How Will You Lead in the Fire?

How Will You Lead in the Fire?We have seen many companies in the news lately that have conflicts that escalated very quickly into something that is seemingly unmanageable.  Between corporate discrimination and harassment, to political rhetoric, our newsfeeds have been filled with conflict that escalated very quickly and inflamed the tempers of many people at home, in the workplace, and in our own neighborhoods. Conflict happens.  We accidentally (and yes, sometimes purposefully) say something that offends someone. Or, we have differing opinions, and we don’t necessarily engage in respectful conversations.  But what do we do when we are faced with a conflict?  In many ways our current communications networks (i.e. social media, the news, etc) encourage us to escalate the conflict.  How do we stop the escalation and put out the fires?

When we are faced with conflict, it can be like walking into a fire.  We know it is hot.  We know it is uncomfortable, but at the same time many people are fascinated by it’s power. When a conflict starts, many times it is just a little tiny campfire that doesn’t seem like it is very dangerous and it seems pretty well controlled.  However, how we all respond when we see that fire is what determines that fire’s fate.  When addressing conflict, we are given two buckets.  One of the buckets contains water, and the other contains gasoline.  We have a choice as to which bucket we will use on the fire.

When dealing with hot button issues, our first reaction to the conflict (or the fire) is to respond to the fire in a very visceral way and to throw the bucket with gasoline on the fire.  We then take action that increases the size and severity of the fire.  We are all human, and it is very easy to reach for that bucket filled with gasoline.  We want to defend ourselves, and in some cases inflict the same damage on the other person that they inflicted on us.

But what if you can have a different reaction?  What if the person didn’t actually intend to hurt you, but the intent of their words did not match their impact?  I was recently at a restaurant and heard someone tell their companion that they needed to put on more makeup because she looked old and tired.  Ouch!  Who wants to be told they look old and tired?  It would be so easy to yell at the person, tell the person all about themselves, and maybe even stonewall them.  However, you have an option of another bucket.  Take a three second pause and reach for the bucket of water.  This doesn’t mean that you are going to ignore a hurtful statement or ignore the conflict.  It means that you are going to start a conversation that helps to move the conversation forward in a good way.  In this case, it is okay to say, “Ow.  I felt really put down and discouraged when you told me that I needed to put more make up on because I look old and tired.  I have a lot going on right now, and that really hurt my feelings.”  You are telling the other person what they did or said was not okay and requesting a behavior change.  But, you are requesting the change in a way that is not belligerent or accusatory.  You will also notice that you are not saying the person is bad, just that their words had an impact on you, and it wasn’t good.  The person is then given the opportunity to apologize, explain what they intended to say, but acknowledge that they did not say it in a good way.  It creates space for you to go forward  and create new rules of relationship.

Imagine the comments were made in the workplace.  It is important to recognize that your words and actions have an impact on others.  You can choose how you will respond, whether it be with the bucket of water or the bucket of gasoline.  It would be wonderful if we all reached for the bucket of water, but sometimes we will make mistakes and our intent will not align with our impact.  As leaders, it is extremely important that we are aware of our words, and that we can take a pause to consider which bucket we will use.  When you come across conflict, reach for the water.  You have an opportunity to model respectful conversations that can de-escalate a conflict before it grows into something newsworthy.  We are surrounded with encouragement to throw gasoline on the fire, but what if we start to model throwing water on the fire.  We can be a catalyst to shift the conversation from anger, hurt, and hate to one of respect and inclusion.

Embrace the Moment

Embrace The Moment

As a kid, I absolutely loved summer vacation.  They were the awesome days of summer when all I had to worry about was figuring out what adventure would capture my interest once I finished breakfast.  When we are children it is so much easier to live in the moment, and enjoy what life has to give us.   Children approach the each day with wonder, and with the mindset that this could be the best day ever!  In our society, we don’t live in the moment as much.  We find our value in how busy we are, and unfortunately living for the next thing on our calendar or popping up on our iPhones.  Eventually, this rat race leads to burn out.  So, this summer I want you to embrace the moment.

