How Gently Seizing the Fierce Risk Can Surround You With Love and Improve Your Work and Personal Relationships

This post is about growing your humanness and spirit through constant metamorphosis and reinvention.

We are ready for reinvention when we become aware of the constraints of the chrysalis we have been living in. This awakening is accompanied by the realisation that it is time for us to extend beyond the capsule of self, the pod that has defined us; it is time for us to reinvent ourselves and, transformed, take off for expanded horizons.

Our egoic thoughts, our limiting beliefs and our behaviours form the capsule’s walls. While these may serve us in our earlier phases of self-development there comes a time when we need to move beyond them; this time is marked by our exposure to an expanded reality, which may be through a single catalytic event like a death in the family, the loss of a relationship or job or even your own near death experience as was the case for me; or this widening of our reality may be a more gradual process, hardly noticeable at first, but as we expose ourselves to more and more of it we open up to a greater and more faster flowing reality, much like a small drop of water that is initially flowing on the back of a leaf down a slow moving stream and, as that stream joins the more turbulent waters of a larger river, the drop slips off the leaf into the wider waters; the drop is now far more vulnerable, but has also opened to a much greater canvas of possibility.

We take on what I call ‘fierce risk’ when we have greater and greater exposure to unknowns, to danger outside of our control and to the possibility of loss; by letting go of the familiar, foregoing our sense of security and not holding onto comfort-generating, past experiences this fierce risk empowers us to feel more and more alive. Breaking out of our chrysalis and embracing our fears takes a special kind of bravery and courage that is wrapped up in a sensitivity to our surroundings; this situational responsiveness is beautifully encapsulated in the word ‘fierce’; it is not about ferociously cutlassing through the walls of our cocoon; nor is it about blindly stepping into the future; this is about living each moment as if it were our last, without filters, zero constraints and openly aware to the risks that come with doing so and being comfortable with the uncomfortableness that may arise.

Fierce risk requires of us that we be fiercely present: we are unconditional in meeting the moment, no ifs or buts, no regrets or wishes, however small, should sway us or hold us in check. When one of your staff enters your office and you are fiercely present they can tangibly feel your focus. When your young son asks you a question at the dinner table he can feel when you are there for him, as his father, and not lost in processing deadlines, emails and meetings.

In this contemplation I want us to think about the benefits of seizing each moment gently and with the openness of fierce risk. Our creature comforts and habits make this a hard thing to do; we identify with our capsule; we are attached to the pod that we live within; our egoic nature habituates control as a counter to fear; we strive for what we think we need; we hold onto what we value and what gives us security; we forage and scramble for fleeting happiness and avoid pain; death is perennially a taboo topic.

It is not easy to break down the walls of your capsule when so much of what you do on a daily basis is centered around strengthening them. These centering forces are either positively  or negatively aligned: positive forces include the need to control, the desire for fame, praise, recognition, success and the unquenchable thirst for pleasure; negative forces include the aversion to being blamed, avoiding pain and not recognising failure. Our pod is reinforced by the acquisition of more and more of these positive forces and the shedding of the negative ones.

What acts as a catalyst to our continued growth beyond our current capsule? What empowers us to break through the walls of our pod? Is there an event taking place in our lives that can act as a chrysalis trigger? Where are we sensing that trigger within our lives? Where do we find the walls of the capsule closing in on us? Where is the pod weakest that we may use this as a beachhead to break through?

Are you constantly trying to overachieve? Do you resent the behaviour of a member of your team to the point where you blame them even when they are not behaving ‘badly’. Do you fear the judgment of your peers. Do you self-medicate your stress with alcohol? Has you life partner walked out on you because you haven’t been present in the relationship for ages? Are you obsessively anxious about events you have little control over? These are all examples of the walls closing in on us. We can wrap ourselves in more tightly, keeping the outside world at bay, and ultimately give more power to the walls themselves; or we can see these things as triggers for us to step up, break out and begin to build a practice of being fiercely present and gently seizing the fierce risk.

A CONTEMPLATION ON FIERCE RISK

Picture your mind as part of the fast moving river we spoke of earlier.
Take a deep breath in and pause.
Open your mind and let the initial swirl of thoughts wash through.
As you slowly exhale, find yourself eddied out of the main current. You are close to the river bank and high overhead a willow tree’s branches and leaves offer you shade from the glare of the sun.
Take another, slower deep breath in and pause at the top of your breath.
As you breath out feel the air moving through you, feel yourself being more present within your body.
Now channel your thoughts and settle on a person who means a lot to you, someone who disquiets or excites your mind either because you are anxious about how they feel about you, you worry about how they may judge you or because you feel a responsibility or a duty of care towards them.
What is it that has been said between you?
What is it that has yet to be said?
How do you want them to judge you?
How are they currently relating to you?

