Four Fierce Leadership Techniques to Self-Manage Stress Reduction

[Learn how fierce leadership can significantly reduce your stress and your response to it.]

Stress is an integral part of the modern workplace. When we harness it for short bursts of intense activity it can be positive. However, when it overpowers us it can ultimately become debilitating: our never ending task list has us stuck on a downward spiral of constant catchup mode and an “are we there yet?” mentality that breaks down our resilience and leads to burn out. We can counter and reverse this spiral by being fierce in our response to stress and changing both the way we process stressful experiences and how we get back to our baseline of equilibrium and openness.

There are four self-management methods we can use as fierce leaders to reduce stress and change our response to it:
1. Transforming your narrative and renaming;
2. Consistently accessing your internal guidance system;
3. Easing yourself into the pressure; and
4. Shifting rewards to different behaviours.

Transforming your narrative and renaming

On retreats I like to use an exercise to show the prevalence of narrative and how it can influence and impact our decision-making, performance and well-being. There are usually around 40 people at this session. I choose 9 volunteers, divided into 3 teams. The first 3 are going to start the exercise and the second and third teams are asked to leave the room for now. The first 3 are given a set of blank post-it notes and tasked with labelling 5 items within the room. They must then each create a narrative around those items based on how they’ve labelled them and share that with the rest of the attendees, other than with the teams who are still waiting outside the room. The second 3 are then invited to rejoin the group and create their own narrative based on the first 3’s set of labels. They are then asked to be 100% more positive and upbeat and then they are tasked with renaming the labels on the 5 items according to their new emotions. The 3rd team is then invited into the room and asked to create a narrative based on the upbeat labels team 2 has applied.

This exercise demonstrates three things. Firstly, that it can be random as to how we name things and situations we encounter. And that everyone may see the same thing, but give it a different name. Try another simpler exercise: go for a drive with your partner and identify 5 things on your drive for each of you to name. Get them to write these down. Are any labelled the same? How about all 5? The following day ask your partner to be fierce, take a few deep breaths and rename these 5 items, while you activate your fight or flight mode and rename them yourself. Do you see a marked difference?

Secondly, the retreat exercise demonstrates that the names and labels we apply to things, experiences and perceptions and the narrative that we generate as a result can significantly influence much of our subsequent actions and behavior.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this exercise demonstrates that by choosing to rename we can transform things and ourselves.

Consistently accessing your internal guidance system

Leadership is partially about being able to analyse complex inputs on a constantly shifting landscape and making impactful decisions within sometimes severe time constraints. This is a foundational skill for leaders. Fierce leaders re able to build on this skill by creating a strong internal guidance system that includes their principles and values, but also takes into consideration the goal, mission and purpose of their organisation and the meta-landscape within which their organisation is operating. While this guidance system is not rigid, fierce leaders parse their decisions against their system to ensure that it is directionally correct. When a leader has access to all the information on a situation and can take their time in coming to a decision then it may not seem so important for them to check in with their guidance system. However, leaders are seldom presented with all the information and have to make decisions under immense time and external pressures, such as competing interests wanting to ensure a decision is made that suits them. These are the times when fiercely adhering to a strong internal guidance system can be essential.

Fierce leaders are more likely to provide consistently sounds decisions and set compelling strategies because they are clear on who they are and on why they have showed up in their role.

Easing yourself into the pressure

How do you currently dealt with high pressure situations? Most people amp themselves up and let their evolutionary fear mechanisms take over: they tense their muscles and jaw, narrow their eyes and breath shallowly to conserve oxygen and energy; they try to focus in on the threat instinctively believing that by doing so they will be tackle it head on and dissipate it quickly. It may seem counterintuitive, but fierce leaders don’t let evolution take over: they relax their muscles and jaw, open their eyes wider and take long, slow and deep breaths: they consider the wides array of factors impacting on a situation. Essentially, fierce leaders ease themselves into the pressure. This affects the situation dramatically: by opening up instead of closing down they release some of the pressure around that event, which gives them clearer headspace within which to make decisions and take action.

Shifting rewards to different behaviours
A high pressure situation that demands our attention and decisive action can be a catalyst for us to revert to default habits. We can modulate the impact of a habit by unpacking it into its three core elements: the trigger, which catalyses it – in our example, a high pressure situation; the constitutional habitual behavior itself – how we react to the high pressure situation; and the reward we receive for presenting this behavior – the high pressure situation is diverted. Directing our attention to each of these elements separately gives us more power of choice. We may not like the behavior that is triggered by a particular high pressure situation and undertake to not let it be triggered in the future. While it is true that whatever we pay attention to and become aware of will begin to change, focusing on the trigger is not sufficient to bring about meaningful change in our habits. This is particularly true in the modern workplace where leaders face a constant barrage of high pressure situations and their is no respite from trigger events during which we can take the time to shift our habits. However, we can make meaningful change happen in real time by focusing on the third habitual element: the reward, and shifting it to a different behavior. Consider whether the reward you are getting is leading to outcomes you want for your business and yourself. If not, this is a sign that you should make a change in reward-behaviour placement.

Karen is slammed with meetings preparing for year end. At the same time she’s dealing with leadership counterparts at a company that is merging with hers, and they are becoming a little tricky. Matthew is a senior member of her team, but in the last month things have not been going well for him as his sales team has lost two big accounts. He also has a penchant for barging into Karen’s office unannounced.

It’s a Tuesday morning and she is having a meeting with the merger company CEO in an hour and is grappling with some of the intricacies of the deal, when Matthew walks in and interrupts her train of thought. He blurts out that they have lost a really strategic account. This is like a red rag to a bull. She doesn’t see the worry lines on his face, nor does she hear the nervous quaver in his voice. All she sees is an object of intense and immediate frustration and a focal point for her to direct the anger that has been building up since the merger began a few months ago.

