Leading with Habits of Mind … in Mind


By Art Costa and Bena Kallick

Consciously using the Habits of Mind to meet the challenges of COVID-19 can influence the actions we take as leaders. Here are a few that stand out for us:

Managing Impulsivity

Most of us in education are caretakers. We consider our mission to take care of the generation that enters through the school doors every day—to protect their right to learn and grow and be prepared for the world today and in their future. Given that inclination, managing impulsivity is especially difficult. We are personally stressed and anxious and are finding it difficult to be of comfort to others. We need to manage our impulse to be overly protective, paternalistic, and to underestimate the strengths and capabilities of those we serve. When you are tempted to give another person a hug, a kiss, or to shake their hand, — don’t!

Listening with Understanding and Empathy

To learn of the strengths of others, we must listen closely to the stories of survival they tell us. Paraphrasing some of the key ideas they express as they recount their deepest fears and their most courageous acts of kindness. Probing to seek clarity and understand as they become more conscious lessons they learned. Identifying the feeling states they are experiencing and listening to how they are managing the roller coaster of those states of mind. Listen to, identify and respond to their emotional state of anxiety or stress. Empathize with and comfort others who are in need of shelter, food or medications.

Thinking Flexibly

When we are listening, we are also withholding judgment. We are thinking flexibly and considering another’s perspective. As leaders, we collect those perspectives and look for patterns or themes that run across the many perspectives we hear. These perspectives may include the immediate as well as the long range, the personal as well as the larger group or family, the local as well as the national and global view.

Finding Humor

Erma Bombeck is quoted as saying, “If you can laugh at it, you can live with it.”

A powerful way to relieve tension is by finding humor—stories of some of the really funny things that happened when using a new technology, how one of our kids did something really humorous, how the true color of our hair is revealing itself. Each of these stories of humor are more about laughing at ourselves rather than laughing at the expense of others.

Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

We are hungry for “just the facts, ma’am.” However, it is difficult to distinguish fact from opinion, intentional misunderstandings, what really matters and what is really known. We want to be able, as leaders, to communicate the most reliable of what we know and be very clear about what we don’t know.

It really matters not only what we say to others but what we say to ourselves.

To stay strong during challenging times, we need to give more thought to what we say to ourselves—and keep it positive! Positive self-talk helps to keep our brain focused. When feeling despair, we might elevate our thinking by feeling grateful for the fact that, for the first time in big cities, we can see a smogless sky. When we lift ourselves up, we are more capable of helping others which gives rise to energy to rise above the challenges. We buoy them up and their positive response buoys us up.

And, as Helen Keller is quoted as saying, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”


See all posts by Art Costa and Bena Kallick.