Visualise your most recent encounter with this person.
What part of your ego showed up in this interaction?
What was your disposition, did any of your usual habits arise?
Was any fierce risk present in this engagement with them?
How would it feel to gently seize the fierce risk with them?
Would it feel like you are uncloaking from your old chrysalis?
Would it feel more open, more present, more vulnerable?

While your focus has been on a recent encounter with this person, think now about your next meeting with them. How might this be different without your current habits and egoic limitations?
In what way would fierce risk change how you relate to them?

One of the most powerful places for us to seize the fierce risk is in relation to the delusion of disrepute: we become self-absorbed with our unworthiness, we wallow in our reverie of shame, we are absorbed by our wickedness, we feel stupid and have a myriad of other self-deprecating thoughts. This delusion is particular prevalent when we deal with people who are important to us in our lives. One small comment from such a person at work can send us into a frenzy.

And so we opt instead to remain in our pod of comfort: what if I was totally myself and they didn’t like it? What if they pierced my veil and saw my doubts and fears? What would they think of me then, that I’m not worthy of my role, that I am not qualified to take on this position? This encapsulated delusion of disrepute closes in on us and is a powerful place for us to practice fierce risk. Instead of continuing the flow of such thoughts we empower ourselves to pause, to disentangle ourselves from them as they are simply thoughts, they do not define us.

Delve into these thoughts and feel out if by fostering them you are making them more powerful; picture what it would be like to cleanse yourself of these thoughts, do you feel a draw towards extending beyond them? If you do then you are ready to gently seize the fierce risk.

Focus again on the next time you are with this person of interest to you.
Imagine the place, the smell, the temperature, the sounds; visualise their eyes looking into yours, the expression on their face, the angle of their head; picture yourself gently seizing the fierce risk and opening to vulnerably being with that person; you are present in that moment without a need to control the situation.
Don’t allow any form of predisposed bias to intervene in this scene; if any past encounter tries to surface let it pass through you just as you let thoughts pass through your mind when you are meditating.
Try to see this person through fresh eyes, empty of any and all previous experiences;  as you do so take note of what you arises as if anew; seeing them as if for the first time what may you have previously missed.
As you allow fierce risk to enter this relationship and break through your chrysalis you will throw aside behaviours, filters and habits they may have prevented you from seeing the love in this person. That love is extremely powerful and can itself trigger you to find love in more and more people. This is the transformative power of reinvention at work. Let it lighten your life and the lives of all those you come into contact with.

Come back to the present moment and bring your fierce risk with you. Allow it to grow, from the size of a small, germinating seed as you break out of the bonds of your chrysalis and, over time, let it tower above and around you as you slip back into the waters of the fast flowing river of life.

Grow your humanness and spirit through constant metamorphosis and reinvention.

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As always, thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I do appreciate your continued interest in my work at EXOscalr and I love sharing my thoughts and insights with you.

The website for my upcoming book, Fierce Reinvention, is taking shape at https://www.fiercereinvention.com/. I’ll be making more announcements about the book soon!

I read all my email at rand@exoscalr.com and I’m also at +61 417 655 947 and  +1-650-529-4181. Feel free to reach out.

If you like what you read and want to get advance content in your inbox then sign up for my newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/bxGzD1.

How to Live More Fully Using the 3 Levels of Fierce

In this post I want to talk about the Fierce Leadership Framework, which has three layers, all of which are required for us to live life fully, directly face death and transcend to being truly fierce leaders: the fierceness of a warrior, a fierce heart, and a fiercely open vulnerability.

Fierce Warrior

When we think of warriors our mind goes immediately to people who summon their inner courage and are brave enough to confront dangerous situations and emergencies: heroes who have shown no regard for their own safety and, without hesitation, have dived in to rescue some poor hapless soul in distress; soldiers who persistently and vigorously battle against an oppressive foe; doctors and health care workers who rise above their own physical and mental exhaustion to constantly tackle pain and suffering, bringing much needed relief to the sick and dying; we think of people who are driven by a heady mix of adrenaline, beliefs and training to do outrageously incredible things that take our breath away and leave us inspired.

