SIX STEPS FOR EVERYDAY LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”- John Dewey

1.Leadership is not simply a title given to those with a supervisory role or hold a job title that sounds leader-like. Leadership is about influencing people and processes in service of accomplishing a collective aim or goal. Such influence can be performed by any member of a group or organization. This notion of leadership is a fundamental state that we can enter and exit when called upon. It’s about focusing on collective needs and goals and influencing the group towards results that benefit the whole.

2.Learning leadership from lived experience. Thinking about leadership as an identity or state of mind that anyone can enter into, permits leaders to emerge at all levels of an organization. One way we can develop our leadership abilities on a daily basis is by approaching our own lived experiences mindfully. This process is engaging in and reflecting on our own experiences in a particular way; a way that promotes learning and development, no matter how “good” or “bad” an experience is deemed. And with continued practice, leadership traits such as personal agency, courage, fortitude and wisdom arise naturally.

3.Leader Within- As human beings, we envision many possible selves for who we are and the roles that we play in society. These might include selves that we feel we ought to be or selves that we ideally want to be. How we think of ourselves is comprised of these possible selves and the actual roles we play. For example, one’s identity might include roles such as “father” or “mentor”, attributes such as “intellectual” or “loyal friend”. These identities become key sources of motivation and strongly influence our attitudes, ways of thinking and behavior. With awareness, we get to choose and strengthen the parts of ourselves that best serve us and those with whom we share our world.

4.Experience is a funny thing. We all know that we can learn from experience. However, that doesn’t automatically happen. An experience can have all the ingredients for learning- novelty, responsibility, challenge, but we still can come away with no lessons learned or even the wrong lessons. To maximize the developmental value of any experience, it’s vital to approach and go through each experience mindfully. Mindfulness is a state of being when you are continually aware of yourself and your surroundings, open and receptive to new information and willing and able to process the experience from multiple perspectives.

5.Reflection: Reflection is vital but can sometimes feel like another item on the to-do list. We rush from meeting to meeting, checking e-mails constantly, extinguishing fire after fire, and making countless phone calls. Stopping and pausing to inquire about how things are going can easily be put into the “when I get to it” category. As the founder of modern community organizing writes, Saul Alinsky writes, ”Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on.” When we curiously and receptively ask questions, like “What just happened?”, “Why did it go that way?”, And periodically, relate it to general patterns of cause and effect, “Every time I attempt to lead using this approach, people don’t follow my lead,” insightful answers arrive.

6.Develop a Learning Mindset: Talented, successful people are often their own worst enemies when it comes to learning from experience. They know what works, because it has worked in the past. Rather than focusing on what can be learned from a particular experience, people often focus on either avoiding failure or proving how competent that are to others. Yet, learning sometimes requires failure and mistakes. This often requires engaging in experiences where we’re not quite ready for primetime. And we may want to look at our deeply held beliefs of what success looks like as well. Rarely do individuals set goals related to what they will learn from a particular experience. Mindful engagement encourages this by emphasizing a learning orientation. This increases resiliency as well, allowing us to bounce back after initial failure or setbacks. By learning from experience, each day can be ripe with opportunities for everyday leadership development.

Minding the Questions

IMG_1373Much of skillful leadership involves asking great questions…and really wanting to know the answer. Today’s question involves a disciplined awareness and an inquisitiveness on your part:

What’s Needed Most Right Now, at a Time like This?

This is a worthwhile question; worthy of bringing your attention to- a refrain to ask yourself with curiosity from time to time throughout each day. You could choose to even make it a practice.

The response to this question may at times feel like nothing special: make the oatmeal, get gas, or bring an umbrella. But don’t let it fool you. When we become more present to the mundane, we are vastly better equipped as we respond to what’s needed most right now in the complex and fast changing situations of our professional and personal lives. Simply orienting your life fully and completely to what is required of you as a unique individual brought here to this particular moment has the possibility to bring more growth and more calm into your life than many hours of trying diligently to figure it all out.

And for that matter, one of the many benefits of choosing to still the mind and body in the first place is that it assists with consistently answering this question with insight, intelligence and ease.

What’s Needed Most Right Now, at a Time like This?dreamstime_13130519 (1)

I don’t know what “at a time like this” looks like for you right now. I don’t know what many tasks are waiting to be completed or how many people are calling your name and waiting for a response. I don’t know if you are carrying a recent loss or cares over illness (yours or another’s) and how it’s informing your workday. I don’t know if you are unadulterated in your happiness this morning as you begin this Monday. But you do. Taking into consideration what’s most important right now has much to do with the circumstances that are inextricable to this moment. So remember to bring a gentle awareness and appreciation of this as well.