She blasts Mathew, telling him she is extremely disappointed with him and asking how he could have let yet another monumental disaster happen. She doesn’t wait for an answer. Did he not know how difficult this would make her bonus discussions with the board in two weeks? She stands up from her desk and ushers him to her door, shouting down the corridor for him to fix the situation by the end of the day or polish his resume. She slams her door closed knowing full well that the entire office has heard her outburst. She pauses for a moment, smiling inwardly and rewarding herself with the thought that she has yet again shown up an employee and is still in control.

A week later the merger is continuing to hound Karen and the end of year results are not looking good. She arrives back at her office at 7 AM after having taken a coffee break and finds Matthew waiting outside. She steels herself, fully expecting to have another outburst, and as she sits down behind her desk calls him in, “What now?” He tells her that he has managed to not only turn around the situation with the three clients that had threatened to walk but that his team has closed another large account. She relaxes her shoulders and thinks to herself that Matthew’s newfound abilities are a direct result of her outburst at him.

But then Matthew does something unexpected: he hands her a manila envelope telling her it’s his resignation letter. How will she explain to the board that not only has the company had the worst performance since she took over the reign, may not complete the merger and that she has also lost one of her star performers. She certainly hadn’t seen this coming and it was not the result she had been looking for when she shouted at Matthew.

Let’s break this case study down into its core habitual elements. Karen was under stress and was triggered by Matthew announcing the loss of an important client account.  The behavior this triggered was her shouting at him for not living up to expectations. The reward was that she felt powerful, in control and released some of her intangible frustration. It’s unintended and counterproductive consequence was the loss of a valuable member of staff.

Had she noticed the signs she would’ve seen that not only was he nervous, but he also was sleep deprived. This pointed to him caring a lot about the situation. But what she didn’t know was that Matthew’s mother had passed away the day before and the loss of the strategic accounts was due to a policy change that Karen had signed off on a month before.

        “Leaders are constantly one piece of information away from a breakthrough shift in mindset.” 

Had she known this she might have reacted very differently, but with a long history of similar outbursts and a string of disengaged and former staff it is unlikely that she would not react in this way with other people in the future. Instead of trying to prevent such trigger events from happening, she could have changed the situation significantly by shifting the reward to a different behavior such as feeling compassion towards Matthew.

By holding back her frustration and opening up to the situation more fully she may have noticed his elevated anguish and realised that something else was at play than loss of face or the fear of losing his job. Asking him how he was doing may have released a flow of emotion. He had intended to ask for time off to deal with his personal loss and wanted to not only tell her why clients were bailing, but also how he planned to turn the situation around. Giving him the opportunity to open up would not only have assuaged his anguish and fears, increased his engagement within the company and elevated her as a leader in his eyes, but it would also have made her feel good, in control and reduced her frustration and stress.  Matthew would have become a more trusted member of her team, something that she sorely lacked. Same result, different behavior and a very different outcome.

 

Fierce Leadership and Breakthrough Experiences: Modern Leadership Practices for Success

In this post we are going to continue to explore fierce leadership as an essential modern leadership practice.

Fierce companies are at the vanguard of modern leadership practices because they understand that it is imperative to invest into their people as the cost of doing nothing means a huge bottom line impact through staff turnover and disengagement. Fierce companies cultivate their people’s potential rather than having them leave in droves to find places where they can reach beyond their capabilities. Fierce companies enable fierce leadership practices so that their executives and teams are able to draw on their inner resources and thrive in the fast-paced and ever-changing modern environment.

Fierce leadership can be defined as the practice of helping one self and others to follow their passion and purpose, while leading their lives with maximum clarity, connection and integrity.

Fierce leaders strengthen their leadership presence by fostering compassion and mindfulness; they harness this presence to power their decision-making and execution to the benefit of others and themselves.

Fierce leadership is a transformative discipline that uses breakthrough experiences and epiphanies to change the paradigm for leaders: they increasingly see themselves and the world around them differently which results in them positively changing their leadership activities, such as how they use their influence and pursue goals; they discover where their current leadership approach is lacking and not producing desired results; they shift their attitude and the way in which they view situations and their positioning in such situations, particularly high stress situations; and they approach their roles in business and society with more authenticity, care and purpose which results in exponentially better outcomes.

Through the practice of being fierce leaders can strip away narrative that doesn’t serve them and as a result become clear on what is happening in their minds on a moment by moment basis. By focusing on the paradigms from which they have been operating and inquiring into what beliefs and mindsets have been limiting them they can create a breakthrough experience for themselves; this gives them the epiphany that, firstly, they can have control over their thoughts and the attitudes and actions that follow such thoughts, and secondly, this control empowers them to have choices by illuminating counterproductive and dysfunctional behaviours and habits, how they form and how to break them.

This practice of fierce leadership can be kickstarted by a leader themselves or they can join colleagues within the safe space of a retreat to get to know one another better and share breakthrough experiences together.

After a recent 5-day retreat organised for a company to explore fierce leadership, Michael who had been with the company for 25 years and worked his way up to a senior executive position said that this was the first time he had the opportunity to invest in his own development in such a significant way. He felt that he got to know both himself and his colleagues at a much deeper and more meaningful level than had ever been possible in the day to day of being in the office. In many ways he had felt that over the years his engagement systems, his corporate life support mechanisms, had been progressively shutting down. The retreat boosted his personal energy levels and for the first time in many years he felt truly alive and excited. His team recognised this change when he returned to the office and soon thereafter he was reaching out for further fierce leadership training both for himself and his division.

Jessica, a twenty seven year old vice president felt that her breakthrough experience at the same retreat involved an intergenerational insight that all executives are dealing with similar stresses and issues. While we all react differently to similar situations there is much common ground in that, as leaders, we are all having to make complex decisions with incomplete information. As a result she was able to work with other generations without judgment. She found herself getting more done in the company through her increased ability to collaborate and persuade other executives to join her in achieving outcomes that had more impact on their company and across their ecosystem.

