A fantasy leader is the last thing we need now
Mind Moves: Powerful people in high places is an outdated stereotype, writes Tony Bates.
In a crisis we call for a leader – someone with answers, super clarity and a map of the future. “Oh how good it would be,” we muse to ourselves, “if only we had a person who knew where we’re going, someone who could make everything right.”
This fantasy leader is closer to a saviour rather than a leader. And no matter how appealing he or she may seem, it’s probably the last thing we need.
True leaders are much more human. They do not possess super strength or super clarity. They are people who care about seeing people and systems in distress and who have a knack of being able to help other people face difficult situations.
True leadership is a talent that makes people, communities or organisations believe that they have it in them to face down the most daunting of problems wherever they exist.
Leadership is not a talent possessed by exceptional people. The company chief executive may take on this role, but so too might the office manager who is sensitive to where change is required, and who has a good instinct about how to sell the idea.
Leaders know that there are rarely simple answers to the quandaries we face, but they are not afraid to act in the face of uncertainty, to take risks and to learn from what happens.
Leadership takes place every day. It is neither a talent of the few, nor a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is called for every time we encounter a gap between the way we live and our shared values, and where there is a need to mobilise adaptations that can bridge that gap.
Leaders appreciate how much communities dislike change, how they are wary of it and resist it. But by engaging people’s trust, by pacing change according to what’s tolerable, they are able to appeal to the deepest values of a community and bring people with them.
To be of any value to others, smart leaders know that they must take time to step back from a crisis, to put issues in perspective, restore their sense of purpose, and regain the courage and the heart to keep going.
Recent thinking on leadership has unhinged the term from outdated stereotypes of prominent people in high places with power, to seeing it as an activity that encourages people to face difficulties with a fresh perspective.
In this sense, leadership is a potential in everyone that can be nurtured and deepened. But how do we do this? How do we become effective leaders? And how are we to sustain our role as leaders, without becoming burnt out and ineffective?
These questions will be explored in a forthcoming conference The Mindful Leader in Dublin Castle on May 22nd. This conference is the third in the series The Art of Being Still being hosted by Sr. Stan Kennedy and her team at the Sanctuary.
For one day every year, Sr. Stan and her team occupy Dublin Castle and explore the everyday practical applications of mindfulness. You are probably familiar by this stage with the term mindfulness. But, in case the word still sounds mystifying, let’s say it’s an age-old practice that allows us to quieten our minds and connect with a soulful awareness of the present moment.
The idea behind mindfulness is that by taking some time each day to pause, relax and to be aware of what’s happening, we can be happier, more effective people. And when life throws us a curve ball, our practice of mindfulness helps us to respond thoughtfully rather than react fearfully.
The importance of cultivating our deeper potential as leaders will be explored on May 22nd in keynote addresses by Mark Patrick Hederman OSB, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, and Michael Chaskalson, author of The Mindful Workplace, who will show how mindfulness can strengthen our role as leaders.
Meditation is all too easily seen as an activity intended primarily for oneself. This conference will show that this is simply where it begins, but its ultimate goal is to change the world around us for others. Unless we first look after ourselves as leaders, we will be of little value to others.
This annual conference is designed for everyone who finds themselves in positions in life where they are called on to help others to face difficulties, whether they be in organisations, schools or communities. Based on previous conferences in this Art of Stillness series, this one promises to be a truly stimulating event.
Tony Bates is the founding director of Headstrong – the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, www.headstrong.ie.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times. Headstrong would like to thank the Irish Times for their ongoing support.