Set aside time to do something each day that you enjoy.  

I have found that many leaders live by their calendars and to do lists.  Most of the time these lists are filled with tasks that have to be done, but there is very rarely any space set aside for something that the leaders enjoy.  Their focus is purely on getting the job done and moving on to the next item.  If you add a time in your day, or at least set an intention, to do something that you enjoy, you are creating space for you to embrace joy in your life.  You don’t have to wait for that beach vacation.  For me, I set aside time each day to read and sip a cup of coffee or tea.  It is so simple, but my day is much more enjoyable when I have time to focus on the joy and comfort that this activity provides.  I love the time exploring a good book, or just a silly fun read, and a good cup of coffee.  It is the simple pleasures that can provide a pick me up, especially when they are done with intention and focus.

Be with the people around you.

The next time you are in a restaurant or in a conference room waiting for a meeting to start, take a look around the room.  How many people are looking at their phones?  Are you reaching for yours?  While we are living in an increasingly digitally connected world, we are losing our interpersonal connections.  We have trouble focusing on the people in the room with us.  We are constantly looking for new information, the latest game, the next task that needs to be completed, or just mindless scrolling.  We are escaping into a digital cave that increasingly numbs our interpersonal connections.  So, set your phone down and step away from the computer.  Talk to your co-workers.  Work on establishing authentic relationships through conversation.  When you reach out and form connections at work, you increase engagement and work/life satisfaction.

Know your truth.

Know Your TruthWhen you are not being who you are, it is really hard to embrace the moment.  If you are trying to fit into a certain mold of what a leader, significant other, friend, co-worker etc “should be,” then it is hard to embrace the moment.  You are too busy trying to anticipate your next move and worrying about how people are judging you.  This is your time to define who you are and what you stand for.  Once you know your vocation, values, and truth, each moment is a step in your life that should be savored.  It is a step in your journey that is meant to be embraced.

Embracing the moment is more than just enjoying a vacation.  Embracing the moment is being able to live as though life is an adventure, so you want to savor each detail and experience it to the fullest.  Embracing the moment allows you to step away from the should do’s in life and accept where you are right now.  It allows you to see each event in life as an opportunity.  Embracing the moment as a leader helps you to foster a culture that supports work/life satisfaction through innovation, authenticity, and engagement.  Embracing the moment isn’t just for those summer vacations growing up, it is a life long practice.

 

5 Ways to Embrace Learning

5 ways to embrace learning

Learning is powerful.  As leaders, it is imperative that we continue to grow and learn.  However, we frequently find it too easy to start coasting when we have made it to that dream job, or to completely disconnect when we are in a job that no longer satisfies us.  We stop thinking about our own growth, and the growth of others.  We seem to get caught in the day to day operations of our jobs, without keeping an eye on continuing growth and development.  When we start to back away from learning and our own personal growth, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, and ultimately creating a box for ourselves and our employees.  However, we can keep our minds and our focus sharp by focusing on truly learning and growing as individuals and leaders.  Here are five ways to embrace learning:

