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Author: Tena L. Golding, PhD

If asked to define minefield, most people would recite something similar to an area set with explosive devices or landmines. All would agree that minefields connote a sense of risk and danger. As a faculty member in higher education for over 30 years and a faculty developer for more than 18 of those, I’ve noticed the first-person focus of many faculty, staff, and administrators has created minefields on some campuses that are just as dangerous. These mines often result from an unconscious shift from “We” to “I” and a perceived threat to “what’s mine.” These potential dangers include not only apathy and burnout of faculty but also breakdown of our campus cultures.

In our Center for Faculty Excellence, my staff and I often serve as sounding boards for both satisfied and dissatisfied faculty. This day-to-day interaction provides a good compass reading for faculty morale and helps identify potential mines developing in the minefields. Over the years, some mines have surfaced and been disarmed, but a few remain buried in the field and are always on the brink of explosion. While the I-am-overworked-and-underpaid mine will probably always exist, some of the most common, and most dangerous, mines can be disarmed through mindful leadership. These mines and the motivation behind their creation include: 

These higher education mines are often created (or at least complicated) by budget cuts that have resulted in faculty, staff, and administrators doing more with less. Everyone is just busier. In addition, the increase in online classes has led to a gradual disappearance of faculty from campus. There are simply fewer faculty participating in the day-to-day events of campus life. While many of the factors that contribute to the creation of these mines are beyond administrative control, they cannot be ignored. The consequences of running through a minefield with no regard for the landmines are too dire—administrators must be mindful of the presence of these mines and walk strategically.

In her book Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, Janice Marturano contends that the qualities of clarity, focus, creativity, and compassion are fundamental for mindful leadership and that mindful leadership is needed if we are to live with excellence. In defining a mindful leader she states,  

A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the service of others.  

She describes leadership presence as a tangible quality that requires “full and complete nonjudgmental attention in the present moment.”

Marturano asserts these attributes of mindful leadership already exist in our hearts and minds and can be further developed through mindful leadership training. Her book discusses training techniques to strengthen and cultivate the qualities of clarity, focus, creativity, and compassion with the goal of becoming a mindful leader. This article does not address the training practices for these attributes but rather presents a brief summary of each attribute followed by some practical applications to help administrators at all levels navigate and disarm (or maybe even prevent) the mines in campus minefields.  

Clarity: See clearly. Don’t let your expectations cloud what is actually there. See the issues and the opportunities and choose how to respond—don’t just react.

Focus: Stay in the moment. Loss of focus is loss of productivity. Sustaining focus allows you to fully concentrate on issues and opportunities.

Compassion: Acknowledge the suffering of others and yourself. Offer yourself and others kindness. Recognizing and understanding the interconnections among us encourages us to participate in the well-being of others.

Today’s higher education leaders face many challenges—only one of which is keeping faculty content and engaged. Providing excellent leadership amid today’s campus chaos takes training and practice. Applying the mindful leadership attributes of focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion to administrative decisions can help disarm and eliminate campus minefields. Becoming a mindful leader will not only lead to a better understanding of yourself and those you lead, but can also improve the choices you make for your institution.  

Tena L. Golding, Ph.D., is professor of mathematics and director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at Southeastern Louisiana University.