Home // Page 2

What’s the Skinny on Mindful Leadership?

What's the Skinny on Mindful LeadershipIn a discussion group that I belong to the question was raised whether mindfulness can be measured in actual behavior and whether a mindful leader is a more effective one.

Excellent questions. While I don’t enter into discussions with lengthy comments, I felt compelled to do so this time. And not because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, considered by many to be a “woo woo” geographical bubble, but rather because in working with leaders in corporations, foundations and non-profits, I have seen the expression of mindfulness in action.

Mindful leaders begin with a sense of purpose rather than a list of objectives. The create objectives that align with the purpose and they get their teams to align around and preserve the purpose as they build and work.

They learn to be open to discovery – its part of what shows up in any mindfulness practice, the unconscious made conscious with rejecting anything unpleasant. Discovery drives the development – of people and products and themselves. So what about personal relationships on the job?

Here’s what I said: Mindful leaders never “lose” it – meaning they are self-aware, know their triggers and move into responsiveness, rather than reactivity. And that makes them more effective as their relationships work. Also, they bring compassion – for themselves and for others – not some weak tea version, but true compassion which isn’t about “liking” but more about deep understanding and acceptance of our very human selves. If that doesn’t have a place in the boardroom, what are we doing there?

And through their mindful state, they stay curious and open, so they can consider ideas vastly different from than their own without sticky attachment. Imagine! Openness! .This also makes them more effective. And both of these ways of being ( rather than limited behaviors) are observable over time.

Mindfulness allows for a deep connection to intuition (a way of processing much more input and synthesizing it) so these leaders are decisive when the need arises to be so – once the fire is raging – again using their executive function appropriately. And they know when its appropriate delegate.

Since mindfulness integrates the head, heart and body centers, they are more comfortable in their skins, on their teams, leading their organizations, despite their personality styles – since the integration transcends personality proclivities. When someone is comfortable, they invite more comfort from others. This opens the portals to creativity – much needed in our organizations.

Also, mindfulness accounts for flexibility, since by its nature it speaks to the dynamism of life. Mindful leaders can change course effectively when necessary.

They see failure as an opportunity to learn, to grow as a feedback loop – not a personal or team shame which closes down the creative channels. What good ever comes of shame anyway? Without it, they come back quickly.

Mindful leaders are also quite aware that much suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they are – including people – so they can accept people with less criticism, model this for their teams, and deal with situations more fluidly – not wasting time on “what should be” – making them more effective.

The list goes on…and the point is that Mindfulness, while not a template of specific behaviors, is a more like an orientation that results in a far more effective way of leading which others observe, emulate and which create a company culture AND finally produce profitability.

These days, powerful executive coaching must include mindfulness training to assure that leaders are effective, creative, strategic and approachable. And keeps the learning, a lifelong activity that inspires and motivates others.

Leadership Embodiment Is A Must Read For Leaders Everywhere

Great leaders not only understand cognitively what it takes to lead effectively, they embody that understanding 51rp-bhefRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_in how they sit, stand, listen and speak. And how they use their bodies confirms how well they stay calm in the midst of chaos.

If you haven’t already read it, get Wendy’s book as soon as you finish reading this post.
Leadership Embodiment:
How the Way We Sit and Stand Can Change the Way We Think and Speak
by Wendy Palmer and Janet Crawford

The body’s wisdom has long been the topic of Palmer’s powerful work. Conscious embodiment is her frame for using this wisdom in all the acts of living. Her books The Intuitive Body and The Practice of Freedom introduced practices for grounding, centering and enlarging one’s personal field. She has taught leaders around the globe to balance the intelligence of the body with that of the heart and mind.

Crawford, a pioneer in the application of neuroscience to leadership development explicates the evolutionary psychology and current best research that supports the somatic intelligence inherent in Palmer’s practices.

This book is a MUST READ for leaders and those aspiring to be leaders – in their businesses and their lives.

If you’ve already read or are about to dig in, I welcome your comments and questions below.

