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Who’s Running the Show?

Your stomach is tied up in knots. You need to tell a colleague what you really think, but you can’t…fearful of the reaction.

Sweat breaks out on your palms. You need to say ‘No” to an unreasonable request, but a voice within tells you saying no isn’t acceptable.

Who’s running the show? You or your inner critic?

Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post said, “We may not be able to tune our inner critics out entirely, but we don’t have to let them run the show.”

So where did these inner critics come from? . Were inner critics always once outer critics? How did they get so powerful?

The popular thinking is that the outer critics were our primary caretakers. In order to have our safety, nourishment and connection needs met, we took on their priorities (and cut off parts of ourselves). Over time, their voices became our inner critic.

Now, in our day-to-day life we play out the tension between our (hopefully more) evolved, integrated  adult selves and the inner critic that arose in childhood. Yet, certain scenarios bring out the worst in us.

Is  there someone  at work who makes you hold back, too meek to speak?

Who is it you can see yourself wanting to give a quick kick to the groin? (Come on we all have these thoughts from time to time.) You don’t have to berate yourself for the thoughts. Berating yourself is a way of knowing you’re under attack by the inner critic.

You can do something useful about it.

Okay, go somewhere quiet. Now, imagine a recent situation and visualize your inner critic sitting across from you. Take a minute, two at the most and play the scene in your head where you say everything to this inner including, “F–K off”.

You may have to go back and re-do this scene several times. And you’ll have to defend against the next attack and the one after that. Your defense will come more automatically and will be shorter and shorter. How will you know you have tamed the inner critic?

Your body’s  intelligence will  become more familiar.  You’ll get to know   that place somewhere near your navel that will relax, not be so tied in “KNOTS” from the “NOTS” once you tell this annoying inner critic to back off.

And soon, without leaving the scene completely, your inner critic will learn that YOU are running the show.

 

innercritic

Getting the Life You Want: One Daily Deed

aha womanAre you overwhelmed? Do you have BIG plans for personal improvement? Does every evening bring disappointment because you didn’t achieve all you wanted? Perhaps you are tired of striving and failing…hearing a harsh negative voice in your head put you down.

Here’s the good news. When you change (or build) one habit, that one action has a cumulative effect so taking on one shift, one change, or one new thing, makes a much wider impact than you plan.

Example: You decide to stretch every morning before work. You set an alarm on your phone for 7:10 and for the next 15 minutes, you proceed to do a series of stretching exercises. One new thing – and a fairly easy one with the support of your technology and an announcement to a few friends. Stay with me here….

Fast forward to the office. You’re reaching for a folder on a high shelf, and suddenly find yourself smiling. You remember that you diligently (and without much effort) remembered to stretched earlier that morning. A wave of good feeling (with the accompanying hormones) washes through you. You decide to have a nourishing salad for lunch rather than the calorie loaded office pizza.

Feeling proud of yourself for choosing a healthy lunch (why undermine those morning stretches?) you find ten minutes to step outside and walk briskly before heading into a barrage of meetings.

When you do enter the conference room, you’re feeling alive, awake and even a teeny bit enthusiastic – great energy to take into your meeting.

While walking and eating a healthy lunch weren’t commitments you jotted down on your TO DO list, the one daily deed you chose, stretching, led to a larger result – a cumulative, positive effect.

The “feel-good” hormones you produced were the gift that kept on giving…so you kept the momentum going without the requisite big push.

My point?

Rather than floundering in a river of changes, with lots of potential for failing and berating yourself (which you know leads to failure, not success) chose ONE daily deed. Write it down. Tell a few friends what you are up to. Find support for it – technological or human or both.

Then do it! That one daily deed.

Notice for a period of two weeks, what other positive actions you take. Jot those down.

Keeping that list and adding to it, builds momentum – both for the deed you’ve committed to and for generally increasing the benefit of a positive shift. Its a reward – tangible. This is important in building a habit.

Charles Duhigg in his bestselling book “The Power of Habit” teaches that habit relies on 3 parts: a cue, a routine and a reward. And this science of habit applies to you individually and to your organization.

The support you set up for your daily deed should include a cue (in my example, the alarm) like, an item on your To Do list. When you see the item, your cue, you don’t have to make a decision, you simply have to act.

Then you complete the action – the routine. In the case I use, stretching.

Finally, comes the reward. This can be physical – hormones saturating your system or acclaim- your tell your friends or a gift you buy yourself or anything you perceive as rewarding. You feel good about yourself now, and that sense of “goodness” carries over into other parts of your day.

Rather than going into despair that sounds like, “I’m not good enough” you can echo the message, “I completed my stretching today, “ which elevates your mood and moves you down the road to creating a new habit – one you’ve chosen.

So, begin with one daily deed – create a cue, complete the routine and reward yourself. That’s how you begin building the life you want.

