The Mind: A Beautiful Servant, A Dangerous Master

brainDid you know that you have between 25,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day and around 85% of your thoughts are negative and around 95% are repetitive?

So basically, we all have old stories and self-limiting self-beliefs playing on repeat day after day.

The Indian guru Osho was really onto something when he described the human mind as a beautiful servant but a very dangerous master. 

In my case, the thousands of daily negative and repetitive thoughts often relate to achievements (or more specifically frustrations related to achievement being difficult or slow).

I suffer from a long-held belief that my achievements provide proof that I have value.

I have come to understand that this is not an uncommon pattern for “high achievers”. It is quite easy to spend an entire lifetime being propelled forward by a urge to prove your worth through achievements. Always striving, never really feeling content with just ‘being’. Always ‘doing’.

In my mid 30’s I started to notice how this belief pattern was holding me back from living a fulfilled and happy life. Now that I am in my 40’s working full time in the corporate world with two young children, it is essential for me to continue to learn how to cultivate sustainable happiness and feelings of worthiness. I understand the strong connection between my wellbeing and the health of our family unit.

I have learnt the importance of prioritising self-care without guilt or apology.

A big part of my commitment to personal wellbeing revolves around the practices of mindfulness and an ongoing quest to understand the workings of my monkey mind.

What exactly is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is focusing on what’s happening right now. It’s stopping to smell the roses. Mindfulness is not being mentally preoccupied about the dirty laundry, your inbox or the mistakes you made yesterday.

James Baraz described mindfulness as “simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it was different”.

Others have described Mindfulness as the ability to step behind the waterfall of our thoughts into position of observation where you can see thoughts come and go without being swept away with them.

Victor Frankl the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor famously said;

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

My quest to better understand my monkey mind has provided me with some wonderful experiences.

I have done headstands at dawn, chanted in an Ashram, done ancient shaman meditations for each chamber of my heart, listened to the Dali Lama speak, attended retreats, read dozens of books and completed Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” programme.

I am still firmly in the beginners group when it comes to mindfulness. It will take time to cultivate the skills and awareness to pull my mind out of the whitewash of long held beliefs and deeply entrenched auto-pilot reactions and into the tranquillity that sits behind the waterfall.

I have tasted just enough of the deep contentment that arises in this stillness of ‘being’ to know mindfulness it is the most important life skill I need to master.

Cultivating more awareness of my thoughts has been a big first step in loosening the grip of my monkey mind. I am starting to notice frequently reoccurring patterns of unhelpful thoughts that previously had been hidden from my conscious mind. I have also noticed that I am able to shake off negative feeling associated with “old stories” more easily by gently guiding myself back to a mindset of abundance, acceptance and gratitude.

I find it helpful to think of my brain as the hardware and my mind as the software and to recognise that I can rewrite my brain’s operating system if I can to see that the functionality is no longer serving me

Ruby Wax shares captures this concept brilliantly in her book “Sane New World – Taming The Mind”.

“The reality is that the demanding voice in our heads is not who we are, it plays a very small part in the big scheme of things. What’s really running you is a million, trillion gigabyte-powered engine room in your brain managed by your DNA (…) and not that stupid inner monologue about why you’re to fat to wear tights. If you learn how to self-regulate your moods, emotions and thoughts, and focus your mind on what you want to pay attention to rather than be dragged into distraction, you might just reach that illusion thing called happiness”

The trick is to loosen the grip of your mind just enough to see that you are in fact in its grips. To do this we must become a curious observers of our software’s wacky functionality.

The first step is just to start to notice.

For example, have you ever noticed when we experience physical pain the language we use to describe the, describes it as something separate from ourselves? We think “I have a headache”. In contrast, when we experience psychological pain we describe it as all consuming? For example we might think “I am a complete fraud” See the difference? When we think “I have a headache” we are separate from the pain but when we think “I am a complete fraud” we have become consumed by the pain.