And this question is not for you alone. As part of an organization, as members of a leadership team, answering this critical and fundamental question again and again with precision, as a group, creates a clarity of vision. Together, seeing what’s most important right now increases the likelihood of that alignment of sight. From that perspective, the possibilities are limitless.

“Er”, “Um”, “Like”: Mindful vs. Mindless Speech

I stumbled across a creative and innovative practice this morning that is worth sharing. It incorporates mindfulness into our daily lives in a way that forces us to actually think about what we are saying and how we are saying it. This simple but challenging instruction brings an immediate and positive shift to how we are in the world. 020206_trdp_s6 (1)
The exercise is to become aware of the use of “filler” words and phrases, and try to eliminate them from your speech. These are words such as “um”, “like”, “well”, “you know”, “kind of.” I have been told that one of mine is “by the way.” You may already know what yours are, or perhaps haven’t given it any attention and are somewhat unaware. These phrases can shift overtime for us but underlying them is the question of why we use them. See if you can notice what is happening when you do. Where are you when it happens? Is it an ingrained habit? Are you giving a presentation and there is some anxiety? Do you feel like you are entering a difficult conversation?
photo_468_20080904This is not easy. When you first begin to practice in this way, you may be shocked by how much you use these filler words. This habit tends to be strong, so remember to be patient with yourself. It can be helpful to enlist friends and family to point out when you are “doing” it again. Bring lots of friendliness to yourself, even smiling softly as you notice the tendency and practice this intentional thoughtfulness. To give a little perspective, Jan Chozen Bays in her wonderful book, Mindfulness on the Go, reports that “a typical teenager uses the filler word “like” an estimated two hundred thousand times a year!”
Filler words seem to serve several functions. For instance, Bays says, “They are space holders, telling the listener that you are going to start speaking or that you are not finished speaking yet…they also soften what we say, making it less definitive or assertive.” You can imagine how this tendency can hinder us in all areas of life, in particular our work life. If you are trying to win the hearts and minds of a client, your team or coworkers, ending your presentation, “So, anyway, I, you know, think we should, basically, kind of go ahead with the project” doesn’t quite move or inspire.
branch4The most effective speakers, the ones that are truly inspirational and effect change do not use filler words. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, we recognize this kind of clarity when we hear it. Conversely, lots of “ums” and “sort ofs” obstruct the listener from hearing you in subtle and not so subtle ways. They can make the speaker sound less intelligent, less competent and dilute the importance of what is being said.
We could point to our modern culture with its relativistic bent as the cause of the increased usage of filler words. Decades ago, speaking in this way was not commonplace. Yet no matter the catalyst, with mindful attention we can choose to do things differently.
We can speak clearly, concisely and without couching our wisdom and knowledge. With mindfulness, we refrain from harmful speech. You begin, as Don Miguel Ruiz instructs in the First of his Four Agreements to, “Be impeccable with your word.” It takes patience, kindness and yes, practice. And it has the power to open wide the gate of communication with others and illuminate your own path.070711a7017 (1)

EASING OUT OF COMPULSION, EASING IN TO CHOICE

brainThere are lots of ways in which we as human beings can get caught under the vast net of stress in our lives. We oftentimes find ourselves feeling trapped by difficult circumstances and the attending feelings and thoughts that arise from them. All of this can create a sense of being overwhelmed and life at times can appear unmanageable. We then struggle and we suffer. Often times the root cause no longer exists but our coping strategies themselves have become problematic.

For instance, we may initially have found some short term relief in the pleasure of eating, in particular rich comfort food laden with simple carbohydrates. These foods produce feel-good chemicals in our body and we get a quick surge. Unfortunately, and just as rapidly, we then get a marked drop in energy and mood. The same is true of addictions of all kinds, alcohol, cigarettes, too much TV, too much social media…the list is endless. And it can be an endless loop unless we step out of the ring.

Beginning and maintaining a mindfulness practice has shown to bring healthful and lasting relief to the stress in our lives that is simply part of daily living and relief from the compulsions and bad habits that are largely maladaptive coping strategies.

women meditatingIn an original research article published in Frontiers in Psychology (2015), short term meditation was shown to significantly enhance cerebral blood flow in areas of the brain critical for self-regulation. These are the areas of the brain that support us in good decision making and in overcoming unhealthy habits and addictions of all kinds.

Collaborating researchers from the University of Oregon, University of Texas/Austin and the Institute of Neuroinformatics at Dalian University in China discovered changes in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula in the brains of those who had been only meditating for 5 days (30 minutes a day). These parts of the brain have also been reported to be associated with positive mood.

