Leadership in sustainability – a personal reflection
How do you maintain the energy of keeping up your personal engagement to drive change in a setting that may resist it? How do you build up you own resilience and avoid being overwhelmed by anger and fear in the face of daunting and ever renewing challenges in the field of sustainability and responsibility?
If you are reading this blog, you are likely to be interested in change and somehow engaged in driving change; be this in your community, your workplace, in society as a whole, or even in your own family setting. You are a change agent, a person leading change whether in a small, familiar situation or a in a larger and more formal establishment. You are willing to change yourself and wanting to inspire others to do the same. Great thinkers, like Gandhi, expressed this in a simple and compelling way I am sure many of us have used: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Reg Revans, who pioneered the use of action learning (this is an approach to solve real problems, involving taking action and reflecting upon the results, which helps improve both the process of problem solving, as well as the solutions developed), expressed it in a more intricate way by saying “Those who are to change significantly, that which they freshly encounter, must themselves be changed by the changing of it”.
Without deep diving into change theory, my firm belief is that to drive change, we also need to be prepared to change and must be open to change by that very process. Change is not linear. There is no simple cause and effect. Change finds its own wriggly paths, and people respond in different ways to seemingly similar information. In a world where we face climate change, increased segregation and injustice to mention a few of the challenges we are all battling, I have noticed responses of fear, anger, (which are actually also the main drivers of populism) determination or simply adopting the ostrich approach, by sticking your head in the sand.
Here I ask, how do you find the resilience to keep leading change for a more sustainable world, and I will share with you my own personal reflections and top tips for building resilience. My hope is that you will take away some useful ideas on what to try in your own practice and I would love to hear back from you on what else you do to stay resilient in a challenging and complex world.
My top tips for staying resilient
The idea of Morning Pages originates from Julia Cameron, an American teacher and
author among many other talents. She is most famous for her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, and she has her own website which is where I first learned about the concept of Morning Pages, after a recommendation from a friend. I have been using the practice of writing Morning Pages for some time now, spending about 20-30 minutes every morning. It is a very simple yet effective exercise.
This is what you do: First thing in the morning you simply grab a pen and paper and write what is on your mind. This can be absolutely anything, there are no rules on what to write, no right or wrong way of doing it. The only rule relates to how much you write and even this I find myself tinkering with from time to time, not to make this yet another chore on the to-do-list of my day. Morning Pages should be three pages and in its original version, it should be longhand (i.e. ordinary handwriting). There is evidence which shows that writing by hand improves brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. It also helps you focus on the stuff you are actively working on. So I would highly encourage you to try it by hand. Having said this, for the technologically inclined there is an App to download on your phone called Morning Pages, and if this makes you more prone to trying it out, go for it (having an App does help you to do it anywhere, like when commuting to work on the train in the morning and of course has the added benefit of not using any paper resource).
In either way, the benefit is a de-cluttered mind; free from nagging thoughts and must-do’s, child tantrums, teenage grumpiness and dirty dishes; leaving you to focus and get on with what is important in your day. It can also help bring out new ideas and issues which have been lurking just out of reach of your conscious mind, helping you to move on where you might have been stuck on how to progress.
A recent report from Ashridge Business School highlights the benefits of better leadership, collaboration skills and resilience in a complex world by practicing mindfulness. What is there not to like about this? Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, not to getting distracted or overwhelmed about what is happening around us. The term ‘mindfulness’ is a translation of the Pali term sati (Pali is a language native to the Indian subcontinent) which is a significant element of Buddhist traditions.
To me, mindfulness allows you to slow down, notice what is going on and allowing you to practice active listening; qualities which are helpful in leading change and coaching. The world’s top companies are increasingly introducing mindfulness practices into their organisations to help employees reduce stress and anxiety, increase focus and attention, and ultimately enhance productivity. Why not try it yourself? It is worth noting that to gain the benefits you also need to keep up the good practice, ideally by building it into an existing routine (as this makes it easier to remember to do), and practicing it for at least 10 minutes every day.
Journaling is a similar practice to Morning Pages as it involves writing whatever is on your mind, but it can happen at any time of the day (Morning Pages should, as the name implies be written in the morning) and it can take any shape or form and is not focused on reaching three pages of longhand writing. Some people write what they are grateful for every day, some use it to digest their day, settling thoughts which may aid sleep, some do mind maps or bullet points, anything works. There is a growing body of evidence that this is great for our physical wellbeing.
I also find that when writing down a particular issue, a problem or a thought which is not yet quite developed, something that is waiting and wanting to be explored, something you don’t quite yet have the solution for, it can bring out new ideas, new thoughts, which are at the outskirts of your thinking. This can happen if you stay open to listening to your instincts, and what appears when you let the pen hit paper, letting the words just flow and letting what wants to emerge to emerge, not holding back. It might be a solution you had not thought of, something unexpected. It opens up for new thinking. Try it.
Walking in nature
Many of us lead busy working lives and have hectic private lives, where we are trying to fit in all our musts and have-to’s. At the height of busyness, I find that there is not much beating a walk outdoors to let go and find balance and resilience. A good pair of shoes is all that is needed. Take a few deep breaths, let your arms swing freely, enjoy some silence away from a busy office, maybe even practice mindfulness when walking. In Swedish, we would say that it is som balsam för själen or like balm for your soul. If you don’t have a forest path around the corner, a walk along a river or in the park, even if in a city setting, will do just as well.