Meditation: Finding Strength in the Solitude

Have you ever felt that the world is just, well, too much at times?

Especially now. With the world reeling from a global pandemic, it seems anxiety and stress are combining to produce a vortex of fear – which is completely understandable. Many of us are contemplating some deep concepts – meaning, purpose, the “why” behind what’s happening…

It’s affected all of us. And I’ll admit that there are times I have to mindfully check my thoughts, take a long, deep breath and dwell in the silence.

It’s through the silence – our meditation in solitude – that we regain our strength. We step away from the chaotic appearances and step into the peace of silence, doing nothing, just being.

Everyone can benefit from meditation. My friend and former colleague,  Matthias Birk wrote in a Harvard Business Review article that meditation can be an extraordinary help to us during these chaotic times. He quotes what Steve Jobs related on his meditations:

“You start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”

Meditation is a Valuable Tool for Leaders

Birk also cited the values of mediation for executives. Jim Collins, a leadership expert, concluded from his studies that it was “the presence of a gargantuan ego that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.”

Ego. It’s a person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem. Ego always feels threatened, that’s why we react automatically without thinking – it’s ego boldly shouting out “it’s’ my way or the highway.” Ego’s focus is always on “me” – never “we.”

I know we’ve all encountered egos in the business world – and some pretty immense ones. But we also have to look at ourselves, too. Could our own egos be thwarting our potential for advancement – and our ability to create a meaningful, lasting impact? Meditation can help us separate from the egoic “me” and expand our consciousness into a more collective “we.”

In his book, Principles: Life and Work, Ray Dalio, who founded the world’s biggest hedge fund, wrote about the ‘ego barrier.’ He defines it as a defense mechanism in us that we’re not consciously aware of, one that makes it hard for us to accept our mistakes and weaknesses.

And all his successes, Dalio admits, are because he practices mediation. Does that sound surprising? It might for those unfamiliar with the countless benefits meditation offers.

Dalio is living proof of the goldmine of meditation. Science has proven its value, too: Harvard neuroscience studies show that meditation has huge benefits for leaders – amongst many other positives, it allows us to see things more objectively and form deeper, meaningful relationships.

The Value of Meditation in the Business World

How can meditation help us form more meaningful professional relationships? Mike Romoff can tell you. As head of global agency sales at LinkedIn, he had a gradual awakening through meditation that everyone is connected – and viewing others as independent entities didn’t make sense anymore.

His own work proved his point: with his department brewing in rivalry with another one, Romoff chose to help his counterpart – instead of continuing the tension. The result? Instead of a heated deadlock, projects flowed forward, disagreements diffused, and a stalemate was transformed into great progress.

Many of us may believe that meditation just isn’t for us. Maybe you can relate – perhaps you’ve tried in the past and gave it up.

For health and for our careers, I believe it’s vital we dedicate ourselves to a regular practice of meditation. It’s been proven to lower cholesterol and even the risk of heart disease, help relieve stress, depression, and has plenty of other positive effects.

Given our rapidly changing world and the tumultuous events that have cultivated deep uncertainty and profound fear, meditation is more important now than ever before.

A Few Minutes of Meditation Can Transform the Entire Day

Consider starting the day doing something other than checking email and listening to news. That draws us immediately in to reaction, i.e. fear, anxiety, anger, the endless cycle of “what if’s”…

While lying in bed before getting up for the morning, take a few minutes to just breathe. Concentrate on the breath…the peaceful, regular breathing. Feel the energy in the hands, in the feet, in the entire body temple. Many of us may have never noticed the energy contained within our own bodies.

Or sit in a chair and practice meditation, either concentrating on the breath or repeating a simple soothing or positive mantra. Soon, we realize that we are becoming more aware – of ourselves.

Regarding today’s pandemic, Eckhart Tolle has suggested that what looks “bad” on the surface has an essential function. Meditation can be the first step that will allow us to dive deep within, to see things differently, to ultimately do things in a new way – finally giving the rebel in all of us a chance to lead.

“When the ego weeps for what it has lost, the spirit rejoices for what it has found.”

-Eckhart Tolle

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Discover New Meaning During This Time of Dis-Ease

We were flung from our comfort zones and thrust into strange and unfamiliar territories. No more evening get-togethers, dining at our favorite restaurant with friends, or even quick trips to the gym and blissing out in yoga class.

That’s all coldly labeled now as non-essential, “risky” behavior in many parts of our world.

In its place, a new way of life is demanded from us: social distancing, shelter in place, and lockdowns in cities.

Our Collective Consciousness is Grieving

We feel uncomfortable. Empty. Lost. Alone.

