This Is Our Collective Moment for Meaningful Change

“Motivation comes from working on things we care about.”

-Sheryl Sandberg

What do my foot operation and the protests that are happening over the past few weeks in the US have in common?

(Before I continue, I want to make it clear that this in no way (at all) suggests that whatever has been ailing my foot can in any way be compared with the violence and unfairness that minorities have endured for centuries. It cannot, it never will – and I have too much respect for all people as equals to even suggest anything otherwise.)

The similarities I see between such seemingly disparate situations as my foot and ongoing protests are:

  1. Both are very present in my mind and life right now.
  2. Both involve addressing something that really matters.

What do I mean here?

Pain as a Necessary Passageway to Growth

Well, for one, my foot has been painful to me for a couple of years now. This is somewhat of a big deal given how (in non-Covid times) I often travel and how much of my facilitation work is spent on my feet.

Yet my doctor cautioned against panicking and said I had plenty of time to get the surgery he was recommending. Meanwhile, it continued to hurt – not only when I walked on it, but also when lying around. The discomfort had gradually become a constant issue in my life.

But, finally, last week, I did do something about it. I had that operation. Now I am in a painful recuperation period. But this pain is for a good cause because it is a necessary passageway to feeling better than I did before. Rather than continuing to suffer, I am taking a strong step toward self-care, toward making my experience of life better. This, in turn, will allow me to bring my best self into everything that I do, to serve others in stronger, more impactful ways.

Taking a Stand to Start the Healing Process

On a far more serious and wide-reaching scale, there is the unjustifiable racism which has plagued minorities for seemingly ever. Some or all of it we all have probably participated in – even without realizing it, perhaps on an unconscious level. Somewhere along the way, I too must have been guilty of racist beliefs and behaviors, as much as I am ashamed to realize it. It’s painful.

All of that pain that so many people have endured for centuries has finally cumulated into what we’re seeing now. People are taking a stand (getting an operation) for fairer treatment of African Americans and others who have been mistreated for far too long.

This uniting across the world to take a stand is one way of metaphorically getting our mindsets operated on in order to heal the deep wounds of social injustice. We haven’t reached this point quickly – or easily. There has been a lot of pain and suffering along the way.

And now, many signs are pointing to a tipping point with new laws concerning police, the opening up of previously closed cases and the actual kneeling in honor of a man beaten to death by those who held authority positions.

Our Universe is Calling Us to Change

It seems that for both what is going on with my foot and the recent events in the US, we have finally woken up to what has been needed to be addressed for a long time. We are no longer pretending the pain and the suffering is not there. We are finally doing something about it.

And how many of us turn into ostriches when it comes to really taking care of important things?

Do we have those courageous conversations when we really need to (when the kitchen faucet just begins to drip) or do we wait until a full-blown crisis (when the drip has turned into a flood all over the kitchen floor)?

Do we say what we mean and mean what we say – or do we continue saying what we think other people want to hear so they will like us (and, in return, we end up disliking ourselves more and more)?

Or how about those of us who are engaged in compulsive behaviors that we are not proud of and which threaten our mental and physical health? For how long will we keep abandoning ourselves?

This is Our Collective Moment for Change

The time is NOW to do something about it. We cannot afford to wait for another crisis, or for some undetermined point in the future in hopes that “someday maybe things might change.” And we can’t take the easy way out and say that someone else will lead change.

We can come together to use all the best tools we have to get where we need to go. Right now, in this very moment, we have the opportunity to redefine our future.

Now.

We deserve to move beyond our pain. And the world needs us, too.

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A World in Crisis: A Time When Authentic Leaders Can Have the Most Impact

We’ve heard the term ‘leader’ so often that its real meaning has lost its significance. Especially in today’s time where people with significant responsibility are far from fulfilling a leadership role. Look at what’s happening in the United States right now.