  1. Learn a new skill: There is something about learning a new skill that increases your confidence, and puts a little more pep in your step.  When you learn a new skill, whether it be learning to code so you know what your tech department is doing, or learning to play the piano, you are encouraging your brain to develop new connections, through a process called myelination.  As we become more comfortable performing the tasks associated with the skill, you are optimizing your brain’s capacity through myelination.  Ultimately, this will make you more innovative and engaged because your brain is learning to think outside of its old “box” or thought processes and increase thought speed through myelination.  As you are learning your new skill, remember to practice frequently, ask for feedback, and also focus on the quality of your practice.
  2. Leonardo da VinciKeep up to date with the latest trends in your field: This one is pretty self explanatory.  Most leaders are members of at least one professional organization, and those organizations publish research articles each month.  Keep reading them.  It is too easy to just quickly delete the email, or to place the journal in a stack on your bookcase.  Block out time to read at least one article a week.  Setting a designated time to read will help you to turn reading into a habit.  If you find it a little too easy to delete those email articles, print them out and place them in a location where you will be encouraged to read them.  This will help you to stay up to date on what is going on in your field, and it will also help you to continue to grow as a leader.
  3. Conduct Research: When you first started out, you had to do research pretty regularly in order to complete your tasks.  Now, you know a fair amount, but you can always learn more and go deeper.  Do some research on how to grow an organization.  Start looking for trends, and dig deeper to do some statistical analysis to see if your hunches are having the desired ROI.  This also ties back into keeping up to date with the latest trends.  When you come across an article or concept that you find interesting, start doing research into other points of view on the subject.  Has it been successful in other organizations?  Do you see it playing out in your life?  What are other experts saying?  Continuing to go deeper into your research allows you to expand your critical thinking skills, and build capacity to ask the questions and develop goals for growth.
  4. Go back to school: When you are in school you are part of a cohort that is focused on consuming as much information as possible.  These cohorts form a network that support us as we grow throughout our careers, and the skills that we gain are invaluable to guiding us on our career path.  Some people love the feeling of being a student in a formal educational setting.  They find the work rewarding and it motivates them to continue learning and being the best in their field, or even expanding their horizons into new career paths.  If you are struggling with how to move out of your box, and you remember thriving in the educational environment, look at opportunities to go back to school.  Maybe you want to pursue an advanced degree, or maybe you would like to earn a certificate that strengthens  your credentials  and helps guide your career to greater heights.  Look for learning opportunities that motivate you and strengthen you as an innovative leader that creates opportunities for his or herself, as well as opportunities for the entire organization.
  5. Join a mastermind group: A mastermind group is a concept developed by Napoleon Hill.  It is basically a peer-to-peer mentoring group that helps you navigate through challenges using the collective intelligence and learning of the group.  When involved in a mastermind group, you are working with people who can help you see the forest through the trees.  They will help you define how you want to learn and grow, and then hold you accountable to those goals.  Everyone who comes to a mastermind group comes with a unique skill and educational background.  The educational strength of this group is immeasurable.  The support of the group makes your networking, development, and educational journey more fun.  You are not in your struggle alone.  There are people who are able to help you, and the beautiful thing is that you have skills that you are able to offer to help them as well.

Carl Rogers Quote on LearningAs leaders it is imperative that we explore how to learn, and how to change.  We have so many opportunities to learn from our environment, our employees, our mentors, our peers, and literature.  Many people believe that after a certain age, it is impossible to learn something new, when we are truly open to learning at any point in our lives.  The more we focus on learning, the more open our brains are to accepting new information, learning new skills, and increasing thinking speed.  I encourage you to find new and innovative ways to learn and grow in your career and in your life.

What Is Your Conflict Style: Confrontational or Avoidant?

What is your Conflict Style-2

Most of us have a very strong default response to conflict.  Today we are going to examine two very broad categories of conflict style, avoidant and confrontational.  In these styles, we will either try to avoid conflict at all costs, or rush in words flying to deal with it head on.  Neither one of these tendencies is inherently bad; however, just like all things, when taken to the extreme they can start to be a blind spot or a place where we struggle in our interactions with people.  We all fall somewhere on this spectrum, sometimes pulling tendencies from both types.  There are many other ways of viewing conflict, which are very evident in the personality types of the Enneagram; however, today we are only going to look at the very broad descriptions of confrontation and avoidance.

When I look back on my life, I realize that I had a strong aversion to conflict, which is pretty ironic when you consider that is what I decided to study and and working with conflict is a large part of my career.  I recognized that I did not like conflict, and that drove me to explore why conflict occurs, how we respond to it, and how we can take something that is naturally uncomfortable and transform it into a moment of growth.

Throughout my career, I have recognized that many leaders have a strong default when it comes to conflict.  Many of them have always just resolved conflicts based on their default, but never really explored why they responded in a certain way, and many do not take the time to dig deep and take a look at whether their conflict style is effective in meeting their needs, as well as the needs of the organization.

