Finding The Courage To Care

Daring Greatly plain

I wanted to publish this article on World Mental Health Day.

I am a big believer that mental health is everyone’s business, especially if you are a leader in business today.

In Australia every single day:

  • 3 people die on our roads
  • 8 people die from suicide
  • 30 people attempt suicide

Research by Beyond Blue found that whilst 91% of employees believe that it is important to work in a mentally healthy workplace, only 52% agree that their workplace fits this description. Given that 45% of Australians will suffer from a mental illness at some time in their life, this means that many of the workplaces of Australia are failing to fulfil their duty of care. A recent AIA Healthiest Workplace Survey found that 50% of Australians were suffering from at least one dimension of work-related stress. According to OfficeVibe 42% of employees believe that their leadership does not contribute to a positive company culture.

It is very clear that far too many people are suffering. It is time for workplaces to step up and play a much stronger role in supporting human flourishing. Workplaces have the opportunity to become a significant source of wellbeing for the world’s population.

This week the Australian Federal Government announced that businesses will be a key focus of an independent inquiry into mental health. The Productivity Commission will investigate the impact of mental health on the Australian economy and identify the ways workplaces can better support people living with mental health conditions.

The Health Minister Greg Hunt said;

“We know that with 4 million Australians being affected by mental health conditions every year, the workplace can be an absolutely central point for identifying, for helping to provide support and for helping to provide recovery,”

The challenge?

It will be impossible to achieve the scale of organisational change required to shift the status-quo without many more leaders finding the courage to embark on their own individual journeys of personal growth and change.

 Michael Bunting sums this up beautifully in his book The Mindful Leader;

“Transformation is the territory of true leadership. The work of transformation takes no special talent or skill. But it does take an uncommon determination to face our fears, reactivity, avoidance patters and insecurities and keep going. It takes strength.”

Johann Hari’s ground-breaking research has identified nine underlying causes of depression. All nine causes have something in common – they are all forms of disconnection. In his words “ they are all ways in which we have been cut off from something we innately need but seem to have lost along the way”. In his book The Lost Connections Johann explores; disconnection from meaningful work, disconnection from meaningful values, disconnection from nature, disconnection from a secure future and disconnection from status and respect. He also investigates the links between disempowerment at work and poor mental physical and emotional health. All of these lost connections are lurking causes of poor mental and physical health in our workplaces.

To achieve the shift required, leaders must create stronger connections with those they lead and work with. Stronger connections are forged when leaders find the courage to be vulnerable.

Most organisations today have a strategic aspiration to be a great place to work. However, in my experience many leaders don’t have the courage to ask – to REALLY ask – how their people are feeling and to ask how, as leaders, they could be doing a better job at supporting their people to thrive and perform at their very best.

 Why are we afraid to ask?

  • We are afraid we won’t know what to say if we get an honest answer
  • We are afraid we won’t know what to do if a colleague discloses something they are really struggling with
  • We are afraid that the conversation may demand that we take off our own masks and reveal something of own personal struggle
  • We are afraid we won’t have all the answers and that we won’t be able to “fix the problem”
  • We are afraid that we won’t be able to have an honest conversation whilst also holding the leadership party line that our organisation is a “Great Place To Work”

These fears are real. None of us have all the answers. None of us are perfect.

But our people already know that.

Our people want leaders that they can relate to. They want to feel a connection with us that is grounded in our shared humanness our shared imperfections.

They don’t expect us to “fix their problems” or “have all the answers”.

What they do expect is that we will listen. That we will guide. That we will be open. That we will have the ability to show empathy. That we will find the courage care enough to put our own ego and fears aside and open our hearts.

A big part of great leadership is being aware of the things you don’t want to hear and the things you don’t want to talk about – and finding the courage to lean into the most difficult and most challenging conversations.

You can’t manufacture moments of courage, but you can practice courage so that when the moment demands, you will be ready. Also, courage is also contiguous, so when you show courage in your leadership, others will follow. You can learn more about ways to practice courage in the book “The Power Of Moments” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

In addition to practicing courage, it’s about having both the tools and the awareness to identify when someone needs help and then supporting that person to take the necessary steps to get the help they need.

Of course I am in no way suggesting that leaders should be therapists.

I am suggesting is that part of the reason only 13% of the global workforce is engaged today is because many of leaders have avoided the hard, honest conversations. I am also suggesting that as leaders we have an obligations to know our people well enough to be able to pick up on small changes in behaviour and that we must earn the trust of our people so that they feel able to speak up when they are struggling.

Where Can You Start?

When we become open to new ways of leading, we will discover that there are loads of great tools available to support us.

Dr Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto is a great resource.

dare greatly maifesto

I also love Brene’s video on empathy that reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

Being humble is also important. Humble leaders gladly accept the role of learners because they know it will make them better.

