Ellen Langer’s call for Mindful Leadership
Here is an excerpt from article written by Ellen Langer for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review‘s Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
(Editor’s note: This post is part of a six-week blog series on how leadership might look in the future.)
Mindlessness — not a good quality for any organization — has led to some questionable assumptions about the need for leaders; namely that 1) those who lead have privileged and reliable abilities and knowledge — what are often described as “leadership competencies”; and 2) people need to be led to achieve their goals.
If organizations were mindful — referring to the simple act of noticing new things — leadership would be quite a different matter. They would not only be mindful themselves; their most important responsibility would be to enable their followers to be mindful as well. One might argue that in an increasingly complex world — where work cuts across all types of institutional boundaries — the leader’s only task may be to promote and harness “distributed” mindfulness.
Noticing puts us in the present, makes us sensitive to context, and aware of change and uncertainty. When we are mindless we hold our perspective still, allowing us to confuse the stability of our mindsets with the stability of the underlying phenomena. Hold it still if you want but it’s changing nonetheless.
However visionary we consider our leaders, they cannot predict the future any more than anyone else. They may be able to predict what might happen much of the time if the situation stays constant — which of course is questionable — but can never predict individual occurrences, which is where we should be most concerned. If, most of the time, when someone does “x” the result is “y” it doesn’t guarantee that the next time you do “x,” “y” will follow. (Do you believe Mercedes makes a great car? Would you bet all of your money that any particular Mercedes will start with one try?)
Those in positions of power often keep quiet about what they don’t know. Instead of making a personal attribution for not knowing — “I don’t know but it’s knowable and I probably should know,” which sounds defensive — leaders should make universal attributions for uncertainty — “I don’t know and you don’t know because it is unknowable.” When we acknowledge these universal limits, we can be less distracted by the need to appear to know, which would allow us to get on to the problem at hand. Being awake in the moment allows us learn better what we need to know now.
(Editor’s note: This post is part of a six-week blog series on how leadership might look in the future. The conversations generated by these posts will help shape the agenda of a symposium on the topic in June 2010, hosted by HBS’s Nitin Nohria, Rakesh Kharana, and Scott Snook.)
* * *
To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
* * *
Langer is a professor in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. Her books written for general and academic readers include Mindfulness and The Power of Mindful Learning, and the forthcoming Mindful Creativity.
No comments yet.