Home // Archive by category "Leadership" (Page 2)

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.

Genesis: A Coach is Born

9649795_sEver have a question lead you into a new way of living? A few years into coaching teachers in San Diego, I smashed head first into a cast iron question. Ouch! Is everyone meant to teach – especially children? It interrupted my thoughts, took refuge in my dreams and generally made for a bitter companion. (The answer by the way is “No”.)

At the same time, I heard of a 3 day coach training event for experienced coaches in San Francisco. I read a book by the teacher/ founder of the school and signed up, because he was asking even bigger questions than I was. Little did I know that a movement from horizontal (skills based coaching) to vertical (developmental coaching) was about to unfold. And my life was taking on a new form.

What I discovered led me to a year long course in Chicago – a gateway into the world of adult developmental change that keeps me enlivened and engaged every day – sometimes frustrated and always eager to understand more.

Integral coaching is a developmental journey, a mystery and opening. It took me from master teacher, high school principal, teacher trainer, curriculum developer, editor and educational coach into realms I couldn’t imagine. Along the way I discovered the intelligence of the body, the significance of daily Sitting, the gifts of self-observation and the shifts made possible by rigorous practice. And that was only the beginning.

Here’s a little context…

I came to the USA as a young girl, living in poverty with my mom. Quickly I learned to navigate many worlds…in several languages. No wonder I became fascinated with linguistics and culture
and years later did my graduate work in cultural anthropology.

My poor mom, a Holocaust survivor, also had a severe mental illness. Out of the pain her condition imposed on all of us, my love of psychology – understanding the mind – arose. When things were really tough, books were a refuge – igniting a lifelong love of learning. Being a child of immigrants with a colorful cast of characters traipsing through our apartments, I listened a lot and learned as much from the non-verbal cues as from the 7 languages that were freely bandied about.

And from an early age, I loved reading to and organizing games – leading the younger kids – seeing myself as their champion. I started teaching when I was still a teen myself and kept going into a rich and meaningful career that included accelerated learning, experiential education, neuro-linguistic programming, learning styles and brain-based methods of reaching students. Oh and I co-wrote a funny book/game on the Enneagram. My own reading took me into philosophy, ontology, semantics, literature,, and neuroscience. And I traveled… a lot.

The story is complex (we all are) and changes locales often, yet a theme arises from the mist – I was always involved with development – of the mind, and then the body and spirit.

Finally, combining my own spiritual practice, Kundalini yoga practice and EVERYTHING  (with a capital E), that I knew, I began consulting and coaching under the name The Valiant Group – since courage in conversation and life was essential to me.

I’ve worked with clients at Busch and SpaWars, NASA and Twitter, Clorox and Genentech, Nikon and SD. City Schools. I’ve delivered workshops at universities across the country, taught in Moscow, Singapore, Capetown, S.A., and Greece and continue to be fascinated by the ways we humans encounter and expand our experience to fully live into our potential.

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.



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

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.

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?

The Skinny on Leadership and Conflict

You’ve read, talked and thought about conflict – experienced it – and if you’re like most humans, you hate it!

Yet, conflict, as I’ve stated in earlier blogs, gets a bad rap.

Why? Because it makes you confront your fears and doubts and often immobilizes you. At best, it confuses you. Yet it can be highly useful, a creative opportunity, if held as generative. Generative means having the power to originate or produce, bring forward something new. What gets in the way of using it this way? You do!

Great leaders have trained themselves to handle conflict. They’ve learned what gifts it brings and how to channel it for clear, informed and creative decision making. You can too.

Your (and everyone’s) self-image and sense of possibility show up through the physical structure and holding patterns in your body. Yes, that’s right.

You award your “mind” the trophy for directing your life, but the Oscar is going to the wrong contender.

Not about dress size or basketball playing height or conforming to cultural “norms” of beauty or strength, patterns – developed over years – tell you, and the world, who you take yourself to be. That speaks to what the future may hold for you.

