The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Stress

You know the score: stress deeply impacts both our bodies and our brains, affecting our health and the incidence of disease. But stress as an overarching term for all forms of strain and tension is too simplistic. We need to differentiate between three types of stress if we want to explore ways to counter it and also if we want to contemplate if stress could even be good for us. In this post I explore the types of stress, the impacts of sustained stress and how to counter it.

Get this, current thinking on stress discerns three levels of stress:
1. Positive stress – going after something you want but are not guaranteed of getting, for example wanting a new job and stressing about the interview; stressing about giving a talk and wanting to be recognised for being knowledgeable; wanting to be the winner and being recognised for your athletic prowess and stressing about a marathon you’re running.
2. Negative stress – getting hit by a bad event and having the personal capability or access to support to pull through, for example being made redundant; the death of a parent.
3. Malignant stress – getting hit by an event that is beyond bad and for which you need to have the personal capability or access to any external support that can arrest your mental and physical downward spiral, for example the death of your spouse or child; losing your business that you invest a large chunk of your working life into building.

What’s the catch? You may not notice the impact of one stress event, but for most of us in the modern manic world what is truly dangerous is the compound affect a continuous stream of stress events has on breaking down our resilience without us taking the time to recover and regain our resilience.

So let’s take a closer look. When you are hit by a stress event your body automatically activates certain organs and deactivates others through a powerful cocktail of hormones that have evolved to provide you with the maximum resources required to overcome the cause of your stress. Theoretically, once the stress subsides your body returns to an equilibrium position.

However, when you are bombarded by a continuous stream of stress you don’t let your body recover. This contributes heavily to the probability of you succumbing to one of the modern stress pandemics: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Surprisingly enough you might not even feel stressed: you may get used to and even think you are thriving in your made environment of back-to-back long-haul flights, lack of sleep, constant noise, barrage of social interruptions, noxious fumes, excessive alcohol and overeating. Taken together over an extended period of time these are as dangerous to your health and well-being as one major malignant stress event. And what’s worse, is that we can be blissfully unaware of the affect this is having on us.

Why is all this so important? The impacts of sustained, heavy stress are twofold:
1. Negative rewiring – while neuroplasticity can be used as a tool to positively rewire our brains and behaviours, stress can lead to a negative rewiring in which our cognitive function is decreased. We may notice this through an increase in mood swings.
2. Decreased brain health – malignant stress events have been shown to suppress the regrowth of neutrons that are vital to ongoing brain health, especially as it relates to long-term memory and emotional responses.

And another thing, your ability to overcome stress and how you react to it can be partially predetermined: men are more likely to react through emotional outbursts or other forms of antisocial behaviour; women are more likely to develop depression; a nurtured childhood can increase the capability for remaining emotionally stable in the face of negative or malignant stress and even lead to you seeking out and thriving on positive stress.

What can you do now to overcome the stress overload?

So what’s the answer? There are four things you can do to proactively counter an overload of stress:
1. Building a fierce practice – through a combination of reinventing yourself to be more authentic, being more focused on what gives you meaning and undertaking regular mindfulness and breathing activities.
2. Getting physical – undertaking regular aerobic exercise such as walking, and especially walking in nature.
3. Sleeping more – increasing your sleep time by going to bed earlier, preparing for sleep by reducing screen time 30 minutes before bed and taking power naps during the day.
4. Flexing your stress muscle – exposing yourself to a balanced series of positive stress events can help you exercise your stress muscle and maintain a buffer to major, unexpected stress events, for example, by ensuring you regularly speak publicly.

 

Get Ready for Fierce Reinvention

I’m excited to bring you news of the availability of my book Fierce Reinvention: A Guide to Harnessing Your Superpowers for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Success. The book is about behaviour change; it is a guide to the higher, transcendent level of leadership, compassion and fearlessness required to grow our humanness and stand tall against the tide of technological change and corporate disengagement swirling around us.

Launch date has been set for October 2nd, 2017; the pre-release paperback is available right now on Amazon; if you prefer to read it electronically, the digital version is on pre-order at all your favourite bookstores – Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, to name a few; if you are a Kindle fanatic, the pre-order will be available in early July as they have a 90-day limit on pre-orders.

This book has been a two-year journey of love and passion for me triggered initially by my sudden cardiac death experience and, in the last 8 months, bookended by my father’s fierce fight with stage IV cancer.

I’ve grown in every moment of bringing it to fruition: sharing many of my thoughts with you in bite-size chunks; crystallising the operating system we use at EXOscalr into a more scalable version that can be implemented by anyone or any organisation and, thereby, progressing towards my moonshot goal of impacting 2 billion people by 2025; learning the intricacies of publishing in 2017 and comparing it to how it worked when I was in the industry in the 1990s – my takeout is that while still nascent and overly complicated, self-publishing rocks.

We will be working on a range of fun marketing and publicity activities as the campaign around Fierce Reinvention gathers steam. I would love to hear your thoughts on activities we could include in the campaign to get the book out to a wide audience.

I want to give a shout out to Linnae Pienaar for being the first person on the planet to buy a copy of the book. That’s her in the picture above, at home in Japan, proudly holding up her copy. Thanks for always being fierce, Linnae!

The website for the book is at fiercereinvention.com and I look forward to sharing more news with you over the coming months.

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.

 

Fierce Leadership and Breakthrough Experiences: Modern Leadership Practices for Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

11 Reasons Business Executives Must Reinvent Themselves as Fierce Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Through Control And Ego: Shifting From Fear To Empowerment

Breaking Out!

Breaking Out of Your Trance!

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

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

DISRUPTING CONTROL

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

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

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

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

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

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

GET THE FULL STORY

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

The ego determines how we see the world and ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The EXOscalr Entrepreneurial Growth Program: How to convert chaos into growth

High growth scaling up is a function of converting random chaos into positive, directionally correct chaos. To do so you need to know where you are going and whether you are on track.
 
At EXOscalr we have devised the Plan Data Progress Operating System to help you transition seamlessly from startup to scaleup.
Find out more about this Operating System as well as other algorithms and methods for growth on the EXOscalr Entrepreneurial Growth Program. We have a limited number of spots available. Ping rand at exoscalr dot com if you are interested in being considered.

EXOscalr Announces Support For Early Stage Entrepreneurs

At EXOscalr we want to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and are offering a limited number of slots for early stage entrepreneurs to work with us.

As part of our support, we will significantly reduce our rates for one on one coaching with entrepreneurs and will also work with peer groups made up of a maximum of 3 synergistic entrepreneurs.

To qualify your current business must be pre-Series A funding. You could be anywhere on the spectrum between exiting your current role to do a start up through to being close to raising your Series A venture capital round. Our logic is that Series A is enough of an inflection point for us to have a full business conversation that doesn’t necessarily require EXOscalr subsidising you by reducing our fees.

EXOscalr is a strategy, growth and wisdom coaching company. We help CEOs and their teams deal with the internal entrepreneurship rollercoaster, supporting the growth they need to exponentially improve their performance and their life.

Ping rand@exoscalr.com to find out more about the opportunity to work with us.