How To Break Through Your Limiting Beliefs and Constraints

How do you wake up and discover your true passions, and live a life of purpose? By removing the masks of self-deception.

Who are you, really?

Over time we write a story about ourselves that we want to hear. For many, this story is what defines us as we journey through life. And yet, the tragedy is that we may be totally unaware of how deeply uncomfortable we are with who we have become. Most of us don’t afford ourselves the opportunity to stop, to put our lives on pause for one moment. Yet, we may desperately need to do so.

By starting a process of exponential self-inquiry, we begin to peel away our various masks of self-deception. We begin to peel away our story and we begin to remember who we really are. This process is often triggered by a traumatic life event – perhaps losing a loved one, being fired, your business going bust, burning out, an episode of depression, or a personal sickness. But you don’t have to wait for any of these things to happen to make a start.

One of the greatest travesties and regrets for so many people is that they get to their twilight years, start thinking about their impending death, and realise that they didn’t show up as themselves enough, or ever. And they are the lucky ones. They have a precious, yet fleeting, moment to realise that. Many people pass on without ever even having that realisation.

I want you to examine your life right now, not when it is too late. And if there is a realisation to be had, that requires realignment and a reinvention, this is perhaps the greatest gift I can give to you.

Wings of Awareness

The practice of exponential self-inquiry requires us to have two wings of awareness: self-honesty and self-acceptance.

First, we need to have the courage to cut through the veils of illusion and really look at what is true in our lives – acknowledge, name, and remain open to it. Second, we need to have a vast, open, radiant heart that can hold compassion no matter what truth we see in our lives.

We need both elements because we can’t really be honest and open with ourselves unless we have created a space that is accepting, a space that is forgiving, tender and kind and that can hold what we see without judgment, either of others or ourselves. Allowing self-blame to creep into this process is counterproductive. This space is a blame-exclusion zone.

Exponential self-inquiry is the process of bringing the truth into your field of compassion. This is because when your heart is open to the truth, the darkness and any demons have nowhere to hide.

The Programmed Mind

The various layers of the human brain have evolved to fixate on avoiding harm, enhancing pleasure, and driving attachment and connection to others. Avoiding harm is mainly felt psychologically as fear of failure, fear of our own deficiency and fear that we are going to make a mistake. Our natural state is one of being afraid of messing up, feeling inadequate, or not having the right qualities. This fearful state compels us to try harder to be sufficiently proficient at everything. However, this often means we spend too much time trying to avoid imagined, looming failures by blaming, judging, obsessing, and planning.

There is a real cost when we spend our time pretending, consciously or unconsciously, and being someone we’re not. This ‘inauthenticity tax’ is often expressed in the form of depression and stress, which can take a mental and physical toll on our health.

A New Self-Relationship

The game-changer, however, results from creating a practice of exploring your profound existential journey. This will help you to find out who you are so that you can lead, live, and work from a place of deeper self-understanding.

Arriving at this place, you’ll find that instead of ambulating along on someone else’s journey, you’ll acquire new energy and enjoy your own path. As such, it can be a powerful transformative trigger and one well worth spending time mastering.

Self-inquiry is neither a one-off nor perfectly achievable. It is a practice that you should aim to do regularly at various levels of intensity. Some forms of self-inquiry can be practised daily as interstitials between thought and action. Others require long, uninterrupted moments of contemplation and are best reserved for times you carve out during the year. These could be on an intercontinental flight or a week-long retreat.

Starting the Exponential Self-Inquiry Journey

You can start this process of self-exploration at any point. You can delve into your relationship with work, confront your fears, or contemplate what makes you feel vulnerable.

It is better to pull on a loose thread rather than unpick a new one. Think of this thread as a tipping point in unravelling your life and peering into areas that you’ve avoided exploring before.

By pulling on this thread, you may find that you start to unravel repressed memories, hidden fears, or forgone happiness. An example might be how you relate to money. Do you obsess about how much of it you have? What is causing this obsession? You might find that it goes all the way back to your childhood when your family struggled with finances.

