Our challenging corporate world demands executives who are Psychologically Flexible. It may seem as though some leaders simply have a better knack than others for setting aside their own internal struggles to maintain positive momentum. Research is beginning to suggest this distinguishing factor is Psychological Flexibility. It is the capacity to be in the present moment, perceiving your own thoughts and feelings whilst directing your core attention and resources towards actions that service long term values. Put simply by Russ Harris owner of Psychological Flexibility Pty Ltd, it is about ‘embracing your demons, and following your heart’. It is a strategy for achieving authentic leadership in the real world, under pressure, and it takes practise.
Rachel Collis, an Executive Coach and Psychologist held a thought-provoking seminar in Melbourne last weekend on how to assess and build psychological flexibility. Supported by a strong evidence base in clinical settings, Rachel advocated the use of Acceptance & Commitment Training (ACT) as a modern alternative to traditional cognitive behavioural approaches in the corporate world. Emerging research supports the use of ACT as a way to help leaders to assess and build psychological flexibility, to not only better cope with inevitable stressors, challenges and setbacks, but to do in such a way that they are freed to pursue their values.
Many readers would be familiar with traditional cognitive behavioural techniques, focussed on improving the content of our thoughts and feelings by evaluating, disputing, and reframing, and subsequently changing our behaviours and affect. Radically, ACT research tells us to
forget about wasting our precious time, energy, and self-regulatory strength trying to avoid, alter, or eliminate unwanted thoughts and feelings.
In fact, it argues that these efforts can cause greater psychological suffering. Instead, ACT suggests we change the relationship we have with our internal experiences, noticing and acknowledging with kindness and compassion our thoughts and feelings as fleeting psychological states, thereby reducing their impact and influence, and enabling us to do more of what we value.
It's this values base that is so critical to ACT. Authentic leaders know who they are and their values bolster their ability to defuse unhelpful inner experiences to guide moment to moment behaviours with consistency.
The seminar covered ways to boost psychological flexibility including:
- be present in the moment (ACT is centred in mindfulness practice);
- know your values - clarify what is important to you;
- don't let your thoughts and feelings get in the way a) 'step back' and create distance between you and your thoughts, and b) sit with and accept your feelings;
- be open to, and curious about others’ perspectives; and
- set goals in the direction of your values, and take effective action to achieve them.
It will be interesting to watch as research continues into ACT's application in the corporate environment. In the meantime, perhaps you give it a go? As a leader, what inner experiences get in the way for you? How do you currently manage these thoughts and feelings? Could you put your energy and resources to better use by stepping back, noticing your inner experiences, and applying values-based action? __________________________________________________________________
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.