Of course in order to find the courage to care in the moments that matter, you need to be vigilant about your own wellbeing. Your own cup needs to be full. As leaders we need to get much better at putting our own oxygen mask on first and learn to take better care of our ourselves so we are capable of adapting and thriving through change & challenge. We must role-model wellbeing and prioritise self-care without apology. I wrote this article “Thriving Leaders Are The Nucleus Of Thriving Organisations” recently on RU OK? Day to explore this topic is some more detail.

In my opinion, another ticket to entry for cultivating courage is to have a good awareness of our relationship with our thoughts, so practicing mindfulness is also key. We each have between 25,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day and around 85% of our 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. Developing the ability to respond (instead of react) to our thoughts is essential. The Indian guru Osho was really onto something when he described the human mind as a beautiful servant but a very dangerous master. I explore the topic on mindfulness in the context of leadership in this article “The Mind: A Beautiful Servant, A Dangerous Master”.

In order for our a leadership to adapt and evolve, we must also consciously shed some of the conditioning of our past. In the past, leaders were rewarded mainly for “head smarts” – being logical, calculating, experienced, knowledgeable, authoritarian, data-based decision makers. I believe that leaders of today 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. This is explained in the article ‘Neuroscience and the Three Brains of Leadership’ by Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka;

“ 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 explore this topic further in the article “Leading with Head, Heart & Guts”.

We each have the opportunity to experiment with different ways of being and to refine new ways of showing up – really showing up – for the tough conversations. There is no one-size-fits all. We need to play around with it and refine an approach that feels authentic.

Sure, we will occasionally stuff it up, however (in my experience) when you truly open you heart, people will forgive your human stumbles. However, if you remain trapped in your head and keep your heart closed, you destroy trust.

Several years ago, I had a manager who gave me the following feedback during my annual performance review: “The problem with you Cassie is that you care too much. If you want to progress to an executive position, you really have to learn to care less”. He did not deliver this feedback this in a patronising or mean way. He genuinely felt he was sharing his secret to success with me. Fortunately (thanks to the via tool) I knew my strengths – zest, honesty and kindness. So, for me, trying to “care less” about work is about as realistic as trying to hold a beach ball under water for 40 hours a week. Armed with this self-awareness, I was able to respectfully reject this advice. I actually felt really sorry for him. Yes, he was “successful” (if you measure success by a big salary and a top-rung position in the hierarchy), but the people who knew him well knew that the things he really cared about was his own status, title and material possessions. He was not trusted and so the people who worked for him never really brought their full potential to bear. Last I checked he is still climbing the corporate ladder, flying closer and close to the sun, but I wonder – at what cost?

If you are a leader in business and you are reading this, I encourage you to dare greatly today, and every day.

The business world desperately needs more leaders who are willing to take off the mask, who are willing to dig deep and to who are willing to find within themselves the courage to care. 

When we really connect with others, when there is vulnerability and trust – we unlock our collective potential and extraordinary performance become possible.

This article was inspired by Allan Sparkes. Allan’s tremendous courage and extraordinary leadership has been a huge source of inspiration for me. Allan is a Cross of Valour recipient and the Deputy Commissioner for the NSW Mental Health Commission.

mental-health-continuum

Reimagining Employee Experience

The single greatest predictor of sustained organisational performance is the extent to which human potential is unlocked and enabled.

Despite significant technological advancements, the full realisation of human potential continues to be one of the most over-looked sources of value in organisations today.

Our Challenge

The sad reality is that many workplaces have not been designed with the intent to unlock human potential.

Quite the opposite.

Many workplaces today are still heavily burdened with antiquated systems, processes, policies and mindsets. The central intent that lingers on in many legacy workplace design elements is not to empower and enable, but rather to control, to mitigate risk and to ‘incentivise’ desired behaviours through elaborate (usually ineffective) systems of sticks and carrots.

Over the course of our lifetime, many of us we will spend at least 90,000 hours at various workplaces. The experiences we have in these workplaces, and the extent to which we feel valued and valuable has a profound impact on us.

According to OfficeVibe only 13% of the global workforce engaged today and 42% of employees believe that their leadership does not contribute to a positive company culture.

Recent research by Beyond Blue revealed that whilst 91% of employees believe that it is important to work in a mentally healthy workplace, only 52% agree that their workplace fits this description. The AIA Healthy Workplace survey found that 50% of Australians were suffering from at least one dimension of work-related stress.

1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men are likely to experience anxiety in their lifetime. Depression is now the number one cause of disability across the world with 1 in 6 women and 1 in 8 men likely to experience depression in their lifetime.

Johann Hari’s ground-breaking research identified nine underlying causes of depression. All nine causes have something in common – they are all forms of disconnection. In his words:

they are all ways in which we have been cut off from something we innately need but seem to have lost along the way”.