Leadership, Peter Senge, and What Will Distinguish The Great Leaders of Today and Tomorrow

What will distinguish the great leaders of today?

It’s third generational leadership.

Learn more by watching this 5 minute video video of Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, Senior lecturer at MIT and Founder of the Society for Organizational Learning.

Whether you are part of a family, organizational team or business in a supply chain, systems thinking is a valuable approach to understanding the complexity of today’s world. Peter Senge shares his perspectives on leadership and systems thinking with IBM.

Take a look here.

Senge focuses on the problems that are most difficult to solve and the mental models today’s leaders need in order to build a smarter planet.

Leaders today must be able  to reassess their strategies, work across multiple groups to find solutions and have the vision to work through high leverage solutions over time.

Working smarter means working in ways that are collective and are based on collective intelligence across cities and supply chains to produce social, ecological and economic well being.

After you watch the video, please leave a comment and share your biggest takeaway.

Two Leadership Questions That Drive Real Transformation

The Missing Questions that Forces Transformation to Fail13525903_s

What prevents real transformation?

Even when time, energy and resources are dedicated to the change the number of successful transformations remains very small.


For leaders funding transformation (in themselves, their teams or their entire organizations) there are two questions that sadly go unasked. I know this from my experience working with intelligent, resourceful leaders in organizations such as Clorox, NASA, CISCO, Nikon and more.

I’ll get to the questions in a moment. But first, do you remember Dr. Jill?

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor—called by many who know her “Dr. Jill”—is a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996. On the afternoon of this rare form of stroke, she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life.

It took eight years for Dr. Jill to completely recover all of her physical function and thinking ability. She’s the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey and how her insights impacts the work I do with leaders is worth noting.

As the brilliant people I work with realize what shifts, in their organizations, in their teams, in themselves are required to reach the outcomes they deeply desire, they unknowingly sabotage these very same profound efforts by not taking “feelings” and their body into account.

In fact, few leaders know how to talk about this. Part of the shift to creating learning cultures in which innovation and integration merge demands leaders expand the area to which they devote their attention.

In practical terms, leaders must learn to elicit, acknowledge, work with, and incorporate the emotions of their colleagues and themselves into the decision making process.

This type of expanded awareness requires support. The good news is that some enlightened leaders are seeking that support in service of their organizations (and their own growth). Those that are not, should consider it. Why?

When leaders have come to the point where they know that the old ways will not resolve todays problems, they often turn to systems thinking and design thinking. This opens the doors to fresh ways to approach intractable problems, asks top managers to become deep thinkers and is stimulating.

Many leaders embarking upon this path feel enlivened and engaged in deep ways.

While these efforts are important, critical even, they are doomed without a recognition of what we humans truly are and how we actually change. So applying that learning takes the organization  only so far.

Inevitably, the greatest ideas from the board room must be carried out by human beings, human beings with human frailties.

What inevitably arises, even in the most forward thinking, is anxiety and fear  about the uncertainty of “new ways”  – of looking at and doing things. When this very real resistance to change is ignored things begin to devolve.

If  leaders are not aware of the powerful grip fear and anxiety assert, they cannot manifest the change. Despite the cognitive recognition that change is required, people must come aboard. There is critical need then for acknowledging what gets in the way, asking for and receiving support from this real place.

If leaders are not in touch with the anxiety in themselves, how can they work with the anxiety and fear in their colleagues? And where will they develop the capacity?

Brilliant analysis is still just that – analysis – a cognitive quality. Decisive measures that grow out of the brilliant analysis seem assured to bring about the transformation. Yet without the integration of the feelings toward these measures, anxiety and fear sabotage the best efforts.

The sabotage, often unintentional, may come in the form of procrastination, gossip, boredom, poor assessment, negativity and countless other behaviors.

The persistent myth that we are “thinking creatures” and that transformation derives from cognition (without a nod to our emotions and patterning), takes its toll in millions of dollars but worse, in despair and disappointment. The worship of the mind above all else predominates in the West.