 

If you enjoyed my post, it would mean the world to me if you comment, like, and share it.

Another powerful “one daily deed” that can transform your business and your life can be found here. It’s the The 5 Minute Planning Tool That Can Triple Your Productivity, Results, and Successes Everyday. And it’s free.

Don’t Tell The Truth And Find Your Integrity

14619487_sI value honesty and integrity. You do too! Yet there are times when you shouldn’t “tell the truth”.

“Really?” you may ask.

Yes, really!  Whether you’re an executive, coach, consultant or other leader, don’t get caught in the false belief that “speaking your truth” is your first response in every situation. It isn’t. Sometimes not speaking immediately builds integrity rather than destroying it.

Here are some times to avoid “the truth” and feel really great about yourself.

When you are angry… Your anger is a clear sign that you need to do something, but blaring out what you think isn’t it. Rather, go on an exploratory mission. First, sit with the angry feelings. What are they about? Make a list. Check what about the current situation feels familiar – in other words, when have these feelings come up this strongly in the past. Circumstances? Who is involved. Ask yourself: Does this situation bring up the old one? When you are clear about what is really at stake, you can have a more meaningful conversation in which you explore the other person’s perspective, share your own without rancor and integrate what you hear.

When you feel wounded…  You might feel slighted, “thrown under the bus” or worse. Don’t share “your truth” prematurely. Separate your ideas about what the other person intended from your experience. Again, ask yourself what about this experience feels familiar? Get really curious. Is that old hurt impacting how you receive the current situation? Could the person have meant something other than what you judge to be his intention? When you can list several other interpretations for events than your original “take”, you’re ready to have a conversation.

Often, “being honest” is just vomitting undigested feelings, sensations and ideas all over another human being. It gets ugly and smelly pretty fast and is hard to clean up. Don’t confuse “telling the truth” with revenge acting out your hurt, or attempting to punish the other with words.

You don’t need to hold back your feelings or thoughts, just save that volcanic eruption for after you’ve done your exploration.

Some questions to ask yourself:

1) What is this REALLY about? Am I triggered (reacting to events from the distant past that this situation has a whiff of)?

2) Is my response appropriate to the circumstances?  (You know the scenario of a difficult week at work, a traffic accident on the commute home, locking your keys in the car and then blowing up at your partner when he mentions doing the dishes.)

3) What would I like to have happen as a result of the conversation? (Get really clear about the outcome you want. Is it to punish? Is it to clarify? Is it to share/ Is it to find a way forward?)

If you do your work first, you’ll be able to tell the truth with integrity.

Annette is a former high school principal, a certified Integral Coach, an Accelerated Learning specialist and curriculum developer. She is an NLP trained executive coach and co-author of The Game of Truth: A Humorous Guide to Self-Discovery.Annette has taught Power Reading, Memory and Creativity courses around the globe. Her coaching and teaching has taken her to South Africa, Greece, Singapore and Moscow and she has presented workshops at Stanford, USC, Wellesley, Amherst, George Mason University and University of Arizona. Annette has facilitated Ropes Courses and led executive trainings at Anheiser Busch and Nikon. She counts among her clients leaders at NASA, Genentech, Twitter, Clorox, Intel, Cisco and SpaWars.

Click here to get your copy of the 5 Minute Planning Tool

Does Your Life Really Work? Check it Out.

11725353_sYou have lots of feelings. They play throughout your day. Some of them make you feel great while others clearly do not! You often talk about your emotions with trusted folks. Not so much, your needs. Why?

Are you as aware of your needs? Do you reflect on whether they are being met? You might want to tune into these important indicators of where you are in your life.

Most people, when beginning this exploration, name less than a handful of needs. It may be that they haven’t given much thought to these, or that they prefer to live in the “moment by moment” exploration of their feelings. Yet those very feelings arise from needs being either met or unmet. So…

Look at this far from definitive list of needs. Really look. Then think about your life. Where are these needs being fulfilled and where are there holes?

You cannot begin to move into living a fuller, richer life without reflection. While the list below isn’t exhaustive, its a great starting place.

And if you want to go deeper, as you reflect on these needs, note which needs aren’t being fulfilled. Ask yourself, what would it look, feel and be like if this need were being met? How can I begin moving in that direction? Who can support me in that movement?

Then begin…

You don’t have to be in crisis, to start a movement toward living a more yeasty, fulfilling life.

You do have to examine yours. So go for it.