There are so-called leaders in sports, politics, business, and every arena in life, but are they true leaders? Do they inspire others with vision and purpose – or do people merely listen to their rhetoric – and dismiss it?

In today’s uncertainties, where normal routines have collapsed and everyday life is curtailed by the effects of the pandemic and the flagrant racism in the United States, many leaders around the world are proclaiming their visions (or opinions) on what steps to take for the future. Who really is emerging as a true leader?

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Authentic Leaders Sail Steadily Ahead in Stormy Seas

Dagmar Meachem, in Turning Challenge Into Opportunity, notes that courage is an important part of leadership. He coined a contemporary definition of leadership:

“A great leader is someone who has influence and can effectively motivate a group to act towards achieving a common goal because they have mental and moral strength and will persevere and withstand danger despite their fears and the difficulty of the challenge.”

He follows with an important question: “Is this someone you’d like to work with or for? Is this someone you’d go the extra mile for?”

We can all nod in enthusiastic agreement: Yes!

Courage is an important part of leadership. Letting our authenticity shine, being willing to show vulnerability, takes courage. To take the road less traveled takes courage.

To think out of the box takes courage. And during these epic challenges thrust upon us by the pandemic and by the eruption of racism and the ensuing violence, we should ask often if we’re leading with courage, if we are leading with those values that are most important to us.

Courageous Leaders Are Willing to Take Risks

Bill George, writing in Forbes, explains leaders with courage take risks that often go against the norm of their organization. In other words, they’re not afraid to make bold moves in the name of their purpose and values.  By definition, he says courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.”

Some leaders lack courage, George notes, because they’re too focused on numbers or reaching a particular mark or milestone. Leaders with courage forge ahead boldly – despite the risks. Take Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, for instance.

An article in The Atlantic calls her leadership style empathetic, with public messages that are “clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing.”

39-year-old Ardern has cast aside conventional leadership methodologies, aligning with her own values instead. And as many leaders know, this takes a lot of courage.

It’s working – and not just on an emotional level. In a time of worldwide crisis, very few people in her country of over 4 million people have died from the ongoing pandemic.

Meachem, too, cites the importance of courage in leadership. Among many benefits, courage builds:

  • Powerful influence, since it takes courage to be honest and transparent with those we lead.
  • An atmosphere for productive, healthy conflict, where others feel comfortable challenging ideas and ways of thinking.
  • Deep accountability – courageous leaders don’t cast blame – they’re not afraid to call others (or themselves) out.

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change.

The leader adjusts the sails.”

-John Maxwell

Impactful Leaders Know the WHY

Children are infamous for asking questions incessantly. Many parents can relate to growing weary from their oft-repeated question, WHY?

It would be wise to remember those lessons from childhood. In a Harvard Business Review article by Nancy Duarte, we read that employees are much more motivated to accomplish a project when they truly understand the ‘why’ behind it.

“If they don’t know why a new action is necessary,” Duarte explains, “they won’t be motivated to help you.”

She gives an example of answering the “why” regarding the current COVID-19 crisis: “We can reduce secondary infection rates by 40%, saving thousands of lives.” In an instant, you have captured an audience and answered the critical “why” of a situation.

A common leadership trap is that we assume others know the “why” – when in reality it may not be abundantly clear to them. Duarte offers up a few helpful tips to identify the ‘why’:

-Ask thought-provoking questions.

-After questions, explain with “because” statements.

-Offer alternate aspects and explain why you dismissed them.

Don’t forget to include key benefits to support the “why” to get everyone motivated and on board.

Effective leadership is about art and scienceThinking – and Leading – Outside Your Comfort Zone

McKinsey & Company explains leaders should practice integrative awareness: being aware of the changing reality of the world and how to respond emotionally and physically. Now more than ever before, this is crucial as we adapt to historic change and a new way of living and leading.

