Bringing the practices of mindfulness and dialogue to leadership conversations

Growing pains

As a new year begins, I am reshaping my work and life. This happens each year, to some extent, through a process of reflecting on the past twelve months, and examining what is serving my life and work, and what might usefully be added or detracted, amplified or reduced. This reflective practice is relatively easy! What I find challenging is stopping or changing things that bring me fleeting comfort or ease, even when I know that they don’t add to my capacity and contribution in the long term.

For instance, alongside many others, I’m intent on making changes to my eating habits, and to other factors that affect my well-being and the amount of energy I have. I know that eating less of this and more of that will bring benefits, and that doing more of this and less of that will invigorate me…but…I also know that, initially, I will need to be mindful and disciplined to consistently replace established routines with more fruitful patterns of behaviour. It will require effort.

Being dedicated to development and growth, in myself as well as in others, I’ve read lots of literature, tried out many approaches, tailor-made strategies to navigate my own quirks and resistances, and even written about making changes as if I know what I’m doing! With wildly varying degrees of success in my personal implementation of this extensive research, I’ve become clear about one thing: however we ‘frame’ it, our motivation for the new has to outweigh the rewards and ‘paybacks’ of our current ways of living and working. To coach ourselves through the temporary nuisance, discomfort and growing pains that will accompany our attempts to adopt new practices, we need a sense of the potential gains.

In the coming year, what are you seeking to shed, adopt, increase, decrease, or otherwise alter? What will inspire you to hold to a commitment to change in moments of doubt or uncertainty?

One significant change I’m undertaking this year is reviewing and refreshing my approach to dialogue practice development. For ten years, and with eleven different groups, I’ve done this work in a particular way. While I’ve discontinued aspects of the original offering, and included new elements as my skill and experience have grown, the intent, content and style are, essentially, the same.

The approach has been successful in supporting participants to think strategically about the shape and quality of their leadership conversations, and to change their practice to the benefit of those around them. Yet, despite good feedback, I’ve had a sense that my work with dialogue practices needs a ‘deep clean’ and some redesign.

Two challenges loom large as I engage with this possibility:

• the comfort of familiarity – while each group is different, I can coast a little within a known framework; and
• a sense of complacency – why fix something that, as the old saying goes, ain’t broke?

So – what will motivate me to take the risk of dismantling something that works? What will sustain me through the inevitable growing pains of adapting my approach? For me, it comes down to a question: how much more learning and growth might be possible, for larger numbers of people, or with greater impact?

This question helps me to find the courage to look critically at something I created, and to acknowledge some of its limitations. Most obviously, the design of the existing programme pre-dated my book, Pause for Breath, by several years. I’ve not yet fully integrated this supporting resource into the learning process, and if I can do this, I’m sure participants will benefit.

In addition, the ‘deep dive’ nature of the original programme can be testing. Potential participants meet for an exploratory session and, if they want to proceed, join an experience that may prove more stretching and revealing than they envisaged. It’s a steep gradient from the ‘idea’ of sharing the inner workings of your conversations to actually doing it.

With more reflective practice on both content and process, I’ve identified many ways to enrich my work with leadership conversations. I have settled on offering two learning pathways, one that will have wider reach, and a second that will enable deeper ‘inner work’ in a smaller group. They are:

Pause for Breath – principles, a three-day foundation programme that will bring alive the main themes of my book; and
Pause for Breath – practices, a five-day collaborative learning programme, building capacity for, and skilfulness in, core practices.

With some strategic clarity, I venture into the new year in a spirit of excitement and trepidation. I’m energised because I love designing new approaches, and I’m appropriately apprehensive about the unknowns. As the details come into focus, and as my imaginings blend with real participants, the programmes will become living things, increasingly improvised and responsive. In growing into a new way of working, I will need to draw on resourcing practices, such as centring, meditation, journaling and supervision, to support my resilience.

As you introduce changes in your leadership practice in the months ahead, how will you sustain yourself through the uncertainties of growing into them?

For more information about my new programmes for mindfulness and dialogue in leadership conversations, click here.

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