Leading with Equanimity

Leading with equanimity can lead to a spacious mind. A February morning in New Jersey.

Do you lead with equanimity? What does equanimity mean to you? When I first heard the phrase ‘lead with equanimity’, I would imagine someone who was standing still in the middle of chaos, someone who did not waver or show emotion, someone who did not react and was ultimately possibly ineffective. To me, this is no longer a true or complete version of leading with equanimity. 

My Early Thoughts

When I first started my journey into leadership, I found that I became easily tightly attached to an idea or plan. I had thought long and hard about how the plan was going to work and stuck to it. Sometimes, I was so attached to the plan or idea that I could not see some pitfalls, unintended consequences, alternative ways to proceed, or necessary course changes. Other times, I found myself so averse to an idea or plan that I could not possibly see a way for it to work. Neither path was helpful. Neither path put me in a position to learn. As a young child attending the Buddhist temple, I would watch the priest sitting very still in his orange robes with his eyes cast downwards and a serene smile on his face and think now that must be equanimity. One dictionary defines equanimity as an ‘evenness of mind, especially under stress.”  As practice and reflection have shown me, equanimity is not necessarily any of these alone.

What I am Learning

Kamala Masters on the Ten Percent Happier Podcast talks in-depth about equanimity. She defines equanimity as having, “a spacious mind that can include everything but not be reactive to anything.” She defines reactivity as having two categories, aversion and attachment. Then, equanimity is a response to what is happening to us without reactivity or without aversion and attachment or at least being aware of the reactivity. To me, leading with equanimity is an active, intentional, and thoughtful way of leading. Leading with equanimity is about knowing when to resist taking action and when to take action. Equanimity is also about knowing when we are holding strong to an idea, plan, or viewpoint and knowing when to broaden, partner, or let go. I have found equanimity requires a level of awareness about my own actions, thoughts, and intentions. This is continuous work, of course. Once again, ongoing practice and reflection are vital to this process.  

Basic Tips for Leading with Equanimity

  • Listen to your people. You will learn so much from listening. Know when to let go of or expand your thoughts or plan. What feedback are you getting?
  • Take time to reflect. Think about your actions and thoughts. You are more likely to react wisely once you have had time to reflect. Where do you see patterns in your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors?
  • Notice when attachment and resistance rise up for you. Attachment is when we cling to or tightly grasp an idea, thought, or decision. Resistance is when we push hard against an idea, thought, or decision. Look for patterns for when you grasp or resist. You will learn a lot about yourself as a leader and as a human. It’s all good information and helps us be aware of our intentions.
  • Feel your feelings. Equanimity is not about having no feelings or just being calm. Be aware of your feelings and how they influence you to maybe resist, attach, or something else.

Ultimately, leading with equanimity is about knowing your own mind and gaining awareness about yourself. When I take time to know my own mind, I tend to react a bit more wisely, rather than impulsively or blindly and I ultimately gain a glimmer of that sense of spaciousness.