How Reflective Walking Can Make you a Better Leader
We are pleased to announce that our innovative work on Reflective walking has been noted by ‘Management Today‘. It states that
Managers are being advised to amble outside of their normal working environment to help solve problems.
‘Reflective walking’ sounds like the kind of New Age fad favoured by Highgate Mums in between their juice cleanse and taking little Petronella to ballet classes. But taking some time out for a meditative stroll could help you solve problems and become a better leader or manager, according to leadership training company Call of the Wild.
“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs” (Jean-Jaques Roussaeu)
“If we want to see a situation from a different viewpoint, adjusting our position, either metaphorically or literally allows us to do so” (Ladkin 2010)
“Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremony.” (Victor Turner)
Walking is part of the human evolutionary story, but the conscious act of walking as recreation and reflection dates back only a few hundred years in Europe. Proponents of walking at this time sought to further justify this habit by referring to the Ancient Greek tradition of the wondering philosopher; it is indeed appealing to imagine the image of the itinerant Sophist travelling from place to place selling knowledge to a local population seeking wisdom. It is this link between the mental and physical aspect of reflection and the attainment of knowledge that particularly interests us in the sphere of leadership development and which has influenced the practical application of walking in our leadership and management development programmes.
The process of walking involves the person doing the walking, moving through the physical world in which “leadership” occurs. This idea may be summarised by the French philosopher Merleau Ponty who stated that “The world is not what I think but what I live though”, reflective leadership walking allows us to consider the phenomenon of leadership from the mind/body perspective. The idea of a walk or journey also has the connotation of a “liminal” space as described by the anthropologist Victor Turner. Liminal spaces are places of limbo and threshold, spaces where we abide as we wait to move from what we were to what we will become; boyhood to manhood, wife to mother, ignorance to knowledge.
It is within the geographical liminal space of a leadership walk that our particular interest lies. This is the effect of the environment on the mental processes of the delegates and the facilitators alike, what Will Self would term as psycho-geography. Psycho-geography relates to the playfulness and naturally occurring impact of outdoor environments on the human ability to think and reflect. The act of walking offers the walker a “place and space” to reflect and consider the experiences that await them as leaders back in the workplace. The concept of a liminal space in this context may be therefore understood as a place where ideas and concepts of the phenomenon we call leadership are in various stages of flux and negotiation.
We also draw on the ideas of Dr Donna Ladkin as described in her book “Rethinking Leadership”, where she offers a new perspective on leadership by taking a philosophical stance and asking new questions about the very nature of leadership. Her reference to “Sides, Aspects and Identity” where the observer of a phenomenon is forced to “fill in” the unobservable elements of that particular phenomenon, is, we feel, particularly relevant. It is only by changing their perspective, physically or metaphorically that the observer is able to see a phenomenon such as leadership from a different perspective. The different aspects offered by a reflective leadership walk appear to be a fruitful area for further consideration.
The practical and theoretical basis for reflective leadership walking continues to evolve in close partnership with Dr Arthur Turner from the Professional Development Centre, with whom we took our first metaphorical steps on this journey. Dr Turner and Call of the Wild’s Kevin Gould were recently invited by Dr Gareth Edwards, Associate Professor of Leadership Development, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England to present at a symposium he had organised on “Reflective Walking for Leadership Research”. Arthur and Kevin were asked to share with the group our practical experiences of walking with our clients. The discussion they had with the group proved to be thought provoking. They also invited the group to experience a reflective walk in pairs around the corridors and outside spaces of Bristol City Hall.
The subsequent feedback from the walkers included references to “the feeling of being an observer, outside of the actual world”, “it was interesting how movement and pauses in movement had a direct impact on the reflective process” and “the act of walking side by side with my partner meant that there was no hierarchy” The closing group discussion proved to be highly interactive and resulted in Call of the Wild being asked by Dr Edwards to explore the idea of further collaboration with the research group which has begun to explore these emergent themes. We look forward to developing a greater understanding of the processes behind what appears to be a potentially fruitful concept.
We look forward to working with Arthur and Gareth to further explore and develop our ideas in this exciting and productive development space.
To view the article in Management Today click here