 

CONNECTION

acceptance

affection

appreciation

belonging

cooperation

communication

closeness

community

companionship

compassion

consideration

consistency

empathy

inclusion

intimacy

love

mutuality

nurturing

respect/self-respect

safety

security

stability

support

to know and be known

to see and be seen

to understand and

be understood

trust

warmth

HONESTY

authenticity

integrity

presence


PLAY

joy

humor


PEACE

beauty

communion

ease

equality

harmony

inspiration

order


PHYSICAL WELL-BEING

air

food

movement/exercise

rest/sleep

sexual expression

safety

shelter

touch

water

 

 

 

 

MEANING

awareness

celebration of life

challenge

clarity

competence

consciousness

contribution

creativity

discovery

efficacy

effectiveness

growth

hope

learning

mourning

participation

purpose

self-expression

stimulation

to matter

understanding


AUTONOMY

choice

freedom

independence

space

spontaneity

 

 

The Shadow of Great Leadership

7715632_sLeaders are the target of a lot of writing. Blogs, articles, courses. I know. I’m one of the perpetrators. Executives, coaches, consultants and entrepreneurs are leaders – of small to large teams and organizations. If you are one, the writing targets you.

Much of the advice is useful. Especially articles and blogs that focus on emotional intelligence and what we’re learning from neuroscience that directly impacts adult behavior change. More and more research shows that self-aware leaders move from being effective to being great. (See my discussion on LinkedIn.)

Understanding themselves well, leads these great leaders to understanding others – which is better than simply sympathizing. Why? Because understanding leads to compassion – and compassion is not hierarchical. Its holistic and egalitarian.

Where the stage goes dark (pun intended) is on the shadow-side of leadership. Very little is written about the shadow side of leadership – for good reason. Shadow work takes courage, takes time and is often difficult.

And there can be little self-awareness until some shadow work occurs. Uncovering for yourself what has been hidden surfaces what you project onto others. And  once you begin to see the projections, you can take responsibility for your part.

In addition to knowing yourself better, you grow the capacity to understand others – how they operate in the world, on your team in your organization. Wouldn’t that be useful going forward?

Its also true that shadow work is deep, scary and often avoided or sacrificed to more “skill based” development – like presentation skills or accounting. But because it is so fundamental, it cannot be overlooked when  a leader wants to make deep, lasting shifts.

So what is shadow work and what does working with it look like?

William Faulkner, the great American writer said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  

That’s a good way to begin thinking about your shadow. Its the part of you, arising from your past that lives on in your unconscious, but acts out in day to day behavior. It shows up is the judgments you hold about others and in your interpretations of their actions.

Why? The parts of you, as a child, that weren’t appreciated or accepted may have gone far underground, but you’re still carrying them. And when something triggers a strong reaction, you can be sure, your shadow is behind it.

Also, as David Richo, author, therapist and teacher explained, your projections onto others sheds light on your own material.When you look at the judgment you make of others, you can discern some things in yourself you avoid seeing.

Are you triggered by a controlling partner (in business or life)? Most likely there’s a controlling part of you that you’re denying, not willing to see. And the way to work with that is to begin to admit to yourself what lurks beneath consciousness.

You may shy away from the controlling parts of yourself from an experience (or belief) that controlling people are manipulative, demanding and worse, domineering. Whatever the reason, as a leader, until you surface and begin to shift your responses, your leadership suffers.

Shadow work takes skillful, ongoing support. You can’t do it alone. So, great leaders get that support, from coaches, therapists and skilled professional…and they do the work! They know that reaching their full potential requires it. And they demonstrate courage in taking on the challenge.

Unlike talking therapy, shadow-work requires action in the office, on the tennis court, at home. It includes specific practices, tailored to the individual after an in depth conversation and assessment, and its an ongoing process of discovery, awareness and action.

Your shadow doesn’t just hide the dark, often negative qualities we think of first – anger, jealousy, greed. It can also hide loyalty, generosity, brilliance, empathy.

The good news about this process is that once begun, uncovering the qualities liberates your energy – the energy you’ve burnt up in keeping the lid on – for creative pursuits. Innovation comes from that creativity as does balance – qualities that great leaders share.

While there are so many positive outcomes from doing this work, it comes with the warning that shadow-work is not for the feint of heart. It requires courage, open-mindedness, commitment and follow-through. Wow, aren’t those the qualities those myriad articles, blogs and lectures aimed at leadership underscore?

 

Annette is a former high school principal, a certified Integral Coach, an Accelerated Learning specialist and curriculum developer. She is an NLP trained executive coach and co-author of The Game of Truth: A Humorous Guide to Self-Discovery.Annette has taught Power Reading, Memory and Creativity courses around the globe. Her coaching and teaching has taken her to South Africa, Greece, Singapore and Moscow and she has presented workshops at Stanford, USC, Wellesley, Amherst, George Mason University and University of Arizona. Annette has facilitated Ropes Courses and led executive trainings at Anheiser Busch and Nikon. She counts among her clients leaders at NASA, Genentech, Twitter, Clorox, Intel, Cisco and SpaWars. Click here to receive to get your 5 Minute Planning Tool.