This skill of separating from our thoughts is called cognitive defusion. When we are in a state of cognitive fusion we see thoughts as true and important, we take them seriously and give them our full attention. By contrast, when we are in a state of cognitive defusion, we see thoughts are merely words and stories passing through our heads. We understand that thoughts may or may not be true, we don’t automatically believe them and we understand that thoughts may or may not be important. We pay attention only if they are helpful.

The goal is to get to a level of awareness where you think; “I am having the thought that I am a fraud. Ah, welcome back Imposter Syndrome, my old friend. Now, please be quiet, I am working on something important”.

With practice, patience and a spirit of playful curiosity I am getting better of noticing when I have been in the grips of unhelpful thoughts and from that perspective, I have freedom to decide that perhaps it is time for a operating system upgrade.

Want to learn more?

If you are curious to learn more about mindfulness there are many great resources available.

Here is a link to a very comprehensive Waking Up podcast (episode #111). In this episode Sam Harris speaks with Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson about the current scientific understanding of meditation and mindfulness practices. They speak about the history of introspection in eastern and western cultures, the difference between altered states and altered traits, an alternate conception of mental health, “meta-awareness,” the relationship between mindfulness and “flow,” the difference between pain and suffering, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and other topics.

There are also a number of App’s that can help you create the habit of weaving mindfulness practices into your day. My personal favourite is Insight Timer, home to more than 3,400,000 meditators and is rated the top free meditation app on the Android and iOS stores.

Mrs Mindfulness list of book recommendations is also really great place to start!

 

 

 

Understanding My Monkey Mind

 

thoughtbubble3I have been on a journey to better understand my mind for many years now. More specifically I have been working on cultivating the ability to recognise self limiting beliefs and learning to untangle myself from the stories I tell myself.

I have spend 20 years climbing the greasy pole that we call the corporate ladder and (like all of us) I have plenty of first hand experience of the human suffering that is created in the corporate world.

According to Officevibe only 13% of the global workforce is engaged. Depression is now the leading cause of disability globally with 300 million people suffering from depression today.

Despite all the technology innovations we enjoy today, we are suffering more than ever.

The more senior I become, the more I have felt a growing responsibly to contribute to the creation of a different working reality for all of us.

It is my strong belief that part of the answer to the complex and serious problem of human suffering at work lies in the power of connection.

I believe that connection can be a catalyst for change.

I in recent years I have found myself on a quest of sorts… a quest to notice habitual ways of thinking and working that no longer serve us and to ask “How might we harness the power of connection to support performance and wellbeing?”

The central theme of this quest is Connected Leadership.

I define Connected Leaders as leaders who operate from a strong connection to four key things; the present moment, themselves, others and the bigger picture.

This post is about my practice of Mindfulness and how I am using Mindfulness to cultivate a stronger connection to the present moment and to myself.

I have recently returned from a trip to an Ashram to deepen my Mindfulness practice through an immersive Mindful Living retreat under the guidance of Melli O’Brien.

The experience of spending three technology-free days learning to notice the many trickeries of my monkey mind was simultaneously wondrous and overwhelming.

There were several concepts that Melli took us through that really struck a strong chord with me – none more so than the concept of Cognitive Fusion.

Since the retreat, I have felt compelled to shared this foundational concept with people I know.

When I explain Cognitive Fusion to people, they often experience a “light bulb” moment. In that moment, the concept of Mindfulness shifts from being “hippy dippy” to being a foundational life skill.

When we are in a state of Cognitive Fusion:

  • Thoughts are reality; it’s as if what we’re thinking is actually present
  • Thoughts are the truth; we literally believe them
  • Thoughts are important; we take them seriously & give them our full attention
  • Thoughts are orders; we automatically obey them
  • Thoughts are wise; we assume they know best and automatically follow them

When we are in a state of Cognitive Defusion:

  • Thoughts are merely; sounds, words & stories passing through our heads
  • Thoughts may or may NOT be true; we don’t automatically believe them
  • Thoughts may or may NOT be important; we pay attention only if they are helpful
  • Thoughts are NOT orders; we don’t have to obey them
  • Thoughts may or may NOT be wise; we don’t automatically follow their advice

For me, a Mindfulness practice is a proven pathway to accessing the liberating state of Cognitive Defusion.