Being a fierce warrior in the context of leadership can be all those things, but it is for the most part a bit more every day: as CEO having the courage to stand up to your forceful major shareholder and chairman to say no to their pet project because it doesn’t make strategic sense for the company; telling a team member that they are not pulling their weight when you know this will be an uncomfortable conversation; being positive and rallying the business with a strong vision when you are struggling with the emotional turmoil ofyour own depression, the death of a family member or a crumbling marriage. In fact, for most of us every day life takes a level of fierceness. It takes the courage to fiercely choose to do what we believe is right in any given situation no matter how hard or adverse the initial consequences.

The ultimate fierce warrior mix is a combination of commitment, devotion to a higher purpose, adherence to an internal guidance system of ethics, honor and morals, service to colleagues, others and the company and a balance of intelligence and wisdom. We do have to be cautious of a shadow fierceness that, bordering on ferocious, can arise as a result of a need to control, a craving for approval, a defensiveness, shame or even a deluded feeling of invulnerability. Don’t be misled by the word warrior, or even fierce, this is not about conquering armies of demons or vanquishing your or the world’s enemies. Invoking visualisations that tap into this aggressive meme ultimately encourage unnecessary denial, rejection and striving. A good way to check if you are on path as a fierce warrior is to embody this feeling. Let your body show you the way. You should feel your fierce warrior in your belly.

Our fierce warrior is not about eradicating fear by pushing it away or ignoring it; it is about facing fear and being present with our superpowers even when we are terrified. There are six powerful ways it shows up: firstly, it empowers us to confront ignorance wherever we find it; secondly, it ensures we are not entrapped in uncertainty; thirdly, we don’t fall for habitual complacency; fourthly, we commit to staying the course under adversity and difficult circumstances; fifthly, we turn in the direction of suffering instead of avoiding it; and sixthly, we take on the risk of the unknown over the known.

Fierce Heart

The second level of being fierce, fierce heart is an undefended stance in which we openly feel everything, without judgement. With fierce heart we openly allow ourselves to be touched not only by untainted beauty and goodness, but also by unfiltered evil and horror. The intensity of fierceness required for fierce heart is more akin to laser-focused passion than the bravery of being a fierce warrior: we focus this intensity on persisting with the truth of what we experience, no matter how dark this may become; rather than rejecting what is right here and now for us, we face it head on with eyes wide open. This fierceness in our receptivity to what is taking place creates the space within which we can register, plumb the depths or the heights of, and ultimately merge with our fears. Through this fierce heart we include whatever emotion, fear or thought we had been wanting to avoid, which helps us deal with a situation as a leader rather than creating a wall around it.

Our openly fierce heart also empowers up to be deeply compassionate for the suffering of others. This is where we shine as fierce leaders, for in our realisation that we all have fears, we are able to stand with and support others in their fear.

A confronting story which portrays fierce heart at work involves a suicide bombing incident. A suicide bomber walked into the middle of a busy morning market and pushed the detonator. The bomb went off killing and maiming many people, but for some inexplicable reason the suicide bomber was not killed outright. When the first responders arrived on the scene they found one of the injured comforting the suicide bomber who was in the process of bleeding out on the sidewalk. The injured man was able to look beyond the evil, the pain and the death and, invoking his fierce heart, connect at the most basic level with another human being in their hour of need.

Fierce Vulnerability

Fierce vulnerability is the third level of fierce leadership and it is the most open to our inner selves. It is a portal to our soul nature and through this entryway we are able to plumb our deeper dimensions. While the word vulnerable literally translates as ‘to wound’, fierce vulnerability is less associated with a susceptibility to harm of any kind, be it physical or emotional in nature. Our initial response to any form of vulnerability is to try to avoid it. However, fierce vulnerability is less of a curse and more of a blessing for us as leaders.

Allowing ourselves to experience fierce vulnerability we become more receptive to experiencing our emotions, we perceive our thoughts with greater clarity and we more acutely sense all the pains and the pleasures of our bodies. Through this heightened capacity to be vulnerable we are able to also witness all planes of reality: we become more aware of our permeability; we unmask our identities and realise that they are not fixed; we notice and embrace the impermanence of everything. Our fierce vulnerability gives us the power to embrace constant change: we open to the endless parameters of human existence, including the more oblique, deeper and timeless dimensions; we see clearly that our compulsions, fixations and habits are an empty shell echoing our constant chatter and holding nothing but our need for identity.