The Little Known Secret That Will Make You A Great Leader and 7 Ways To Manage It

11420529_sIf you want to be a great leader, you have on your team or will soon hire, benign subversives. These are desirable team employees but not for the usual reasons.

What is a benign subversive? Great question!

A benign subversive may be a naysayer or simply someone who sees things very differently. She (or he) stands out because she doesn’t subscribe to the “groupthink” of a solid enterprise. Moreover, she isn’t shy about sharing her thoughts, ideas or criticism. Sometimes “hard to take”, this person really has a lot to offer.

As a great leader, you can corral the worthwhile opinions, analysis or criticism without taking the “sting” that often attaches, personally. In fact, having the support of a benign subversive may be the magical formula to resolving serious, entrenched issues in your product, service, operations or strategy.

A benign subversive is a person working for the overall benefit of the organization but in unique, often not aligned with the protocol, ways.  In other words, doing her own thing while bringing about desirable results – often great results.

The benign subversive can have irregular work habits or irreverent meeting protocol. She may show up in strange dress or pontificate about  weird food fetishes, spout strong opinions about matters most people consider private.

Does it matter if her offerings are brilliant?

In the old days, these people were demoted or even fired. Keeping to a protocol was so highly valued that anyone playing a different game was out! And naysaying wasn’t allowed.

Today, we’re finding that especially astute great leaders hire and nurture these people. Though they work with fuzzier lines to their box, are a bit messier with their colors, benign subversives bring original thinking to their problem solving. They often think so far out of the box, they come up with innovative products or services. Or even question core values and force everyone else to do so!

Another appeal of these folks may be that they invite new customers or clients into the organizations – nontraditional ones,  more like themselves, opening up new income streams.

Gary R. Coulton writes:

History is littered with examples of leaders, organisations and even governments whose drive to uphold an increasingly untenable core vision mutates into self-fulfilling “groupthink.” The organisation ends up assuming the best of everything and never prepares for the worst.

Schlomo Ben Hur, Nikolas Kinley and Karsten Jonsen describe this destructive scenario wonderfully in their paper “Coaching Executive Teams to Reach Better Decisions.”

“Leaders can get stuck in groupthink because they’re really not listening, or they’re listening only to what they want to listen to, or they actually think they’re so right that they’re not interested in listening. And that leads to a lot of suboptimal solutions in the world.” ~Jacqueline Novogratz founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a non-profit global venture capital fund

And if you’re sold on the desirability of these, you’ll still have to learn to nurture them ( and transcend your own discomfort). Dealing with these team members may not be easy – at first. What’s required is curiosity and a re-frame of your thinking. Here  are seven key steps:

1. Center yourself. If you are grounded, you’re less likely to be triggered by what you’ll hear.

2. Assume the benign subversive has the organization’s best interests at heart (that’s the re-frame required).

3. Get very curious about what she or he brings to the table. Ask lots of questions. Hear her out. Take notes. Thank her.

4. Don’t commit. Tell her you’ll reflect on what she brought.

5. Reflect – really think about the content of the message, rather than the method of delivery. (Often these aren’t diplomatic in their presentation. So what? Its the ideas you’re after.)

6. Try offering these ideas to other decision makers in your own language, with a positive spin to see what might be added, subtracted, altered or dismissed, then reflect some more.

7. Decide –  as the leader. Take action, even it is no change at all.

By nurturing the benign subversive you’ll guarantee fresh viewpoints, different insights, original processes and an end to “groupthink.” But even better, you’ll cultivate your own curiosity and flexibility as a leader – qualities that lead to greatness.

So begin your search now.

And for more great resources and insights like these, I invite you to listen to this strategy session. It offers tools, strategies, and mindsets for staying calm in chaos, choosing effective action, massive productivity (with minimal stress), and  the confidence to take the right, strategic leaps in your business so you can create success, faster.

Relaxed Productivity: The Secret You Need to Know

It’s 8:30 a.m. and I’m deeply into my day. Swirling through my head are the tasks I’ve promised myself to accomplish today. Yet I’m feeling stress free.

That’s right, you got it – free from stress.

My list isn’t shorter than yours or easier. It contains the usual suspects – business and personal items, some urgent, some dictated by others, some my own, some wishful, some in-between, and some that won’t ever get done.

So why aren’t I stressed by a list yay long?

I have a system for prioritizing that lets me relax, knowing that the critical items – those that align with my values, will not only be completed, but will be celebrated. This system not only makes me more productive, easier in my boots (okay, shoes) but also gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “getting it done” – a meaning I emphatically endorse.

So what is that?

“Getting it done” means completing the right tasks, the ones that move you forward towards your goals or further into your values, not just ticking off items on an endless “to do” list. And when these get done, there’s a feeling of completion which includes celebration.

