As we shared in our previous Ripple, we recently had an insightful discussion on interpersonal skills in organizations with our friends and partners from Growing Minds.
Today we continue that discussion with Susan Solvang and Izzy Solvang of Growing Minds, along with the leadership of Share Collaborative, to delve into the importance of mindful leadership for organizations. Why is it so critical that leadership “walk the talk” and grow along with their organization? How can leaders lead by example? And why is lifelong learning crucial to great leadership?
Growing Minds & Share Collaborative: Exploring Mindful Leadership
Susan Solvang and Izzy Solvang of Milwaukee’s Growing Minds join Share Collaborative’s Noor, Jojopah, and Shawn in this conversation on growth and mindfulness in leadership.
Share Collaborative and Growing Minds align in their mission in many ways, so the conversation applied to both organizations (and anyone looking for better ways to lead and serve others). We hope you find it as valuable and insightful as we did.
Jojopah: When we talk about human organizational development, it becomes really exciting. There’s such an opportunity to talk about things and put them into practice. Mindful leadership has become much more prioritized.
Susan: When we started Growing Minds, you literally couldn’t even say the word “yoga” in schools. There were lawsuits in California. Talking about mindfulness was totally out of the question. Now, there are so many leaders under so much pressure. They’re shifting towards mindful leadership practices and wellness skills because they have to.
We see this shift across music, sports, business, government—many different fields. The people we admire the most are using these mindful leadership skills that help them build self-awareness, moving us all toward more social awareness and deeper social connections.
People voluntarily want to participate in these mindful activities and learn these new skills and concepts to practice independently. They’re building up their neuroplasticity and shifting to what Carol Dweck describes as a Growth Mindset. The brain rewires itself based on experiences. Those become the thoughts you have and shape your approach.
People are applying these lessons of mindful leadership and growth, especially in schools.
It’s a whole concept of being able to edit yourself or edit your approach to your work. We’re in this mode of integration; we’re no longer in the investigative stage and wondering, “what is this concept.” We’ve moved past that, and people are learning they want to grow and sustain this mindset within their organizations. That’s what’s getting me so excited about our work these days.
The Journey to Mindful Leadership in Organizations
Shawn: What’s coming up for me is that we’re talking about the concept of “the journey.” It’s a constantly evolving exploration of who we are as humans on the planet, what approaches work in a given setting, and who leads others in teams and organizations. Based on my evolutionary journey, I’ve come to believe that if you prize people over profit, the profit will come.
There are lots of reasons to pay close attention to this concept too. The workforce is shrinking. There are more jobs right now than people to fill them. If I’m an employer, I want to offer people a place where they like what they’re doing. I want them to enjoy showing up to work. I want to foster a sense of community and belonging, no matter the work. It could be delivery services, food services, funeral services, social services, or any other job. If there’s not a sense of belonging, people won’t stay around for long. If there’s a sense of othering, hierarchy, or patriarchy, it isn’t going to fly anymore.
People are showing up more conscious of the diversity within themselves and more comfortable with expressing their unique identity.
Noor: I think we’ve run out of mechanistic options. The pressure is on! The steam is building. The top is bubbling up off the pot and what’s coming out is some pretty ugly stuff in some instances.
But along with that is a great new awareness. I also think we’re expanding our understanding of how to resonate with each other, and how to BE with each other. We’re learning how to BE with what’s showing up. We can face a violent situation, and if we meet it with fierce energy, we’re going to grow and multiply it. We see that happening all around us, all the time.
It’s a very limited option to keep operating the same way as always and expect a change to occur. It doesn’t make logical sense. So now we’re under this pressure. We know we cannot continue in the way we’ve been functioning as individuals within institutions or out in the world. We are one. We are all connected. Everything has always been connected. Even before we became who we are and what we do in our organizations.
I think after getting the smackdown enough times, we’re learning to have great reverence for the human development process. We all have an important role in the process of healing and supporting everything in our environment. The birds have a part, and the worms have a role, the sun, and so on. Our work is to find out what that connection is between each of us and all of those other things. How do we honor that? Honor some of the old and allow for some of the new. What never changes is that we are all here together and we all are called to step forward with a high level of respect for each other and our experiences
We are being invited to explore important questions. Why are WE here? What is OUR purpose? The work we do today will have an impact that ripples out very far, reaching long after we’re gone. Because of who WE are—not what we’re talking about, but who WE are together. The energy and love we bring to our engagement with others will continue to flow. It never changes. We just began to tell a different story about it, and now we’re invited to change that narrative. So, as we move forward, we ask who do WE choose to become together?
Izzy: Let’s go there! Who do we want to be? And how do we do it? Is it an individual choice? I hear a lot in this work that “first you have to love yourself.” You have to be kind to yourself for that to move outward. If we assume that’s accurate, how do we know it’s enough? What is the change, and how do we make that change towards mindful leadership?
Climbing the Mountain Within is Part of the Journey
Shawn: For me, it starts at the individual level. But if we’re talking about an organization, then it’s about creating the opportunity for this change to happen at the individual level. It’s like atoms bouncing off each other. Humans are bouncing off each other and affecting the energy. If I show up in a space and I’m ready to listen, that will change the energy. I’m going to present it as you just said, Noor. I love myself, I love showing up, and I love doing the work I’m doing! When you bring that energy, people are going to be like, “I want some of that! I want what he’s having!”