The first disconnection he covers in his book Lost Connections is disconnection from meaningful work. Johann explores the link between disempowerment at work and poor mental physical and emotional health. Other chapters cover; disconnection from meaningful values, disconnection from nature, disconnection from a secure future and disconnection from status and respect. All of these lost connections are lurking causes of poor mental and physical health.

There is an enormous amount of work to do (and undo) in order to create organisations that truly unlock full human potential.

As Barry Schwartz explains in his book “Why We Work”:

“What people come to seek in work largely depends on what their work makes available. The conditions of human labour created by the industrial revolution have systematically deprived people of fulfillment from their work. We “design” human nature, by designing the institutions in which people live. If we want to help design a human nature that seeks and finds challenge, engagement, meaning and satisfaction from work, we have to start building our way out of the deep hole that almost three centuries of misconception about human motivation and human nature have put us in, and help foster workplaces in which challenge, engagement, meaning and satisfaction are possible.”

Role Of Technology

Henry Ford is reported to have said; Why is it that I always get a whole person when what I really want is a pair of hands?.

Well, thank goodness recent technology innovations means that we can now start to relieve humans from repetitive, manual work. We are now able to utilise technology to do the mundane work that we had to crudely incentive humans to do for all these years – freeing up humans for higher-order, value-creation activities.

I recently heard Georgie Harman (CEO of Beyond Blue) talk about the important topic of supporting a mentally healthy workforce through a focus on:

“good job design and the creation of thriving systems and processes that support 5 in 5 employees”.

This was such a powerful and refreshing message to hear. Often organisations take a more reactive and narrow approach to “OH&S” focusing mainly on supporting the 1 in 5 employees currently experiencing a mental health challenge (which of course is vitally important, but in no way comprehensive or progressive).

Start To Notice

I believe that the best way to accelerate the improvement of employee experiences is simply by paying closer attention to the current state.

Become curious. Start to notice how elements of your current-state workplace design influences human behaviour, motivation, wellbeing and performance.

You can create change simply by questioning the language your use in your workplace.

For example, the term “Human Resources” has never sat well with me. According to Wikipedia, resources are defined as “materials, energy, services, staff, knowledge, or other assets that are transformed to produce benefit and in the process may be consumed or made unavailable”. Not exactly uplifting.

Also, have you ever noticed how common military terms are in business? Chief, Officer, front line, sales force, fighting uphill battles. Military constructs are not designed to unlock human potential – their intent is to create obedience.

Ask Why

During my Lean Six Sigma training I was taught to use a simple tool called the “Five Whys”. Here is a link to a good guide to using the Five Why’s in the Atlassian Playbook.

To use it, you simply need to channel you inner four-year-old and ask “Why?” over and over to uncover the root cause of a problem.

If you apply this tool to question elements of your current workplace design, If you get the answer “because it has always been done that way” – you have discovered an opportunity for innovation.

Here is a simple (fun) example:

Why do men in my office wear small nooses around their necks? …because ties are standard corporate attire for men.

Why is are ties standard corporate attire for men? …because it is the tradition for men to wear ties in formal settings.

Why is it the tradition for men to wear ties? …well according to a quick google search, neckwear was worn by Roman soldiers as a symbol belonging to a particular group. The modern necktie traces back to the 1600’s when Croatian mercenaries in French service, wearing their traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs, caught the interest of the Parisians and the garment gained the name “cravat”. It is believed that when a factory worker joined the management class, he could wear his cravat long as an indication that he no longer worked with machinery (as long cravats were too dangerous to wear when operating machinery). So basically, you could say that a tie is a message to the world that says “ I am important”.

Why are men still wearing ties to work today?…because we have always done it this way

How Might We…

Once you have discovered an opportunity for improvement, you can frame up the opportunity with a ‘How Might We’ statement. For example, “How might we trust our people to dress appropriately and comfortably?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Why are hours worked the primary unit of currency at work?
  • Why do we send so much email to each other?
  • Why I only get meaningful feedback from my leader once a year in my annual performance review?
  • Why do we place so much more value on customer feedback than employee feedback?
  • Why are there no formal mechanisms for employees to give feedback to leaders?
  • Why don’t we have access to consumer-grade technology at work?
  • Why do we have bonuses?
  • Why do we try to slot complex talented human into narrow pre-determined job descriptions?

Don’t Just Tinker

If we really want to transform the way we work, we can’t just tinker around the edges of the current state.

The most impactful employee experience innovations start with a blank sheet of paper because we must start the process of design with the right intent at the core of the design.

So, start the design process with the intent to create a simple, inclusive, empowering, value-creating, frictionless employee experience – and see what happens. You can always add things back in later if your legal and compliance team raise concerns. But it is important not to start your design with all the current complexity and mess already baked in.

