“Mindfulness is simply noticing the way things are. By being mindful you can transform your life, your organization, and even your community. The first step is to transform yourself.” Maria Gonzalez, Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others“During difficult times,” writes Maria Gonzales, “anyone in a leadership position is scrutinized more closely. And it seems as if the demands of this new world order are beyond the experience of many who occupy leadership positions.” And, as Michael Carroll adds in Awake at Work, “Work with all its pressures and success and confusion, unfolds on its terms not ours, and we can be awake as if unfolds or we can resist---a choice we can make moment by moment for the rest of our lives.”
The pressures and challenges of leadership in 21st century schools and school districts is greater than it has ever been. Juggling dwindling financial resources, a myriad of new educational initiatives both state and federal, major curriculum restructuring, and the invasiveness of technology all make being a school leader today one of the most difficult jobs around. In midst of this confusion, the choice is simple: we can choose to be present, or as Gonzales points, “We can choose to be mindful." We can fight, resist, and ignore, and then find ourselves divorced from the reality that exists in our schools and school districts. Or, we can choose to practice being mindful, which brings us in tune with our reality. The answer for 21st century school leaders is cultivating what Gonzales calls “mindful leadership.”
But what does a mindful leader look like? Maria Gonzales’ “9 Ways of Being” provide an excellent portrait of “mindful leadership." Keep in mind though, it is through "mindfulness practices" that these characteristics are developed and fostered, which she also describes.
1. Mindful school leaders are present. Simply put, it means they exist in the now, in the present. They do not engage in undue worry about the past or the future. Their energies are directed toward the current moment. That does not mean school leaders do not plan. It means they do not obsess with those plans, and they are not so attached to those plans that nothing else matters.
2. Mindful school leaders are aware. They are aware of their own inner life. In other words, they are skillful in the art and science of emotional intelligence. They know themselves. They never feel themselves overtaken and blindsided by their own emotions. Mindful school leaders know who they are, inside and out, and are not deluded into thinking more of themselves than they should.
3. Mindful school leaders are calm. They don’t panic. They face trying circumstances with control. Mindful school leaders act with centeredness and authenticity at all times. Their calmness is a natural part of who they are.
4. Mindful school leaders are focused. They “channel resources to accomplish priorities.” They concentrate on what’s important. Mindful school leaders know what's important and they zero in on that.
5. Mindful school leaders are clear. It is this clarity of mind that makes it possible to make the best decisions. They understand their own motivations and why they do what they do. They, as Gonazales aptly points out, “know what is important.” Mindful school leaders exhibit a clarity of mind that fosters quality decision-making.
6. Mindful school leaders are equanimous. This is the ability to accept things as they are, not in the spirit of resignation, but simply to be at peace with reality. They do not spend time fighting fruitless battles. They do not engage in unrealistic expectations. Mindful school leaders are at peace with their reality.
7. Mindful school leaders are positive. They are a “positive force” in their schools or school districts. They understand leadership means serving others. Because of their positivity and service to others, they inspire those around them. Mindful school leaders act and live in affirmation and are an inspiration to those they serve.
8. Mindful school leaders are compassionate. They deeply care those around them. They know and understand and engage in self-compassion too, because taking care of self is important too. Mindful school leaders act with compassion, not in self-service and self-promotion.
9. Mindful school leaders are impeccable. As Gonzales points out, they aren't perfect, but mindful leaders act with integrity, honesty, and courage. They accept responsibility for what they do and do not blame others for honest mistakes. Mindful school leaders always act with integrity, honesty and courage when leading their schools or districts.
In the education tumult of the 21st century, School leaders, more than anyone, need to be mindful. The challenges we face are only increasing, not lessening. As Maria Gonzales states, “Mindfulness can help leaders remain focused on what really matters to them and to their companies and stakeholders.” I submit that mindfulness helps school leaders remain focused on what it really important: our students.
Note: To learn more about fostering "mindful leadership" I suggest Maria Gonzales' straightforward, non-religious treatment of the topic in her book, Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others.