 

11 Reasons Business Executives Must Reinvent Themselves as Fierce Leaders

Over the last few decades there has been an accelerating growth in self-centred, exploitative management and dehumanisation in the corporate workplace. Recently there has been a silent revolt against this unprecedented epidemic as evidenced by the astronomically high levels of corporate disengagement, particularly amongst the newer generations entering the workforce. How can leaders reinvent themselves and adopt a more humanistic management ethos to counter this epidemic? It requires nothing short of becoming a fierce leader: creating an embodied practice of management that includes qualities such as respect, empowering leaders to influence for better rather than worse and ultimately this will create a magnetic attractor for top talent who reject outright working in degrading environments.

What does it mean to be fierce as a leader?
We know it when we see it in action: when I stood on the Grand Parade in Cape Town as Nelson Mandela gave his presidential inauguration speech in 1994 my eyes filled with tears. He embodied fierce leadership in every fibre of his being; his presence and poise in the face of decades of dehumanising behavior was unforgettable. But we also know it when we see it in the mannerisms of a board member or the attitude of an executive running a team meeting: they are fully in the moment.

The four critical elements to being a fierce leader
Fierce leadership requires us to train our minds.  This training creates a formidable practice so that we can deal with modern day business and our susceptibility to the following situation: as a result of being constantly subjected to the 24 seven pressures of work and despite our best intentions, our resilience can break down even in noncritical situations and we can revert to bad-management-autopilot.

However, there are four critical elements to building a fierce leadership practice that help prevent this type of autopilot from kicking in. We do need to constantly tend to our practice by nurturing and supporting these elements.  We should see these elements as both aspirational and practical and use our best efforts to work on being stronger at each one individually as well as together.

1. Altruism and humanity –
Seeing beyond our current office and role and being aware that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and our organisations gives us a capacity for much deeper understanding. It also increases our capability to take a serving stance through which we treat others as human beings rather than exploiting them as objectified resources.

2. Lucid clarity –
Dealing with what is showing up in the moment, what is here now as opposed to what happened in the past (“this is the way we’ve always done things around here”) or what is projected to happen (“if we can close this deal we will sell our products and more parts of the world”).

3. Imaginative openness –
Considering all angles and holding diametrically opposed points of view in our heads as we work through the implications of the choices we make is crucial. This requires both a highly developed imagination and ensuring there is sufficient spaciousness in our minds within which to explore, over and above all the clutter of a busy daily executive life.

4. Core focus –
Determining what we want to focus our attention on and maintaining that focus despite a myriad things trying to take us off task.

The benefits of a fierce leadership practice
As our practice grows we find ourselves:
* influencing more often for better than worse in not only the big impactful decisions we make, but also every minute of every day;
* becoming more focused and this lucidity of thought gives us the opening to deal innovatively with situations based on our efforts to deeply understand what they mean for us and others and compassionately realising the consequences impact of our choices;
* shifting our stance to lead by inspiration rather than expectation;
* finding ourselves considering others in their positions with more openness and respect
* becoming aware very quickly when thoughts aren’t true to ourselves and having the ability to redirect before we react
* more often exuding qualities that engaged people look for such as kindness and humour, and being more highly communicative – as fierce leaders we do this despite these qualities not necessarily being reflected in our organisational KPIs;
* finding ourselves getting more stuff done because we are more confident, have increased emotional intelligence, are more collaborative and have a greater ability to influence others;
* rejecting the negative narrative we may form around not being on 24 seven and being able to control when we communicate to only those times when we can be more actionable, considered and effective – this in turn frees us up to be more present in our daily non-work related activities such as exercise and family time and also frees up our people from following the bad precedent we were setting by, for example, emailing them at 11h30pm and expecting an immediate response;
* more able to be resilient and pause in any situation, no matter high pressured, and check in with ourselves how we are feeling about that situation before reacting – are we subject to any biases, is our response going to have unintended consequences, are we being mindful of all the variables at play;
* and at times of uncertainty when it feels like taking any action would be like stepping off a cliff, we are able to comfortably take that first step because we are capable of listening to our inner wisdom and trusting more completely in the unfolding without needing to always control or force what will happen.

Individual fierce leadership can also rapidly activate a culture of being fierce across an organisation which creates a strong magnetic attractor for top talent.

In subsequent posts I will go into more detail on how to build a fierce leadership practice and realise its benefits.

Transcendent Near-Death Experiences : Key Learnings for Leadership and Engagement

Imagine for a moment what it would be like working in an organisation that is under huge pressures to grow, to transform itself and to beat the competition; an organisation that is mandated to do more with less and to do more differently rather than following the status quo. For many of us this is a daily reality. We can palpably feel the sense of urgency these pressures create.

Every moment of every day such an organisation is very likely to be under real existential threat: existing competitors are trying to grab our customer base and startups are gunning to make us irrelevant with disruptive solutions. Now imagine that your leaders not only fear organisational irrelevancy and death, but also fear their own professional and actual death:  these leaders are caught between the need to change and charge ahead and the paralysing fear of not existing.

Two main questions arise from this all too common situation: firstly, how can such leaders lead well when they are stuck like deer in existential headlights worrying that they could drop dead at any moment; and secondly, how can a person survive and thrive when they are working in such a company for such fearful leaders; how can people be expected to find purpose and meaning in their work; how can they remain engaged when they are working within such an environment of existential fear?

The short answer to both questions is that they cannot and the workplace surveys reflect this: big time. There is a paucity of purposeful leadership: by purpose I mean a goal that is bigger than our company’s results or share price. There is also a massive breakdown in staff engagement within the corporate universe.

To tackle this problem leaders need to be able to overwrite their fears; alter their reality and reinvent themselves; they need to be happier with greater overall life satisfaction, more in tune with a higher purpose and completely devoid of their previous fear of death.

This is not a trivial problem to solve for and the two overarching questions that emerge are: how can we as business leaders find a solution to this paralysing and very real corporate pandemic; how can we help our executives to deal with their fear?