A great example of a transformational employee experience innovation comes from Aurecon. Aurecon is the first company in Australia to use a visual employment contract, eliminating more than 4000 words from their employment contracts to create a succinct and meaningful visual contract. I love that this approach creates a fresh, beautiful and playful experience for all new employees – as opposed to creating a terrible experience for everyone in order to mitigate the risk of things going badly wrong for the tiny minority of new hires. Their guiding design principles were: make the complex simple and be playful with serious intent.

Be A Pioneer & Hold The Course

The key is to hold the course and be prepared to play the long game. Establish a portfolio of employee experience experiments to test and learn, to push the boundaries and help others to see the possibilities for a different way of working.

Start by focussing on the elements of the employee experience with a clear and direct connection to better customer and commercial outcomes.

Employee (and customer) experience transformation can be insanely hard work. There will be many forces at play that try to protect the status-quo. Cass Spong of ENTHEOS Consulting explains this beautifully:

“When the alternatives start to appear there is push back as the system is inclined to self preservation. The system will try to crush the alternatives. During this period between paradigms, there is an important leadership capacity – to sit in uncertainty, to be able to sit in the swamp of uncertainty for a LONG time, maybe far longer than ever imagined.”

There is much work to be done to design and sustain thriving organisations.

As technologic advancements continue to accelerate shifts in the way we work, my hope is that we will see more organisations sustain thriving, inspired workforces, delivering great employee experiences that enable the delivery of beautiful, frictionless, valuable, differentiated customer experiences.

My Inspiration

This is a photo of some old local newspaper clippings reporting on Miss Jean Warne’s “retirement” from her position at the local council. It was 1938 and she was getting married.

Jean Warne was my grandmother. She was 22 when this newspaper was printed.

The paper reports; “Many tributes were paid to Miss Warne when occasion was taken to officially farewell her prior to her retirement in preparation for her forthcoming wedding. She was described as having proved her worth. She had been a great girl for the council. Her interest and attitude towards her work was marvellous. Councillor Costello congratulated her on her choice of husband. He felt sure she would make a great success of married life. Mr Smith referred to the efficiency and obliging character of Miss Warne. She has proven herself to be a very fine type of girl at all times. She was a lady and efficient in every way – nothing better could be said of her. Miss Warne in responding spoke very nicely saying “all the nice remarks of me make it even harder to leave.” A few months later the paper reports on her marriage. “The gift from the groom to the bride was a crystal brush and mirror and that of the bride to the groom a attaché case

Over the last 80 years so much has changed in regards to gender equality. Somewhere along the way someone had the courage to challenge the status-quo and ask a very bold question: “Why do women have to retire from work they enjoy when then get married?

Through our collective and continued focus on the creation of workplaces that inspire, empower and enable human potential, the sooner more workplaces will become a source of sustained wellbeing and performance

Taking care of people so that can take care of customers the heart of great employee experience design. Great workplace design innovations can be sparked by one person simply asking why. In the great words of African-American author Alice Walker

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

We are Value Creators

I recently had a great walking catchup with a trusted colleague. I shared with her a challenge I have been struggling with. She listened and shared a few insights that painted an alternative perspective – instantly filling me with optimism. It was an incredibly valuable conversation. It unlocked the resilience I need to keep working on the challenge and the mindset I need to solve it.

This experience got me thinking about the many ways we each create value within the systems in which we operate…and how this value extends far beyond delivering on the responsibilities contained in our job descriptions.

When we are engaged and inspired at work, when there is trust and when we are given the freedom to harness our strengths – the total value we can each create is enormous.

Much of this value is hard to measure – it may never appear on an agile board, as a ticked “to-do” or on a project plan – but I would argue that it’s cumulative value may exceed the outputs of ‘doing your job’.

When we create the culture and mindset required to see each other as value creators we unlock our full potential.

Great leaders inspire us to keep on doing wonderful, creative, valuable, immeasurable things that extend far beyond the narrow construct of ‘doing our jobs’.

value

 

A New Dawn

light shine

I am encountering more and more senior executives across a range of industries who are starting to appreciate the connectedness of Customer Experience and Employee Experience.

Here are some of snippers from the recent events I have attended, or posts that I have read that fill me with hope:

`We knew that if we nailed EX, our CX would improve` (Carsales.com)

“Employee Experience is a real thing. We must find better ways to better enable employees to do their job” (KPMG)

“If we take care of our people, they take care of our guests and business takes care of itself” (The Clubhouse)

“Your customer experience will never be higher that your employee experience – full stop. In this world of CX, if you don’t have a EX strategy, you are just not going to win.” (Optus)

“If your employees are not engaged, you will not be able to deliver a good CX. All the efforts you have invested into understanding and improving CX must also be applied to EX. Your employees determine the quality of your CX” (Forrester)

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!

 

 

 

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.

 

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.