Celebration isn’t a word often associated with productivity, but think about it. How does one respond to a sense of completion? And, what builds the momentum to keep on, keepin’ on the next day, and the next and the one after that?

What really happens when you complete an important or urgent task? (Yes there is a distinction, read on.) There is a physiological shift. Your breathing alters so your nervous system settles. If you put your attention there, you feel that “juicy goodness” and expand a bit.

Your self-worth ratchets up a little too – and that further impacts your body. Taking all that together, even in the 60 seconds you allow, is a celebration…and if you do nothing else, you are building momentum for whatever is next.

What gets in the way, you may be asking? Ahhh…. great question!

What most often gets in the way of productivity is confusion and overwhelm. There IS much to do, and in many arenas. How do you decide? Especially when you feel that setting aside time to plan puts you even further behind.

Many intelligent, resourceful folks just wade in… and then almost drown from lack of planning. They tell me they just “aren’t productive enough” but the truth is, they aren’t productive in a useful, systematic way.

That doesn’t have to be you. So what can help you become both productive and relaxed?

You can learn to use my 5 Minute Planning Tool and build your productivity muscles. Much like strength training, becoming more productive in a useful, meaningful way requires practice – regular practice. But you don’t have to get to a gym and you won’t have fees to pay, yet your results will be worth every moment invested.

This method didn’t originate with me. Yet, I’ve tailored it to my life, my needs and used it with hundreds of clients – all to great success. Now you can too. I call it The 5 Minute Planning Tool and if you haven’t seen it already, you can find it here, on the top right side of the page.

With this planning tool, you first determine what is truly important to you. This seems simple but when was the last time you prioritized? Then you look at external deadlines that MUST be met.

Once you have the scope of importance and urgency clear, you funnel your daily tasks through those filters. Next you align them on your calendar. And voila – no more confusion and no more overwhelm.

You know what most needs doing TODAY, relax into getting tasks moving you forward towards your goals, meet deadlines and eliminate mental and physical clutter. Plus, you celebrate – completion and this purposeful sense of yourself as a mover and shaker in your world.

Sound good? It IS and its easy with a little practice. Making the 5 Minute Planning Tool part of every morning, sets you up for relaxed productivity. Once you’ve practiced for a few weeks, its becomes second nature. Its good for you and everyone you know.

So now, at 9:10, and I am ready to move on to the next important task on my list, feeling grateful. Why? Because I finished an item that aligns with my intention of providing value to you.

4 Steps to Zest

6912056_sSylvie, looked down at her coffee cup and told me, defeatedly, “I feel like I’m asleep. I’ve been asleep for years.” Sylvie, a new client, was exploring her sense of being stuck at her job and what to do about it. But her real pain arose because she felt that her lethargy at work was creating difficulties at home, as well as with her sense of worth.

She continued, ‘My performance reviews are good, and I go along with creating the requisite goals on paper with the head of HR, but they are illusory…because they aren’t really challenges. I know I’ll achieve them before the signature hits the page. Its all a ‘been there, done, that’ sort of feeling.”

Things were going well for Sylvie. She had maintained a mid-level management position in a mid-sized company for years. She was well liked and enjoyed her peers. She knew the ropes and did her work efficiently and well, was decently paid and had the usual perks…so what was wrong? Why seek coaching?

When leaders, managers and supervisors “fall asleep” in their careers, they’ve lost a lot more than passion. Being on automatic pilot may sound like a good idea, but when we explore it more fully, we actually find its awful!

Not only does that state describe an ongoing feeling of zero passion, it also points to a total lack of imagination, learning and growth. Yikes – those are serious losses for any intelligent, resourceful leader.

And to have years or even decades pass in that state of “comfort” impacts you not only at work, but at home, too!

Your aliveness which has dissolved into boredom, complacency and mindless “doing” at work can’t inspire or engage the loved ones with whom you’re sharing – at the dinner table, over coffee, or in bed.

And when you confront yourself in the mirror, you’re not happily smiling but rather almost ignoring the face reflected back to you.

Call it “settling” or a “stalemate” or simply “dancing the same old dance” that repeating pattern is stealing an important chunk of who you really are.

Putting the zest back into your career (and your life as a result) doesn’t require drastic measures. It does take a commitment – to your own development, your own richness…and you can do it in four simple steps.

Step One: Reflect backwards and find scenarios when a project, an initiative was fully engaging. (These can be career related or not.)

Step Two: Jot down who was involved; the challenges, the environment; your strategies for success; the rewards for completing the project.

Step Three: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Experience the emotions, sensations that arise as you reflect on the engagement. Notice where the aliveness in you showed up (your belly, your chest, your hands or…) Stay with the sensations until you have a physical locale.

