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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mindful Management

Mindful Management

By Suzanne Marrs
Principal, Consolidated Elementary, Vigo County School Corporation
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Ed. Leadership, Indiana State University

As often as we shop locally or even dine out with our families, it is not unusual for us to experience minor frustrations, here and there. Typical examples would include how many people are usually in line, how slow the line can move, and even the number of folks who are complaining to the cashier or requesting to speak to a manager.

As we observe these situations, a common denominator seems as to exist, which steers the situation into one that works out for the better, or one that works out for the worse.  That common denominator: Mindful Management. 

In this week’s Ed. Leadershop, we would like to make an argument on behalf of mindful management and how now, more-than-ever, it is necessary to effectively lead in part, through management, rather than dismissing its comparative importance with other leadership responsibilities as part of a bygone era.

Consider this: How effective are leaders whose managerial skills have them moving in haste from person to person or situation to situation too quickly, never really addressing things mindfully before scattering off to the next item meriting attention. We see vicariously through others’ tribulations that without mindful management, most notions of quality leadership suffer.

In K-12 schools, mindful management has in recent years lost its curb appeal, as leaders have focused more intently on “instructional leadership.” In some case, this race for legislatively prescribed luster has indirectly or directly resulted in leaders’ failing to stop and listen to what others around them are saying.  With pedagogical hyper-vigilance, they sometimes fail to accomplish much of anything.

What is so important about management?   

First, done well … it allows one to be mindful … mindful of the internal needs of an organization – of people, situations, and contexts.  Our best managers have almost an omniscient, inward focus.  More particularly, mindful management allows us to listen. It involves a keen, intuitive perspective and an ability to truly “be there” for others. Through mindful management, we focus on wants and needs with a sense of understanding that often gets lost as others, not so mindful, rush through their days.

Consider Loy (2011) who stated, “In the facilities management environment, we as leaders find ourselves juggling numerous problems and projects on a daily basis. Multi-tasking is second nature to us, but in order to actively listen, we need to be able to set that all aside when someone comes to us” (p. 31).  Mindful management allows us better to listen to what others around us are saying, and apply inward perspective while helping guide and encourage others around us from where we are to a better place (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999).

Mindful management brings with it a certain degree of seriousness, as we are responsible for others’ lives.  This involves, at times, quick action, yet mindful managers know that sometimes in order to move fast, we need to downshift at times and move more slowly. This allows deft selection of the “next steps” as we address both complexity and ambiguity, or even when we feel our world is closing in and that we have a million deadlines to make or problems to solve in little time. Going slow, in order to go fast, involves four strategies that we will conclude with today -- the need to Stop, See, Assess, and Resolve.


While these steps in problem solving might seem rather obvious, they are often forgone when urgencies come in layers.  As our restaurant or grocery store experiences often bring to our mind, we sometimes wish we could take a brief stroll with yet another harried manager and encourage him or her to take just a few seconds – brief moments of deep thinking – before moving forward with resolution. 

We might want to say:

Stop - Look around and see what needs to be done. Take a chance to breathe, and outline all the tasks, questions, and problems to solve before moving forward.  It is important to remember that without a clear vision, one can quickly get bogged down, while running around and accomplishing nothing.

See - Try to look at the situation from varying contexts, as where one stands on an issue depends on life circumstance. It is a mindful manager’s obligation to have a certain degree of organizational acuity allowing for many perspectives of data gathering, before attempting to make meaning of that data.  Ensure that all voices are considered, in the concerns that present themselves.

Assess - It is critical to validate what is urgent and what is important. Think about the needs versus the wants, and guide your decision-making on priority. By distinguishing what is urgent from what is truly important, then we will move forward prudently, efficiently, and also with an approach that prevents future concerns from arising.

Resolve - This is the take-the-bull-by-the-horns moment, where mindful managers make the most appropriate and responsible decision.  They then implement! In doing so, they must have a clear vision and purpose that is factual and honest -- moving through each item of importance, checking-things-off as they go.  While times of struggle will exist, we would hope that by requesting and receiving honest and appropriate feedback, we will still be moving forward.

Is the need for mindful management in schools really that much different from that of grocery stores or fast food establishments? We don’t believe so, as we ask ourselves, “Don’t we all have a never-ending supply of agitated customers and unresolved issues, each of which is most important to its owner?” and “Aren’t all of us being pressured to lead the company’s future, while resistance is asking us to manage the company’s present?”

Focusing on what is important now, through the mindful management of stopping, seeing, assessing, and resolving, will help model for the grocery store, restaurant, and K-12 school managers, how a positive perspective and a people focus will ensure better outcomes for all, when competing interests present themselves simultaneously. 


Buckingham, M. & Coffman, C. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Loy, D. (2011). Hear Me, Hear Me, Are we listening to our employees? Facilities Manager, 27(1), 28-31.


Suzanne Marrs is beginning her doctoral studies at Indiana State University and was asked to contribute to the ISU Ed. Leadershop because of her practical approaches to improving education as a K-12 leader.  Ryan Donlan is working with her in program planning and doctoral research design.  We’re quite fortunate to have Suzanne Marrs aboard our Leadershop Team, as she truly keeps us relevant. Please feel free to contact both contributors at or at

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