And the price is too high.

When well intentioned, intelligent and resourceful leaders find their best efforts going awry – they burn-out or become cynical or worse.

Dr. Jill has said that we take ourselves to be thinking creatures who feel, but we are actually “feeling creatures that think.” There is enough neuroscience to affirm this. One only has to read the latest findings on motivation, plasticity, mindfulness.

Luminaries such as Dr. Dan Siegel (Mindsight)  Dr.  Daniel Goleman (Focus) and Wendy Palmer (Leadership Embodiment)  repeatedly warn us that armed with cognition alone, we are poorly prepared for real transformation.

Regardless of which assessments leaders use to begin the transformation process, be it the DISC, Hogan, MBTI, Enneagram, etc. – unless the process they engage with integrates emotions, and the patterns that lie deep within the body, cognitive understanding, brilliant realizations and even deep desire, will not succeed.

Any profound experience of deeper development, true transformation, MUST include the emotional and bodily centers. Often inelegant, frequently unbalanced, rough and tumble move towards transformation,  integration with our intellectual center is required.
Otherwise, much wonderful effort goes to waste.

An important question for transformative leaders to ask themselves and those with whom they embark upon the change journey is “How do feel I about this?” “What intelligence is your body offering?” – questions rarely heard at the conference table.

These questions – to be asked again and again amidst the cognitive excitement flowing from great ideas, not only have their place – but MUST be part of any process for real transformation to occur.

Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel

Here is the book that no leader, entrepreneur, coach or consultant can afford to miss! This groundbreaking book, from one of the global innovators in the integration of brain science with psychotherapy, offers an extraordinary guide to the practice of “mindsight,” the potent skill that is the basis for both emotional and social intelligence.

And these intelligences are showing up as the critical ones for GREAT leadership, in your organization, business and life.

From anxiety to depression and feelings of shame and inadequacy, from mood swings to addictions, OCD, and traumatic memories, most of us have a mental “trap” that causes recurring conflict in our lives and relationships. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, shows us how to use mindsight to escape these traps. Through his synthesis of a broad range of scientific research with applications to everyday life, Dr. Siegel has developed novel approaches that have helped hundreds of patients free themselves from obstacles blocking their happiness.

By cultivating mindsight, all of us can effect positive, lasting changes in our brains—and our lives. A book as inspiring as it is profound, Mindsight can help us master our emotions, heal our relationships, and reach our fullest potential and lead from a place of integrity.

Commitments: You’re Not F**ked Up, Stupid, or Incompetent

When you’re engaged in an endless cycle of “I should have…” and “Why didn’t I just…?”  that trap you like 25233024_sDante’s 3rd Circle of Hell, you’re missing a critical perspective! And you’re hurting yourself needlessly.

In The Inferno, the 3rd Circle was gluttony, and while I’m not speaking about food and drink, gossip, or things, I am pointing to the belief that “I can do it all – and well or “I should do it all”” as a delusion.

What if you are NOT  a “f—k up” or  “stupid” or “incompetent” or any of the horrible epithets you apply to yourself when you can’t live up to your intentions?

Let’s get real. You like many brilliant, resourceful people are suffering from competing commitments!

Competing commitments really trip us up, if we are unconscious of them!

Here’s an example: You desire to be at your daughter’s dance recital and you’ve promised to finish the final draft for your boss today! Its 6:30 and the draft is only a quarter done – but the recital begins in half an hour and its 15 minutes away.

Wasting time spinning out the “should haves” only adds to your frustration, anger, self-blame and shame.  You can berate yourself OR you can begin to see how the upset surging through you is the result of important commitments – your positive intentions.

Positive? Yes, strong commitments. Read on.

Using the example here what’s going on is that you’re committed to these:
1) have a strong relationship with your daughter ( including support)
2) being responsible in your career (including meeting deadlines)

Rather than being a “bad father” or a “poor time manager” you’ve entered into the dark corner where competing commitments merged. So what does this mean in practical terms? How can you avoid the pain of competing commitments?

