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  • Writer's pictureStephen Presley, PhD

Mind Work is a New Frontier for Leader Development

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

A certain story has been taking shape in my mind over the last couple of years. It's a bit of an uncommon take on leadership, why it is so challenging today, and one way leaders can better meet those challenges.

The story opens with a look at the enormity of the change we've all experienced in our world over the last twenty years. Much good has emerged from these changes, along with a variety of adverse effects on humans. Naming these adverse effects offers insight into the challenge of leadership today.

And because of that, we see the rise of VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) in more and more of what we do. Any one of these factors makes leadership harder. Multiple factors at once significantly increase the difficulty of leadership challenges. In addition to the adverse effects of change over the decades, VUCA is another part of why leadership is so hard today.

The next part of the story acknowledges the enormous cognitive and emotional demands on leaders from all this change, complexity, and uncertainty. There is no getting around the limitations of how our minds work and make sense of things in this kind of environment, which directly impacts our values, beliefs, habits, and priorities. The learning and adaptation required in today's VUCA world force us to change (in varying degrees) these core inner aspects of who we think we are. Such "inner work" involves engaging a deeper part of our mind, the subconscious mind, where our values, beliefs, and habits "live." How many of us were taught how to do this with any skill? Yet, today it appears to be required on a regular basis. If this is the new norm, then the skills to do such work need to become the norm.

The final act in the story (for now) – perhaps the intro to a new story - is about an uncommon way of developing leaders – by training in inner mind work through mindfulness and meditation practices in the service of better leadership practices. Over 7,000 studies on mindfulness and meditation show improvements in key leadership domains like decision making, managing change and adaptation, cognitive flexibility, and many more. Learning mindfulness and meditation is a powerful way to cultivate untapped and unused mind capabilities better suited to today's world.

Have you experienced any of this story in your world? I'd love to hear your thoughts on these ideas.

I'll unpack the parts of this story in the coming weeks.

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