Avoidant Style of Conflict

If you are conflict avoidant, in many cases you will ignore and avoid possible points of conflict or build your interactions around the conflict in a way that you never address the elephant in the room.  If you are conflict avoidant, you have probably had the experience of being hurt or insulted by someone, but you just smile and nod so you do not have to deal with the issue.  After the pain has occurred, you may do everything in your power to stay away from that person and not have to work with them on any projects.

If you are leader, how is conflict avoidance detrimental?  Don’t you want to avoid rocking the boat and let everyone keep working?  Not necessarily.  When people say something that rubs you the wrong way, something I call a sandpaper moment, it has an impact on us.  We feel a physical and emotional pain, and we start to build scripts about that person, who they are, and how we don’t want to ever deal with them again.  In many cases, the people who said or did something to cause the harm are not aware that what they said hurt you, or they are not aware of the extent of the harm.

When people are conflict avoidant and they are trying to avoid interacting with someone because they don’t want to deal with the issue, organizations and relationships suffer.  They waste time thinking about the conflict and how they can get around working with that individual.  This all has a cost.  Time wasted finding alternate means of completing a project or not talking to someone key to a project can completely derail productivity.  Ultimately, conflict avoidance escalates to increased employee turn over.  Employees will leave an organization because they are not able to work with another person in the organization, and their quality of life suffers because they are constantly on guard about dealing with the entire situation.

Fortunately, we can learn tools to help us to address conflict, even if we are conflict avoidant.  One of the first tools I use to coach clients who are conflict avoidant is to ground yourself.  I have found that when I want to run away and avoid conflict, the best thing I can do is to place both feet on the ground, take a deep breath, and lean into the situation.  It is very easy for someone who is conflict avoidant to lean back and disconnect from the situation, thinking that they will deal with it later, or to completely ignore what is going on and start thinking about how they can avoid uncomfortable situations in the future.

I statementsThe second tool is using the “I” statement formula to let someone know that something they did had an impact on you, what the action was that caused it, and how they can change the behavior in the future.  The structure of an “I” statement is:  I feel (name the specific impact, such as I feel disrespected), when you (name the specific action, such as when you speak over me in meetings), because (why, such as I did a lot of research on this topic and I want to make sure that we can integrate all of our ideas into the project.)  I statements are an effective script to use, especially when you are reluctant to speak up. They allow you to state what happened on your side and request a behavior change, without vilifying  the other person and putting up defensive walls.

The third tool to take into account, is evaluating when to respond.  None of us like to have our faults or mistakes called out in front of other people.  So, if possible, wait to have a one on one conversation with the other person.  You will be able to create more space for open conversation, and will be able to decrease defensiveness.  Now, just because I said you can wait until it is one on one, it does not mean that you should wait for a long period of time before responding.  I recommend responding within twenty four hours.  If you don’t respond within twenty four hours, people tend to forget what happened and you start to vilify the other person more, and start creating more reasons not to initiate a conversation to resolve the issue.

I encourage you to lean into your natural strengths, ground yourself, and use your tools to respond, even if you are conflict avoidant.  Addressing conflict in a good way early can save time, money, and heartache for you and the organization.  If you do not feel safe, then talk to HR before using these tools to gain assistance on the best course of action.  As  always, if you have questions or would like coaching, please contact Lauren at www.itl-systems.com, or lraio@itl-systems.com.

Confrontational Style of Conflict: What Conflict? This is a discussion!

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some individuals are more confrontational.  They do not view conflict as a problem or something to be avoided, but rather an opportunity to get what they need or even just an opportunity to stretch their mental muscles and engage in playing devil’s advocate.  A lot of people who are more confrontational do not view issues as conflict, rather they are just discussing things that need to be addressed.  Many times more confrontational types do not even feel like they are in a conflict.  It is only when people start wilting and backing away from them that they realize that something is going on.