The study showed neuroplasticity (changes in the brain) demonstrated with fMri imaging and consistent mood improvement reported by participants as well.

These findings provides hopeful news that regulating our emotions and responses doesn’t have to be an arduous, protracted process but it does take discipline. The benefits reported are only maintained by continued practice.

And there are many mindfulness practices you can engage in. It can be helpful to begin with guided meditations. It can be a little tricky starting out on your own and a guide gives instruction and support. You can find several of them here on this website for free. There is no sign up or commitment involved, except a commitment to yourself to show up and practice and trusting in that.

Wherever you are on your journey, may you have compassion for yourself. May you healthy and happy.   IMG_0050

10 Simple Ways to Invite Mindfulness into the Present Moment

Mindfulness is not reserved for only those times when you are “formally practicing.” While taking the time to close your eyes and follow your breath, or taking a mindful walk can be enormously helpful,  we can build our awareness by bringing our full attention to our everyday daily activities. These are the tasks that have been so ingrained by repetition , so habitual that they are often times performed on autopilot. It can almost be like we are sleepwalking.  We sometimes don’t even remember doing them!apples_edit

Yet even the most mundane of these provides an opportunity to notice something new or bring some calm and clarity right into the here and now.  We can choose to bring a fresh mind and an open curiosity to these moments.

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Begin by simply observing the sensations occurring within the body and the mind, and being attune to the sights and sounds around you as you :
1. First wake up and get out of bed in the morning
2. Brush our teeth
3. Have a cup of coffee or tea
4. Eat a meal or a single piece of fruit
5. Wash the dishes
6. Fold Laundry
7. Take your first step outdoors
8. Exercise
9. Sit at a red light
10. Stand in Line (anyplace you have to wait)

You may want to start with focusing on one of these activities. Returning your attention again and again (the mind will most likely wander) to what you are seeing, smelling, touching, tasting…and to any feelings that may be arising within your body. What are you thinking while you are doing this activity? Not judging the thinking or the feelings, just noticing, as if you were simply a kind, impartial observer to the whole of the experience. You can name the thoughts (remembering, planning, worrying, etc.) and feelings (joy, sadness, excitement) without getting too attached to any of it.  See what happens.

Experiment. You may expand your awareness to encompass them all.

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Practical Applications of Mindful Leadership

Much of what I do each day entails fostering and facilitating mindfulness training for leaders of industry, academia and healthcare. Many of these leaders have already enjoyed an illustrious track record of success and innovation in their field. And some are just getting started. But wherever they are on their journey, they tend to share certain qualities: a quick mind, high emotional IQ, substantial educational backgrounds and varied and impressive work experience. Rarer still but counted among them are the managers who display true adeptness at leading by example, championing team members’ accomplishments and having a bold vision for their organization.artful cairns

So what is it that separates those who are great leaders from those who also model transformational leadership?

It is the willingness and ability to see things clearly and to act, as much as is possible, from that vantage point. This means being fully aware of our own perspectives, tendencies, and yes, biases in any given moment while remaining open to the ideas and beliefs of others (noticing the way the mind tends to quickly judge their opinions either negatively or positively) “without getting lost in a thicket of views.” This is mindfulness. It often includes seeing and doing things differently. It can be uncomfortable for a time like riding a bike, but gets easier with continued effort. Web

A practical application of this kind of seeing clearly and acting mindfully can be shown in the common vulnerability of organizations to experience breakdowns in communication or in the frequency of colleagues to hesitate rather than engage in authentic dialogue.

Here are some strategies to encourage rather than impede useful dialogue:

1. If you aren’t fully present yourself, dialogue isn’t possible. Remind yourself to put your phone away, make eye contact and sit still. Focus on what the person is saying, not what you’re about to say.
2. Plan your words carefully. Think about how you sound. “Well I just don’t get it” can be taken by the other person as they are being discounted. It may be wiser to say: “Can you explain this idea a bit more?”
3. Notice your own mindset before a meeting or important conversation. If you are frustrated or tired, you may want to engage in a few minutes of breathing or simply sitting, so you are less likely to react or be perceived to act in a negative way.
4. In the same way, observe when others are shutting down, tuning out, becoming defensive, not answering questions or blocking them. (And how many meetings are filled with people who don’t answer questions?!) When this occurs, you can try redefining the question or simply asking the question in a different tone.
5. Remember not to over-detail. It’s become pretty clear that a person can only maintain maximum full attention for only four sentences. Whenever you’ve gone beyond four sentences and are hoping for dialogue, be aware that the listener’s brain is getting crowded and attention is being diverted.*  Water lilies

*(Adapted from the collaborative work of Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Management Behavior at (IMD))

Transformational leaders, in every walk of life, know that change and growth are essential parts of being fully human. Rather than trying to resist these realities or maintain the status quo, mindful leadership embraces and even seeks new ways of thinking and being in their world.

