Leading Change with Compassion (Part 2)

“I can’t believe I left my classroom in June with a television hanging by a single bolt and now, on September 1, it is lying on my desk unusable.  As I strap on the toolbelt, the words ‘for the children,’ ring in my mind.  I registered my frustration because this isn’t the best use of my time” (K. Veldhoen, personal communication, 2022).

“The buses are still late every day.  By ‘late,’  I mean over an hour.  The latest bus is always carrying my most vulnerable students from ‘that’ side of town. Then, at the end of the day, we’re also not sure when they’ll be back to pick up the children. The injustice is horrifying” (K. Veldhoen, personal communication, 2022).

“Four weeks in and I was ready to quit.  It was only my second year in the community and last year was grueling.  I struggled to face another” (K. Veldhoen, personal communication, 2022).

These reflections are just some of the comments I heard this fall as I served school leaders as a coach and a consultant.  They are representative of the challenges we face as individuals who are caught up in larger, imperfect systems.

Photo by Dave Lowe on Unsplash

In education, we find ourselves in systems heaving under the strain of the pandemic, global inequalities, ecological crises, and racial reckoning.

Here I borrow heavily from Dr. Peter Senge and Dr. Metta Boell of MIT’s Center for Systems Awareness (2019) who state, “As we seek solutions to these worldwide issues, we must also find ways to help young people to cope with their complexity. This involves teaching them how to reflect on, deeply understand, and respond mindfully and compassionately to systemic challenges in their own lives and beyond, their connections to one another and their impact on us as individuals and on our communities.”

Compassionate Systems Approach

So, a compassionate systems approach is crucial to leading change with adaptability.  Compassionate integrity helps every member of our community be aware of our interconnectedness and grow in alignment with how we think, feel, and act (Senge et al., 2019).

In part, it is essential to lead change with compassion for the experience of being human and for the systemic issues at play.  As leaders, we must begin by cultivating the capacity to be both aware and act to address the suffering of a person or system.  It begins with our own equanimity and cultivating a team purposefully engaged in collective care.

It begins with our own equanimity

and cultivating a team

purposefully engaged in collective care.

In my leadership practice, I began with meditative and interpersonal times to connect.  We had a 15min stand-up meetings before school twice a week.  

Now, I begin meetings with breathwork.  “Some of the core practices include meditative reflection, deep listening or ‘Check-Ins’ where we provide our full care and attention to another, circle practices, journaling, developing awareness of our own ways of seeing and making sense” (Senge, et al., 2019).

The simple act of inviting relaxation for the team, designing significant connecting points, and empowering them to envision a way forward is life-giving.  As a leader, you intentionally build the container for this to happen.

If you need a resource, check out a free session of breathwork, hot topics, and visualization from Passageways – Powerful Team-Building Experiences.

As we build these check-in rituals and practices, we access our compassion, and our capacity to hold human suffering expands.  Our compassion serves us as we step into the adaptive process.

A compassionate approach to change looks like:

  • Beginning with check-ins with authentic and equitable sharing in dyads or triads
    • How am I today? What is moving in me today?
  • Seeking to understand the mental models and perspectives of others.
  • Creating a generative social space, where inclusion, respectful dialogue, and amplifying the voices of the marginalized are consistent.
  • Naming the system-level issue versus blaming individual people.
  • Co-creating solutions with compassion

Choosing to lead change with compassion will primarily be inner work for the leader. It will feel like reflecting, intentionally changing the pace, surfacing the paradoxes, using metaphors effectively, and pursuing equanimity.

If you are interested in the inner work of a leader, including identity, mindsets, strengths, and story, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We have a journey designed for you.

For the sake of the children,