The power of fierce vulnerability conditions us to be present with a work colleague who had lost a family member, to sense her pain and to openly listen to her words without judgement or bias. This power allows us to recognise our fear, when we pick ourselves up from a failed venture and start the journey of a new one, harnessing that fear and turning it into an energy that drives our entire team forward.

Think of fierce vulnerability as a non-defensive stance that empowers us to be as widely open as possible to our experience. Being open, with no judgement or defensiveness, we are less susceptible to the opacity of barriers, layers and masks; we are transparent and fiercely present in the moment with our experience, not thinking about what may have been or what we have to do, and the people we lead or who look to us for guidance feel this depth of open presence acutely; many times we don’t even need to say anything as our presence provides an abundance of comfort and compassion.

In a state of fierce vulnerability we see control for the illusion that it is; we attune to the inevitability of suffering; we release our grasping to rationalise, measure and explain and we accept the unpredictability, mutability and inexplicability of the universe; we also operate from a place of greater receptivity to not only to those around us but also, quietening the thrall of our ego, to our inner soul guidance.

Fiercely vulnerable we approach the point of invulnerability, not as a barrier to emotion or protection from pain or death, but as an eternal openness within which there is no place for our fear to cling to and like a wind blowing through an open space it dissipates. Replacing this fear our fierce vulnerability becomes a power of abundance that we hold not only for ourselves, but also for everything and everyone in the universe, to whom we are intimately connected.

The night before my 6-hour heart operation I was exhausted from the almost constant beating of my heart in a life threatening rhythm that fluctuated as high as double the normal heart rate. I was overcome with concern about whether the procedure to ablate the electrical misfirings in my heart would work or not. My mind was awash with a heady potion of positive and negative thoughts and endless questioning. My cardiologist came to visit me. Rather than launch into a monologue about the efficacy of the procedure and what he would be doing in the morning, he simply stayed with me in silence. I could tell he was attuned to my racing thoughts and fears. I could also feel his fierce presence and this calmed me right down.

“Try to get some sleep,” he said, squeezing my hand and giving my one final glance that was suffused with compassion. In that moment I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me. I was in good, caring hands and I trusted myself to the flow of events, my fear no longer held my entire attention and my questioning mind subsided. I felt connected to the world around me and that I was at home in my hospital room. The next morning I was wheeled into the operating theatre with a calm mind and receptive body.

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.

 

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.

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.

Fear and Hope

Fear is the ultimate tool of oppression.
Dictatorial regimes and bully bosses are past masters at using it as a tool for controlling their citizens and staff, respectively.
People can be manipulated to do terrible things through fear.
As individuals we use fear to achieve self-oppression.
Some of us are masterful at tapping into the pervasive undercurrent of fear percolating within our deeper layers of consciousness.
By doing so we reveal specific fears:
the fear of saying the wrong thing; the fear of being laughed at; the fear of being betrayed by a loved one; the fear of losing your job; the fear of being diagnosed with a terminal disease.

Recently my father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Coming less than two years after my own sudden cardiac death experience, this hit me hard at first. He is the toughest man I know; I always saw him as indestructible. It may sound counterintuitive, but to now see him in the fight of his life fills me with hope.

Briony Scott, herself a lung cancer patient, sums up how hope can overcome fear in a beautiful piece she wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald:

Hope, knocked down, gets up. The spirit bends towards life. Surrounded by those who know the worst and yet focus on the best, those of us sidelined by fear are able to pick ourselves up, shelve the grief, and do what needs to be done. The force wielding the gun is just as deadly but you care less. You have choice. To spend whatever is left of your life in fear or to get on with living. You do everything you can to extend your life but you will not spend it waiting for the end to come.”

One year on, I am back running a school, doing what I love. But I have changed. I am intimately acquainted with both fear and hope. They merge and cross from time to time but with an extraordinary team of people working quietly and persistently towards a cure, for all types of cancer, and especially for lung cancer, fear will not win. Hope does and will; again and again, and again.”

Such powerful words, but how do they apply to us in business?

What do we do in a work context when fear arises?
Do we confront it or push it away by working harder?
Fear needs to be confronted, directly, by the team facing it and collectively they need to brainstorm solutions to overcoming that fear.