THE MUSE, MINDFULNESS WEARABLES

What about a headpiece to help you to train your brain? As mindfulness continues to gain acceptance as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, it too has become lucrative fodder for inventors and investors who see its potential amidst the big business wellness industry.

Like the Fitbit wristband that measures your movements towards the goal of physical fitness, the latest gadget to help you meditate and improve your focus is called the Muse. At a price tag of about $299, this headband uses electroencephalography sensors to measure the activity of your neurons to detect when your mind is focused and when it’s not.muse2

The piece sits behind your ears with a thin plastic band with the sensors stretching across your forehead. With headphones on, the app begins to measure your brain activity as it coaches you through exercises to help you focus. For instance, as you begin the app prompts you to think about musical instruments or well-known celebrities. It then asks you to bring your attention to your breath. Counting your breath as sounds of nature play in the background; the sounds themselves can signify that your mind is starting to drift away from your point of attention.

A session last several minutes and produce for you a line graph that details brain activity in percentages of active, neutral, and calm states. You earn points (little bird icons) for the times you were calm.

The Muse creatively uses the latest in neuroscience to effectively engage the firing of neurons in our brain. This is good! It is fun. We all like fun. Another real positive is that this latest cool shiny object may actually be the catalyst to entice you to sit down and experiment with meditating. Its carrot approach that provides “rewards” for when you reach some moments of calm focus may keep you coming back and practicing. If you continue to work with it and see some noticeable benefits, (initial reviewers who are new to meditation have found it helpful), you may become interested in sitting and meditating without it or learning more.

In other words, it could lead to fully experiencing and working with mindfulness and its ability to transform, inspire and engender compassion.

Conversely, the nature of novelties is that they tend to peak quickly in popularity and fall from favor in the same fashion (most of my friends that ran out and bought a Fitbit are no longer wearing them or even know where they put them)! It will be interesting to follow up with Muse wearers in a year and see if they are still wearing them daily. 020206_trdp_s6 (1)

The marketplace eagerly responds to our perennial search for the magic bullet, the quick and easy fix. AND as anyone who practices mindfulness will tell you, instant gratification leaves you grasping for more and more in order to satisfy.

What neuroscientists have also discovered is that when you stop, the brain returns to its wandering mind. It’s our default mode network. Just as our muscles atrophy when we stop lifting weights or exercising, our brain shrinks when not being work and trained.

To learn to be become focused, present, and calm is a process and a daily discipline, just as eating healthfully and getting physical exercise is a lifelong journey. Time and effort are required to build consistent concentration and equanimity.
If you understand that the Muse or any similar device, can be useful if employed as part of a larger program, and you can afford it, give it a try. 060405_cr_2559 (1)

I would love to hear from you 365 days from date of purchase.

THE MUSE: MINDFULNESS WEARABLES

What about a headpiece to help you to train your brain? As mindfulness continues to gain acceptance as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, it too has become lucrative fodder for inventors and investors who see its potential amidst the big business wellness industry.

Like the Fitbit wristband that measures your movements towards the goal of physical fitness, the latest gadget to help you meditate and improve your focus is called the Muse. At a price tag of about $299, this headband uses electroencephalography sensors to measure the activity of your neurons to detect when your mind is focused and when it’s not.

muse

The piece sits behind your ears with a thin plastic band with the sensors stretching across your forehead.

With headphones on, the app begins to measure your brain activity as it coaches you through exercises to help you focus. For instance, as you begin the app prompts you to think about musical instruments or well-known celebrities. It then asks you to bring your attention to your breath. Counting your breath as sounds of nature play in the background; the sounds themselves can signify that your mind is starting to drift away from your point of attention.080322a8447 (1)

A session last several minutes and produce for you a line graph that details brain activity in percentages of active, neutral, and calm states. You earn points (little birdy icons) for the times you were calm.

The Muse creatively uses the latest in neuroscience to effectively engage the firing of neurons in our brain. This is good! It is fun. We all like fun. Another real positive is that this latest cool shiny object may actually be the catalyst to entice you to sit down and experiment with meditating. Its carrot approach that provides “rewards” for when you reach some moments of calm focus may keep you coming back and practicing. If you continue to work with it and see some noticeable benefits, (initial reviewers who are new to meditation have found it helpful), you may become interested in sitting and meditating without it or learning more.