The answer lies in confronting that which we fear most: no matter how uncomfortable it may feel, we need to stare death in the face. On the face of it this may not seem possible: how can we truly confront death without dying ourselves? Surely that would defeat the purpose?

There is an elegant solution: exploring death through the eyes of people who have been there and come back, exploring death through people who have undergone a near-death experience. Why them? Many NDEers no longer fear death.

In a study published in 2004 on near-death experiences and their impact on the  temporal lobe, Brown University’s Willoughby Britton made a startling discovery: people who had transcendent encounters during life-threatening events scored exceptionally higher on tests of overall life satisfaction than people who hadn’t. She referenced thirty years of research to show that while most people were negatively impacted and traumatised by their near-death experience, a subset who had experienced some form of transcendence had an atypical response: they exhibited off the charts happiness and life satisfaction, including feeling that their lives had meaning and a higher purpose.  By transcendence I refer to some experience that has the quality of being beyond the normal constraints we feel: linear time collapses; the well-defined sense of self dissolves; there is unity between the internal and external senses; there is reconnection back into a larger, collective otherness than the present life experience. Not all NDEers experience this transcendence, but a great many have.

Further research has demonstrated that this is not a one-off feeling that dissipates in the short to mid term. People who have undergone a transcendent NDE have had their brains permanently rewired so that they do not fear death. As long as a decade after such an NDE, those who have experienced it feel the same level of happiness, reverence and lack of existential fear.

Three years after my own transcendent NDE I can personally attest to this: yes, it took me a while to deal with the shock of my sudden cardiac death, there were moments of emotional turmoil along the way; yes, it took me a while to recuperate from my illness as only another major operation 10 months laterremoved the arrhythmia that had caused my cardiac arrest; but yes, I have absolutely overwritten and have no fear of dying whatsoever; and resoundingly yes, I have completely reinvented my life and have off the charts life satisfaction as I pursue a far greater purpose than my own selfish success or that of one organisation.

It would be impractical for organisations to only use transcendent NDE survivors as their leaders, but I would encourage dialogue with people like myself who are open to sharing our experiences and key learnings; people who are focused on improving leadership skills and helping executives to reinvent themselves with many of the traits that transcendent NDEers exhibit such as deeper compassion and wisdom.

There is also greater understanding of how to create an on tap emulation of the effects of a transcendent NDE and I encourage you to follow this growing activity more closely.  It is an area we are exploring at EXOscalr. There will be a lot to gain from having first mover advantage in being able to recreate altered states of consciousness.

How To Successfully Reinvent Ourselves

Do a google search on the phrase reinvent yourself and you quickly realise that this is a pervasive and perennial question: google tells us that related searches include how to reinvent yourself at 30; it seems we are still looking a decade later as another related search is reinventing yourself after 40; and again ten years later we want to know the answer to how to reinvent yourself at 50; and finally we ask the question how to reinvent yourself at 60?

Many people dream of a future that is radically different from their present: they want to quit the big city commute and live close to the beach; they want to get off the corporate treadmill and build a passion business as an entrepreneur; they want to move back to or away from family and where they grew up; they want to write novels rather than conduct endless business meetings or they want to leave a loveless relationship.

The challenge, though, is that getting to the point where they are fulfilling this dream can be tough. There are significant forces that contribute to this inertia and which can prevent reinvention. For example, we tend to exert more energy dealing with issues closer to hand: immediacy wins out over future concerns and dreams; we find it easier to simply deal with the day to day than plan for and progress towards achieving future-oriented goals. This is exacerbated when the future we dream of is very different from our present.

We may see a misty, day-dream-like version of ourselves doing something else, but we may have very little understanding of what it would take to actualise this dream. The stark reality is that we are likely to end up in an alternative, less fulfilling future before we know it: if we don’t achieve absolute clarity on where we are at today and where we want to be in the future ; if we don’t also implement an operating system that empowers us to crystallise goals, set clear objectives for achieving them and generate results-oriented data that ensures we are on target.

We all undergo some level of modification of our identities, both personal and professional as we traverse our lifespans. But there can be an underlying angst for people who are not fulfilled in their lives. They may want to make a radical change, but for whatever reason hold back on doing so. This increases their level of angst.

“What if I leave it too late?”

“I’ve been a software programmer for 30 years, it’s all I know, how can I now expect to become a musician?”

The good news is that it is never too late to reinvent ourselves. With sufficient intensity and resolve we can undertake significant positive change at any age. That being said, we do need to acknowledge that reinvention can take time. Learning a whole new discipline may take us years and we need to make allowance for the time it takes to get up to speed with our new goals. Being on the path to achieving such life changing goals will us new meaning, which in and of itself is a major benefit. After all, reinvention is more journey than destination.

Jim lost his son to an aggressive form of cancer and was then retrenched from his executive position at a multinational company. Instead of jumping back on the corporate treadmill, he drew inspiration from the fight his son had put up before succumbing to the cancer that ravaged his body; Jim decided to realise his passion for storytelling and wrote his first novel. Three years later he has published eight books and is well on track to publish many more.

There are four steps we can take that will help us achieve a successful transformation:

1. Finding Passion

In order to truly reinvent ourselves we need to find our passion. This requires a process of self-inquiry or self-evaluation: the aim is to determine our underlying drivers, strengths, fears, weakness; we cobble together our narrative, our story; we find out what intrinsically motivates us; we discard the blinding, extrinsic indicators of shallow success. We focus on what really drives us at the soul level: which unlocks a much higher probability of fulfilment, ensures we are less depressed; builds our resilience so that when things get tough and distractions and obstacles arise we can still achieve our goals.

2. Slogging It Out

And things will get tough. We have a tendency to be overly bullish about the future, overrate our abilities to make the necessary changes to reinvent ourselves and underrate the amount of effort this will take. We may think about the future for over 10% of our waking hours, but putting this into action is not something we necessarily excel at.