The team’s initial instinct is to rather work harder at solving the problems that are causing the fear, for example by closing new customers. This amounts to busywork and is being done to mask the fear. Tensions will continue to rise until people on the team feel like the business is unraveling.

The real work requires the team to be fierce and confront the fear together, deciding together what solutions are best for them to pursue. This is the best way for a team to find sustainable solutions to dealing with the fear. It will also bring them together as a more cohesive unit, mending relationships and bringing people back together. While it may feel like the tougher option in the moment, it will provide the focus needed to shift the business to a higher level.

It does not matter what the underlying cause of the fear is, confronting it directly, as a team, is the only way to solve for the long term.

How can EXOscalr help?

Our work is focused on guiding people to be fierce, with themselves, their relationships and their businesses and to tackle their personal and business fears with hope.

We take our clients on a journey of self-discovery and powerfully guide them to go deeper into themselves and step into their greatness; we are bold truth tellers and guide our clients to be the same; EXOscalr is fuel for the soul; we give our clients an audacious wake up call and assist them to find and reclaim the innate powers they possess; we are their compass, challenging them to find their direction and go beyond their limitations; within themselves our clients find compassion, joy, personal power, timeless wisdom and unconditional love; we strip away everything that no longer serves them and give them the tools and inspiration to rebuild their faith in themselves, while showing them how to live a bigger, more true life.

We work with our clients individually one on one, as well as with their teams; we meet our clients where they are, combining insights into personal development and business growth.

Venture Capital: The 5 Essential Fundraising Rules

Entrepreneurs are faced daily with so many unknowns, so much chaos and survival pressure.  Adding fundraising into the mix can often feel overwhelming. How do they keep their heads above this murky water and avoid the many obstacles that lurk below the surface? I’ve distilled out five rules that apply to all fundraising activities as a series of guiding principles.

1. Timing is everything.

Sharks can detect a drop of blood from a long way off. Investors can similarly detect fear from a distance and this can negatively impact their view on investing in your company. At worst they will walk away, at best they will command a much lower valuation and more onerous terms.

The worst time is when you have little capital left and a very high burn rate. It would be far better to close a fundraising round ahead of needing to increase your burn rate.

Similarly, putting your product out into an unprimed marketplace that ignores it or does not deliver the level of hockey stick growth you were wanting will send a negative signal to potential investors. It would be far better to raise capital so you can use it to generate the right level of publicity and interest in your product ahead of its release so that there is pent up demand for it.

2. Fundraising is not transactional.

Think of raising capital as a continuous process that starts when you launch your company and ends when you sell it.

Always be raising based on your continuum of growth needs. But never be raising at some juncture when it is critical that the funds come in or your business will falter, as per the point made above.

Also factor in that however long you thought it would take to close a round is probably only about half as long as it will actually take.

3. Funding marketplaces are cyclical.

Be aware that the climate for funding can shift markedly. At one moment there can be a funding frenzy with investors desperate to get into specific opportunity spaces. This will drive up valuations and give you a feeling that funding is easy, that you can demand better terms.

However, just as quickly the market will freeze over and it can become much harder to raise money either for a specific sector or overall.

Currently we are in the middle of a slowdown. The frenzy is over. Investors are taking their time doing due diligence and forming relationships before they ink deals. At this point you need more patience and to be more realistic on valuations than a few years ago.

4. Leverage funding inflection points.

Make sure you raise the right rounds of funding to match your position on the growth continuum.

And raise only enough to progress through the risk reduction you aim to achieve in that round. Too much funding may allow you to skirt through this risk reduction process and continue down a flawed pathway, building a delusional sinkhole that you cannot escape.

Continuously pare back on opportunities that present themselves to focus on core activities that progress you through each round’s inflection point.

Seed funding should be used to build a basic, but demonstrable validator for your hypotheses. Ideally this should be scalable – starting with a bare minimum validation but then progressively adding to it so that your product begins to approximate, but not reach product market fit. Remember to listen carefully to market feedback at this point and don’t power ahead into that delusional sinkhole when all the signs are there that your hypotheses are not being validated.

Series A funding is raised to get you to product market fit and the subsequent market traction that this enables. Investors prefer to come on board when they can see product market fit on the horizon as this allows them a more reasonable valuation than when customers are banging the door down to get to your product.

Series B funding is used to deliver scalable growth. You’ve built the rocket ship, you now need to scramble out of the growth engine room and into find the command console so you can steer your business into directionally correct territory that sets you up for the next round of funding.

