This morning I had the privilege of attending a monthly leadership breakfast sponsored by The Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership, based at Nashville's Vanderbilt University. The speaker was Dr. Katharine Baker, a Vanderbilt professor and a passionate advocate of linking together a vibrant spirituality with effective leadership of people.
Dr. Baker began the session with a refreshing, certainly unconventional approach: Everyone in attendance was asked to spend 10 minutes focusing on their breathing while listening to a meditation audio file. This step certainly helped to center me and prepare my mind to more fully focus on Dr. Baker's material, much of which referred to insights from Nancy Eggert's book Contemplative Leadership for Entrepreneurial Organizations: Paradigms, Metaphors and Wicked Problems.
Some of the most impactful takeaways for me were as follows:
Our control-oriented, mechanist way of thinking and behaving has led to us becoming “split”; and reclaiming our wholeness as leaders is what contemplative leadership is all about.
We must recognize our “monkey mind,” which swings from thought to thought, always reacting.
“Unlearning” our habits of mind is at the heart of contemplative leadership, and becoming fully present is the goal.
Within the context of being fully present, attention without judgment (of ourselves and of others) is the ideal state.
Becoming detached rather than identified with our emotions is a healthy state of being.
During some audience interaction time, I shared with the group that so often leaders are not clear on their holistic goals, goals that synthesize work, spirituality, relationships, play and membership in the community. The internal stress that results from such a fragmentation of goals causes a leader to inadvertently share that stress with everyone in the system, reducing overall effectiveness.
As long as we remain fragmented–or “split,” as Dr. Baker puts it so well–we will have inconsistent contemplation and only so-so leadership.