3. Connecting Before Committing

Once we know what area we will focus on in our reinvention we need to make a point of getting to know people in that space who are already achieving the kind of results we aspire to achieve. What do they see as the challenges, how would they go about entering that space if they were to do it again. Be inspired and then go ahead and commit.

4. Building a Reinvention Operating System

As we embark on the journey of reinvention we should implement a system that helps us change our habits, set objectives, track our behaviours and results so that we can determine how we are progressing. This can be a multiple year journey and it can be far from linear, we need to ensure we have the right practices and tools to assist us.

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How To Change Our Relationship To Negative Feelings

I want to share with you some thoughts around how we can change our relationship to negative feelings through meditation.

Our aim in meditation is to form a different relationship to things we are feeling or experiencing. Initially this is true for us while we are in practice, but over time our objective is to expand this relationship into our everyday lives. Take for example a feeling of irritation we have at somebody for something they have done or failed to do.

What is your relationship to that feeling?

Are you stuck with that feeling, is it replaying over and over in your mind? This constant replay is a form of reinforcement. Neuro-plasticity works both ways.

Can you step back from that feeling? Start by recognizing it, deconstructing the various elements of that feeling into its constituent parts.

Can you now start to change your thinking about that feeling? Hold back your initial, troubled reaction to it and replace that with a sense of calm, a sense of spaciousness.

Does this create a space between their act of doing or not doing and your feeling towards it?

Does it help you separate out the act and the emotion it initially gave rise to?

We want to get to the point where we are no longer reinforcing the negative and instead are linking a difficult feeling with the deep well of open, untroubled awareness that exists within us. This leads to a relaxation of the need to react to a negative feeling and immediately disempowers that feeling.

We find ourselves less controlled by such feelings; we find ourselves less in fear of being in situations that may give rise to them and therefore less likely to avoid such circumstances. This is at the heart of being fierce.

And when we are more relaxed overall we find ourselves being less fatigued, more productive, more emotionally intelligent and we make more strategic decisions:  this is at the heart of being better leaders.

When we arrive at the understanding that we can change our brains through our minds, we empower ourselves to transform our lives.  

By peering mindfully into our lives when we meditate we can start to establish patterns and see what is transpiring in our personal, societal and work relationships. This leads to us seeing, sometimes for the very first time, when we are thinking negatively and inviting chaos by reacting emotionally to similar situations that repeat themselves at regular intervals in our lives. For example, we may find that at around two years into a personal relationship our voice of doubt gets louder and we become jealous and react in a relationship-destroying way, or we may find that there is a time frame in a job when the honeymoon is over, we become bored and we start negative behaviors that are career-limiting.

A Guided Self-Awareness Meditation

I’d like to finish with a guided meditation that focuses on embodiment: a great way for us to quieten negativity. In this exercise I will ask you to connect to a mindful awareness of your feelings both at a mental and physical level. I will ask you to go deeper and deeper into this awareness and lower any barriers that exist. I want you to feel that you are in a safe place from which you can delve further into this awareness and lower any barriers that exist.

The aim of this practice is to increase your awareness of the full range of embodied feelings that may arise and to be comfortable with them even if some of them feel uncomfortable. The stretch goal of this practice is to open your heart to feeling the strong connection that exists between all of us and the universe.

I suggest having your computer read this out to you at a slow speed. Alternatively, you could record yourself reading it out slowly and then when you are ready to do the meditation play the recording back.

Find a pose that is both comfortable for you and that also feels uplifting and relaxed.  If you can sit cross legged with ease that would be ideal. If not, try sitting on a cushion or bolster so that your body is slightly higher than your legs. Kneeling is also a good position.

If you prefer to remain active while meditating then go for a slow walk, preferably in a place that is relaxing to you. The aim is to come into some posture of stillness that doesn’t feel contrived. You are inviting your body to settle.

If you are stationary you can close your eyes to go more inward for this moment. Alternatively, and especially if you have chosen to walk, keep your eyes open, but shift your eyes downward to soften your gaze. There will be nothing visually important or interesting happening around you and by closing your eyes or dropping your gaze you will have more of an opportunity to connect to the imagery that may arise during this practice.

Gently start bringing your attention into one place.

Thoughts may continue to come from all over, they may continue to pull you in multiple directions, but start centering on your breath. Feel the passage of air entering your lungs and then leaving them.

When thoughts do pull you away, return gently to your breath and to the felt experience of being alive and present in your body. Feel your embodiment: in your legs, how you are sitting, the arch in your back, the angle of your head and through your hands.

Shift your mind from feeling your body conceptually to really feeling it at the physical level.

Gently allow yourself the pleasure of feeling your breath and your body as tactile physical sensations that are always in motion, rising and falling.

When your mind wanders, gently, yet fiercely, bring it back to your breath and your body, again and again.

Allow yourself to feel all the sensations that arise, both pleasant and unpleasant, familiar and unfamiliar; feel the movement of your breath; feel the rising and falling of your chest; feel the movement in the air around you and feel the air crossing the skin just below your nostrils; feel your skin and its contact with your clothing; feel the heat or cold; feel the dryness or humidity in the air; feel your contact with the ground.

Deepen your curiosity about your own experience and allow yourself, in this moment, in the now, to feel the full range of whatever arises: this may be pleasurable or it may be painful; this may be comfortable or it may be uncomfortable.

While you are allowing these sensate feelings to arise at an increasingly deeper level, keep bringing your attention back to centre.

The barrage of thoughts may start to slow, but they may also be sparked off in different directions by your physical feelings.

Continue deepening your felt presence, breath after breath, moment after moment.

Start to really feel your embodiment at a much more heightened level.

Allow other sensory perceptions to arise as you go deeper: feel your heart beating; notice your emotions; notice your overall mood – contentment, frustration, happiness, sadness –  and if you are around others feel the overall mood and emotions that are present in your home, in the office, on a train, on a plane.

Purposefully exclude nothing; opening your mind further and further and dropping any barriers that were in place or that instinctively arise during this meditation.

