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Developing Mindfulness Through Action Learning

by May 1, 2019

One of the key outcomes of mindfulness is self-awareness – awareness of our own words and actions and their impact on others.  Action learning contributes to self-awareness because it involves working on real problems in real time with a supportive group that is prepared to challenge assumptions, beliefs and perceptions. Action learning thus engenders self-awareness when it is undertaken in a “learning set” where the members understand the role of “supportive challenge”.

There are many paths to mindfulness but action learning provides the opportunity for a work-based approach that embeds the process of developing consciousness within the work context itself.  A supportive action learning set can challenge unfounded assumptions, self-limiting beliefs and false perceptions – but do so in a way that builds self-esteem rather than diminishes it.

Mindfulness developed through a wide range of activities outside the workplace can be a powerful means for a manager to shape team culture.  How much more powerful then is self-awareness developed in and through reflective action in the workplace. Professor Bill George of the Harvard Business School (HBS) is head of the HBS mindfulness-based leadership development program.  He makes the point that group support (as in an action learning set) is critical to the development of mindfulness for participants in his programs:

Group support as practised in True North Groups [HBS Leadership Program] consists of a small number of peers (usually five to eight) willing to share themselves and their lives and support each other through both good and difficult times.  A key element of these groups is learning to give and receive non-judgmental feedback in order to recognize blind spots, accept shortcomings, and gain confidence to address great challenges in their lives.

Reg Revans in his 1982 book, The Origins and Growth of Action Learning, suggests that action learning can generate self-awareness at a very deep level:

Action learning particularly obliges subjects to become aware of their own value systems, by demanding that the real problems tackled carry some risk of personal failure, so that the subjects can truly help each other to evaluate in what they may genuinely believe. (p.627)

Elsewhere, Revans argues that when people set out to “do something effective about something imperative”, and do so with the “constructive scrutiny” of supportive colleagues, they come up against how they see themselves, how they define their role and how they act in their work environment (in Pedler, 1991).  This self-disclosure enables them to get in touch with why they say the things they say, do the things they do and value the things they value.  They become increasingly aware not only of themselves and their own behaviour but also of the impact of their words and actions on others.

Mindfulness is a lifetime pursuit that is being widely recognised in organisations as a path to effective leadership.  Action learning can accelerate the development of mindfulness if it engages people in the process of taking significant action in the workplace with the support of colleagues who challenge in a respectful and enabling manner.

Please contact me if you would like to learn more about mindfulness and action learning.

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