I am learning to recognise my thoughts and beliefs as just one persons’ opinion – and this person is not particularly reliable or kind.

If you would like to experience less suffering and feel more contentment, I urge you to give it a try.

Need more convincing? Perhaps poetry is more your style. Melli uses her gorgeous collection of poetry throughout her retreats as another tool to support insights. This was my favourite piece of the retreat. It is a poem called “Dear You” by Keveri Patel.

Dear you,

You who always have

so many things to do

so many places to be

your mind spinning like

fan blades at high speed

each moment always a blur

because you’re never still.

I know you’re tired.

I also know it’s not your fault.

The constant brain-buzz is like

a swarm of bees threatening

to sting if you close your eyes.

You’ve forgotten something again.

You need to prepare for that or else.

You should have done that differently.

What if you closed your eyes?

Would the world fall

apart without you?

Or would your mind

become the open sky

flock of thoughts

flying across the sunrise

as you just watched and smiled.

 

Feeling Wind-Machine-Worthy

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I recently experienced my first professional photo shoot after meeting the fabulous Fi Mimms and learning about her “passion project” compiling a book of images and inspirational quotes to support Fitted For Work.

I wrote a LinkedIn post sharing my experience of the photo shoot and was overwhelmed with the response I received. I wanted capture and expand on the topic of feeling “wind-machine-worthy” through this article.

Leading up to the shoot I was anticipating feeling nervous and a little anxious, however upon starting the process of preparing for shoot, I was surprise by sudden feelings of “not being worthy” of all the fuss and attention.

These feelings really strengthened when Fi unveiled her wind machine. In amongst the laughter and joking, I was struck by the thought: “Could I REALLY be worthy of a wind machine??!!” As my mind raced forward, I proceeded to manufacture even more anxiety by imagining meeting new people and seeing the looks of disappointment on their faces upon realising that the “real-life” version of me is significantly less polished and glamorous that the version of me in the images we were creating.

Fi had heard it all before and it quickly became very clear that I was not alone in thinking this way. Fi was funny, kind and down-to-earth and we chatted about the many times she has heard various versions of the same self-limiting beliefs from her other clients.

By the end of the session I could see that putting on nice clothes and taking extra care with grooming in order to create images that capture my personal brand was not vain or ridiculously-self indulgent – it was just a really smart thing to do.

The experience brought back into sharp focus this wonderful passage by Marianne Williamson that really resonates with me. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? Playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”

I am now a firm believer that we are ALL “wind-machine-worthy”. Everyone deserves the opportunity to create images that capture the most professional and confident version of themselves.

In fact, in an era where personal branding could become as important as your CV, you are crazy not to.

 

Reflections on my childhood, lessons learnt as an undocumented migrant living in NYC

I asked the fabulous folks in my tribe to share personal stories about the things that help them to thrive and reach their full potential. Here is what the wonderful Carol Corzo wanted to share.

‘I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference’ (R.Frost) As a child, I was one of the many undocumented Latino child migrants living in NYC, and I count those years as some of the best in my life.

What did it all mean?

Through global media and recent events, most people around the world know what an undocumented migrant living in the US is. Did you know when I was living in NYC in the 80s, the common term was ‘illegal alien’.

As a child, I always found that term demeaning, as I certainly was not an alien from another galaxy nor did I wish my existence to be defined as a criminal.

Through those years I knew that I could not tell anyone that we were undocumented, neither my school friends, neighbours nor teachers due to the powerful omnipresent threat of deportation. From this, I learnt to hold a secret.

But I never lived my life in fear; instead, I learnt some very powerful life lessons, largely, because not only do I have a great family but I attended the most brilliant school in Queens, with amazing teachers and students (interestingly, it is a school that once received an F rating, but I received the best life education).