You are alone with your thoughts yet you are at one with the universe, you are in a safe place.

Feel everything that arises; feel the innate beauty in everything; feel the innate beauty in our humanity: in every possible emotion, sensation and thought; feel our shared humanity.

Go deeper still and feel our greater connection to the universe. Stay at that level and feel the wholeness that exists all around us. Exclude nothing, allowing yourself the deepest permission to just be, as you are, in this moment.

And now, bring your attention slowly back to focus only on how it feels to breathe.

Notice what is present for you are we conclude this meditation. Make a conscious choice to reengage with this present moment and the rest of your day.

Namaste.

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How to Increase Engagement With Compassion, Purpose and Positivity

Horizon

We live in an increasingly narcissistic world in which more and more people are suffering from depression and killing themselves. Suicide rates have increased 24% in the last 15 years.

That is a huge number and my first instinct is to ask, “How can we, as business leaders, help turn this situation around?”

It is possible to take on a higher purpose AND make a profit.

That may feel like a question for foundations, for charities and others not focused on turning a profit. But that impression would be very wrong. It is possible to take on a higher purpose AND make a profit.

In fact, if your business only focuses on profit you are likely to lose a rapidly increasing part of your workforce. A greater number of staff are millennials today and their numbers will continue to increase as older generations cycle out of the work environment. As many as two thirds of millennials would rather earn 50% less salary so long as they work in a job that has impact. 76% of them want their organisations to change their stance around engagement and making a difference. These statistics can be layered onto the current corporate canvas in which 70% of people at work are either not engaged or actively disengaged.

And yet business is the most logical vehicle for making positive change happen in the world. We cannot rely on the not for profit sector, nor can we rely on governments. In addition, people are not finding social connection in their lives generally, their workplaces (where they spend a predominant amount of their waking time) should be providing that. Over 100 years ago Emile Durkheim presciently pointed out that as people become increasingly disconnected from their families and societies they will become more depressed and this will lead to greater numbers of suicides. He posited that the workplace was the logical place to find a replacement for our innate human need for connection.

Business is the most logical vehicle for making positive change happen in the world.

A person’s occupation, their place of work, should be integral to building a healthier lifestyle and overall health and well-being. Ideally a person’s role purpose should align with that of their team, their company and their community. It if does, this can increase their overall purpose in life and lead to not only increased longevity, but also from a corporate point of view it will ensure they are more deeply engaged. One study has suggested that having a low purpose in life is equivalent to smoking up to 3 packs of cigarettes a day!

I want to highlight what three companies are doing to make a difference in this area.

Finding Heart and Soul

Kellogg has created a corporate responsibility strategy designed to form the backbone for their growth as a business. This heart and soul strategy drives them to see themselves as more than a business.

Kellogg Chair & CEO, John Bryant says, “We are a company with heart and soul. We care about nourishing people with our foods, feeding those in need, nurturing our planet and living our founder’s values.”

They have set out to align their vision (to enrich and delight the world through foods and brands that matter) with their purpose (nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive) and create a culture for growth so that their people become a diverse and inclusive community of passionate people making a difference.

Part of this difference making is to ensure they undertake responsible sourcing of the ingredients that go into their foods. They have quantified this commitment by pledging to help improve the livelihoods of 500,000 farmers over the next 15 years.

Chief Purpose

PwC recently appointed a Chief Purpose Officer. Shannon Schuyler’s responsibility is to activate the company’s purpose (building trust in society and solving important problems). Their hypothesis is that a purpose-driven organisation is far more likely to have its staff doing what they do with an elevated sense of meaning, understanding and really wanting to lift society in a different way.

One of her challenges is filling the gap between why leaders and employees think purpose is important. Leaders feel that purpose helps drive innovation, product development and ultimately revenue. By contrast, employees think purpose is important because it brings meaning to their jobs and delivers value to society through the work they do. So far she has rationalised this down to there being different layers of purpose – a continuum that spans organisational and individual purpose and that also includes a nuance between personal and role purpose.

One of the important problems PwC is tackling is the shift to a freelance culture. By 2020 almost half of the workforce in the United States will be freelancing, many by conscious choice. How do they retain their 240,000 staff in such an environment? They are starting to experiment with hiring millennial staff for four month stints that coincide with peak client demand. This strategy has lead to more engaged millennials who prefer to work hard for a condensed period and lead a balanced life the remainder of the year.

The average tenure of a millennial in an organisation is 18 months, because it’s usually at that inflection point that they put their head up and ask. “Is this all there is to what I’m doing at work?”  And then they constantly change jobs because no one is helping them to figure out what is missing.

PwC is taking people who have been at the company for two years through a week long program called Discover which helps them find their purpose. They work with a personal coach and take the time to figure out why their job is important, why what they do is so fundamental to who the company is and to the success of society through their skill set. Through this process their coach also helps them figure out what values and behaviours will help drive their success.

Hiring Compassionately

Many times you can feel the culture of an organisation within seconds of walking into one of their offices or talking with their staff. There is either a palpably positive, and contagious, energy or the very air seems toxic. Leading organisations recognise the importance of having a positive workplace and actively undertake to make sure their people are confident, optimistic and resilient. Companies that take this seriously incorporate this approach from the very first employee touchpoint – the hiring process.

For example, LinkedIn selects staff based on compassion. Interviewers use questions designed to illustrate the value of compassion in an answer. Here is an example:

Imagine you are a business partner visiting Seattle from Mountain View for a very important meeting with top managers in the global sales organisation. You step out of the meeting to use the restroom, and one of your managers stops you on the way, saying…
“One of my employees in California just had a baby. The infant is in the ICU at a hospital that is an hour away from her home. Is there anything we can do to help her?”

How would you answer?

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This post was initially sent out as part of the EXOscalr Be Fierce newsletter. If you don’t want to miss out you can subscribe here: http://eepurl.com/bxGzD1.

Breaking Through Control And Ego: Shifting From Fear To Empowerment

Breaking Out!