If you are a leader, wouldn’t you think that it is a good thing to get everything out on the table so it can be addressed.  The answer is yes and no.  While it is important not to sweep things under the rug because they will ultimately re-appear and pile up, it is also important to recognize that sometimes we have to dial back our responses and take the preferences of other people into account.  Being too strong in a conflict situation can cause people to become defensive and not want to work with you, once again wasting time, encouraging poor decision making, and increasing employee attrition.

You might have a more confrontational conflict style if you find yourself always entering into difficult situations with an “I’m going to win” mentality.  People more confrontational conflict styles also find themselves feeling like it is me against the world. They fear that if they are not strong then they will be viewed as weak and will ultimately be hurt.  You usually know when a more confrontational person enters into the conversation because they are moving towards the conflict and people involved.  They frequently are moving towards the conflict and people with high levels of energy, which can be observed by higher volume and in many cases physically moving towards a person.

When coaching people with a confrontational conflict style, I recommend a few different tools.  The first tool is to dial it back.  What feels normal and comfortable for people with a more confrontational style, can be overwhelming for others.  So, take a deep breath and dial back some of the energy and power.  Dialing it back will allow the other parties to hear you more easily, and not trigger a fight or flight response.

The second tool is to align your intent and your impact.  If you are more confrontational, you tend to be very direct, which can be misinterpreted as being antagonistic or aggressive.  Take a deep breath and think about what you are saying and doing.  How will it be perceived by the other party?  Will I convey the message I intend, or will I have an unintended impact (such as hurting someones feelings and making them defensive).  If you are unsure, ask a close friend to talk through it with you.  Make sure that your friend is someone who is comfortable letting you know if you are coming across in an unintended manner.  We all need someone who can help us work through ideas and call us on our blindspots.

The third tool is to use “I” statements.  While people with more confrontational styles are not as fearful of conflict so they don’t need a script for that reason, the “I” statement script does help them to reframe the issue so they can identify personal impact and request change without blaming or creating a defensive conversation that ultimately can escalate the situation.

The Cost of Conflict

Many of us have made it fairly far in life without really having to think about the effect of our conflict style.  We have worked through conflict, but maybe we weren’t aware of the effect on the people around us, or how it influenced our career moves.  According to the Michael Lazan’s article The Financial Cost of Conflict in Organizations, the financial cost of a single conflict in an organization can total $255,000 in employee attrition, wasted time, and lower return on investment in labor.  This is a substantial cost for a single conflict.

What would happen if you empowered yourself and empowered your employees to transform conflict into an opportunity for growth and development?  Identifying your conflict style, and the strengths and blind spots that accompany your style, allows you to create your own developmental path.  You can write yourself reminders to use your tools when you are in a conflict scenario.  It may be possible to create new rules of relationship that allow you to address situations before they escalate into higher levels of conflict, and ultimately higher costs of conflict for the organization and personal well-being.

As I stated before, these are two very broad categories of conflict.  We all have more specific reactions to conflict based on our personalities and experiences.  I encourage you to dig deeper to explore how you respond, and why.  If you would like to learn more about your personality and conflict, contact Lauren at www.itl-systems.com or lraio@itl-systems.com.  We offer individual coaching, as well as Enneagram personality assessments.

Are You Stuck In Your Story?

are you stuck in your story

We all have a story, and it is important to know your story.  We aren’t just a haphazard compilation of ideas and thoughts, unless we surrender our story to external forces.  When you take control of your story you can take a series of events and turn it into a masterpiece.

What happens when you have an outline or a script, but your story no longer fits who you are? 

When I started out in my field, I wanted to do family mediation.  I wanted to be the person who helped to provide a process for families to heal wounds, and build rules of relationship that worked for everyone, not just one spouse or exclude the need of children.  I had watched several friends be used as pawns in their parents divorce.  My heart ached for them.  I saw families that used to care for one another view their custody and divorce cases as completely win/lose options.  I wanted to work with people to provide another option.  My story was that I wanted to make a difference in families, especially with children because I saw how difficult the experience was on my friends.