And we’re grieving. Yes, grieving. Our world has changed. Grief expert David Kessler, who co-wrote “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss” with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, says our sense of normalcy is gone.

“…the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively.

We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Kessler offers reassuring words. This too, shall pass. He’s learned from history that the steps we’re taking now, while uncomfortable, are what needs to be done. “This is a time to overprotect but not overreact,” he asserts.

And it’s a time to re-think – everything. Some employers are discovering that working from home may become integrated into their new norm; learning institutions are realizing that online learning can be efficiently done.

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti


­­­­Changing the Old “It’s Always Been Done This Way’ Mentality

Americans work about an hour longer each day than their European counterparts: a third of Americans work more than 45 hours a week; about 10 million work more than 60.

Mark Wilson, writing in Fast Company about the global crisis, cited those statistics and asked a profound question: “How do we watch and educate our children while also clocking in the current 47-hour workweek?’

He proposes we don’t.

He cites more revealing data about the non-stop, 24/7 economy. More than half of US employees are hourly – working 8% more hours than in 1978 – but making only 11.6% more – even though they’re 6 times as productive compared to the 1970s. It’s called “The Productivity-Pay Gap” – meaning employee compensation hasn’t grown alongside corporate profits.

During this crisis, he wonders how can we work 40+ hours a week and teach our children too? How can we be there for them during this crisis, calming their fears, listening to their worries, and get our work done, too? How can we address our own needs in such uncertain times?

His answer was simple. We can’t.

Wilson says we need to slow companies down, no more business as usual. “We need to ask less of ourselves as professionals and less of each other as coworkers. It’s time to phone it in, literally and figuratively, to both protect our world and nurture the next generation.”

Learning to Let Go of Status Quo & Let Change Happen

It’s human nature to resist change, to keep the same old ways. Yet to grow, to do things in a better way, means we must learn to embrace change.

And now, during these chaotic times, thinking outside the box is key to not only getting through these challenging times, but soaring above – and doing things in a better way.

Yes, this is a time where we must challenge the status quo, to re-define how we do things and to come into greater alignment with our own core values.

World events have forced just about every one of us to step outside of our comfort zones – and though disconcerting, we also know that’s when profoundly impactful, lasting change can happen.

How can you, as a leader, go forward and challenge the status quo? Stacey Engle offers 3 suggestions:

  1. Encourage and invite all. Inclusivity brings fresh inspiration.
  2. Ask questions. Why isn’t something working? Engaging with your employees can lead to more meaningful insight.
  3. Be prepared to assist change – keep an open mind. Don’t automatically say ‘no.’ Be radical. Stay curious.

Remember, no one has all the answers. This is a collective journey we’re on. A good leader learns to listen loudly – put ego out of the way – and let success blossom.

Find Meaning in the New “Normal”

Undoubtedly, our lives are different.

But slowly, some of us may begin to realize that we have time now for things we always said we never had time for before – in our ‘old’ lives. Time with our children. Walking the dog. Reading. Discovering new hobbies. Working around our homes.

We can use technology to connect with family and friends, so we can still feel a sense of connection, if only virtually. And we can learn to have more compassion.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”


Let’s always remember to be kind to ourselves, too. When we’re kind to ourselves, we’re kinder to others. And the world needs kindness and compassion, not only now, but always.

What if the “new” and uncertain that lies ahead has gifts we haven’t even begun to unwrap yet?

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Tap into Your Inner Rebel to be a More Impactful Leader

In many cultures, women are encouraged to maintain the status quo and play by the rules. Yet, to be an influential leader who leaves a lasting, meaningful impact, we must be willing to break this worn-out mindset.

Influential Leaders Channel Their Inner Rebel

In her book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life, author Francesca Gino explores the characteristics that help effective “rebels” to stand out in today’s ever-changing, highly competitive business world.

As a behavioral scientist and professor at Harvard Business School, Gino’s work is gleaned from long-term experience examining rebels all over the globe. Her work discovered that the rebel – who throughout history has been called an agitator or a revolutionary – possesses what she defines as “rebel talent.”

Rebels have an inner defiance of the oft heard phrase, “It’s always been done this way,” and it’s that fire and spark that we must learn to embrace in ourselves to become the dynamic leaders our world needs now more than ever before.

“Rebels and non-conformists are often the pioneers and designers of change.”

-Indira Gandhi

Break the Rules to Effectively Navigate Today’s Stormy Seas

As we grew up, we might remember being cautioned against challenging the status quo. We may have been told that to get ahead, we shouldn’t “rock the boat” too much, that it was better to fit in or “just get along” rather than to oppose convention.

Yet Gino surprised herself with the discovery of the value and meaning that a rebel talent brings to life. In attempting to understand breaking rules in the workplace, she found that being a rebel actually enhances every aspect of our lives.