Series C funding is perhaps the hardest round to raise as it is the real truth seeker. Up until now you could have relied on buzz to generate growth, but now you need to prove that you have the right unit economics in place to ensure sustained, profitable growth. This is a crucial time to be aware of that delusional sinkhole again. If you’ve raised too much money you could be plowing it into revenue growth and delaying the hard conversation you need to have around the economics of your unit growth. Revenue growth must convert into positive unit growth or you will sink your business as you expand it.

There are always exceptions, but raising outside of these inflection points is exponentially harder.

Coming back to the key point that timing is everything you should factor in about two years between each of these funding rounds. That gives you enough time to focus on growth for a full year before picking your head up for six months to raise the next round, while maintaining a six month contingency as a buffer.

5. Optimise your fundraising for success.

Does the investor or group of investors you are bringing into a round have what it takes to support you, over and above the capital infusion?

If you answer a resounding yes, then find an approximated win win deal and close the round. You could keep negotiating them down on deal terms or look elsewhere for a higher valuation, or a bigger named venture firm. But that would be a distraction. A financing deal is one moment in the growth continuum of your business. Keep your eyes on the prize: business success.

You are taking on a venture capital partner because you want to build a bigger business at an accelerated pace to what you could without their funding and guidance. Don’t over obsess about your equity stake. Think more about how much more you can grow your business with their involvement so that you all win, big. Keep that goal in mind and view each funding round as a mile-post on that journey. It is an important enabler, nothing more, nothing less.

By investor I refer to the sponsoring partner at a venture capital firm, not the firm itself. Your relationship with them is going to be a lifelong partnership, not a transactional, deal-based one-off interaction. Are you comfortable they would take your call at 3am in the morning or delay their Wednesday afternoon golf game to attend an emergency board meeting? Think of them as talent you are bringing onto your team. Talent you are prepared to take advice from and whose counsel you would trust implicitly.

I hope these rules assist you in your capital raising endeavors and provide you with much needed perspective to view funding as a part of your growth journey.

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This post was initially sent as part of the EXOscalr BeFierce newsletter. If you want to receive it directly  you can subscribe here: http://eepurl.com/bxGzD1

Are Entrepreneurs Suicidal?

Avoca

The topic of depression in startup founders is becoming more prominent. It is an important discussion that was highlighted when outspoken serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis was asked his views by a journalist.

He replied, “Running a startup is a mentally-challenging pursuit, with the chances of failure being absurdly high and the effort required being so extreme. Most of the people attracted to changing the world via a startup are highly-driven and quixotic, but sometimes they are manic.”

“I don’t think startups cause depression, but I do think depressed people can be lured into the chemical rush of running a startup without understanding how trying it really is.”

My personal view on the topic is that being prone to depression should not be a contra-indicator to becoming an entrepreneur.

Instead there are methods for dealing with depression, fostering resilience and reducing fear (of failure, of success) that while important for all entrepreneurs become imperative for those who need to fight their shadows more than others.

The most likely accelerator for depression is not being true to one self. Do a startup for the right reasons that resonate at your soul level, not because it is cool. Not being true to yourself creates emotional friction that will wear down your resilience and let the shadows in.

There is also a misunderstanding about what generates depression and people often oversimplify this very complex issue. It is not as simple as “just getting over it”.

This comment from a Reddit thread on the topic points to the complexity involved:

“The solution to depression is to be happier and stay positive, but doing that involves rehauling habits, improving one’s environment, setting goals, having the proper environment and support, and putting consistent work into changing the way one thinks, day after day without fail or else one runs the risk of undoing every step of progress. By the way, you have to do all of this while your mind tells you how pointless everything is and leeches away your capacity to feel pleasure or pride about a job well done, so any progress you do make provides no intrinsic motivation.”

Many entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed by the sheer number and weight of the decisions they face. Do I hire this person? Do I fire that person? Should I take funding from them, or them? Who is giving me the right advice? What are the consequences of releasing a new product feature – too early, or too late? Should I sell the business to them, at that price? And on and on.

These decisions can mean life or death for their business. Yet for people living with anxiety, every single decision, no matter how small they may seem to others, feels like they have life or death consequences. Factor anxiety into the mix for an entrepreneur and they become far more prone to depression and even suicide.