I learnt to-

Believe

Every single teacher almost daily told us that a child from a Queens can do anything, nothing is impossible. We could go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, UC, we could sit in a boardroom, we could be an artist or run a women’s shelter. At that age, you trust your teachers and you believe in them, and thus believe in yourself.

Stay curious and learn

Have an open mind, be curious, ask questions, listen, research and learn. Simple really.

Empathy

As the AIDS crisis hit in the 80s, when there was a great deal of awful prejudice all around us, at school we learnt to seek first to understand from the other’s perspective and about empathy. When there were schools closing their doors to children with AIDS and HIV (remembering the great hero Ryan White), our Grade 5 class would welcome them. Thank you to my teacher Mr Kaplan.

Inclusion

I had incredibly happy years at school in Queens, although I was undocumented I felt that I belonged.

Values

Hold on tight to your values. The below grainy image was taken in 1986, on the official reopening day of the Statue of Liberty. I believe in liberty, hope and opportunity.

Leading with Heart, Head & Guts

head heart and gut

Given the complexity and ambiguity of the current business environment and the high levels of employee disengagement, the traditional “smart and gutsy” model of leadership is no longer adequate. To maintain leadership positions into the future, leaders must be willing to harness all three sources of wisdom; heart, head and guts Organisations can no longer just look good – they must be good.  It is time to take a much more expansive and pervasive approach to our ‘duty of care’ as leaders. In this post, I explore the importance our connecting with the wisdom and compassion within our hearts and integrating this wisdom into our leadership and decision making.

Heart, Head & Gut Connection: An Overview

“We are at the very beginning of this rapidly unfolding journey of scientific discovery. […] We’ll need to move away from the dominant yet outdated ideas of the body as a complex machine of different parts, and toward the idea of highly interconnected ecological systems.” Dr Emeran Mayer

Our understanding of the complex systems operating within our bodies is continually evolving. Over the last decade, research in the field of neuroscience has expanded our understanding of the neural networks in our heart and gut regions.  Some researchers have gone so far as calling the neural network around our hearts the “cardiac brain” and the network in the gut the “enteric brain”. The research in this area is in its early stages and is still controversial.  I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I here is my summary of some of the research claims that I find most interesting.

The heart-mind connection takes place both by electrical signals (via the vagus and the spinal chord nerves) and through chemicals (the heart is also an endocrine gland). One small study to understand how the heart processes and decodes “intuitive information” claims that the heart receives intuitive information before the brain.  Other researchers have claimed that the heart has its own organising intelligence network, enabling the heart to act independently, learn, remember and produce feelings. The electromagnetic signal produced by a person’s heart rhythms has been measured in the brain waves of other people near them.

There is also a growing body of research on the mind-gut connection. Dr Emeran Mayer,  executive director of the Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience at UCLA specialises in this field. In his book, “The Mind-Gut Connection” Dr Mayer explains that the connection between the mind and the gut is bidirectional: the gut talks to the brain and the brain talks to the gut.

“We now know that your gut mirrors every emotion that arises in your brain […] The brain is tied to the gut like no other organ, with far more extensive hard wired connections. Because people have always felt emotion in their gut, our language is rich with expressions that reflect this. Every time your stomach was tied up in knots, you had a gut-wrenching experience or you felt butterflies in your stomach, it was the emotion-generating circuits of your brain that were responsible. Your emotions, brain and gut are all uniquely connected.”

Another perspective on our three “brains” come from the work of Grant Soosalu – mBraining.  Soosalu describes the highest expressions of each of “brain” as compassion (heart), creativity (head) and courage (guts). Here is the how Soosalu describes the key functions of each “brain”:

Heart; processing emotions, values and your felt connection with others

Head; cognition perception, reasoning, abstraction, analysis, pattern recognition and meaning

Gut; core identity, self-preservation, boundaries, hungers, aversions and the impulse for action

Dotlich, Cairo and Rhinesmith have explored the roles of these three sources of wisdom in their book “Head Heart and Guts”.  Here is their overview of the role of the heart, head and guts in leadership.