But if you don’t create the space for it to happen, then it can’t.
I imagine it as a mountain. We’re climbing the mountain to who we are individually and as a group of humans on the planet. It’s helpful to have a rope, carabiners, and other tools you need to climb, so we can all go together. We need a common understanding of the concepts and the skills related to them. It’s about first creating the space, then helping others connect with those skills and concepts within themselves to climb that mountain.
Noor: We’re always in a hurry to get to the next step on the journey. There’s nothing bad or wrong with wanting to know what’s next, but you can’t really know until it’s time to understand. As a collective, we must remind each other that we’re in a process. It’s a journey. A little is a lot. We’re not going to overturn 400 or 500 years of conditioning and institutional operations in a training session. We won’t even do it in a year of training. It’s about finding the balance between being here and now and fully engaged in the journey for the long haul. It isn’t going to be a straight path. It’s winding.
One of the thought leaders I follow recently sent out an update and said, “right now, it’s all about two steps forward and one step back. But that’s okay.” Wherever we are headed, we’re going to create that together. So it’s okay to decide that we’re working on it together, versus folks like myself and others discussing it and deciding for a whole community. We have to first find ways to connect, then let our vision come forth organically.
Unfortunately, that kind of collaboration isn’t always typical in organizations. We don’t usually function that way. We have separate documents, department heads, hoops, and bureaucracy. Yet, we all want to know what’s next. We don’t even know where we are or what we have. So to be reminded of that is really important.
I’ve had the opportunity and the blessing to travel to other countries—some called “developing countries”—and I’ve seen fulfilled and joyous people living with so much less. But we’ve forgotten how to do that. We live in a society where we have everything with the click of a button or touch of a finger. Covid and our experience with the pandemic helped us wake up to questioning—what do we need to create something different? Something new? What will work with us both as individuals and organizations?
Susan: In addition to being the change, it’s more than just self-awareness and self-regulation (which are words I use a lot). There’s also repairing and connecting. Sometimes, like with any relationship, you don’t like yourself all the time.
You need to change your mind. With other people, there are misunderstandings, and I’ve learned how important it is to show people that I care. When I’m with others, it’s crucial to show that I want to listen and understand. That creates a connection. It’s a softness. Even if it’s a simple topic like, “how would you make pasta for dinner?” You can’t tell someone the right way to do it. First, you have to understand where they’re coming from—what supplies do they have? What’s their background? Where is their thought process? Then you have to decide, “can I add to this or not?”
And when you make mistakes or move too fast, you realize, “I can make up for it.” You can go back and tap into that soft place inside—that place of being a human being. You can say, “I didn’t want to come across so aggressively. I apologize.” We have to change and work against our patterns as teachers. We have to be the change. We have to tap into the place where we’re fluid and responsive while still showing that we care. We want to listen and learn.
See the Change to Mindful Leadership Happening
Jojopah: I have a cosmic perspective on the change that I believe is happening right now. We’re in the midst of something, as Noor says, “really un-comprehendible.” We don’t have access to even understanding it all. So it’s not yet in an easy, practical application, but we’re going to get there. What I see based on what’s happening with humanity—what I’ve been tuned into for many years—is we’re going from being disposable to divine.
Being disposable has been a conditioning for people. It goes back to the times of the plague and the times of the Vikings. The Vikings would come in, burn down the town and strip away the culture. They would steal the culture. Every group of people on the planet has had that experience because of wars in one way or another. During the plague in Europe and Asia, people had the experience of waking up in the morning, and everyone in their town was dead. Imagine you’re the only person left. You’re a kid, and you don’t understand microbiology. Right there, you’re locked into believing, “this must have been destined to happen. I must be the good one. I’m ordained.” Thus begins this whole dominance system and mentality we’re still grappling with today.
The idea that people are disposable is reflected in Western culture in so many ways. It’s not an idea taken from what the West calls developing countries, and I call ancient or wisdom countries, where people have access to spiritual intelligence. They aren’t inundated with things like we are. To be on track to divinity, you have to realize that you’re here for a purpose. It’s a sacred contract that overrides the needs of the economy. The United States is the only country that was established for economic reasons. It wasn’t like a nomadic culture that drifted into a spot. We’re very much into this idea of economic survival, so it’s hard for us to believe and accept that we’re divine.
To get to the divinity consciousness, where we have reverence for our lives, all living creates, and each other, takes an evolved realization. In that state, we wouldn’t think of putting people in prison to rot away. Instead, we’d realize that their vices took over, and we need to support them in their healing and growth—not retraumatize them.
It comes down to a level of awareness and practice. It’s about choosing love over fear. The ability to choose love over fear starts with mindfulness.
We get it by being able to experience our lives differently. We realize that we’re no longer subjected to the belief that we’re here to struggle and suffer. That’s where I think we’re headed. That’s the change I’m here for and to what I want to contribute. I’m curious and excited to be alive at this time –to learn how we get closer to understanding that we came from stardust and are here for a purpose.
To learn more about the critical work at Share Collaborative or Growing Minds, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We look forward to helping you connect with others wherever you are on your journey.