In other words, it could lead to fully experiencing and working with mindfulness and its ability to transform, inspire and engender compassion.

Conversely, the nature of novelties is that they tend to peak quickly in popularity and fall from favor in the same fashion (most of my friends that ran out and bought a Fitbit are no longer wearing them or even know where they put them)! It will be interesting to follow up with Muse wearers in a year and see if they are still wearing them daily.

The marketplace eagerly responds to our perennial search for the magic bullet, the quick and easy fix. AND as anyone who practices mindfulness will tell you, instant gratification leaves you grasping for more and more in order to satisfy.

What neuroscientists have also discovered is that when you stop, the brain returns to its wandering mind. It’s our default mode network. Just like our muscles atrophy when we stop lifting weights or exercising.

To learn to be become focused, present, and calm is a process and a daily discipline, just as eating healthfully and getting physical exercise is a lifelong journey. Time and effort are required to build consistent concentration and equanimity.

If you understand that the Muse or any similar device, can be useful if employed as part of a larger program, and you can afford it, give it a try.

I would love to hear from you 365 days from date of purchase.

MINDFUL WALKING

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On certain days and for a variety of reasons, the idea of mindfully sitting for any length of time may evoke a strong sense of aversion. Of course, if this occurs, you always have the option off choosing to be curious about that aversion, working with it, as well as being receptive to any other strong feelings, thoughts and attending sensations that may arise.

Or you can walk. Mindful walking is an excellent way to get us out of our anxious, stressed and ruminating head and into the movement of our body. Our senses too become involved moment to moment with the world around us.

537In fact, sitting meditation is no more important than walking with presence. If you get right down to it, they are the same practice. We are learning to know and experience the contents of our mind and body.

However, walking meditation is different than simply going for a walk around the block, taking a nature hike, or to getting from point A to point B. Mindful walking is a deliberate practice that has us arrive in the present moment with each step.

If you have the ability to walk, you probably seldom bring much attention to it. Most of us take it for granted. After that initial year of so when we were toddlers and had to bring quite a lot of focus to it as we literally “toddled” from coffee table to Mom’s knees to the floor! But it is quite a miracle when you think of it, how we humans can balance on these feet of ours compared to the size of our bodies.

footprintsIf you like to try some walking meditation, you begin by becoming fully aware of the process of walking itself. To begin, stand with intention. Simply put, know that you have chosen to stand and begin to notice how your feet are firmly planted on the ground that supports you. Your arms are held loosely by your side. Your spine is fully erect but not rigid, standing with ease. Know that as you walk, you are embodying dignity and grace.

In formal walking meditation, we typically focus on the individual movement involved with shifting the weight of our body, lifting the foot on the other side, and then placing the foot on the ground. We may even find it helpful to say silently to ourselves as we walk, “Lifting, moving, placing, lifting, moving, placing.”

To begin, find a quiet place where you can walk undisturbed for about ten to fifteen minutes without distractions, and where you can walk back and forth for a distance of ten to twenty feet. Start off by walking slowly and paying attention to sensations on the soles of the feet as each part of the sole, from heel to toes, touches the ground. Notice how the body moves as you walk and how the arms may swing back and forth. If at any point you notice the mind wandering from walking, just acknowledge this and gently bring the focus back.   IMG_0506

You may soon discover that sometimes you may feel like walking more quickly, sometimes very slowly. And if family, friends, or coworkers become curious about what it is you are doing, who knows, perhaps a community of mindful walkers will sprout and naturally grow, supporting your and others’ endeavors!

 

 

 

 

MINDFUL HUGGING PRACTICE

There is truly no greater gift to give someone than your full, pure presence. We intuitively know this to be true. Perhaps you can recall a time in your own life when you’ve had the experience of someone’s complete and undivided attention. What did it feel like? The feelings may have been profound or subtle, but are almost universally life-affirming.

How were they embodying that presence? We often recognize that the body is relaxed and quiet; the emotional energy is clear and focused. Their shared thoughts back to you reflect a deep state of listening. meditation_selfcompassion

Yet we also know this is a rare occurrence. How often do we really give our full attention to someone? Our child is sharing their day and we are only partially listening while we cook dinner, fold laundry, return a work text. We are having a conversation with a friend or a coworker and simultaneously remembering a task undone or impatiently waiting for them to finish so it’s ‘our turn’. This is a human tendency. Fortunately, we can choose to communicate in a more skillful, even transformative way. Read more