Step Four: Write down the answers to: What Was I Learning? What’s something I’d like to learn now? How can I go about that? Who could support me?

Once you’ve got these answers and have nailed down some of the sensations, you have a roadmap and a barometer.

What this means to you is that you can begin to incorporate places in your life where the answers to step two live. If they aren’t available, build them in – either at work or after. That’s the map part.

Then, as you experiment ( its going to be trial and error for a while) use the sensations you surfaced in step three to as the barometer. Are you getting closer to feeling that zest? If so, do more. If not, it times to try something else.

HINT: Sometimes you can mistake zest for fear! You might mislabel your sense of aliveness as fear because its become unfamiliar during “the long sleep”. When you notice the emotion that you are calling fear, check it out thoroughly. What are you really afraid of? Is it manageable? Or are you actually feeling the challenge, the potential learning, the engagement with the unknown and calling it by the wrong name?

Sometimes, this is a journey best taken with a coach. The support and accountability and motivation that a coaching program creates, may be the impetus for moving you out of the “yawns” and into the “aha” sector of you life.

 Yes, there are ways to integrate challenge, learning and growth into your life RIGHT NOW!

By identifying something of value you’d like to achieve, know, explore, you can round up support (colleagues, direct reports, bosses) and collaboratively come up with ways to incorporate it into your work life.

Failing that, you can look for another outlet – a new skill, take a challenging class, become proficient at a new sport, join a group, or get a coach to move you off your spot. The learning and inspiration will cross pollinate your work life and your personal life. Good books entertain; great books tip your world ever so slightly. Don’t be surprised if reading I AM THE MESSENGER shifts your perspective on your own life. The story is so good that it breaks your heart. You’ll have new people to interact with, something fresh to report on, a new level of challenge to reflect upon and a launchpad for a wider perspective.

And you’ll wake up! Blast through that deadening feeling of being asleep at the wheel of your life, which makes you dull and ultimately makes you rigid. The initial blast may be a tiny on the Richter scale, but the rumbles will attract more movement – after shocks that will lead to more passion, more aliveness, more growth.

Sure you can start small. And perhaps you’ll gain momentum for bigger changes. For sure, you’ll add some zest to your day to day that will serve you well in every area of your life.

So go for it. Today! Now! What are you waiting for?

Is the Emperor Naked?

questionsWho is the emperor? Whose clothes are missing? Who is pointing at the nudity? Yes, these queries come from the famous story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, yet they are questions from my own experience this morning. Let me explain.

I live in the Bay Area and many of my clients, friends, and colleagues do regular spiritual practice. Even calling it that makes me slightly uncomfortable as it feels like simple living practice to me…nothing that requires a wink (or raised eyebrow) to the “woo woo” Bay Area.

This morning, I attended a session led by Gangaji, a spiritual teacher here to teach a 3 day workshop. Organized by CIIS, the California Institute of Integral Studies, it was sparsely attended so I was able to sit up close and personal. I like that. It enables me to see facial expressions and really hear every word spoken and many unspoken as well.

My reason for being there was mostly curiosity. My close friend, Sarah, made the ticket she had purchased for herself available to me when she couldn’t go. It was a precious gift, especially as Sarah had described powerful experiences with this particular teacher. Even this morning, she had said, “You’ll feel the transmission when you enter the room.”

I’m writing this because I didn’t “feel the transmission”. Instead, I experienced an onslaught of questions. And dear reader, if you’re expecting erudite answers, don’t. Instead, this is my opportunity for surfacing the flood of questions that arose in me in the Starr Room of the First Universalist Church this morning.

You can read about Gangaji on her website. Her story is commonplace enough – a sensitive soul seeking through many channels for enlightenment – as a wife, parent, activist, acupuncturist; ending up in the Bay Area before the pilgrimage to India and the meeting with her guru where everything changed. An interesting note is that she includes the correspondence between her teacher, affectionately called Poonjabi and herself, on her website, as well as lovely photos of her teacher’s teacher. The photos of Swami touched me deeply…as little else did. Something in his deep set, dark eyes seemed alive with whispered wisdom and profound compassion.

When we go to hear a spiritual teacher, what are we bringing with us? And who is actually going? Does what we bring get in the way of our experience or does it create our experience? Can the teacher sweep it aside and lift the curtain on our confusion? What are we projecting onto the teacher we’ve come to learn from?

Projection for the uninitiated is a psychoanalytical theory – projection is the process whereby one person believes they see attributes (both good and bad) in another. The theory views this tendency as a defense mechanism whereby unenviable or unpleasant traits, impulses or ideas are attributed to another person. In this way, the person doing the projecting is able to avoid the unpleasantness in themselves.

My own experience has been that the very rare individual has swept the cobwebs from my eyes – momentarily – or for a day, but most wonderful teachers have not!

