The internal landscape


I have great respect for The Center for Creative Leadership and the research they conduct in support of evidence-based leadership practices so I was honored to be invited this week to share with them the work I’ve been leading related to mindfulness. I am especially excited about the Neuroscience and Leadership Initiative that Marian Ruderman and Cathleen Clerkin are leading and the white paper they wrote with colleague Carol Connolly: Leadership Development Beyond Competencies: Moving to a Holistic Approach.

They have given form and structure to many ideas that have been percolating in my mind. Their “Beyond Competencies” model focuses on the dynamics of leaders’ internal landscape  and includes:

  • the physical, chemical and neurological functioning of our bodies (CIRCUITRY)

“Perhaps one of the most exciting recent discoveries from neuroscience about our circuitry is that it is not set in stone. ‘Neuroplasticity’ refers to the brains ability to grow new neurons and neural connections over the course of our life.”

  • the raw emotions, gut reactions, and inner dialogue that happens inside of us (INNER CONTENT)

“Every waking moment, our minds give us unfiltered and unsolicited commentary on ‘shoulds’, ‘ifs’, ‘ought tos’, and ‘wish I hads’. This dialogue with the self is a product of both present and accumulated experiences of life – implicit and explicit memory, beliefs, cultural norms, and mental constructs, adaptive responses based on past experiences and interactions, and the emotions tied to these experiences.”

  • the ability to observe, modify and regulate mental processes (CONSCIOUS ENGAGEMENT)

“…conscious engagement allows individuals to choose a more mindful response to difficult situations…With time and dedicated training, leaders…can develop the ability to tune into thoughts, emotions, and inner processes to promote healthier physical and psychological responses.”


Quite different from the behavioral models that have been so prevalent in the past.

“…behavioral competency models focused solely on tangibles, largely ignoring the not so readily observable internal and/or automatic processes that lie below the surface, such as personal life experiences, emotions, or mindsets.”

Their model focuses on leaders as complete people – not just their specific behaviors, but also their inner experiences which can influence, explain and shape behaviors and actions. These researchers bring to bear disciplines not traditionally associated with leader development such as neuroscience, positive psychology and contemplative practices.

“We see the outer ‘doing’ of a leader as blending and interacting with his or her inner ‘being’, and the internal landscape and external stimuli as cocreators of behavior.”


Previously I’ve blogged about awareness as the foundation of great leadership. This new models helps clarify a couple of core elements of awareness. If we are attuned to our body circuitry and our emotional/psychological inner world, surely we’re positioned to better understand our reactions and more effectively shape desired behaviors. Pausing long enough to look inside for the insights to be found there remains a big challenge given our always-on environment. That’s where intention comes in. To grow and transform takes commitment – and practice.

To get you started, I offer some reflective questions to contemplate:

  • How often do I notice what’s going on physically with my body? What kinds of things do I notice, if any? What else might I pay attention to?
  • Am I aware of my emotions and gut reactions to people and situations? What kinds of things am I thinking or saying in my mind?
  • In what ways do I seek to understand and shape what I’m experiencing in the moment?

If you’re looking for some ways to explore your internal landscape, you might be interested in Building Your ‘Focus Muscle’ – Using your Breath to Create Greater Awareness or Get Going with Mini-Habits.




Author: Vicki L Flaherty

I am most alive when I am creating, whether through writing, gardening, photography, cooking, crafting, sewing... Running and yoga enrich my being. I am happiest when I’m with my husband Jim. Travel opens me to new possibilities and greater awareness. I find a special joy when I’ve helped someone see their brilliance and express their full potential. As I've focused on living more mindfully, I've found special joy in expressing myself through poetry and photography, and in truly being in relationship with those I meet along my journey.

7 thoughts on “The internal landscape”

  1. I absolutely love the insites you are sharing through the growth you are experiencing through your professional engagement with mindfulness as you influence such development in you IBM teams. No matter where we are in our Life’s Journey, the interplay of circuitry, inner content, behaviors, & conscious engagement make for a richer life experience–thus, incredible relevance far beyond our professional lives in order to continue to enhance how we experience this journey

  2. Really great stuff, Vicki and I can hear your passion for developing great leaders (which of course I have seen over the years!) Very refreshing to see the emphasis on holistic and plasticity geared toward effectiveness – which is something we all seek. Competencies always did seem to simple and rigid to overlay against the human motor within. You must be thrilled, and I send you huge congratulations.

    1. 🙂 I am thrilled with the direction of the field, and so ready! Competencies provided a map or direction; however, what we’re getting at now is the machine that gets you where you want to go – YOU! All of you! Thanks for coming by!

  3. Vicki, Thank you for your post. You know I will be reading more about the CCL white paper. I am thrilled to move beyond competencies and to know that your are part of the conversation is a plus. I am thrilled that you are working with them. And I know that my clients will benefit from this!

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