Another childhood thread may be how you saw yourself when you were 12 years old. Perhaps you were that awkward kid who always felt unwanted? Did you constantly feel the need to prove yourself to family, friends, and society?

This thread needn’t be an area that is uncomfortable. It can sometimes be easier to begin this process by starting where you are comfortable exploring. For example, your relationship to work may be a less foreboding thread to pull than a repressed childhood bullying memory. Start there. As you get further into this process you can approach harder to explore areas, which require more courage. Those areas will require you to be your fiercest self.

This article was published in the October 2018 edition of LivingNow Magazine. To explore the concepts discussed here in more detail you can read my book Fierce Reinvention, available through Amazon and other leading online bookstores.

Emotional Struggle, Entrepreneurs and Bold VCs: How Silicon Valley is Destigmatizing High Performance Psychological Pressures

Silicon Valley VC firm, Felicis Ventures recently made the news in Forbes with their founder development program supporting leadership coaching and other development programs.

So what’s new I hear you say?

Firstly, the partners at Felicis Ventures point out they were inspired by fields like professional sports where coaches are a regular fixture in helping high performance athletes deal with the pressures and psychological struggles they may face. In this respect they are markers for a growing trend of acknowledgement and support for people suffering from high stakes stress. We are coming from a low bar in which such suffering has long been stigmatized so I am by no means trivialising this move by Felicis.

But secondly, venture capitalists are in the business of giving entrepreneurs money so, again, what’s new? Yes, but in the vast majority of instances this funding is dilutive of the existing shareholders, meaning it is not provided without some form of quid pro quo, mostly via equity in the investee company, a seat or seats on the board of directors and a whole lot of influence on key decisions in the operations of that business.

So here is what makes the Felicis pledge so radical. They are providing 1% towards founder development on top of the dilutive capital they invest and they are taking this out of their own management fees.

The way VC works is various institutions, high net worth individuals and corporations provide the investment pool – these limited partners get a return on investment of about 80% less a 20% carry that goes to the VCs for their efforts in successfully deploying the investment pool. The more successful, the more carry for the VCs. In addition, the VCs get an ongoing management fee during the time they are deploying and managing the investment pool. This is called a management fee and is around 2% per annum. This fee is what the VC firm uses for operational costs during the life of a fund, which can range up to 10 years.

So for Felicis to slice a chunk off of these fees and provide it to the entrepreneurs they invest in is a big deal. And to do so without any directly-correlated increase in their shareholding in an investee company makes it unusual in the VC space.

But hey, it’s a smart decision.

Here’s why: they are essentially signalling to these startup leaders that it is ok to check in on themselves and ensure they are tracking right emotionally and mentally despite the rigours of running a high growth business; they are doubling down on their investment in these entrepreneurs with a personal investment in their well being; besides hopefully adding somewhat to the success of these investments this signalling also points to Felicis playing the long game of investing not only into a company, but into its people; it shows they care and when their investees turn into serial entrepreneurs and are deciding who to invite in as investors in their next company, you can bet they will seriously consider Felicis.

Smart, right!

So how does this play out amongst the Felicis portfolio?

Canva is one of my favourite startups (disclosure: my son Josh works there) and also a Felicis investee company. They are a growth rocket ship and have a full-time coach on board with plans to bring in more. In their ad on LinkedIn for an Internal Coach for their Manila office they say:

“…looking for a unique person to execute with key stakeholders a world leading internal coaching methodology for personal coaching, group coaching and team coaching…we do not believe in top down management, we believe in helping all of our teams to reach their goals and to deliver value to our community through coaching and mentorship.”

What this points to is that the Felicis 1% pledge has had a wonderful cascading effect: Canva is not only focusing on personal development among the founders and leadership, but also across the company.

What do other VCs say about what Felicis is doing?

Brad Feld of Mobius Venture Capital in Boulder is both a veteran venture guy and a supporter of coaching for entrepreneurs around depression and mental health. He has blogged that he is delighted to see the article in Forbes: Acknowledging the Value of Coaching and Therapy for Founders.