And what does someone really mean when they say they received a transmission from another human being?

I’m not sure of that, though I’ve used that language myself. What I have meant by it, is that some deeply understood wisdom the other has arrived at, or similar knowledge has passed into me without the benefit of language pointing it out. It is as though, by direct experience, somatically, my body and heart and mind simultaneously say, “Amen” to an unspoken message. The message is usually ontological, meaning that it is about “Being” rather than the more mundane facts of ordinary, daily living.

Remember that “amen” was the unlettered form of agreement when a more learned person read to the group or crowd. I use it here in that context – me being “the unlettered” and the teacher sharing the message non-verbally.

How can two people, sitting side by side, sensitive souls each, doing their spiritual “work” – trying to understand Reality, so to speak have such varying experiences that one feels she received a transmission while the other feels just a pleasant accord with the “emperor” – the person at the front of the room?

To me, it speaks of a great mystery. My friend Rob, mentioned lineage in our conversation on this subject. The idea of lineage speaks to me with power. In my recent readings about epigenetics (research in epigenetics has shown that environmental factors affect characteristics of organisms. These changes are sometimes passed on to the offspring. Does this in any way oppose Darwin’s theory of evolution? Not according to researchers) though the specific word never came up, it kept repeating itself in my mind.

Rob’s remark made me posit that different people hearing a teacher respond from their lineages…either in sync with the speaker – setting up a resonance, or not. Understand that I think of this as one flavor of the recipe of “transmission” – not exclusive but an important ingredient. Perhaps our projections, our openness, our inherent preferences are other ingredients.

Then there is what the teacher is bringing. Also a recipe despite claims of simplicity.

I suppose when these two recipes merge in the melting pot of our experience, through the addition of a mystical quality, an alchemical process may or may not occur. And that, to the best of my understanding brings about the transmission or lack of one.

And while receiving a transmission, for me, has left such a powerful impression that it reverberates through Time, hearing wise words without it is also a great thing – a reminder of how to be in the world, where to point attention, what is possible with awareness.

So what I experienced in the Starr Room was an attractive woman, clad all in white, with a slight Texas drawl, teaching about the power of staying Present without letting the mind lead one astray with its many ideas. Furthermore, she taught about the impact and import of “repeating questions” a technique I’m steeped in, to conquer the subconscious.

In a repeating question, a method taught by many teachers including Ramana Maharshi, the respondent answers the same questions again and again for a pre-determined period of time, surfacing the layers of consciousness and unconsciousness beneath the original answers.

 This method and everything else Gangaji was sharing was all good stuff. But did I have a transcendental experience? No…and that’s what opened the floodgates of questions…why not?

And now, hours later, having talked about it, thought about it and written about it, I can breathe into it with a sigh of pleasure…despite my not knowing the answers.

When I think of my clients, I am reminded of their different leadership styles. I am aware that some who lead are able to inspire their followers with great ideas, strategies and plans. Others, through the force of their personalities, create teams that cohere and put out extraordinary effort. Yet others, in their deep listening and general emotional intelligence, create loyalty and cohesion and a safe environment for experimentation among their teams. Still others are decisive in crisis mode and align their peeps with their clarity and conviction. If we respond strongly to different leadership styles, why not to different teachers?

So while my experience of Gangaji was less than my friend wished for me, to my mind, less than her own, it was a worthwhile endeavor to hear her teach. And the evidence? All these important questions and considerations that I will continue to ponder, are one fine outcome.

Great Leaders Pay Attention

business people paying attentionYou’re a leader. And now, you want to move from good to great! What’s it going to take?

You’ve read, even studied the inner workings of emotional intelligence. You’re bringing it to light more and more in your daily routine. Now what’s all this about Focus?

What does Emotional Intelligence have to do with Focus? And why should you care?

Because you can’t reach your potential as a leader without it! Period!

The guru of emotional intelligence has written succinctly on both. There is a practical, meaningful link that will impact your leadership – whatever your style, wherever you are geographically and regardless of the type of organization you lead.

How has he answered the question about the connection between EQ (emotional intelligence) and Focus?

According to Goleman, emotional intelligence requires self-awareness—awareness of our own minds and emotions—as well as empathy, both of which can be cultivated by honing our skills of attention.

“When I set out to write this book, I knew I was going to explore the explosion of new important research about attention,” says Goleman. “But what I didn’t realize was that it was going to lead me back to emotional intelligence.”

Paying attention is critical. Goleman talks about focus on inner, other and outer.

Daniel Goleman: The fundamental thing to understand about inner focus is that we can be aware of our own awareness. There is such a thing as meta-awareness, meta-cognition, meta-emotion—the perspective we can take that allows us to monitor our inner world rather than just be swept away by it. That, in turn, gives us a point of leverage for handling that inner world better—without it, we’re lost.