Breaking Out of Your Trance!

After my sudden cardiac death I remember feeling sad as I lay on a hospital bed in intensive care. I was sad at the thought of never being able to glide through the water on my beloved stand up paddle board. I was watching the sun rise at the start of a pristine summer’s day and yet I felt that life wasn’t co-operating. This sadness bordered on anger. Underlying this feeling was the emotion of fear. I was caught up in my separate self, consumed by my problem. I didn’t feel like I had a choice in how I related to this situation; I was a victim; I was oppressed; ultimately, I was disempowered.

What I really wanted to do was to control things. I sensed that my health situation meant I wasn’t going to be able to do what I loved; my life wasn’t co-operating and so I grasped for control of my health; I also became a victim of my circumstance and tried to take control by judging myself. In doing so I was entering a trance.

DISRUPTING CONTROL

You can enter this control trance through any number of things: losing your health; someone you love gets sick; your financial situation drops off a cliff; your relationships unravel. Common to all these circumstances is a grasping on your part to try control all aspects of your life in that moment.

You feel disempowered and insecure and this fear leads you to grab for control.

You feel disempowered and insecure and this fear leads you to grab for control. This has a negative effect on other parts of your life and can cause a downward spiral; it leads you to hurt others; it results in you ruining both personal and business relationships.

The challenge is to see this trance for what it is; to see that any solution you try to secure when in this state will not work.

You need to wake up from the trance and do a complete reversal.

You need to wake up from the trance and do a complete reversal: counter intuitively shifting from insular and controlling to open and trusting; shifting from seeking power to tapping into the source of all power. By connecting to the universe, by plugging into the source, you can replace your grasping and insecurity with profound awareness, love and deep security. By breaking this trance you empower yourself; you become free to choose your attitude, to choose how you respond to whatever is going on, no matter how disruptive that situation may seem.

GET THE FULL STORY

The brain is our search engine – using a universal algorithm it indexes the world according to our limited human capability. Over time we build up an ego, which uses a secondary set of algorithms to filter the indexed world according to our unique context.

The ego determines how we see the world and ourselves.

The ego, as gatekeeper, provides us with manageable information it deems most relevant to us. The ego determines how we see the world and ourselves. Our context is determined by the experiences we go through and how they shape us.

Our actions are mostly determined in other parts of the brain than where the ego resides. This means that even though we are led to believe by our ego that it is determining our path through life, much like the distinction between story and plot, other parts of our brain are providing the plot, the what and why we do what we do, while the ego presents us with the story, how we are doing it.

Your greatest challenge is to break out of the trance your ego has created.

Your greatest challenge is to break out of the trance your ego has created. Your ego filters the world so that your awake awareness is only comprised of what it predetermines is good for you. As such you have been living on automatic, in a reactive mode, grasping for control when life doesn’t seem to be co-operating. To break the trance you must bring into awareness aspects of the world that have been hidden by the story your ego has created for you.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO BREAK OUT OF BOTH THESE FORMS OF TRANCE?

In trance many of your energy centres remain closed up; you find power from within your sense of separate self; you operate from a very limited and contracted place; you are within the illusion, the fairy tale, that has you grasping for power and fulfilling a false need for control. When you break from the trance you enter universal flow; all your energy centres open; power comes through the universe to you and it is unlimited; you access your innate super powers of compassion and love; you achieve full empowerment.

How to Create Meaningful Behavior Change

No matter when or how strongly motivated you are, behaviour change is hard. The best of intentions can still lead to a low probability of turning a decision to adopt a new habit or break an old one into a long term behaviour.

How do you go about making change stick?

Today I’m going to share with you two mindsets that can help significantly and also give you a methodology for making behaviour change that I’ve successfully tested.

BUILDING A PRACTICE

In my case my overall objective was to build up a regular yoga practice and I decided to do 100 yoga sessions as a means to make it a habit. The key word here is ‘practice’: change is not a one off event, a lever you pull down one day and it then stays down indefinitely.

Building up a practice requires conscious commitment in three stages.

In the first stage I made the decision to increase my mindfulness and overall well being. I also chose to do so through yoga. I did contemplate building up my running regimen or joining a gym again, but decided that yoga was the best approach.

The second stage was all about doing the work: the hard slog of showing up; day in, day out. This was harder in the early stages of building the practice as I was yet to notice the benefits; my body was anything but supple, which meant even the most basic yoga poses were tough.

The third and final phase is about maintaining the practice. Once I’d reached the peak of my practice and done 100 yoga sessions, I could not slack off; I had to keep showing up. Yoga is a great behavioural change teacher because the longer you miss your daily sessions the more you punish yourself when you finally do a session; your muscles have tightened, you struggle to get into the zone. This gives you a very direct, short term incentive to keep the practice going

POSITIVE TRIGGERS PERSIST

What is motivating you to attempt a behavior change? Negative drivers like guilt or fear are much less likely to produce long-lasting change. Instead you should find a positive trigger for change, one that is self-motivating for you.

This has a lot to do with the power of visualisation. Seeing yourself affected positively by the change will drive you through the slumps when you don’t feel like showing up and doing the work.

In my case I saw myself more focused and fitter, happier with myself and in greater balance with the universe. These were all powerfully positive triggers that have persisted as I used the behavior change system below to create a yoga practice.

IMPLEMENTING A BEHAVIOR CHANGE SYSTEM

I firmly believe in the mantra: no plan, no progress. How can you know you are on or off track if you have no plan and are not analysing your performance data. I’m going to share with you a system that will empower you to map yourself from plan to data to progress and ultimately to creating a practice.

You will need a notebook. You are free to use whatever form of notebook works for you: paper or digital, as long as it is readily available to you.

I use Evernote for most of my working notes, collating research for my various projects and as an avid foodie, for my favourite recipes. I have set up an easily accessible system within Evernote for tracking my annual objectives. If you are interested I’d be happy share this system with you.  One of those objectives was to set up a regular yoga practice.

