Miriam Ufberg, MAPP, lives in New York City where she manages a yoga studio, which is part of the first national family of studios. She is a registered yoga instructor with a focus on scoliosis and spinal fusions. Her Positive Psychology focus is positive organizational development, leadership authenticity, and the role of meaning in life and character strengths for emerging adults. Full bio.
Mimi writes on the 29th of the month, and her past articles are here.
I recently flew from New York to Miami to visit my sister, brother-in-law and 3 amazing nephews (all under the age of 5!). It was remarkable to see my sister care for each child’s every need as though her own needs and desires hardly existed. Perhaps that’s why on my return flight to New York I was more aware of this FAA safety regulation. At first it sounded strange…”When traveling with children, if emergency oxygen masks deploy, put your mask on first.” Isn’t it always a parent’s job to put their child’s safety first?
Carol Gilligan’s Stages of Moral Development (see below), which stemmed from the idea that women’s stages of development differ from men’s as Kohlberg, Piaget and Erikson had laid out, explains that first one learns to care for oneself, then one internalizes norms about caring for others and tends to neglect oneself, finally one becomes critical of the conventions one has adopted and learns to balance caring for self with caring for others.
Carol Gilligan’s Stages of Moral Development
|Preconventional||Goal is individual survival|
|Conventional||Self sacrifice is goodness|
|Post-Conventional||Principle of nonviolence: do not hurt others or self|
Whether it is our roles as parent, leader, manager, teacher or caregiver many of us become caught in the conventional web of self-sacrifice equating with goodness. To go further we may even become attached to this identity, in that we want our children, constituents, team members, students and patients to see that we are sacrificing ourselves for their betterment; we believe that that’s how they can see our value. But as Gilligan’s model explains this conventional view is an intermediary stage along our paths that warrants further development.
Positive Organizational Scholarship professor Robert Quinn writes this in regards to business leadership in his book “Building the bridge as you walk on it.” He describes the Normal State and the Fundamental Leadership State below:
Figure 1: Quinn’s ‘Normal’ State
Figure 2: Quinn’s ‘Fundamental State of Leadership’ State
Quinn, Robert (2004) Building the bridge as you walk on it. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
A tendency in leaders, as we see them today is to believe that the job requires them to know the right answer, the right time, the right direction, never leaving room for error or uncertainty, except the certainty of falling into a rabbit hole. The belief is that always knowing what is right makes a leader; that is what exhibits an ability to ‘be in control.’ Missing the reality that this sort of action is only a concern for individual survival.
Putting the two models together, we can only become effectively and safely ‘Other- Focused’ and ‘Externally-Open’ if we are ‘Internally-Directed,’ and we can only be ‘Internally Directed’ if we take time to care for ourselves, to be aware of our own values and worth. As the FAA goes on to explain “This advice may seem cruel, but there is a very practical reason for it. If the brain is starved of oxygen, one can get confused or pass out and be unable to help themselves or their child.”
Ok, heavy stuff. Imagine it metaphorically or literally, either way, it doesn’t seem healthy or beneficial to others around us to neglect our ourselves in our pursuits to guide others.
There is another interesting link between these two models. While Gilligan’s model initiated from the need for a more female-focused explanation of moral development, I would argue that it carries validity for both male and female when acting in a leadership capacity. As spiritual teacher Mark Whitwell addresses, we’ve become focused on the duality of things: right/wrong, male/female, giver/receiver, leader/follower but Quinn’s Fundamental State of Leadership acknowledges that being a leader requires being externally open, which may result in following the ideas of others. Perhaps the role of leader and follower is less dualistic than we perceive it? We progress by recognizing our capacities to lead and follow. In the same way, we progress by recognizing the non-duality of our masculine and feminine sides. Our feminine side is associated with being in touch with emotions; which in intense work environments men and women can be scrutinized for. As Kouzes and Posner have brought to light in their leadership book Encouraging the Heart, working in a professional environment does not require checking your heart at the door. In this book they report research from the Center for Creative Leadership that found the single factor that differentiated the most successful managers from the least was higher scores on affection, expressed and wanted.
• “Always give from the oveflow of the well, not its depth” –Sufi saying
• Get in touch with your feminine side
Oxygen mask courtesy of mockstar