And this is really what it is all about: Felicis, in one bold move, is making massive strides towards destigmatizing coaching and therapy and boosting their portfolio while they are about it. Well done, guys.

Mahendra Ramsinghani, who runs the Secure Octane seed fund, also has an article in TechCrunch on this topic titled Investors are waking up to the emotional struggle of startup founders. As someone who at one time wrote research notes on the Gartner Hype Curve I love his use of the curve for plotting the phases a startup goes through. Way cool!

As many of you know, I’ve also been a big supporter of coaching and leadership development for entrepreneurs over the years. In fact, I was so convinced of the importance of this work I left Gartner in 2015 and set up Exoscalr to focus on working with high performance leaders and their teams. It is fantastic to see further recognition of this rewarding approach to supporting the people building the future.

How Mindful Leaders Communicate Effectively

Do you get frustrated at having to repeat yourself over and over?

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if people just listened the first time?

Well, the likelihood is that people won’t hear what you say initially: their minds are elsewhere; they may misconstrue what you mean; they may totally mishear what you say.

The reality is that great leaders must repeat their message multiple times, without judgement of those they want to hear it.

Recently, on retreat, I was meditating at sunrise on a former lavender farm perched high on top of the Brokenback mountain range. This idyllic setting in southeastern Australia had sweeping views over the Hunter Valley vineyards and all the way to the Barrington Tops many miles in the distance.

Stretching down the valley on the left where I was sitting was the treeline of the Pokolbin State Forest, a mass of mature spotted gum and ironbark from which a wedge-tailed eagle emerged into the diffused morning light.

Stretching down the valley to my right was a mix of woodlands and heaths. Weaving between this vegetation was a well worn pathway. This was the only clue that the land was any different from when the Wonarua people lived undisturbed in the area over 3,000 years ago. I was on a working farm and this winding streak of well trodden, orange Mesozoic earth was the way cattle moved from their overnight shelter down into the grazing lands at the bottom of the valley.

The idyllic peace of the morning was pierced by one of the farmers, “Stay in line, stay in line!” Repeated like an oft-used mantra his words may simply have slipped into the back of my consciousness, yet another element in life’s rich tapestry as my meditative mind opened wide.

But I chose to reflect on what he was saying and to whom. He was urging his cattle to stay on the track as they descended into the valley. If they strayed there was a chance they would stumble and fall down the steep slope.

In that moment it struck me that we can learn a lot from this farmer: what stood out the most was how calmly he repeated his mantra; even though he would have to do so many hundred of times a day, both going down in the morning and coming back up in the evening, there was no anger in his voice; he wasn’t frustrated that the cows didn’t get it the first time he told them to keep in line; he was totally non-judgmental and his key concern was the well being of his cattle.

By no means am I equating the people you communicate with to cattle, but there is a simple analogy here. We may need to say things over and over for them to stick, and sometimes no matter how many times we repeat a message, even one designed for someone else’s well being, we realise that we must repeat it again, and again.

The next time you find yourself becoming aware that you are repeating yourself, withhold judgement; treat the words you are saying with reverence, transforming them into a mantra; and enjoy the warm basking glow that comes from being totally of service to others.

How to Grow Exponentially as a Business Leader

Growing exponentially, or exoscaling, as a business leader requires a very special mix of attributes.

I look for the kernel of these attributes in the people I love to work with and help them build up these capabilities to the point where they are humming like a well-tuned engine.

I like to call these the Awake Attributes: because they require you to be awake to your situation and surroundings; you are aware, conscious and mindful of the present.

By contrast are the people who exude the Asleep Attributes: they follow the herd, never questioning, permanently stuck in the commute-slow lane of life; they are totally unaware of the illusory cravings that they and society have constructed, they are reactive, making knee-jerk decisions that negatively impact those around them and themselves.

