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.

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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Three Ways To Become a Better Leader By Waking Up To Your True Self

Design your own wake up call and become a better leader.

Design your own wake up call and become a better leader.

I want you to join me in an exercise in expanding your mind and opening your heart. The objective of this exercise is to help you become a better leader so it is worth your while to play along.

Imagine with me for the next few minutes that you are someone else entirely.

Your name is Sam.

You’ve spent the last few years in the web of a double life that has finally caught up with you.

Last week you were sentenced to 15 years in jail with no parole for smuggling drugs into the United States.

You had realised that your life had two sides to it, but it is only now that you have been delivered a huge wake up call.

You realise that your actions will devastate your colleagues, but more importantly, your family as well.

What do you do?

How will you survive one and a half decades in prison?

Would you turn to violence? Would you play the blame game, seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance?

This is an exercise in fantasy for you and me, but for one young person it was far from that. It was reality: at the age of 24, convicted of drug smuggling and destined to spend part of the 1980s and 1990s in a US federal penitentiary.

For the sake of consistency let’s call him Sam.

As he did his time Sam came to understand that there are three key things he could do to survive and thrive in this situation:

1. Completely owning your experience
2. Catalysing your awakening
3. Reclaiming your inner wisdom

I believe that this is also a pathway to becoming a better leader and Sam’s approach fits with my mantra of being fierce, removing our masks, tapping into our innate capacity for compassion and taking heroic action.

Completely Owning Your Experience

Sam realised that the only way to survive, the only way for him to finally walk out of this nightmare was to completely own the experience. He accepted that he was at fault and that his destiny was of his own making.

He decided to transform his life through developing a practice of meditation and deep contemplation. He went on to have a major impact on the lives of many prisoners by advocating for and providing access to mindfulness practices. Since his release from prison Sam has widened his work to influence people all around the world.
During his time in prison he came to see the world and his place in it for what it truly is.

He realised that if we simply allow ourselves to live an unexamined life we find ourselves on the evolutionary path with our mammalian drive for survival overriding everything. In this way we set ourselves up to follow fear based, habitual, mechanistic and survivalist lives. Layered on top of this we co-create a culture and set of institutions that are also blame and fear-based, habitual and mechanistic.

Even the most highly functioning of us are susceptible to and have the propensity to live unaware that we have condemned ourselves to follow such a fear-based, mechanical path.

You live your life in quiet desperation; you wait for a light bulb moment that never comes; you never really deeply examine your situation and you don’t realise that you are roving like a hungry ghost, finding fleeting security in whatever confirms your existence or your sense of worthiness; finding home in external confirmation of your ‘success’: your bank accounts, your job, or your relationships.

You  haven’t really done the internal work necessary to find your true place, which has been residing within you all along yet has been cloaked by your an evolutionary override and peer-based cultural mask. You have an innate basic goodness that saturates and permeates through you. You can tap into this goodness through your tenderness and your vulnerability.

Catalysing Your Awakening

Finding yourself in a highly charged situation, facing your version of 15 years in prison, you have a choice. You can condemn yourself to continue living a habitual, fear-based life.

Or, preferably, you can use that moment as a catalyst to awaken yourself, increasing your compassion and becoming even more vulnerable. In choosing this awakened path you open yourself up to living a life of service to others, which is one of the highest things we can aspire to do as human beings. By doing so you not only give your life exponentially more meaning and fulfilment, but you also turn your compassion inwards and satiate your hunger for external confirmation.

Reclaiming Your Inner Wisdom

How do you get to the point of making such a choice, particularly if you are really struggling with the situation you have gotten yourself into?

You need to use self agency to break the conditioning so that you can start being more than a victim of this conditioning and the world you and society have constructed around you.

You need to use this self agency as a springboard for self empowerment. This will heighten your level of awareness and empower you to reclaim your inner wisdom, your innate goodness.

No matter how much the world seems to have conspired against you and convinced you of your unworthiness, you know, somewhere way back inside of you, you know this is all a mask and that you are innately good, you are innately wise.

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