What I’ve been reading: Leading Mindfully

I was very glad to score a last minute ticket to the MBS Annual Women and Management Dinner last month, and really enjoyed hearing from MBS Professorial Fellow, Amanda Sinclair. In her very compelling talk, she described her upcoming book (with Christine Nixon) Women Leading, and I was particularly taken by the idea that women have been leaders in their fields, communities and organisations since, well, always, but we just haven’t labelled it leadership. Never mind directives to ‘lean in’, lead like men and not bring home-baked cookies into the workplace, women have been doing it all along!

[At last perhaps a way for me to understand the puzzle in my brain about Mardie Murie, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, ‘grandmother of the conversation movement’ and unashamed cookie baker. More on this in a future installment.]

Alas, Women Leading was not out until July 3, so in the interim I grabbed another of Amanda Sinclair’s books from my local library, and I am rather glad I did.

Amanda Sinclair’s 2016 book Leading Mindfully is a broad survey of the role of mindfulness across a range of aspects of leadership, including ethics, listening and creativity. I really enjoyed the humanity of this work, and practitioners of yoga will recognise the observational and non-judgemental tone. For readers of business books who like their leadership reading thrusting and full of daring, this book might be uncomfortable but, I suggest, even more important for being so.

Sinclair blends research, case studies and reflections on her own experiences to pose important questions about the leadership journey and suggest some ideas that were more surprising than I‘d expected. For example, leadership can be pleasurable, not for the increased pay packet, status or authority that people associate with it, but rather for its own sake. There is both honour and joy to be had in creating space for people to come together, grow and be productive. This chapter is a must for any leader feeling a bit beaten down by it all.

I was most struck by the chapter entitled “Being Ourselves?”, which considers the swathe of popular literature extolling the virtues of authenticity in leadership. To be fair, anyone who has witnessed someone in a leadership position making awkward (and often erroneous) jokes about football in an effort to appear folksy when they don’t really buy it will recognise the value of keeping it real. However, like any virtue, there is such a thing as too much, and hanging on to your identity too tightly and too long may prevent you from growing in your leadership. Moreover, the temptation to make it all about you is enormous and a first class ticket to disengaging your teams.

I believe this book will be a useful future resource and something I will dip back into over time. The format of the book supports this type of engagement with the ideas, and references throughout give the reader opportunity to explore further. For example I am pondering Sinclair’s words, “how and who you are being in leadership may be more important than what you do”, and I will be digging out some Jon Kabat Zinn to further unpack this idea.

As I said earlier, I am rather glad I picked up this book on spec. While I am yet to resolve my Mardie Murie conundrum, the ideas here are resonating, and I think they will for some time. In a world swimming in leadership commentary it’s not always obvious how to find something that isn’t self serving or cheesier than Mel Brooks’ back catalog*, but Leading Mindfully is fresh and provocative. Check it out. I, meanwhile, am off to the bookstore to pick up a copy of Women Leading.

*For the record, there is nothing wrong with cheesiness in the appropriate context. May the Schwartz be with you.