You begin to clarify your commitments by determining your priorities. Rather than putting events, deadlines, actions to take on your calendar, you decide their place in the order of your priority…
asking yourself,  “ What am I committed to…” and creating a list, then actually prioritizing the top 5-7 commitments.

You’ll notice I ask you to focus on the most important commitments. That’s where the suffering arises when these compete for your time.Then you begin to plan differently.

Rather than deciding unconsciously what you will give attention from a stance of having your life imposed upon you by external forces, you take charge from a place of increased clarity. Suddenly the less important, the superfluous becomes clear. You CHOOSE based on the based on priorities you’ve deliniated..  You’re in charge.

The truth is that many conflicts can be avoided with this kind of  planning but not all.  If the context for the planning comes from a place of committed action (rather than checking off items on a “To Do” list, the decisions become better and  easier. The important things get handled and the superfluous falls away.

And when your commitments actually do compete, you recognize what is happening without beating yourself up. You have funded goodwill towards your actions that you can draw upon like a bank account.

With the question: What am I committed to guiding your activity, you can make clearer, better decision about how you spend your energy,your time.

Then you plan according to those priorities by asking yourself the question: “Is there a better way to meet my commitments?”

Yes, there is.


Thank you for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you’ve gotten value, will you please share this with people who need it on your favorite social networks?

And if you’d like a FREE tool to help you navigate your competing commitments (in just 5 minutes a day), then I invite you to click here. http://www.thevaliantgroup.com/products/


Why waste the time and energies of valuable colleagues by playing around the edges of an issue?

When you’re part of a group meeting and especially when you are leading it, the most effective way to make it worthwhile is to ask: What’s the elephant in the room? (Of course, be sure that everyone understands the phrase.)

Addressing the critical but denied issue effecting the outcome of whatever discussion is happening, cuts to the chase, brings air and light into the room – opens up a deeper, more productive ( though not easier) conversation and MOST IMPORTANTLY ALLOWS FOR POTENTIAL HEALING OR RESOLUTION.

Balance is a cornerstone to living fully into your life.

So dear readers, we are taking a month off to rejuvenate, realign, re-create…

To inspire your own fresh vision, your sense of aliveness to gently reawaken, I’m sharing an excerpt of a favorite poem.

 SECOND SIGHT (excerpt)

Sometimes, you need the ocean light,
  and colors you’ve never seen before
    painted through an evening sky.

Sometimes you need your God
  to be a simple invitation,
    not a telling word of wisdom.

Sometimes you need only the first shyness
  that comes from being shown things
    far beyond your understanding,

so that you can fly and become free
  by being still and by being still here.

And then there are times you need to be
  brought to ground by touch
    and touch alone.

– David Whyte

Annette Segal
The Valiant Group
( 510) 722-3292 phone

Schedule an appointment with me

“Courage is a love affair with the unknown”  – Osho

Great Leadership: Don’t Tug on the Leaves

Trimming my basil plant today got me thinking about Leadership. (I like to keep some fresh herbs in the 13031640_skitchen to feed my passion for cooking.)

Great leadership takes time…like growing a healthy plant. No amount of tugging on the leaves or urging it to “hurry up” makes the least difference.

So what does?

A few years ago, a friend who led an educational organization was diagnosed with cancer. While undergoing treatment, he hired an interim assistant. It was a critical time for the organization as grant monies were to be distributed to various new projects while ongoing supervision and review of funded projects was happening simultaneously.

Needless to say, there was a lot going on.

My friend, let’s call him Daniel, had a great relationship with his interim assistant, Diana. who he knew from a previous position. But he neglected to help Diana understand the dynamics of the education team.

His sense of urgency, his eagerness to “take care of” the organization in his absence was translated by Diana as get things done NOW! To Daniel’s dismay, Diana fired an administrative assistant… and all hell broke loose.

