Wisdom, grit and compassion

Leadership Summit, June 29 2018

Doug Parkin, programme director, Leadership Foundation explores what it means to be a leader with wisdom, grit and compassion within the context of the current higher education environment. Wisdom, grit and compassion are the stimulus for this year’s Leadership Summit 2018.

In a complex and rapidly evolving environment it takes wisdom for leaders to see that the answers lie in freedom rather than control, in engagement at least as much as direction, and in openness as an antidote to closed management.  It takes the strength of wisdom to see beyond the difficulties of today into the vast potential of tomorrow.  It takes both wisdom and grit to hold fast to a vision that makes a difference in the world; a purpose, cause or belief that transcends the turbulence of change.  And it takes wisdom and compassion to appreciate the impact of positive emotions on individual, team and organisational performance and the importance of creating organisations that people enjoy.

The Leadership Summit has been designed as an opportunity to strip away some of the complexity and get back to a small number of simple and powerful messages that lie at the heart of great, authentic leadership.  It is also an opportunity to engage with some of the most significant developments in leadership and governance that are taking place within and around the Higher Education sector at the current time.

We begin with three wisdoms:

Wisdom of self – “Knowing one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals – and their impact on others” Daniel Goleman,

Wisdom of others – In his book Flourish,  Martin Seligman  tells us that “… very little that is positive is solitary” and experience shows time and again that it takes collective commitment for organisations to succeed;

Wisdom of context – leadership always takes place in a context and needs to be attuned to the unique needs, challenges and cultural dimensions that make that context wonderfully special.

But wisdom can easily ebb away if it is not cherished and maintained by grit and personal resilience.  The fickle needs of transient agendas can take over, and before we know it we are focused more on structures than people, and more on crude outputs than transformational goals.  No one has written more powerfully and persuasively about the idea of grit than Angela Duckworth in her amazing book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  She makes it clear that “Enthusiasm is common; endurance is rare” and describes how “…. grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time,” whether at an individual or organisational level, and making it so interesting and clear that “most mid-level and low-level goals are, in some way or another, related to that ultimate goal”.  Her central, very focused message in Grit is that “the most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary”.

And with regard to compassion, our starting point is that engagement is a feeling.  It is a feeling that is fundamentally influenced by the emotional tone of the environment in which we find ourselves – the environment in which we either thrive or stagnate.  A key message for teachers is that very often ‘people won’t care what you know until they know that you care’.  In many ways the same rule applies to leadership.  Showing genuine concern is the cornerstone of collaborative leadership, whether in one-to-one supervision or as the head of a large prestigious institution.  Do you have the humility and the compassion to care for those you lead, and the courage to display this authentically?  If so, that can create the kind of trust and engagement that releases high levels of potential, personal energy and performance: compassion and passion are two sides of the same coin.  It also underpins a positive environment, and is part of a leader’s core responsibility to create an organisation that people enjoy.  It is part of their life, after all, whether they are staff, student, visitor, collaborator, community member or anyone else.

To hate is always foolish, and to love is always wise.  And perhaps the greatest wisdom of all is captured in what we could presumptuously call “Leadership value number one: love others and be kind to yourselfDoug Parkin.

Booking is now open for the Leadership Summit 2018 Wisdom, Grit and Compassion, which is taking place on Friday 29 June 2018 in London. Find out more here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/Summit2018

We are delighted to announce that David Taylor best-selling author of the Naked Leader, will be closing the conference with his work on the importance of authenticity with leaders.

Doug Parkin’s book Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Key Guide to designing and delivering courses was published by Routledge in 2017.