During times of crisis, it would serve leaders well to be:

Calm, approaching fears as opportunities for learning

Optimistic, combining confidence and realism

Additionally, we need to practice integrative awareness, notes McKinsey & Company, citing Captain “Sully” Sullenberger who, after having two engines disabled by flocks of birds, calmly assessed the situation and then took action.

Even though air traffic controllers urged him to return to the airport, he sensed he could not make it back and chose to land his aircraft in the Hudson River – saving everyone on board.

Finding Balance Between Observation & Experience

Sullenberger balanced his emotions with a rational thought process, a practice termed metacognition. He had the internal awareness on two levels: not only was he observing the situation, he was experiencing it at the same time. He was able to sense early signs of fear – but did not act out a stress response. That, says McKinsey & Company, is vitally important in times of crisis.

“Without objective awareness, signals of distress can trigger “survival” behavior, and we lose the ability to pause, reflect, and decide. For a leader during crisis, this survival state can present a huge risk, and in the case of Captain Sullenberger, it would have been fatal.”

No one is immune to challenges. But it is our thoughts that determine how we perceive them.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees  the opportunity in every difficulty.”

-Winston Churchill

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Faced with Adversity, Resilience in Leadership is Key

There is a typical response when a crisis occurs: “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”

Throughout history, mankind has endured – and risen above- many catastrophes. We learn from difficult experiences, and that new knowledge enables us to rise higher so we can effectively meet the next challenge that awaits us. And another one always will.

In her NY Times opinion piece The Best Response to Disaster is Resilience, Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, recalls air raids, food rations, and flying bombs while growing up during WWII in England. The entire world was affected, people were uprooted from their homes, millions were killed, and countries were left in ruins.

Their stories of survival still astound us today. We wonder, how did they survive? Why?

Resiliency. Our ability to recover quickly from difficulties.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
― Steve Maraboli

Resilience Nurtures Positive Growth

The world is still reeling from the shock of the pandemic. Yet as blurred and uncertain as the future looks right now, our resilience to it is shaping our future.

Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal wrote in McKinsey & Company that the past can be a predictor of the future. Citing the financial crisis of 2008, McKinsey research discovered that in each sector, a small group of businesses did better than their peers. While all were affected by the crisis, the resilient ones recovered faster, and a year later, their earnings rose by 10 percent – while the non-resilient businesses earnings slid nearly 15 percent.

 Why? The resilient companies were better prepared for the financial crisis and took effective action during it.

Sneader and Singhal note that the virus may be the biggest challenge the world has faced since WWII. Instead of waiting until after the battle has been won, the authors urge business leaders to ask themselves what they are doing now.

How are you responding to the fallout from the pandemic? It’s not too late to build workplace resilience. A past Harvard Business article offers tips:

-Practice mindfulness – it helps job performance. Taking slow, deep breaths is key.

-Learn to have ‘step away’ breaks: just a few minutes can reset our energy and attention.

-Display compassion – for yourself and others. It increases happiness and decreases stress.

Resilient Leaders Have These Qualities

A small study done by British consultants Sarah Bond and Gillian Shaprio discovered that the biggest drain on a person’s resilience didn’t come from events such as bombings or other tragedies, but it was “managing difficult people or office politics at work.” Second to that was stress from too much work and being subjected to personal criticism.

Many other studies have investigated resiliency. Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes in “The Failure-Tolerant Leader” cite the need to treat setbacks and successes as both positive learning experiences. They suggest leaders engage at a personal level with employees, admit when they’ve made mistakes, and take a nonjudgmental approach when interacting with others.

Diane Coutu summed it up best in “How Resilience Works.” She states resilient people have 3 characteristics:

  1. Strong belief that life is meaningful
  2. Unique ability to improvise
  3. Firm acceptance of reality

Coutu explains that although we can recover from a hardship with one or two of those qualities, to be truly resilient, one must possess all three.