Heart

  • Balancing people and business needs
  • Creating trust
  • Developing true compassion
  • Creating environments where people can be truly committed
  • Knowing what’s important
  • Understanding and overcoming potential derailers

Head

  • Rethinking the way things are done
  • Reframing boundaries when necessary
  • Understanding the complexities of the global world
  • Thinking strategically without losing sight of short-term goals
  • Looking for ideas inside and outside the company
  • Developing a point of view

Guts

  • Taking risks with incomplete data
  • Balancing risk and reward
  • Acting with unyielding integrity in spite of difficulty
  • Tenaciously pursuing what’s required for success
  • Persevering in the face of adversity
  • Not being afraid to make the tough decisions

The Case For Change: Why We Need A New Approach To Leadership

“The significant problems we have, cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Albert Einstein.

There has never been more challenging environment to navigate as a leader. The much-discussed forces of VUCA (volitivity, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity) are very tangible, and these forces are compounding and accelerating around us. The pace of change we are experiencing today with be the slowest pace of change we will experience for the remainder of our leadership careers. The capabilities that ‘got us here’ as successful leaders today will certainly not ‘get us there’ as successful leaders in the future.  The leadership challenges of today and tomorrow demand new ways of leading and different ways of being.

The opening paragraph of “Head Heart and Guts” paints a compelling case for change.

“Complex times require complete leaders. Partial leaders struggle during an era of paradox, ambiguity, and unpredictability. To employ a one-dimensional leadership approach may have worked in simpler times, but in an environment of moral complexity and rapid shifts in attitude, social and political circumstances, economic conditions and technology, leaders must be capable of using their head, their heart and the guts as situations demand.”

Let’s consider the significance of just one important facet of the changing environment – the shifts in trust and customer expectations influenced by Gen Y.  Here is an extract from the recent EY report The Digitisation of Everything.

“Organisations that have succeeded in engaging with Generation Y know that, as well as accelerating the take-up of new digital technology, this generation poses additional challenges due to their evolving expectations. […] They are today the catalysts and the incubators of change, but each day their influence is growing in consumer and corporate environments, meaning that organisations must learn to engage effectively now, or risk being shut out of the game. To attract these young people, both as consumers and as employees, a company cannot just look good – it has to be good. […] Generation Y want to ensure that the organisations they engage with are authentic and not a hologram or mirage with a marketing ‘front’ that belies their reality.”

The significance and complexity of environmental, political and humanitarian challenges we face are immense.  Now more than ever, we need to take an expansive definition of ‘duty of care’ as leaders in business.  Leaders in business today have a responsibility to influence organisations to take a broader perspective. The world of business needs to lift its sights to lock into something bigger than narrow legacy definitions of performance and success. Willis Harmon, co-founder of the World Business Academy captures this imperative beautifully.

“Business has become, in this last half-century, the most powerful institution on the planet; it is critical that the dominant institution in any society take responsibility for the whole”

Global levels of employee disengagement are disturbing. OfficeVibe publishes real time employee engagement data from over 150 countries and 10,000+ organisations. At this time of writing this post 57% of employees surveyed would not recommend their organisation as a good place to work. The common-sense concept of the Service Profit Chain is still absent in many organisations – if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers and performance will take care of itself.  I love Simon Sinek’s take on this concept:

“There is not a CEO on the planet who is responsible for the customer. CEO’s are responsible for the people who are responsible for the customer. Get that right and everyone wins.”

More and more, employees also want to do work that has purpose and meaning. Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto is an eloquent call to action for leaders, asking that we embrace vulnerability and ‘dare greatly’.

