The materials included in the section draw on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and I was immediately drawn to them as I was at least familiar with the idea. I first came across the concept of flow whilst participating in adventure sports like climbing or skiing. Flow is described as “a time when we are totally focused, happy and totally engaged in whatever we are doing” and Csikszentmihalyi talks about this as “essentia
lly stepping into an alternative reality”. I’m was intrigued to learn how as a senior leader one might attain this almost ecstatic state.
Csikszentmihalyi suggests that this can only happen when someone has been very well trained and developed technique but that flow is achievable by everybody because it is essentially about balancing levels of challenge and skill. He develops the idea further by identifying the flow channel as being the essential basis for continued personal improvement. He introduces several other states: apathy, boredom, relaxation, control and arousal which essentially form a continuum with the flow channel being between control and arousal. Clearly if you’re at the one end of this you’re neither inspiring yourself or capable of leading others. We need to be operating at the optimal level. Being in control is a comfortable place to be but its not exciting. If you want to enter flow from control you have to up the level of challenge Moving from the flow channel to arousal (pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone) and back again to flow is where you develop higher skills. If you judge this process of flexing from one state to another and back again you should raise the flow threshold and in so doing increase your capacity for further development. I kind of imagine it a little like building strength in a muscle.
As the introductory ‘thinkpiece’ to the module suggests the key skill therefore is a commitment to self-learning and ‘stretch’. It is clear how Kolb’s Learning Cycle in tandem with Boyatzis’s ideas on Self Directed Learning and the use a solid coaching model can help anyone accurately evaluate their current level of skill, identify suitably challenging targets and so more routinely operate in the flow channel.
But what about creating conditions not just for an individual to achieve flow state but also a group or organisational to do the same? This has to be the ultimate aim in order to create “networked, self-organising and self-managing institutions, which support the development of a rich leadership capacity at all levels within the school.” A leader will not only attend to their own personal and professional growth but also pay close attention to the people within the team……it’s not rocket science really and John Adair‘s model of task, team, individual is just as useful.