutes to calmly breathe, relax, and focus in this manner. Then: Notice the question we posed above, “How do we offer Leadership in a way that is sustainable, healthy for us and nourishing of others, while also expending necessary energy towards the challenge before us?” Take several minutes to contemplate this question in an open and non-judgmental manner.
- Journal your emerging responses to the question. This may be your conclusion for now, or you may now proceed to the next step.
Step 3: Meet with a trusted colleague, preferably someone who has already been a partner on this Journey with you before. Discuss what is now emerging for you. Identify specific action steps and resources available for you to offer these responses in a constructive, healthy, and sustainable manner.
On a personal level, to “lead from everywhere” has become one of my most important challenges in this work. It has taught me that whenever I feel stuck, overwhelmed, or powerless to create the change I seek in the world, I can rediscover my focus. I am reminded of those things that I am passionate about, reducing the “noise” that distracts me inside my head or the toxic relationships that may undermine my resolve. If I regularly engage in this activity, it becomes so normal to me that I scarcely have to summon any special energy to do it. And because I am engaging in this effort in partnership with others, I find that it not only energizes me, but contagiously engages others to rededicate their efforts to follow their Intentions and Values in service to their Core Story.