“When learning and working are dehumanised – when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform, we disengage and we turn away from the very thing the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas and our passion”

A New Model Of Leadership: Heart, Head and Gut

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”   Theodore Roosevelt

In order to future-proof our a leadership, we must consciously shed some of the conditioning of our past. In the past, leaders were rewarded for “head smarts” – being logical, calculating data-based decision makers. Creative problem solving skills has been added to the mix in more recent times. In some organisations “guts” make it into the mix. I believe that this “smart and gutsy” model of leadership is incomplete.

In the article ‘Neuroscience and the Three Brains of Leadership’ Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka share their perspective why we need to engage in all three centres of wisdom.

“Without heart intelligence, there will not be sufficient values-driven emotional energy to care enough to act on or prioritise the decision against competing pressures […] Without head intelligence, the decision will not have been properly thought through and analysed. […] Without gut intelligence there will not be enough attention to managing risks nor enough willpower to mobilise and execute the decision once challenges arise.”

I believe that leaders of tomorrow need to make important decisions first with their heart, through the lense of compassion, values and integrity, then use their head to figure out the “how” (using logic and creativity) and harness their gut courage and instincts to execute.

Care and compassion also needs to extend to how we look after ourselves. Too many leaders today are failing to prioritise and protect the “non-negotiables” that safeguard their own physical and mental wellbeing. Instead of flourishing, many leaders are struggling and wearing “stress and busyness” as a badge of importance. Lack of self-care in leaders creates dangerous cultural signals.

My Personal Journey: Connecting With CompassionIMG_3129

“Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’. Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’. They just use your mind and you never get the credit. It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it. 9 to 5, yeah they got you where they want you. There’s a better life, and you dream about it, don’t you?. It’s a rich man’s game no matter what they call it. And you spend your life puttin’ money in his wallet” – Dolly Parton

As a child of the 70’s, I grew up with the Dolly Parton song “9 to 5” playing in the background of my formative years. For me, this song became a kind of subconscious anthem for the working class, creating (at some level) an acceptance that work involved suffering.  I have spent the last 21 years in 18 different roles across 9 different organisations. During that time, I have had the honour of witnessing a great deal of human triumph, however I have also seen and experienced a heck of a lot of unnecessary human suffering.

I once reported to a senior male leader who gave me some feedback that I “cared too much”. He attributed his career success to “learning how to care less”. He advised me that if I had aspirations to climb into C-suite roles, that I also needed to learn to “care less”.  For I while there I actually bought into this idea – there was something alluring about the idea of being a bit more “numb” to the human struggles of the people you serve and lead. I suppose it felt like that might be an easier ride. On paper, my manager was a very successful corporate leader and had managed to climb his way into some very senior roles and very impressive job titles. However, over the years I reported to him (and later worked with him as his peer) I realised that I was very wrong to entertain the idea of “caring less” as a way to progress my career. I realised that caring deeply was vital to leadership success, the key was to “round out” deep care with logic, creativity and courage.

Using the VIA “Values In Action” tool to understand my signature strengths was a key turning point for me. Understanding that kindness and compassion was one of my “signature values” helped me to understand that to be an authentic leader I needed to embrace my kindness. This was incredibly liberating insight for me, as I had experienced many moments in the corporate world where “kindness” has been wrongly associated with being naive or “soft”.

Being good “on paper” is one thing. In the real world, the aforementioned leader with the “care less” strategy failed to garner deep loyalty across the organisation and as a result did not have a strong reputation for true delivery (the type of delivery that exists beyond PowerPoint and significantly and measurably shifts customer and employee experience). People simply did not trust him and the very first job of a leader is to inspire trust. Trust forms the foundation of our ability as leaders to lead through change and deliver sustainable performance. In the words of Stephen Covey “The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the key professional and personal competency of our time.”

Dotlich (author or Head, Heart & Guts and former executive VP of several large companies) has worked with “smartest CEO’s” and believes that the key to their long term success and ability to earn respect and commitment was “their willingness to do what was right rather than take the easy or politically expedient course of action.”