A storm of distrust blew up. Team members began second guessing every decision Diana made. Disgruntled and confused, Diane led staff meetings that deteriorated into “complaint sessions.” Getting anything done felt like jogging in molasses.

By the time Daniel was well enough to return full time, there was such a big mess to deal with that it took him weeks to recreate the happy, healthy organization he had left.

But there was one BIG difference.

He now realized how important it was to cultivate autonomy among his capable team members.

That required slowing down, sharing what was up, allowing other’s ideas to become part of the  mix of “how to” skills and not pushing so hard to be the one who got “it” done. Daniel learned to tune into the situation, in all its complexity and include everyone involved.

For my basil, I have to tune into the needs of the plant – does it require more or less light, more or less frequent watering, nutrients in the soil, trimming off dead leaves?

When applied to people, in an organization or on a team, a willingness to ask questions like:

1. What’s your take?
2. How would you approach this situation?
3. What changes would you like to see?
4. How can we do better?

…distinguishes the great from the merely good or adequate leader.

Good and adequate leaders simply “urge growth”. They may talk a lot, offering educated opinions or point to past experience, thinking they are encouraging their team. Yet, without really tuning into the person in front of him, his good intentions may actually be turning the situation sour.

On the other hand, great leaders cultivate greatness by tuning into their teams or organization as a regular part of leading.


On any given team there may be the introspective member who needs solitude and quiet to do her best work, alongside someone who feeds on stimulation and encouragement . You may have a direct report who responds to processes as support while his peer sees them as restraints.

One member of an organization may like being the “guide on the side” while another requires the limelight. And while a team outwardly has a vested interest in achieving the same outcomes, how members coordinate their efforts, energies and actual work to get there is a complicated by the human factor. Each person contributes unique strengths (and challenges).

The great leader utilizes the complementary strengths to support her organization or team in reaching its goals.

How, you’re asking?

If you’re a leader, get curious, stay open and refrain from making assumptions – about your people or solutions. Before determining a course of action, ask lots of questions – direct questions from a place of openness and tolerance. Listen to the answers, really listen from a place of “not-knowing”.

That’s a big shift.

Some “listening” looks more like, “Are you agreeing with my point of view?” And if you aren’t, I’m preparing my arguments for a particular position. This kind of listening doesn’t allow for hearing the other person. It gets in the way.

Listening from a place of “not knowing” includes open body language, open attention to the other (without an inner impatience to be heard). It includes humility – a quality worth cultivating.

A great leader wants to cultivate people with different competencies than herself. It strengthens the team, brings forward other perspectives, supports initiative and makes for powerful brainstorming. She learns as much as she can about her team and from their team. Asking for input from team members also builds their confidence (and loyalty) a big incentive in itself.

A leader armed with real data, perspectives and approaches and knowledgeable about any other constraints, can move forward and make sound decisions. One who is legitimately grateful for the input of her team, and also direct about the course of action, builds trust based on mutual respect.

It’s also important to stay away from psychoanalyzing your people. Instead observe closely and combine the observed behavior with answers to your questions to make grounded assessments. Build loyalty by encouraging people to be their best, though that may look different in different people.

And stay far away from the “one size fits all” way of leading – as much as is possible. Within the constraints of your projects, honor the differences in your team members. Take the time necessary to listen well, listen deeply and celebrate successes, even the little ones. Encouragement is part of the great leadership toolkit.

Instill self-confidence. It leads to boldness. Boldness fosters creative solutions. So praise, encourage, and challenge…but keep the challenges achievable and never take effort for granted.

And to encourage big ideas, great leaders avoid “knowing” everything.

Instead, they stay humble and open to others. By inviting opinions, they foster an atmosphere of creative problem solving and stay approachable.

So back to my basil plant. The connection? This way of leading takes time – like good gardening.

It requires a commitment to building a great workplace. It recognizes the importance of great teams. And while outwardly it may appear too slow, the gains in team confidence, contribution and loyalty go a long way towards high end productivity, viable solutions to problems that inevitably arise and real profits – personal and for the organization.