From her research, she determined that people who broke the rules did so in ways that resulted in positive changes in their organizations and in the world. We, too, can let our inner rebel qualities emerge – and use this “positive deviance” to break rules so that a favorable outcome is achieved.

Our studies found that nonconformity leads to positive inferences of status and competence when it is associated with deliberateness and intentionality…

– Silvia Bellezza, Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan in “The Surprising Benefits of Nonconformity

In fact, when one of the article’s authors in the above quote donned a pair of red sneakers while teaching a class to business execs, the students assumed the professor was a “well-published scholar and high up in the hierarchy of her department.”

In today’s ever-changing world, where business is highly competitive and social media can damage careers in mere seconds, we can call on our inner rebel to lead, inspire and create innovative changes – akin to the rebels throughout history – think Rosario Córdoba Garcés, Sabrina Bouzidi, Isabelle Kocher, or Mary Barra, who came before us.

Envision what your inner rebel can do for you and those you lead…

“Impossible is only an opinion.” 
―Anik Singal

Let Your Inner Rebel Take the Road Less Traveled in Leadership

We know that uncomfortable feeling of going against the norm. Yet defying the so-called norm and letting our inner rebel lead the way can prove to be beneficial. When our rebel persona guides us to venture down the road less traveled, it can make all the difference.

General Director of the BBC Greg Dyke took over the company in troublesome times. Traditional business advice would have led him to draw up a standard plan for the future and figure out how to achieve the goals that were set forth.

Instead, his inner rebel inspired him to spend five months in various BBC offices throughout the UK – even dropping in on employees dining in the cafeteria – and asking for their advice on what the BBC needed.

The result? He gained employees’ respect by asking for their input – and when he formulated his vision plan for the company, employees were enthusiastic to help out.

What are the principles of a rebel leader? Gino highlights several key characteristics:

  • Stay curious, open to new ideas
  • Seek out those who disagree
  • Pursue conversation, don’t stifle it
  • Let authenticity shine
  • Discover freedom in obstructions
  • Be willing to get those hands dirty
  • See mistakes as potential breakthroughs

The Power of Expanding Our Leadership Influence

No matter what our job titles are, broadening our influence has powerful effects. How?

Being good at what we do – and doing our work with vigor – shows those in our organization that we’re confident, capable, skilled. “Being good at your job is one of the basic elements of influence,” according to Melissa Drake, founder of Collaborative AF.

How we share our expertise is powerful, too. Are others in your organization comfortable in seeking your assistance? Or are you viewed as overbearing or “too much?”

Our relationships with others are key. Knowing those around us on a personal, “human” level so that we can effectively relate to them fosters strong connections. “It allows people to be seen and heard as individuals and who they are,” explains Drake.

Being human – and humble – and letting those around you see you for your strengths and weaknesses – is another crucial aspect to effective leadership. Our team members and colleagues will begin to see us as ‘real’ and be more inclined to develop positive relationships.

We should also consider embracing another aspect of ourselves that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with rebellion: our intuition. Blending logic and reasoning with our inner instincts may certainly rock the status quo – and that’s exactly what’s needed to drive meaningful change.

By letting our inner rebel lead us in making sometimes uncomfortable choices or difficult decisions that ultimately result in positive change, we can transform our careers – and the teams we lead – from ordinary to extraordinary.

“Rebels are the people who refuse the seen for the unseen.”

-Anne Douglas Sedgwick

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Vulnerable leadership is more than going it alone

How Vulnerable Leadership Becomes Your True Strength

This may not be the first time you’ve heard the words vulnerable and leadership in the same sentence. It’s become a revolutionary topic in today’s professional development sphere.

You might have mixed feelings about the idea of vulnerable leadership. Perhaps discomfort, lack of clarity as well as curiosity and intrigue. As a corporate leader, you may have some of these thoughts:

  • Intuitively, I know that vulnerability helps build trust and respect on a human level, but how can show vulnerable leadership without being viewed as weak in my corporate work setting?
  • What are the concrete benefits of being vulnerable with my team?
  • I get the concept, but what does it actually look like in my day to day work?

I’m happy to share that you can embrace vulnerability in a way that feels safe and turn it into your leadership superpower.

What True Vulnerable Leadership Is (and Isn’t)

First, let’s set something straight. For many years we’ve been told that leaders shouldn’t show imperfections, weaknesses, or any sense that we don’t have everything under control.

Today, however, we are being called to lead more authentically. Research from people like social science professor Brené Brown is debunking the outdated, yet commonly held belief that we need to keep our walls up. The reality is that vulnerability lies at the root of all human connection and is where creativity and innovation begin. This is precisely why we need to embrace it if we want to lead collaborative and prosperous teams.

