The Practice of Courage
I began my career many years ago teaching English and professional communication in Osaka, Japan, where I first learned the Japanese chant sung during Awa Odori, one of the largest dance festivals in the world:
(The dancers are fools…)
(The watchers are fools…)
(Both are fools alike…)
(So why not dance?)
I love this idea, and over the years it’s become something of a personal and professional motto. Whenever I’ve been faced with a difficult decision, or a moment of change or uncertainty, the phrase has come to me as a way of remembering:
Be courageous! Be open to new experiences! And when given the chance, don’t sit on the sidelines—take that leap of faith!
The Practice of Authenticity
Another cornerstone of my leadership philosophy is that genuine success depends on building a culture of mutual support and continuous improvement in which creativity and experimentation are highly valued, and where each day is truly seen as an opportunity for discovery and growth. I try to inspire those around me to think boldly, to strive for excellence, and to take risks. I do this first and foremost by always striving to be intellectually and emotionally present, communicating openly and honestly—particularly when the stakes are high—and by being as transparent as possible when making decisions. In turn, I welcome openness and candor among my colleagues and teammates, and look for opportunities to bring diverse ideas and voices together when formulating comprehensive plans of action.
For those familiar with the Gallup StrengthsFinder, my top themes reflect the qualities I bring to an organization: futuristic—the ability to see trends or opportunities over the horizon, and to inspire action through a shared vision; strategic—a talent for recognizing patterns, and of seeing multiple solutions and paths forward in even the most complex situations; positivity—a natural optimism about what’s possible, and an openness that buoys and motivates those around me; learner—a passion for continuous improvement and growth; and achiever—a commitment to hard work, to setting ambitious goals, and to seeing big projects through to completion.
The Practice of Mindfulness
Another key to understanding my approach to leadership is the notion of mindfulness, or what some call centeredness. I lead with passion and courage, to be sure, and believe in the power of taking bold, decisive action. But often one of the most courageous actions we can take in a situation is listening attentively, opening ourselves up to different points views, and giving ourselves the time and space to truly reflect on the complexities and nuances of the moment.
In this regard, I have found the work done by organizations such as Bain & Company on the Science of Centeredness very compelling.
Indeed, Mark Horwitch defines centeredness, “as the ability, acquired through learned practice, to apply a set of physical and mental skills that help create a state of greater mindfulness. Mindfulness is attained by paying nonjudgmental attention to one’s thoughts, feelings and surroundings, and then adjusting one’s thinking, decisions and actions in a nonhabitual, creative and positive manner.”
As a leader, a partner, a parent, and a friend, I strive for balance, which means first and foremost being willing to communicate openly and honestly—with humility, empathy, humor, and grace. It also requires the willingness to step back and to authentically reflect on one’s own reactions and attachments—particularly in moments of conflict and stress—in order to respond with equanimity. Given the complexities, tensions, and competing pressures that modern institutions and leaders face, I see the practice of mindfulness as a critical to growth.