Mindfulness into Action: Applying Systemic Thinking and Exploring the Potential for Developing Reflective Leaders

Mindfulness into Action: Applying Systemic Thinking and Exploring the Potential for Developing Reflective Leaders

Mariana I. Vergara Esquivel (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), Barbara Wallace (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), Xiaoxue Du (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), Yi-Hui Chang (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), Aurora Brito (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), Fung Ling Ong (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), Edmund W. Gordon (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA), Adam Mac Quarrie (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway), Carl D. Brustad Tjernstad (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway), Hroar Klempe (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway), Jingyi Dong (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway), Ingunn Hagen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway), Marit Honerød Hoveid (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway), Mariana I. Tamariz (Rutgers University, USA), Daniel Williams (University of Massachusetts, USA), David Lauri (Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain), Rosario Galvan (Center for World Indigenous Studies, USA), Yvonne Dennis (Nitchen, USA) and Julia A. Morales-Abbud (New York University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch097


Our Mindfulness into Action (MIA) research includes indigenous practices in exploring the potential for developing reflective leaders. When conducting research, Flood (2006) describes the system thinking approach as having two components: system thinking and systemic thinking. Understanding the difference between these two influences would provide a more comprehensive understanding of this phenomenon (intangible) and how it relates to research. System thinking is objective (tangible). This objective data is measured by quantitative and qualitative research method approaches. On the other hand, systemic thinking is subjective (intangible) as in the case with our taken-for-granted assumptions, which in this dissertation are measured qualitatively. The power of effective problem solving not only involves efficiency (tangible data), but also evaluates perspectives. Scholars such as, Senge (1990) describes this involuntary habitual life as mental models, yet we continue to operate within “the Veil” (Du Bois, 1989). Peter Senge (1990) questions if we are prisoners of the system or prisoners of our own thinking. In his book “The Fifth Discipline” he describes mental models as deeply engrained assumptions, generalizations or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. If we can identify our mental models, this information can help in appreciating the forces that are shaping reality and how we are part of those forces and therefore, we can in turn affect them. Identifying our mental models allows for a neutral ground where different perspectives can meet to find a possible solution to the issue at hand. As participants identify their mental models, we describe the data from a MIA exploratory study; this chapter develops in four dimensions: subjectivity (e.g. mental models), objectivity (e.g. behavior), inter-subjectivity (e.g., culture), and inter-objectivity (e.g. systems).
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We begin this chapter with the examination of this form of experience, we continue with a literature review about mindfulness that represents the characteristics participants apparently achieved after the intervention. Then, we describe the research methodology used in this study; continue with understanding the findings of this study, and theory development.

We were able to obtain a big picture understanding, which resulted in the organization of the themes into three phases:

  • 1.

    Before the intervention,

  • 2.

    During the intervention, and

  • 3.

    After the intervention, with the description of the three phases of this apparent transformation that emerged from the data.

Beginning with the initial phase, which was categorized by an automatic response to life events (before the intervention).

Continuing the process the second phase was only accessible after participants began the reflecting exercise (while doing indigenous techniques) as preparation for the meeting (during the intervention). Participants portrayed this phase as the ability to ‘observe’ behavioral patterns in themselves and others. Though participants were able to observe the behavior, they were unable to change it.

Data suggest that phase three allowed participants’ the ability to observe and choose their next step (after the intervention). Participants were consciously aware that their newly found awareness required constant “checking-in” as a way of preventing “snapping back” to their old ways.

This chapter develops in four dimensions: subjectivity (e.g., mental models), objectivity (e.g., behavior), inter-subjectivity (e.g., culture), and inter-objectivity (e.g. systems). We begin with intra subjectivity when participants perform the reflection exercises. When participants are meeting at their weekly meeting, they exercise inter subjectivity as they discuss what they found during the week while doing the reflection exercises and indigenous practices. The data begins to suggest a transformation of perception in participants when they move into intra objectivity, which this study calls the third head where participants are capable of observing themselves. Inter objectivity happens when participants practice and implement this intervention in a volunteer basis, while they facilitate the development of an exchanged, masters, doctoral, and postdoctoral programs in Adult Learning, Leadership and Sustainability between the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the Universidad Tecnica del Norte in Ecuador to support the efforts of the Kichwa community to preserve the Amazon rainforest. We resume with the finalizing: the grounded theory that emerges from this research along with a conclusion.


Examining The Form Of The Experience

Vergara (2016) describes that in her my work as a researcher, she learned that our biggest downfalls are our assumptions; thus we must approach all circumstances with neutrality, without opinions and preconceived concepts. This isn’t a new approach and has been discussed by several scholarly fields to include cognitive psychology (Chapman, 1988), and in Husserlian phenomenology (1964). These are investigations whose answers are not given, but instead surge from the research itself. Hence, each participant researched within, making this a practice of the level into action. It is synonymous with “doing” and we are referring to pragmatism and praxis. Pragmatism is described as the implementation of techniques where one is more concerned on how well something adapts rather than how well one formulates a priori principles (Depraz, Varela & Vermersch, 2003, p 17). Making truth as the success, efficacy and functionality of the realized action (Depraz, Varela and Vermersch, 2003). Further more, Depraz, Varela and Vermersch state, “the plane of action is self-sufficient and does not need a prepared blueprint” (2003, p. 17). According to Freire, praxis is the action and reflection of individuals in order to transform their world (2000).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mindfulness: Being awake and aware of the social setting. In the leadership management context, mindfulness enables leaders to interrupt the vicious cycles of sacrifice, stress and dissonance.

Sustainability: Capacity to endure and how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely.

Indigenous Knowledge: Knowledge that involves an intimate relationship with the belief systems and that has been accumulated through a long series of observations transmitted from generation to generation.

Innovation: Application of optimal solutions that meet requirements and collaborative ventures in corporate and entrepreneurial worlds.

Transformational Leadership: Leadership approach that causes participants to become more present and gain the growing self-awareness and inner transformation.

Mindset: Set of beliefs about intellectual abilities; regardless people may differ in their current skills levels but improve potential ability.

Reflectivity: Decisive evidence for the capacity of humans to engage in self-conscious inquiry into their own conditions.

Unknown Behaviors: Behaviors that are embedded in our subconscious that associated with the fundamental way of thinking and perceiving the social process in various social settings.

Action Research: Research initiated to solve an immediate problem or a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individual.

Peace: Freedom out of disturbances that is serving as a mean to obtain verbal consensus.

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