In times of change or conflict, you get anxious and wound up. Trying to solve problems from this physical and mental spinout generates more confusion, poor results. No wonder things get worse rather than better.

In contrast, when you begin to shift these physical patterns, you gain new possibility for who you can be in the world. By settling down physically, you experience a sense of visceral calm and mental ease that removes you from the cyclone of messy thoughts.

It allows a fresh perspective on yourself and the situation. By changing your shape (how you hold your body) , you change how you think and feel about yourself so you can take new action. Isn’t that a much better place out of which to make decisions, to lead? Of course it is!

Sensing into your body which informs your mind and spirit, leads to transformation.

“So how can I make that change?” you ask.

You begin by learning to notice.

For starters, ask yourself:

What happens to my body during conflict or confusion?

(Hint: Contractions? Particularly in the pelvis or buttocks, rib cage or chest?

What goes on with my breathing?

(Hint: Does it move upwards into the higher reaches of the chest or the throat? Does it shorten?)

What happens to my vision?

(Hint: Does it narrow to a swath in front of you, maybe hiding the former periphery?)

By the way, these questions are most useful DURING the experience, not after. That separates the data from your interpretation. And once isn’t enough. You have to gather enough data, particularly the more elusive kind to begin to see your unique pattern.

Once you’ve established the pattern, you can begin to make the shift.

One of the most important openings comes by extending your exhale and gently bringing the inhale lower into the belly. Making an audible sound on the exhale, helps.

And as you continue to breathe this way, send your attention to the contracted places, softening and opening up in increments. (Sometimes it helps to imagine the breath actually going to those places and expanding them.)

Notice whether you can soften your eyes enough during this breathing practice to expand the cone of your vision without straining. Can you allow sights to come to you, rather than you “going out to get them?”

And can you do the same for sounds, letting them in rather than going on a mining expedition to gather them up?

As your attention begins to become more nuanced to the workings of your body, notice what happens to your fingers and hands. Can these relax?

You’ll want to practice when you can notice – and do it regularly. This will support the speed at which you can put the practice to work when most needed.

And practice means committing to at least 21 days – consecutively. It only takes a few minutes at a time, maybe 5. Want to make it most powerful?  Do it at the same time each day – as an anchor for the habit, maybe upon brushing your teeth or or just before bed.

As you learn to do this, what happens is that you configure a broad understanding of how to calm yourself down while including more (sight and sound). That allows you to have influence over a wider territory. (Yes, people will be included in that territory who will benefit by your calm and clarity.)

As you settle down your nervous system and shift to this new shape, the ease in your body extends to your thoughts. They join the party by becoming more porous, flexible and creative.

What a boost to your creative leadership skills!

And as your fear of conflict lessens its tight grip – your “mindful interest” (as Wendy Palmer calls it in Leadership Embodiment: How We Sit and Stand Can Change the Way We Think and Speak) grows, letting your wider perspective inform your conversations and actions.

Neuroscience has played a strong role in demonstrating the science of this practice. (See my blog on Change.) Yet you don’t have to study the brain for years to make the shift. As you begin to work with body and its patterns, you and everyone you deal with benefit.

Conflict is not the only challenge that executives, entrepreneurs, consultants and coaches deal with. And inside every challenge is the seed of opportunity. I invite you to join me for this high value, no cost strategy session where you learn the most effective ways to be productive, powerful and resourceful…ESPECIALLY during challenges…so you can rocket to the top of your game and enjoy the successes that you’ve achieved, in your business and in your life.

Conflicted Over Conflict? Stay Tuned In

You have a story about “conflict”, oh yes, you do. If you give me your definition of the word and some examples, your narrative about conflict  emerges.

Your story may include statements  like “She always battles my ideas!” or “He has to have things  his way or no way!” or “Our boss isn’t forward thinking -resting on past successes.” or hundreds of other reasons conflict arises in your life.