And so I set up a note in Evernote titled ‘Build up to a regular yoga practice’. This could be a Word document, or a dedicated set of pages in your diary or journal, whatever tool works for you.

My page was divided into three main parts:

– Affirmation of Intent – a positive visualisation motivating me to complete the objective
– Next Actions – a to-do list of what I needed to commence and complete the objective
– Key Results – a collated set of data tracking my progress.

AFFIRMATION OF INTENT

I visualised myself having achieved this objective. I asked myself how this made me feel? I then made a declaration affirming my intent. From this I could extract my main motivators for building up this practice. I listed my top 3 motivators. Remember that the stronger and more positive these motivators are the more likely you are to continue with the exercise and achieve your objective.

I visualised myself being more centred and relaxed. I saw myself smiling more, treating others with greater empathy because I was more in tune with their rhythms and the energy of the universe. I was fitter and more flexible and saw myself partaking more in one of my favourite sports, stand up paddle surfing.

Here are my motivations for having a regular yoga practice:

– Increase mindfulness
– Increase body flexibility
– Increase fitness

NEXT ACTIONS

In this section I listed the specific and detailed actions I felt I needed to take to bring me closer to achieving my objective. I made these as specific as possible and created a to-do list so that I could check off when I had completed each action.

Here is my completed list:

[x] Get an app that coaches me through yoga

[x] Use Yogaglo for trial, if OK then continue using

[x] Check in half way – at 50 sessions

[x] Final check in at 100 sessions

KEY RESULTS

Without data you cannot know if you are progressing. In this section I tracked my progress by using my daily exercise as a measurement. I set this out in table format as per below:

Date Measurement
28/04 Starting 100 day plan from 29th April – map it out below
29/04 1. Yin for people who sit a lot, L1, 60m with Tiffany Cruickshank (Yogaglo)
30/04 2. Yoga for SUP, L1, 30m with Alex van Frank (Yogaglo)

I set out the date and numbered each yoga session numerically. My aim was to get to 100 yoga sessions and I had a real sense of satisfaction adding in each session straight after I’d completed it and watching the numbers go up and up. I then listed the name of the yoga session, what level of difficulty it was (Yogaglo sessions range from 1-3, with 1 being easy, 3 being advanced), how long it was and who the teacher was.

Initially I also listed on which platform I was doing the session. You may want to alternate some live classes with a local yoga teacher. You may also want to try out a few online platforms. I used Yogaglo initially and then tried out a few others. I found that I preferred Yogaglo. I was really comfortable with some of their teachers. In addition their format most approximated a live class (to me), yet had the convenience that I could do it at home or on the road any time of the day. It also helped that their monthly cost was equivalent to the cost of one local live yoga class.

I successfully completed my goal in 5 months, interspersing yoga sessions with walks, stand up paddle sessions, the occasional minor health interruption (a cold, a tummy bug) and intra-week exercise breaks.

Here’s my final check-in note:

Overall this worked well as a tool for inspiring behaviour change. By tracking my sessions it prompted me to ensure that I did them regularly and also by giving myself a mini key result aim of 5-6 hours of yoga a week I pushed myself that much harder to do sessions.

I found the ease of being able to simply set myself up in a room with a mat and launching yogaglo was far easier than going to physical classes. I also found a mix between doing different sessions to break any chance of monotony was balanced by doing some regular classes that I enjoyed more than others and where I could get into flow quicker without having to think about each move as I new what was coming. For example I did the 60 minute Sacral Chakra Flow with Jo Tastula at least once a week. I also thoroughly enjoyed synching to the universe and doing the Contemplative Full Moon Flow class on the day of a full moon. Interestingly even though I had access to about 20 teachers I tended to stick with one above all others because I was most comfortable with her style.

I played around with the ideal class duration. On Yogaglo sessions range from 15 to 90 minutes. I did a few short sessions, one or two 90 minute ones and a good few 30 minute sessions on days when I felt short on time or had low energy. However, the bulk of my sessions were 60 minutes. I enjoyed the cadence of this hour long classes. There was enough time for an initial meditation, we spent longer on chakras and ended with a nourishing shavasana. As I have done some yoga before I quickly moved from Level 1 to Level 2, but I aim cognisant not to over extend my capabilities and cause injury and so did very few Level 3 classes. I did have the occasional pulled muscle where I pushed too hard on a yoga move, but with the help of some anti-inflammatory treatment I recovered quickly.

NEXT STEPS

Use this method to set yourself up with a regular yoga practice or for any other behavior change you want to achieve. It definitely works. Personally I’m a huge fan of yoga and cannot more highly recommend you build a practice for yourself. Namaste!

Fear Revisited

Fear.

 

It’s always there.

It can either liberate or bury you.

It all depends on how you deal with it.

Compare fear with the wind. When it is a gentle breeze against your cheek, you hardly notice it. However, when it tuns into a howling gale you instinctively brace into it.

No matter its strength you only become mindful of the wind when you notice it, gently rippling over or buffeting your whole body. In that moment of mindfulness you can decide to enjoy nature or cower from its power.

Fear is always blowing.

At times with ferocity.

Choosing how you confront fear puts you in power.

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As much as we sometimes fear fear itself, it is an integral part of our overall energy system.

I’ve pitched for millions of dollars in funding; I’ve given many keynotes and run countless workshops all over the world; as a lawyer I delivered numerous arguments before packed courtrooms; and yet, every time I take the floor before an audience, I feel the familiar butterflies rising in my gut.  Instead of railing against them I embrace them.

I know that the more of them there are the greater high I will feel after my talk concludes successfully.

You see fear is a raw emotion that arises from deep within us and it can be harnessed and converted into a powerful energy that drives us to step up and achieve more than we may have without it.

Without that fear I may become nonchalant and try to wing my talks. Previous experience has shown, for me at least that this can be a disaster.

I need that fear to achieve at my best.

I choose to harness it, rather than let it debilitate me.