As I went further in my studies, I realized that their are many more applications to mediation and conflict transformation than just in families.  It dawned on me that I wanted to look at conflict transformation through another lens.  However, I had told everyone in my family that my dream was to work with families, specifically in divorce and custody mediation.  What do I do now?

I realized that my focus had shifted, and my story changed.  I needed to re-write my story to fit my goals, and to shift my story based on my goals and not external expectations.  My story became I wanted to apply conflict transformation and restorative justice principles to help leaders thrive.  I recognized that what used to really drive my curiosity was now on the back burner.  I fell in love with the idea of building systems and processes that take into account the needs of people and the systems where they live and work.  It didn’t mean that I no longer wanted to help families when they are struggling with their story, I just recognized that there are other avenues for sharing those skills and making a difference in the world.  I took control of my story.  I struggled with who I wanted to be.  I recognized that I can change my story based on my passions and life experiences.  I control the process of writing my story, and my story continues to develop with even deeper storylines and character development.

Have you ever written your story based on what other people have said?  

As we progress through our career and into leadership roles, we have to be extremely conscious of our story.  Are we living our story? Or are we living the story that others think we should be living?  It is very easy to get started on a career path that we never really intended on following.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It just needs to be YOUR path that evolved because your goals, passions, and experiences shifted, not someone else’s.

We start out with an ideal image of how our story will go.  It usually includes a big “aha” moment where you realize you have found your life’s calling, you build a career, reach the highest position in the field, make a lot of money, and retire to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Sounds great, and yet our stories change.  Very few people have the experience of easily walking through their original plan and story.  Think about your favorite novel.  It usually involves dynamic characters who think that they have it all figured out, and then a crisis happens.  This crisis or conflict is ultimately what forces them to re-evaluate who they are and what they want to be.  This is where they develop character and grit.  They rewrite their story to make it who they want to be, not just going along with the circumstances surrounding their story.  What they thought was their purpose or passion is put in a crucible and what comes out on the other side is their true passion.  They hold themselves accountable for who they are and who they want to be.  They own their story.

“Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story”- Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda

who lives, who dies, who tells your story

The same story process that you read in novels also applies to your career and leadership journey.  Find something that interests you.  Passion and purpose are not something that happens in a bolt of lightening.  Rather, the development of a passion occurs over time.  Take control of your story.  Start looking at your leadership journey as a novel that you control.  You will have love, joy, hardship, and triumph.  You can choose to write your story with courage, empathy, and emotional intelligence.  You can choose to keep your storyline open for development.  You can choose to not set limits on your potential.

Our stories can limit where we go, or they can open up limitless horizons.  

Use your journey to write fantastic stories for the future.  Keep in mind that very few authors use their first draft.  Therefore, your story has potential to change.  You don’t have to be contained by a box of a story, because let’s face it, it is hard to read the label when you are inside the box.  It is hard to read your story when you are stuck on page 10.

You are the author of your leadership journey.  What is your story?

What Makes You Thrive?

the best places to go on a

According to a study at the World Health Organization (WHO), most of the world’s population spends one third of their life working.  This is an enormous amount of time when you consider all the other demands on our lives (family, volunteering, religious obligations, housework, etc).  In order to thrive in those conditions, you need to understand why you work.  What is it that inspires you to get out of bed every day?

When I ask clients what motivates them to get out of bed every day, I inevitably get the answer, “my alarm clock!”  Yes.  Your alarm clock gets you out of bed every day, but you wouldn’t have set that alarm clock unless you had some motivation each night.  When asked to go deeper, many people talk about money.  Yes.  You need to earn money in order to provide for your self and maybe your family.  However, if you are only getting out of bed for the basic pay check, you don’t have as much inspiration to continue to thrive in your career, and elevate your leadership skills to the next level.  You could coast along where you are, which does require work, but it isn’t nearly as satisfying as working for something that makes your heart and head thrive.

