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The Importance of the Present Moment for Leadership Practice Essay

The article by Simpson and French (2006) is a thought-provoking piece of writing that reminds about simple but often ignored things. Indeed, as the authors themselves note, the advice to focus on the present moment is not a new invention, rather it is a refrain repeated in many cultures and traditions (Simpson & French, 2006, p. 247). However, people rarely seem to follow this advice being preoccupied with the past experiences and future concerns. Simpson and French (2006) consider the ability to stay focused on the present moment in relation to leadership practice.

The major point of the article lies in the assertion that being focused on the present moment helps leaders find the answers and feel “the emotional matrix” of the group (Simpson & French, 2006). Relying too much on past experiences often hides the new aspects of the real situation, for people are inclined to squeeze the reality into tight frames of their theories in order “to avoid having to do any more thinking” (Bion, as cited in Simpson & French, 2006, p. 249). A similar situation occurs when the focus is on the future, for there is a temptation to force the reality fit the expectations.

Thus, the way

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to avoid these delusions lies in “eschewing memory and desire”, as an English psychoanalyst Bion states (as cited in Simpson & French, 2006, p. 249). Simpson and French (2006) also underline the positive aspect of ignorance and passivity. Indeed, it is impossible to have answers to all questions, and ignorance is an unavoidable state of mind that should be acknowledged. In fact, acknowledging it is essential for present-moment thinking (Simpson & French, 2006, p. 246). The authors advise to observe and feel in a situation when there is no answer, for there are “thoughts in search of a thinker” (Simpson & French, 2006, p.

250). To be the thinker who discovers these thoughts, patience and passivity are necessary (Simpson & French, 2006, p. 250). The state of mind that recognizes ignorance, allows patience and passivity, and observes and waits for new thoughts to emerge is what the authors call “negative capability” (Simpson & French, 2006, p. 250). The danger of falling victims of previously learnt theories or expectations reminds at the same time about the action theories described by Johnson and Johnson (2009, p. 47) and about Senge’s (1990) mental models.

In both cases there are some expectations about the results of a particular action, and these expectations may hide the truth. What is most interesting about the article is that it highlights the positive aspect of ignorance. It is usually perceived as a completely negative state, and people rarely acknowledge their ignorance in order not to be criticized. Yet, it appears that ignorance can be a positive factor, for it gives space for creativity and invention and makes us open to new thoughts and perceptions.

The authors’ advice to acknowledge ignorance is particularly valuable for there is hardly a greater disaster than a leader who does not know what to do but who still acts decisively for the sake of action. In relation to this, the importance of passivity underlined by Simpson and French (2006, p. 250) is also remarkable. However, there are some doubts about the practical implementation of the authors’ advice. Simpson and French (2006) believe that it is important to allow “time out”, just as in the case of the leader who allowed herself visiting art galleries, meeting friends, going to the cinema, etc.

while at the same time searching for an answer to complex questions (p. 253). Yet, “time out” is often not available either due to tight time frames or because of pressure from management. The solution is often to be sought quickly, and there is no spare time to devote to observing and listening. Besides, when the leader is accountable to subordinates or to the management, they must explain their actions to others. Their colleagues might not understand if they hear the leader acknowledging his or her ignorance and promising to find the answer upon visiting the art gallery.

Simpson and French (2006) also note that the leaders can feel “enormous pressure” from colleagues to find a solution (p. 252), and it is not clear how to deal with this pressure. Overall, the article provides a valuable insight into leadership practice. The leader who does not know what is going on may design tactics based on wrong premises. To understand the reality of the present moment, it is essential to disengage oneself from past practices, learnt theories, and expectations of future, and look at the present with a fresh eye.

Listening, waiting, and observing allows feeling the emotional matrix of the team and discovering the thoughts that are in the air but that have not found their expression yet. These “thoughts in search of a thinker” can be particularly valuable for setting an effective goal that is meaningful for all members of the group. Observing and listening allows feeling the general atmosphere of the group, discovering “hidden agendas” (Johnson & Johnson, 2009, p. 78), and transforming a group into a team.

References Johnson, D. W. , & Johnson, F. P. (2009). Joining together: Group theory and group skills. 10th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Senge, P. M. (1990). Mental models. In The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization (pp. 175-204). New York, NY: Doubleday/Currency. Simpson, P. , & French, R. (2006). Negative capability and the capacity to think in the present moment: Some implications for leadership practice. Leadership, 2(2), 245-255.

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