Here are my top four Awake Attributes:

1. Drinking from the fire hydrant. A passion for learning every single detail of your business and universe: they have no off switch when it comes to their focus area; every detail, no matter how big or small is treated like a gift, savoured and assimilated into your knowledge base, and applied back into your life and business in unique ways.

2. Treating life like an obstacle course. The resilience to tackle difficult situations with relish and achieve better than expected outcomes as a result. Problems don’t phase you, as all you see are opportunities to grow yourself, the people around you and your business. Leaders love challenges and positively frame what emerges. Exoscaling leaders thrive on directionally-correct chaos.

3. Competing with yourself, not the status quo. A desire to win that transcends the world around you, and which leads you to massively outperform your potential competition.

4. Looping feedback and translating that into action. Always being open to input from others requires a mix of assuredness and mindfulness.

These Awake Attributes are like muscles in that they can be strengthened over time. By constantly checking in with yourself to see if you have the right mindset you can become stronger and stronger at being more and more awake.

Here are my top ten mindset enablers for strengthening your Awake Attributes, exoscaling as a leader and achieving peak-awakeness:

1. Problem finding rather than problem solving;

2. Ask questions, don’t provide answers;

3. Focus on being in service of society, not in service of industry;

4. Operate for how the world will be, not how the world is;

5. Think beyond futures, and explore parallel worlds;

6. Make the unreal real, not the real real;

7. Think implication, not application;

8. Innovation is so yesterday, it’s all about provocation;

9. Build to make us think, not to make us buy;

10. Ethics trumps user-friendliness.

How to Lead with the Power of Purpose

Fred Kofman, who until recently was VP of Leadership Development at LinkedIn, is best known for his book and teachings around Conscious Business. I suspect that is about to change and he will become even better known for his latest work on transformative leadership, thanks to his new book, The Meaning Revolution: Leading with the Power of Purpose, which is now out.

He defines transformative leadership as helping staff to feel connected to a great mission or purpose, and empowering them to discover the ‘immortality project’ at the core of your business.

The book is a call to arms for the pandemic of disengagement amongst employees and it provides actionable advice for finding more dignity and meaning in work.

Part 3 of the book explores self-transcendence and includes part of the story of my sudden cardiac death in the Chapter titled Die Before You Die. As Fred says, my brush with death gave me a greater understanding of purpose and was the trigger for my personal transformation.

I wanted to bring this book to your attention, not only because it includes my experience, but also because of the masterful way in which Fred weaves together how we can find meaning and live our lives with purpose, while also empowering the people who we lead to do so as well.

Acclaim for The Meaning Revolution includes:

“The Meaning Revolution makes the case that leadership isn’t just about the mind. It’s also about the spirit. Fred’s book shows how when we set goals that reflect our values as well as our interests—when our teams strive to make a positive impact on the world together—we can achieve more than success. We can find greater purpose and meaning.” —Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

“I believe culture needs to be about realizing personal passions and using the company as a platform to pursue those passions. Fred Kofman explores that notion even more deeply through vivid stories and truly profound reflections on business leadership and conscious capitalism. What is your noble purpose? Are your kids proud of your company’s mission? Why might the biggest beneficiary of your business be your competitors’ customers and employees? Read on!” —Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

“As Fred Kofman makes brilliantly clear in The Meaning Revolution, real leadership is not about hitting your numbers—it’s about creating a culture of purpose and meaning, and inspiring others to realize that they can make a lasting difference in the world around them.” —Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global

Hey Technologist, Revel In Your Culture of Killing It, But Realize That Inside You Are Dying

I want to highlight an article in the NY Times about the Big Sur, California-based Esalen Institute reopening. Why this is so interesting is because its new mission is “to help technologists who discover that ‘inside they’re hurting”.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders, particularly from the technology industry are starting to get one of my key messages: “Technology without meaning is like work without fulfilment: purposeless noise.”

As Ben Tauber, the new Executive Director at Esalen, puts it:

There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognise that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place. The CEOs, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.