We might consider:

  • Instead of resigning to a situation, how well are we improvising and moving forward?
  • Are we treating the pandemic as a learning experience?
  • Are we continually practicing self-care?
  • How often are we mindfully listening to everyone’s suggestions, being compassionate – and stepping away frequently to reset our thoughts and energy?

“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.”

 – Yasmin Mogahed

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Uncertain Times Call for BOLD Creativity in Leadership

Our world was thrust into mass uncertainty almost instantly.

Most of us didn’t even see it coming. As a result, mass panic and confusion reigned.

Yet values-based, authentic, and compassionate leaders will maintain their steady course and rise above and beyond this crisis to emerge stronger than before.

They already realize that this, too, will pass, and it will have been the catalyst to spark new thinking, bold ideas and truly, a new world.

“It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.”

-Dalai Lama

Calm Leadership During Uncertain Times

Mike Robbins, writing for Forbes, summed up leadership during uncertainty in a simple analogy.

When we are flying, there are times the plane experiences turbulence. Most times, the pilot announces beforehand that the plane will be experiencing a bumpy ride and asks the flight attendants to take their seats until they get through it.

As a result of his message, when we experience the turbulence, we (hopefully) are not panicked. We are reassured by the leadership of the pilot.

If he did not announce the expected bumpy ride, we would have white knuckles from gripping our armrests. (Ok, maybe some of us still might…)

Effective and authentic leaders follow this analogy in their careers – and especially during these unpredictable times. Like putting an oxygen mask on ourselves first – before our children – leaders need to be the pilot during confusing, uncertain times.

How can we come forth as authentic leaders in times of crisis? Robbins suggests:

  1. Integrate self-care. Not only for yourself, but also so you can show up as your best self for others.
  2. Maintain continual communication, a key in times of crisis to cultivate a cohesive team and a sense of community.
  3. Get personal. Bridge communication gaps by reaching people on a personal level, which shows your care and concern.
  4. Flex those mental muscles. Listen to everyone, be open to new ways of doing things. Don’t automatically say no.
  5. Let authenticity shine. When we lead authentically, we let others know we’re in this together and we WILL rise above.

The Mental Process of Authentic Crisis Leadership

During this time of crisis, we have already begun to see true leaders emerging. Take Jacinda Ardern, for example.

True leaders continually let the public know what is happening, they listen to bold, new, imaginative and innovative ways to do business, to educate and to live. They have vision – and holding.

What is holding? Gianpiero Petriglieri, writing in Harvard Business Review, describes holding as the way a person, usually an authority figure, contains and interprets what is going on during a crisis.

And what is containing? The ability to soothe distress and help others make sense out of a crisis. An effective leader will reassure his employees and inform them how the company can get through. The leader thinks clearly, reassures and guides everyone to bond together.

Petriglieri notes that while holding is not often recognized as a trait of leadership, as vision is, it is as essential. A study of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico revealed just that. As the company responded to and recovered from the crisis, top management had different reactions to the spill. While some lost faith in the company, others – those exposed to management who had upbeat messages – strengthened their commitment and resolve to the company.

For those working closely with one’s boss and fellow employees during the crisis, the response was more containing. It reassured employees about the company’s principles, integrity, and future growth.

“Being held as we work through a crisis, the study concluded, is more useful than being told how bright the future is.”

Leading and Moving Forward During Uncertainty

Leading with values-based leadership is a strong foundation for navigating through a crisis. Those values areas include:

-Self-confidence

-Humility

-Balance

-Self-reflection

Remember how crucial it is to continually communicate with your team. In a Forbes article, author H. V. MacArthur suggests the following topics:

  1. Acknowledge what you know – and what you don’t know.
  2. Share your thoughts about the current crisis in a calm, reassuring way.
  3. Describe your plans to make things better and ask for honest insight.
  4. Keep employees engaged; let them know what is needed from them.

What is, has been before. Authentic leaders realize this. And they will lead the way to a more effective and creative way of doing business.

“The future is uncertain…but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.”

-Ilya Prigogine

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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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