The Secret to Staying Calm in Chaos

13264233-a-businessman-holding-an-umbrella-in-a-stormI’m a coach, so my clients (executives, entrepreneurs, consultants, coaches, and other high performers)  show up in my practice for all sorts of reasons. If I had to categorize them, I’d say most clients were looking for ways ‘to stay calm in chaos”. That’s what Sam was looking for when he picked up to phone to call me one Tuesday morning.

Sam had accomplished so much already. Yet now, he was facing a new challenge, feeling stressed and overwhelmed and needing to be calm and centered. He needed to make powerful, effective decisions despite the chaos surrounding him.

Sam (let’s call him Sam), a personable and intelligent man in his mid-30’s came to me when he was seeking work. He had left a prestigious position defined by constant conflict – a culture of anger and stress.

Happily married and the father of two little boys, he wanted to put his education and experience to work in a start-up with high potential for success.

Head hunters sought him out. He was getting impressive interviews, and getting call backs from HR, so what was the problem?

Sam wasn’t doing well in face-to-face interviews. Due to anxiety (leftovers from his last position, the confrontational style of some interviewers, money worries and problems with his young son) he came across as tense, slightly unfocused and rushed. His stellar education and previous experience weren’t shining through!

He knew he was reacting to the stress of interviews in a way that didn’t support his goal. He just didn’t know what to do about it, so we began working together.

First we discovered that when Sam experiences stress, his reaction is to want to “run away”. This reaction is hardwired into his brain stem and showed up each and every time he experienced any degree of chaos. We’d have to address this!

He soon came to understand that “flight” showed up in a concave chest (body language that transmits information), a raised voice, a rapid pace when he spoke which translated to “lack of confidence” and it happened each time he was triggered, even though he could now identify it.

Sam began practicing getting centered daily. With a few minutes of breathing practice – yes simple breathing exercises – in no stress and low-stress situations, he could create some space around his “reaction”.

In that space, he chose how to hold his body – upright and relaxed. From that posture, he was able to end his sentences with assurance, speak clearly and succinctly in his natural voice and stay calm, neutral and open to the interviewer.

For fun (and good practice) we role played interviews after centering practice to work on appropriate responses rather than his typical reactions. As he learned to respond, taking time to speak clearly, listen deeply and breathe, he smiled more, uncrossed his arms and leaned forward – always more inviting that his “collapsed” body language of early days.

Sam got so good at staying calm, keeping his body language open, being curious rather than intimidated and speaking with the confidence that showed off his knowledge and experience, that he landed a great VP of finance position in attractive firm (and helped his little boy through a difficult patch too).

Why did this work? Over 3 months, Sam was diligent about his practices. Oh sure, there were a few hiccups (like for most of us, progress wasn’t linear) but he kept improving. So much so that he gave me a glowing testimonial on Yelp.com

And the truly “good news” is that Sam now had the tools to use in any and all stressful situations.

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Good stress, like a promotion or marriage, or stress you categorize as negative around the loss of a job or a missed deadline all create the same reactions in your body.

Learning to recognize how you react, gaining the tools that support some centering – simply starting with your breath, allows you to be much more effective (and pleasant to be around) when that inevitable stress shows up.

You can begin the process by noticing your breath. Then without forcing a change in the inhale, begin extending the exhale – audibly, if you’re alone. Extending your exhale does a lot in relaxing the muscles of your face and upper body. It goes further by opening up the diaphragm. Fortunately, it also allows you to have a little more room in which to respond, rather than react.

Pretty simple but not so easy to remember when you need it most.

That’s why practicing in no-stress or low-stress situations is critical. If you practice for 28 days, you’ll create a new habit – a healthy one – that will pay off time and time again.

And how can you remind yourself to do this for 28 days? Set a calendar reminder on your computer, put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, and put a sticky note on the dashboard of your car.

Take it from Sam, the rewards are tangible and huge.