Combatting the “Icebergs” of Leadership with Stillness
Over the past three weeks, in year one of the Master of Catholic Leadership, our students work with Drs. Dahm (Philosophy), Breuninger (Psychology), and O’Brien (Psychology) to investigate the application of virtues, flourishing leadership and the process of action research. Thinking back on when we were building our program, how could we have fully understood the power of this body of work at this present time in our lives. Immersed in an ongoing dialog with our school partnerships, and alumni have been empowering and also humbling. They are living the leadership scenarios; we could only hope would not come.
The recent events over the last two weeks have leveled the experience threshold making all things equal when it comes to leadership. There have been many national catastrophes. Still, this global event has created a shift in the paradigm.
What can we draw from this? In my opinion, it is a sense of resilience. In the book Flourish by Martin Seligman (2013) in which, our students are reading right now. Seligman share examples of the power of positive psychology and developing one’s own pathway.
St. Catherine of Siena offers, “Nothing great is ever achieved without enduring much.” And as the laity, we approach our challenges with hope and confidence that the Lord will guide our decisions. We must also accept that we are individuals who need to build our unique gifts and talents with skills that keep us striving toward that hope. Our negative thoughts and feelings about what is to come steal our resilience. The ability to work through such challenges gives leaders the confidence to be authentic even in the most trying times.
One example that Seligman shared is the concept of thinking traps. Thinking traps come in many forms, overgeneralizing situations or the terminology of “icebergs,” those deeply held beliefs that often lead to out of kilter emotional reactions (p. 168). At times we have all fallen into one of the two scenarios in our leadership. Add the mounting wave of communications, fear, and overhaul of academic delivery. If you are a school leader, the icebergs are everywhere in your environment right now.
A practical application by Seligman is putting into practice the minimization of catastrophic thinking by adjusting the scenario. Seligman defines these as the worst-case scenario, best-case scenario, and most likely. When faced with a leadership challenge this coming week, I suggest trying to implement this formula. First, find space to think through the three scenarios. In the book Stillness Is The Key by Ryan Holiday (2019), by slowing things down, we begin to have the ability to not react with gut feelings. Many factors distract us from stillness. The continuous input of technology, checking the news, updates on social media, and the responsibility of accountability to so many in leadership. However, taking time to cultivate stillness may be a new skill needed when facing the storm. Holiday offers journaling as a tool to meet the tough questions of the day or seek clarity of how actions have played out. He also suggests parameters on your availability at times throughout the day and finding beauty, whether that be in cultivating a hobby or physical activity, as another option for silence.
As in any new habit. Stillness may feel awkward at first. It is a new practice, and as Charles Duhigg (2012) suggests in The Power of Habit, patterns comprise a cue- routine loop of rewards. To make the change to silence, there must be a reward to encourage sticking with it.
Once you have entered a space of stillness, begin to envision the worst-case scenario. Layout all the details, and perhaps this is best done in a conversation or journaling, as suggested by Holiday. Next, list what would be the best-case scenario defining all that you hope will come to fruition at present. Finally, end with the most likely scenario. This will take the most time given you will be thinking through your past experiences. Reflect upon the decisions you made in the past and build upon those lessons learned. Here is where stillness plays the most significant part. Identify the most likely outcome and begin to develop your mental thinking through the cycle of gathering evidence, using optimism, and putting it into perspective (p. 170).
I would go even further to add you pull in some of your team to participate in the process. The ability to self-talk through adversity can be the pause needed to make more transparent decisions from a place of experience as opposed to fear. Also, including your team demonstrates the ability to listen authentically, promote talent from within, and recognize the importance of community.
I hope this small suggestion brings peace to a challenge you face this week. Please know that the MCL team and I personally are here in the community with Franciscan University and our Friars to serve you and all those you hold in your care.