The experience of stillness has the benefits of increased attentiveness and detachment while at the same time nurturing connectedness to a bigger picture and deeper meaning. This can be illustrated by Saint-Exupery’s desert experience. In Dec. 1935 Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, crashed in the desert. In his story of survival in Wind, Sand and Stars (2000), he speaks of the virtues of attentiveness, detachment and single mindedness:
He remained stubbornly indifferent to the panic, pain, and despair which preyed on his mind. Learning to be fiercely attentive, he learned also to ignore everything unnecessary, everything unrelated to the primary task of staying alive. (Lane, 1998, p. 186)
Stillness has the effect of fostering a dispassionate approach to life, not suggestive of an uncaring disinterest but rather the ordering of one’s desires by paying attention to what matters and letting go of the rest. T.S. Eliot, in his poem, Ash Wednesday prayed for both: “Teach us to care and not to care” (p. 61). In this sense, stillness serves as a corrective lens, a way to discover balance between attentiveness and detachment and thereby gain clarity about what to attend to and how to conduct oneself.
Stillness is also an antidote for stress and reactive behavior in leaders, as medical doctor Daniel Friedland (2016) admonishes:
Leaders who are unaware and/or ill-equipped to deal with their reactions to stress and self-doubt are predisposed to act from a reactive mindset, especially in VUCA environments. These leaders are prone to act from a place of personal power and self-interest, rather than the common good, where financial interests hold sway over core values, social interests, and the delivery of quality and value. All of these can erode a sense of meaning and purpose and increase the risk of burnout within a culture.
To counteract this erosion of meaning and risk of burnout, Victor Frankl’s often-quoted phrase captures the conscious choice we all have: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Frankl et al., 2015). Stillness can help us make this choice.
The development of leadership studies points to a deeper appreciation of the interiority of the leader in which the personal growth, ongoing transformation, emotional wellbeing and resilience of the leader are seen as key elements of leadership excellence (Benefiel, 2019; Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018; Fry and Kriger, 2009; Ying Gao 2018; George, 2003, 2010; Walumbwa et al, 2010). This series of five posts has explored the practice of stillness and its influence on leadership.
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De Saint-Exupery, A. (2000). Wind, Sand, And Stars. Penguin Classic.
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Frankl, V.E., Lasch, I., Kushner, H.S. and Wnislade, W.J. (2015). Man’s search for meaning. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press.
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Fry, L. and Kriger, M. (2009). Towards a theory of being-centered leadership: Multiple levels of being as context for effective leadership. Human Relations, 62(11), pp.1667–1696.
George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership : rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
George, B. (2010). Mindful Leadership: Compassion, Contemplation and Meditation Develop Effective Leaders. Bill George. Available at: https://www.billgeorge.org/articles/mindful-leadership-compassion-contemplation-and-meditation-develop-effective-leaders/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2020].
Lane, B.C. (1998). The solace of fierce landscapes : exploring desert and mountain spirituality. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Walumbwa, F.O., Hartnell, C.A. and Oke, A. (2010). Servant leadership, procedural justice climate, service climate, employee attitudes, and organizational citizenship behavior: A cross-level investigation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(3), pp.517–529.
Ying Gao, C. (2018). A Narrative Inquiry into Contemplative Leadership: Concepts, Characteristics, Challenges, Opportunities. [online] pp.1–269. Available at: https://scholar.google.ca/scholar?cluster=5419158117977677381&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&as_vis=1 [Accessed 20 Sep. 2020].