Leadership · Life · parenting · Work

Our Constant Struggle to Make It Simpler

This is part 8 of my 8-part series focusing on Marc Lesser’s latest book, Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader. If you missed part 1-7, check them out here. Before we start, please take a moment and sign up for my newsletter.

We’ve come a long way and have made it to the seventh and final post in our look at Marc Lesser’s Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader. This practice focuses on our ability to take a step back, remember our priority, and test some assumptions. Welcome to the seventh practice – Keep Making It Simpler.

It’s easier to take the complex road in our work as leaders. Keep adding tools, resources, ideas to our toolboxes and we want to play with them. We go to conferences or workshops and want to implement something new. Or we are striving to impress our own bosses and the people on our teams suffer the consequences.

Many of us work in industries driven by goals and plans. Key Performance Indicators, Campus/District Improvement, goals of more types than we can remember often shape our decision-making more than we like. And as leaders, we must remember that our goals shape the behavior of those on our teams. We can’t pretend we operate in a vacuum. Everything is connected and too often these goals and plans add unnecessary complexity or inject unintended consequences.

The complex path is easy but it’s also shallow, and it allows us to spread out accountability. It also provides us as leaders additional cover if the results do not pan out the way you were hoping. But, that is playing not to lose rather than to win. This often plays out by over-intervening. We add layer upon layer of programs so at the end of the day we can say, “we did everything we could,” or, “we covered everything.” We rarely are asked if by doing/covering everything, we made the system too complex and did nothing well.

So it’s the simple path that is hard, but lasting. It’s the simple path that provides our teams the space to do their best work and become mindful leaders themselves.

How then, do we protect our teams from the barrage of noise looking to invade their work, the anxiety that comes from a perception that they must do everything, and the fear that can permeate a culture driven by an annual performance measure?

Lesser takes us back to where we started so many weeks ago. We help our teams make things simpler by making things simpler ourselves. He suggests a meditative practice of “letting go.” The ideas he tells us to let go of are the exact things others in our lives are telling us to pay attention to, so there is an inherent societal conflict in making things simpler. Simple is rarely praised or rewarded. The practice outlined in the picture below does not tell us to permanently let go of our to-do lists and our expectations of others, but rather to lean into the feeling of how we would see our work without these burdens.

Another aspect of Keep Making it Simpler suggested by Lesser is responding to the expectation of others that, “we are all so busy.”

Does anyone else struggle with how to respond to colleagues who assume we are feeling as busy as they are? I’m never sure how to respond. I have as much to do as anyone else, but at the same time do everything I can to never feel busy. When I find myself feeling busy, that’s an internal message I’m doing something wrong – not a badge of honor. Yet, when someone asks me if, or assumes I’m busy, then I feel social pressure to make a heavy sigh, hitch up by belt, and say something like, “oh yea,” or “sure am.” But, am I doing something wrong or is my work less important if I’m not busy? I don’t think so. Some internal work to do there for sure.

Luckily Lesser shares my aversion to promoting busyness, “To me, busyness means becoming caught up in that complexity and losing sight of what’s important. Busyness equates to mindless rushing. For me, the antidote to busyness is remembering to be mindful and to practice being focused, engaged, and spacious.” Here’s what he means by focused, engaged, and spacious:

My final suggestion on this last practice of a mindful leader is to make seasonal assessments of where we can cut back. Cut back on programs, goals, initiatives, projects that aren’t moving, and anything else we can. This is easier said than done and also something I struggle with, but complexity relentlessly works its way into our lives everyday. And if we don’t stop at least four times a year and see where we can clean out and wash away some of the noise, we will drown as a leader. The easiest way to make things simpler is to do less. If you have thoughts on how to effectively work against the creep of complexity, please share them in the comments.


So there we have it. Over the last two months we dove deep into each of these practices of a mindful leader:

I hope you enjoyed the discussion and would love ideas on other books to take a closer look at in the comments. My key learning from spending a day with Marc Lesser back in September and his book is the value of making an appropriate and intentional response. Our ability to respond to any situation as a mindful leader is essential to provide the space for our teams and families to flourish.

And the way we cultivate our ability to make the mindful response is through practices such as these. The good news is that as a leader or family member we have countless opportunities to work on ourselves by practicing our thinking, listening, and ability to provide space.

Thanks for joining us on the journey. Did you miss a stop? Check out the whole series here.

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