For example, in Emotional Intelligence I looked at distressing emotions, which are generated by the brain’s amygdala and emotional threat. In order to manage the amygdala hijack, you have to be aware that it’s happening. Meta-awareness becomes the fulcrum from which you can handle emotions, handle your inner world, handle the thoughts which generate upsetting emotions or which help you, in a positive way, manage them for the better.

Great leaders pay attention – to people, strategy, arising situations. AND THEIR INNER WORLD. And they do so with focus.

So what about other focus?

Does that mean they don’t attach to the technological tools that often distract the rest of us? A resounding NO! is the answer.  Great leaders  are more strategic about their use of tools and time.

Goleman says that we are all “under siege” so concentrating on Focus is  particularly timely now.

And leaders lead other people – often in challenging situations.

He says: … “being able to focus on the other person rather than the text you just received has become the new fundamental requirement for having a relationship with that person. And I think this is another reason to develop a meta-awareness about where our attention has gone. I think we need to make more effort and cultivate more strength to detach [our attention] from that thing that is so tempting over there, and bring it back to the person in front of us.”

Finally , the third kind  of focus – is systems focus. Again Goleman says, “This is more elusive. We have dedicated [brain] circuitry for self-management, self-awareness. We have dedicated circuitry for empathy. The brain doesn’t have the equivalent of that dedicated circuitry for sensing, for instance, the ways in which humans systems of construction, energy, transportation, industry, and commerce are inexorably deteriorating global systems that support life. It’s too macro or too micro for sensory systems in the first place.”

We literally don’t perceive global warming directly in the way we see a person’s wince or wink, and register that immediately. We don’t have an alarm system for that like the way we hear a growl—a growl alerts the amygdala and springs the stress hormones into action. But when it comes to global warming, actually, the brain shrugs. It’s something we have to learn about and learn to care about and learn to detect indirectly, so it’s a bigger stretch. We care about the present far more than the distant future, which is invisible—we don’t notice it.

The neuroscience behind this?

For example, meditation is, from a cognitive science point of view, the retraining of attention—a bulking up of the neural circuitry that allows you to detach from where your mind has wandered, bring it back to the point of focus, and keep it there. That is the basic repetition of the mind in any kind of meditation. And that’s also what builds up the willpower to resist the pull of electronics and stay with the human world.

And meditation comes in many flavors. As a leader, you can choose anything from breathing exercises to martial arts, yoga to  mindfulness practice, Qigong to observing a candle flame and everything in between.

Again, Goleman – “From a neuroscience point of view, I think the standard way this has been approached is exactly the wrong way to get people to care and act about global warming. Mainly they either threaten us with destruction or guilt trip us. That activates centers in the brain for negativity, for distressing emotions. And when we feel distressing emotions, the brain wants us to turn them off—either tune them out or do one little thing [to make us feel better]. And I think that’s one of the main reasons why the environmental movement has had such a poor record of getting the general public to do much about the environmental crisis.”

There is a more clever way of getting people involved: Rather than looking at footprints, which is all the bad that we’re doing, look at hand prints, which is the sum total of all the good things we do to lower our footprint.

This is the brainchild of Gregory Norris, who is at the Harvard School of Public Health. The hand print approach means that you get points for every time you ride your bike to work or walk instead of ride, when you recycle, when you print on both sides of the paper, when you don’t print at all. All of those things that help can be counted, and the idea is to grow your hand print rather than your footprint. That is a goal we can work toward in small baby steps that are manageable and that we can feel good about. And that motivates the parts of the brain which keep us working toward our goals.

So great leaders need to MOTIVATE their peeps and do it in a way that leads their teams to care about, think about and work on systems ( the invisible  future) in the ways they care about the more immediate emotional and situational events arising now.

And while there is growing concern about young people’s ability to focus, Goleman is encouraging. He covers in the book, that focus is to a certain extent under our control—that it’s a skill we can build.

Goleman: … “we do have to work at building it. And for that reason I really advocate an intention-strengthening exercise as a kind of mental fitness that we practice daily, just as you might jog.”

Goleman, the former New York Times science journalist turned best-selling author, is perhaps still best known for his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, which was followed by Social Intelligence more than a decade later. Like those earlier works, Focus synthesizes findings from years of research across the social, behavioral, and cognitive sciences—in this case, on the roots and importance of our attention skills.

So as a leader on the road to greatness, begin practicing focus – the art and science of paying attention. Like all practice, it requires a strong intention, and the self-compassion to overcome the inevitable hurdles that arise. Yet, paying attention pays off – big time. So what’s it going to be?  Choose a practice and get an accountability partner on your side. Hire a coach, join a Mastermind Group, but do something because its clear, great leaders pay attention!

What are some tips you use to focus?