Your examples are unique. Yet, they share something with most people on the planet. Whatever examples you give, one of the chief causes of pain (call it anxiety, discomfort, anger, or other tough emotions to sit with) is caused by conflict as you currently define it.

And critical to note, your idea of conflict while conscious, is informed by your early experiences of conflict – emotional and physical experiences that have gone underground and may not be available to your consciousness.

For example, if as a toddler conflict (perhaps between parents or siblings) felt life threatening, you might have constricted your breathing, or tensed your small rib cage in panic. Perhaps you hid behind a large chair or under the bed until calm reigned again.

Today, when you encounter conflict, you “know” you life isn’t in danger, but your body resorts to the old pattern and you may want to run away or hide still.

Or perhaps you came out screaming at the adults in conflict, red faced, tear stained and furious.

That “puffing up” way of dealing is still there, only to be taken out when triggered.

Conflict still causes you pain – only more so because you worry about your reaction to it on top of worrying about the conflict itself.  Make sense?

And what do we humans generally do with pain? Avoid it –  at all costs. Avoidance comes in many flavors yet the result is that you never grow past an outworn way of dealing with conflict.

For leaders the cost of avoidance is higher than for most.

Awesome leaders, unlike the run of the mill type, don’t avoid conflict. They tune in to it because they have a definition that extends beyond  “pain”. They hold conflict as generative!

So, (take a deep breath here) what does that mean? And how does it work? And why should you care?

I’ll start with the last question first and work backwards.

Whether you lead a team, a non-profit, an entire corporation or a head a small business, you can be powerful and clear when the inevitable conflict arises and use it to move forward. That’s right, use conflict to move ahead with your vision. Conflict can be the impetus for great things – finely honed ideas, better strategic, streamlined  functionality, more inclusion, improved processes, better ways to serve your clients….

In the wind tunnel of your own mind, your ideas seem sound…and the fact that they are the only ones in there, supports that notion. Only when marched out into the light of other eyes and ears, can you evaluate your ideas –  and either modify, if that’s what’s called for, or stand tall behind them in the face of criticism or abandon them altogether and start over.

And when “The Idea” is being presented by some member of your organization, listening to the responses of others can often make a “good” idea – great!  The key is to get those others past reactivity – often the first impulse – to responsiveness.

Here’s how that works: You Must Model. Yes, you have to model a way of being with conflict that expands on your current definition! Model it again and again and people will notice. At first, in awe, then in curiosity and finally seeing the value. And you can incorporate this as a plank in the culture of your organization.

If you can find the value in conflict – what it offers – and stay out of your history with it – you can appreciate it and finally, welcome it. That process begins with unhooking the personal from the idea. They are not the same!

You, me and everyone we know are much more than the ideas we offer up. Holding conflict as generative means being able to separate the person from what they are saying, in the moment they are saying it. It sounds simple but it isn’t easy. It requires a shift – emotionally (staying out of the angry red zone) , intellectually (asking yurself ? what is the value of the what is being stated) and physically (how can you relax your nervous system and stay open). More to come on the specifics of this in the next blog.

Leaders make decisions. One way or another.

Great leaders have developed the capacity to handle opposing views, weigh the merits respectfully and then mobilize their forces behind a direction without excluding anyone. When a leader can do all this graciously, you can be sure she has learned to hold conflict as generative rather than as a problem. She has the ability to stay tuned in and grounded, open and curious and decisive.  Isn’t that the kind of leader you want to be?

If so,  return to your definition of conflict and expand upon it. Here’s how. Extract your painful history with conflict  from this moment. Look at only what is on the operating table now. Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to stay open and curious?
  • What can I gain from hearing all points of view?
  • How can I appreciate different perspectives?
  • Once I’ve determined the path, how can I mobilize everyone to action?

Armed with these questions, your relationship to conflict can soften, open and expand. And while you may have relapses, holding the intention (somatically, emotionally and cognitively) to see conflict as generative will ultimately make you a stronger, wiser person and leader.