This idea of heart, head and gut leadership deeply also resonates me because of my career experience in the area of customer-led transformation. I have spent many years leading and guiding dozens of Six Sigma and Lean process improvement projects and I am a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.  In my early years applying Six Sigma, the impact we achieved often fell short due to the somewhat “elitist” nature of Six Sigma. It is an approach grounded in uncovering the statistical relationship between input and output variables and can easily create a divide between those trained to interpret a “R-Squared” value and those who are not. When I introduced Lean into my toolkit I was able to achieve far more significant shifts in performance. At its core, Lean is grounded in inclusive problem solving, harnessing the wisdom of the people who live and breath the process and demands that leaders “gemba walk” to go and observe where the work is done. More recently, have taken on roles leading  Human Centered Design functions.  Human Centered Design take the importance of emotional attunement to a whole new level, requiring leaders to develop deep empathy with the humans within the system. Empathy and compassion are the ‘tickets to entry’ for HCD  and the methodology demands that leaders deeply understand the unnecessary human suffering that bad design creates. Through this connection and understanding comes a desire to participation in the creation of a better way.

In Summary…

It is my strong belief that leaders today need to care more than ever before.  The ability to extend compassion to ourselves, our employees, customers and the communities in which we operate has become a critical success factor.  Leaders who continue to operate with an over reliance on cognitive skills are not equipped to deal with the complexity and ambiguity we face on a daily basis. The fear, ego and reactivity of ill-equipped leaders is a risk to healthy organisational cultures. We must harness the wisdom of our heart, head and guts to function in a connected, healthy and effective way.

 

Golconda

I asked the fabulous folks in my “tribe” to share personal stories about the things that help them to thrive and reach their full potential. Here is what the wonderful Dr Amy Silver wanted to share with you. You can connect with Amy here.

amy image

When I first left home and went to University, the picture Golconda by Rene Magritte was the first picture on my wall and it has been part of my life since. It signifies everything that I don’t want to be part of and is a very easy meme for me to access what I do want. I want freedom and choice and I want to do it in a way that is surrounded by people who are thinking and acting differently, moving in different directions, along different paths.

As a student it was a way to be anarchic, but even now it reminds me to stand up for what I believe and to not conform to the dominant default. To me this picture represents automatic behaviours, conformity, sameness and lack of fun or spirit and more importantly I see lives that end with regret.

In my head, as with all fabulous art it gets superimposed with my lens. When I look at it I want to bring in colour, playfulness and spirit, the antithesis of the subjects in the picture.

In my head, there is a plump woman floating up from the bottom up through to the sky, weaving joyously between the static men. She is wearing a red belted two piece suit, with flowers in her hat, with frizzy hair flowing beneath, rosy weathered cheeks and a big beautiful smile laughing loudly. I want to be that woman when I grow up, I want to be the one showing the men in the picture how to fly, living a full and fun life.

The Shadow Side Of Being A High Achiever

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I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Women’s Leadership Retreat. It was a pivotal experience for me, but not for the reasons I expected.

During the retreat I had the privilege of spending several days with a group of highly accomplished senior female leaders. The cohort consisted of incredible women doing difficult and noble work across a broad spectrum of industries and government departments.

Over the course of the retreat as trust grew, many of the participants shared that they secretly wrestled with feelings of low self-worth.  For these women, the inner critic was an ever-present force and the imposter syndrome a constant companion. They struggled to reconcile these feelings with their high profile positions and as a consequence this was something that was really hard for them to admit and to talk about.

It deeply saddened me that many of the wonderful women at the retreat felt like something was “wrong with them” and so, they were suppressing their feelings or beating themselves up about them.

The teary confessions of one of the women there who was working in medicine and was literally saving lives every single day will always stay with me. She had the courage and vulnerability to share that she felt like she had no value in the world.

I started to wonder whether there was a connection between low self-worth and being a “high achiever”.

Is it possible that many highly successful leaders who rise to the top of their professions are propelled by “high achiever” attributes fuelled by a hidden shadow of low self-worth?