Another Reddit comment highlights how someone with anxiety thinks:

“It’s like a life or death game of chess. You have to think ten moves ahead and have a move for every situation in advance. The fear of death gets worse with every possible move you analyze. And if life makes a move that you didn’t see coming, instant breakdown, no matter how small insignificant the move was.”

Nor is depression a tap that can be turned on or off at will. It is with someone constantly as another poster to Reddit said:

“Every day of my life! Normal people don’t get it. They think you are acting crazy and irrational and treat you like you can just turn it on and off whenever you want, like it’s a choice. It’s not. I’ve learned to “deal” with it and suppress it a bit but it’s always there.”

Unfortunately there is a rise in suicide rates across all demographics, not only entrepreneurs. A 24% rise between 1999 and 2014 in the US has been attributed to concerns about jobs and personal finances. These issues can be exacerbated amongst entrepreneurs worried about how they keep supporting their staff and feeding their families.

It is important for entrepreneurs to realise that there is no direct causal link between being in the grip of fear and spiralling into depression. Realisation and resilience are key to staving off the shadows. Former Google and now CEO at Accompany, Amy Chang said in an interview recently, “I’ve made so many mistakes along the way. I have those ‘3am wake up and can’t go back to sleep moments’ all the time. It is good for people who are just starting their careers to know that too, so that when they are totally scared out of their minds of failure, or whatever else, they know it is 100% normal.”

My advice to entrepreneurs, be they new to the game or old hands, is tread the entrepreneurial path with eyes wide open. Do not be afraid to talk about your fears and anxieties and seek assistance if things get more serious.

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This post was initially published as part of the EXOscalr BeFierce newsletter. You can subscribe here:http://eepurl.com/bxGzD1 .

A World Leading Entrepreneur Growth Program for Leaders

EXOscalr is proud to launch its world leading Entrepreneur Growth Program, which is designed to provide early to mid stage companies invaluable insights into achieving high growth.

The Program runs over 6 weeks and gives senior executives practical advice, algorithms and methodologies that will significantly boost the velocity of their growth.

Announcing the Program, EXOscalr CEO Rand Leeb-du Toit said, “Growth is the perennial focus for business leaders. Yet it is often misunderstood and mismanaged. The Entrepreneur Growth Program dispels the myths and delivers an unfair competitive advantage.”

“This advantage firstly delivers the impetus for growth through a suite of tools designed to achieve a growth boost and secondly, delivers methods for harnessing the ensuing chaos and ensuring it is directionally correct.”

The Program is available to companies globally and brings cutting edge insights from leading high growth organisations, in Silicon Valley and internationally, directly to entrepreneurs and business executives.

In addition, EXOscalr is releasing its 2016 Growth Report which highlights the 10 facets for driving business growth and how to create a concerted front strategy and business-wide operating system for achieving the levels of growth only seen by leading companies.

“Growth is not all lead generation and pitching. There is a much wider set of activities that must be undertaken by dedicated growth groups working across a business. Anything less is tantamount to stagnation in today’s dynamic business environment,” said Mr Leeb-du Toit.

The Growth Report explores what a dedicated growth group should consist of and also what to look for when hiring the right people for it.

The Report can be downloaded from the EXOscalr website and expressions of interest in the Entrepreneur Growth Program can be made directly to Mr Leeb-du Toit via email: rand@exoscalr.com.

Growth.Reinvented: How Leading Companies Create a Concerted Front For Business Growth

As evidenced by numerous surveys, growth is the major enduring focus for business leaders. However, growth is tackled ad hoc across many organizations. Leading companies drive rapid, sustained growth through a concerted front strategy.

More and more companies have a leadership mandate to achieve growth, a vision of what growth needs to be and an understanding of a growth culture.

They embark on various growth initiatives, but these are mostly carried out in silos.

Leading organizations not only undertake numerous growth activities, but they also conduct them using a concerted front strategy.

They start by formulating a view across all their growth activities. They then translate that view into a business-wide operating system.

As their concerted activities mature this operating system shifts to being driven by a dedicated growth group that works across the business.

I’ve written a Growth Report that explores the concerted front strategy used by leading companies to achieve rapid and sustained growth.

The report starts by highlighting key aspects of the 10 facets for driving business growth, then considers what a dedicated growth group should consist of and what to look for when hiring the right people for it. It concludes with suggestions on how to create a 100 day growth dialogue.

You can download the full report from the EXOscalr website at the following LINK.