This may seem counterintuitive and even risky as a leader. However, the feeling of real human connection with leadership is often the missing piece for people in many work environments.

When we appear as if we know it all and everything is always under control, we’re actually making it harder on ourselves and those we lead. We close ourselves off to new ideas and our team can feel it. This significantly impacts their motivation.

Truly influential leaders are authentic – we are not afraid of showing our humanness, which means we know our strengths and values, we welcome feedback and criticism, and we don’t shy away from asking for help.

Why is this so effective? Because when we lead from an authentic place, it means we must be vulnerable. We’re not hiding our true selves. This amplifies the “we” – we all struggle, we’re all human – uniting you and your team. It leaves behind the “me versus them” mindset that creates separation.

Why Authentic Connections Lead to Strong Teams

Now that we’ve cleared up the fallacies around vulnerable leadership, you may be wondering how exactly it shows up with you and your team.

Research from Harvard Professor Jeff Polzer looks at how vulnerability plays out in day-to-day behaviors and interactions in organizational settings. First, he clarifies that the impact of vulnerability is not the “touchy-feely” association we often have with the term. Rather, the impact comes through very clear exchanges of openness that create cooperation and trust – he calls this a vulnerability loop.

The loop begins when someone (ideally beginning with you – as the leader and model for your team) shares something vulnerable like, “This project is going to be challenging, and I don’t have all of the answers.”

Vulnerable leadership means communicating with others

Photograph by Christina Wocintechchat, Unsplash

Polzer emphasizes the importance of that moment is about the receiver, not the discloser. Do they lean in? Do they connect? Do they share their own humanness? Or do they hide and pretend they have no limits or challenges? That is the moment of opportunity to build trust and where the loop continues.

Over time repeated vulnerability loops build the “cooperation muscle” which leads to the most innovative team dynamics. They all come down to the single interactions, repeated over and over.

Can you imagine where your team would be if you practiced these vulnerability loops over a year’s time? Think about where your team would be in five years…

Do You Have the Courage to Lead?

Before you decide to practice vulnerability, you need to know and accept that it will not be a comfortable process. It requires courage. One day, one interaction at a time. You don’t pretend you’re perfect, and that can make leaders feel very uncomfortable.

You can see though, it’s exactly what leads to deep trust and cooperation, and that is worth all the discomfort in the world.


Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s our greatest measure of courage.

— Brené Brown


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Assume Positive Intent

Want a Powerful Team? Assume Positive Intent

As a leader, what does it mean to assume positive intent? It means that no matter what someone says or does, we assume that they are doing their best, and we model this behavior for others to take on themselves.

This may sound like a lofty, and perhaps even risky intention when working with teams because it’s not a natural practice for most of us.  Frequently, people are socialized from a young age not to trust others or to be suspicious of true (mal) intent.  Leaders however, know that to truly lead they can only harness the power of teams through trust and personal empowerment.  Both of which are actualized by starting with the assumption of positive intent toward the team members themselves.

The truth is, leading cohesive and productive teams is about building relationships which in turn brings meaning and joy into our lives.  In order to develop those relationships and consequently strong teams, we must choose to assume the best in people.  If we are leading consciously, this has lasting positive effects on everyone around us.

Why Leading With Positive Intent Matters

We all make mistakes, and how we make meaning of them is what’s most important. Typically, we judge ourselves based on circumstances (“I wasn’t given enough notice” or “It was a busy day”) and we judge others based on their character (“He doesn’t care,” “She’s ignorant,” or “It’s all their fault”). The problem is, we behave off our own set of assumptions regardless of their truth.

As a leader, team building starts with your intention. Too often, our intentions go unchecked and we react and make quick assumptions out of our conscious awareness.

Intentions lead to behaviors. Behaviors lead to habits. Collective habits lead to culture. Culture informs your team.

Assuming Negative Intent Doesn’t Serve You

When we assume negative intent in others (whether conscious or not) we react with defensiveness. When we’re defensive, we stop listening, which cuts us off from learning, growing, and developing ourselves and our team in an impactful manner.  Think of it this way, if a leader assumes their team isn’t trying their hardest to succeed, there is little to be gained by listening to them.  However, if a leader believes the team is invested and making every effort to meet their goals, this is an enormous opportunity to think creatively and develop dynamic new processes.  Both the leader and the team benefit exponentially.

There will be times when actual negative intent from an individual we lead displays itself, but if we commit to assuming the best and we don’t jump to conclusions, we allow that person to grow. We take what we’ve learned from that experience and inform how we proceed with that person in that situation. It’s crucial not to assign negative intent to all situations, or worse, to everyone else.

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