According to Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. there is a strong link between low self-worth and being a “high achiever”. In her book The Undervalued Self Elaine explains this link and provides guidance on how to navigate towards a new way of being.

“We all have an undervalued self buried deep inside, a part that can make us feel worthless. It may rise to the surface now and then or, for some of us, it may be a constant companion. It makes us doubt ourselves or feel shy, anxious, or even depressed. It results in “low self esteem,” the most common problem addressed by psychotherapists and self-help teachers and the root of most other psychological issues. It is not always easy to know when we have fallen into ranking and undervaluing ourselves even to the point of feeling worthless, because we each employ largely unconscious self-protections to keep us from feeling shame. (…) We have six main self-protections: minimizing, blaming, noncompeting, overachieving, inflating, and projecting. These self-protections sometimes allow us to stay unaware of, or avoid, our worst feelings. (…) They are attempts to fool ourselves, and perhaps others, about our rank. (…) You will have to strip them away before you can see, feel, and eliminate your feelings of worthlessness.”

Driving home from the retreat I made a commitment to play a role in helping leaders make sense of that voice inside their head that tells them that they are not worthy and that they are not good enough.

Most of all, I just want them to know that they are not alone.

I have written this article to start a conversation about this important topic and to share what I have learnt so far about self-worth and it’s connection to being a “high achiever”.

You can take this short quiz to understand whether you undervalue yourself. Building self-awareness in this area is foundational work on the journey to becoming a Connected Leader.

 

What Is Connected Leadership and why does it matter?

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My personal purpose is to let my light shine in order to help people thrive and reach their full potential.

I believe that we must thrive in order to unleash the creativity (head), compassion (heart) and courage (gut) required to work together to navigate the complex challenges of our times.

Feeling connected is key to thriving. The concept of Connected Leadership acts as a “north star” for leading through the challenges of the current business climate, with the forces of volatility, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity compounding and accelerating.

My understanding of Connected Leadership is continually evolving. I believe that the concept of Connected Leadership acts as a vital “north star” for leading through the challenges of the current business climate, with the forces of volatility, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity compounding and accelerating.

I want to share my current thinking around the concept of Connected Leadership. This thinking continues to evolve and builds on the work of Harold Jarche.

Connected Leaders are grounded in a strong connection to themselves, others and the “bigger picture”.

Element #1 – A strong connection to themselves…

Connected Leaders have a high level of self-awareness and are clear on their “why”, their values and strengths. They are very clear on their personal purpose and this purpose acts as a daily guide. They feel comfortable dealing with ambiguity and complexity. They have the skills and confidence to handle the discomfort of “not knowing”. They are able to resist the pull of simplistic solutions when navigating complex, adaptive challenges. They harness and combine their head, heart and gut intelligence. They recognise and resist “busy work” and make time for important work.

Element #2 – A strong connection to others…

Connected Leaders are fantastic listeners and seek to understand before seeking to be understood. They work and learn out loud. They test their ideas with others and share things that would be helpful and do not let fear of judgement hold them back. They use compassion, empathy, transparency and trust to influence networked people. They hold space instead of taking up space. They are comfortable with vulnerability. They understand the importance of kindness. They build and nurture a strong network to stay informed about relevant issues and innovations within their industries and in the broader landscape. They have a tribe of trusted people and use this tribe as a source of energy and inspiration.

Element #3 – A strong connection to the “bigger picture”…

Connected Leaders are critical thinkers and highly curious. They are continually seeking, sensing, sharing, listening and scanning the horizon. They are also systems thinkers. and have a good level of awareness of the systems in which they operate and have a clear understanding of the roles within that system. They recognise patterns to make better decisions. They have the skills to talk about cultural forces in a way that keeps them out of the “too hard basket”. They can recognise and describe the cultural forces that help or hinder the strategic aspirations of an organisation. They talk openly about the “unspoken rules of play” in a constructive and kind way. They possess the wisdom and the peace of mind to hold all of this, whist maintaining a healthy perspective on what is really important.