Another nearby centre, 1440 Multiversity, which lies nestled in the California redwoods near Santa Cruz, has a similar message in its goal: to recognise that the blazing success of the internet catalysed powerful connections, yet did not help people connect to themselves.

1440 was founded by Scott Kriens, Chairman and former CEO of Juniper Networks, with the rationale that there is “great power in immersion learning – setting aside daily urgencies and dedicating uninterrupted time and energy to focus on our more important, but often more elusive, priorities.”

One of the key questions technologists are starting to ask themselves is whether they are doing the right thing for humanity. It’s all very well building a highly addictive, behaviour changing piece of technology, but if it doesn’t progress humanity in some way then what is the point?

Before heading up Esalen, Ben Tauber had created a real-time celebrity geo-stalking service called JustSpotted and then joined Google as an acqui-hire. He then decided his work was causing harm. “I realized I was addicting people to their phones. It’s a crisis that everyone’s in the culture of killing it, and inside they’re dying.”

As former Google chef Bodhi Kalayjian, who now bakes bread at Esalen says, “Everybody’s got a soul. It’s about finding it.”

The article also quotes Gopi Kallayil, Google’s chief evangelist of brand marketing. He has been wondering about the impact of his work and said that many of the people who came to him had floundered this year.

Ultimately, it’s about finding meaning in your work and ensuring that what you invest your precious time into is something that you can feel proud of.

What is an Elder in Residence Program and Why Does Your Business Need One?

In a previous post (Here’s How Older Generations Can Reinvent as Elders and Continue Their Impact) I talk about the importantance of older generations reinventing themselves as elders. I refer to two fantastic examples of individuals joining high tech Silicon Valley companies when they are in their early 50’s. Both have had a profound effect on their respective businesses: Fred Kofman at LinkedIn and Chip Conley at airbnb.

These are relatively ad hoc arrangements and testament to the foresight of the CEOs of those companies for pioneering this path. And then it struck me: what if this was formalised and crystallised into a program that other companies can follow, add to and learn from?

And so I began thinking: when I was at NICTA I had a problem – 600 very, very smart scientists on staff and a remit to create an entrepreneurial culture and commercialise their research. How was I going to help these academically-driven people reinvent as entrepreneurs? And I needed to do so on rocket boosters as we had enormous pressure to produce results.

One of the most successful things I did was to set up an Entrepreneur in Residence Program. I recruited a number of serial entrepreneurs to join us for a year. In this time they firstly acted as mentors to our scientists and secondly identified a project they could work closely with to fast track a spin out. If they were successful in spinning out a new venture they would take the CEO role and lead it through its growth.

The result of this EiR Program was a definite boost to the organization’s entrepreneurial culture and a slew of venture-backed spin outs in record time.

My aim is to take this learning and apply it to creating an Elder in Residence Program. I see the benefits to a company, particularly one that is growing rapidly and dealing with how to scale leadership, being:

1. A close trusted confidante for the CEO – part adviser, part mentor, part CEO coach;

2. A leadership program that will boost compassion, resilience, wisdom and, ultimately, increase diversity, engagement and organizational transformation.

CEOs often have excellent advisers and investors in their milieu, but I see this to be a role more embedded inside the business – working closely with the CEO one on one as well as building up the leadership team for the purposes of scaling – as they transition say from 150 to 300 staff it is imperative that they are ready for this growth inflection point and the rule of 3 and 10 (at 3 and at 10 things change in any organization and as it scales simply add zeroes onto 3 and 10 and the principle continues to be applicable).

How to Get Better Outcomes With Less Effort

Isn’t it about time you got better outcomes with less effort?

CEO Coaching is your go to method: it’s about leadership development; it’s about being inspired, but ultimately it’s about impact. Your return on investment is a boost to your productivity and your overall well being; which is why at EXOscalr we refer to it as fuel for the soul, rocket fuel for your business.

CEO Coaching helps you find clarity: in your vision, in your role; and this translates across your business with people becoming less confused, more engaging and their overwhelming sense of fear dissipating.