As a mindfulness and leadership coach, I don’t think the leaders I’ve worked with have had much of an idea of what they were taking on when they said yes to authentic, mindful leadership development training.
They did not realise that the familiar ground they were standing on would be shaken deeply.
We like the word transformation, but the process of transformation is a whole lot grittier than the advertising.
As one of my favourite awareness teachers once put it, “Most of us are not prepared to sign up for transformation, we just want to become a caterpillar with wings. But that is not a butterfly.”
True leadership development training is less about skill training and more about deep personal transformation.
Change is Hard
Being able to see and embrace our whole humanness, including our fragility and darkness, is critical in our leadership development training efforts.
However, it’s no easy feat because of a phenomenon dubbed by Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan “immunity to change.”
Kegan believes desire and motivation aren’t enough to change—even when it’s literally a matter of life or death. This is because of internal mechanisms that make us highly resistant to change.
One landmark study demonstrated the power of these internal mechanisms. It found that even after suffering a stroke or developing coronary heart disease, only one in seven patients will change their smoking, exercise or dietary habits.
We resist change, Kegan says, because our minds act as a sort of immune system, trying to protect us from the psychological trauma and danger that sudden and drastic changes can bring.
Unfortunately, this same system meant to protect us from negative changes can also prevent us from making significant positive changes. Change can trigger our defence mechanisms, thus sabotaging our efforts before we’ve even begun leadership development training.
Despite our best conscious efforts, there are deep subconscious forces at play in our transformational journey.
One of our strongest sources of resistance to change, according to Kegan’s research, is our firmly entrenched self-identity.
For example, when heart disease patients stop taking prescription drugs, one reason they cite is because it makes them feel old.
One patient told Kegan that the reason he stopped taking his prescriptions was because “I’m fifty-eight years old and am in the prime of my life. I’m not an old man with one foot in the grave.” Taking a daily pill threatened his identity as a healthy and younger man.
Mindfulness: The Key to Change
Mindfulness is the single greatest antidote to identity-based resistance because the practice teaches and enables us to let go of our self-identity and truly know ourselves.
As we do so our self-awareness grows as we observe the changes throughout our lives.
Through mindfulness, we no longer identify ourselves in rigid and inflexible ways; we merely observe different phases and states as they come and go. We no longer feel the need to cling to transient, impermanent states and intangible thoughts in order to find security.
We develop a flexibility and malleability that can come in no other way. We find a peace that transcends all thoughts, concepts, identities and conditions.
The work of true transformation is just that: work. It takes no special talent or skill. It does take an uncommon determination to face our fears, reactivity, avoidance patterns and insecurities and to keep going. It takes strength.
If you’re looking to mindfulness as a quick way to occasionally de-stress, you’ll be disappointed and you’ll quickly abandon it for another just as ineffective quick-fix.
But if you’re the type of leader who cares about true leadership development training and real transformation, the type that is willing to pay the price to become the best, happiest, most-fulfilled version of yourself, mindfulness is for you.
Give it your best efforts in your leadership training development, and I promise you will be amazed by the results.