Many people dream of owning the sports car, the mansion, the vacation, and having endless financial security.  These are all wonderful things that we would all love to have. However, the material possessions inevitably depreciate, and we are still left feeling unsatisfied with our work.  What I encourage you to do is to look internally, rather than externally.  What makes you thrive?  Many leaders and entrepreneurs when they achieve their initial goal, they reach a plateau.  They don’t continue because they are making the comfortable salary.   They got the car they wanted, but they inevitably end up unsatisfied with their lives.

we were made to thriveWhat makes you THRIVE?  If you were to disappear tomorrow, what would you want you want people to remember?  When you can answer that question, you have found your core.  You have found that motivation that makes you want to get out of bed each morning.  Do you want to advance medical research?  Do you want to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs?  Do you want to be an example for your family?  Do you want to change lives?  For me, I want to make a difference in the world.  I want to inspire people to be comfortable with who they are, and recognize that they have strengths that are extremely valuable to the world.   They have the capacity to learn and grow throughout their lives.  I want people to recognize that one of their strengths is that they have a voice that can be used to work together to build relationships and build a civil society that is innovative, collaborative, and respectful.  That is what inspires me to get out of bed each morning.  This is what makes me thrive.

 
When you know what makes you thrive, it is easier to stay focused.  We are always going to face some sort of adversity, some sort of push back.  Maybe people will be judgmental of our path, or we will feel like we need to keep up with the Jones’.  But when you know what you want to achieve out of your career, you can focus that third of your life to become a more complete part of the whole of your life.  You aren’t just a leader who works to fulfill the basic obligations of your job.  You are a leader who lives and leads by example, and is motivated to continue to learn and grow in your position.

Life is too short to think only in on dimension and to think that our work is completely separate from who we are.  We have to learn to focus not only on the need for money to survive, but also to be present and know what we need to do to thrive, and ultimately help our organizations and community thrive.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t struggle, or that we won’t have times that we worry about the necessary funds for survival.  It means that we are open to the fact that we have more to offer, more to learn, and more room to grow as leaders and members of society.  So, what makes you thrive?

Keeping Track of Your Personal Weather Forecast

personal-weather-forecastOne part of my work is teaching people about personality and mindfulness.  When I go into teach a class about personality, I like to start the day asking everyone in the room to give me their personal weather forecast.  I want everyone to start thinking about where are they at the current moment, not necessarily about what happened earlier or what is coming later in the day or week, but what are they experiencing right now.  It is difficult to make meaningful changes in your life if you are not able to identify what is going on with you at the moment.  When you can name what you are experiencing, you can then take mindful steps to create action and change that are meaningful and have a true impact on your life and your role as a a leader.

I love when people are honest about where they are at the moment.  I have seen some amazing community support and personal breakthroughs when someone is able to articulate that they life is currently a tornado and they fear a hurricane is coming.  They are aware that their feelings and emotions are all over the place and range from fear to anger to sadness.  The people at that table immediately turn to that individual and demonstrate compassionate empathy by saying things like, “That sounds rough, I’m so sorry you are going through that.  Would it be helpful if I take over the meeting for you later in the day?”  This is before they even learn about how their individual personality types influence how they deal with conflicts, emotions, and interactions that pop up throughout the day.

viktor-franklSometimes, just naming what we are feeling in the moment takes away it’s power.  When something hurts us or angers us, as Viktor Frankl says, “there is a space.  In that space lies or freedom and our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and happiness.” When we encounter pain we have a space to assign meaning to it.  If you are able to take a pause and choose to respond in a way that assigns purpose and opportunity to your experience, your response can turn that tornado or thunderstorm into a single event, and recognize that the sun will come out again.  The key is recognizing when the stimulus arises and intentionally taking time to investigate the space and opportunities before you respond.

high-resolution-perception If you are like me, you are reading this and thinking, “Yeah but the tornado still destroyed me in the moment.  It was still painful.”  Yes, life is filled with ups and downs.  It isn’t always fair, and there are times that it can hurt.  However, when we wallow in the hurt and focus only on what caused it, I find that I struggle to move beyond the hurt.  For me, mindfulness has become an invaluable tool for dealing with the storms that come my way.  Mindfulness helps you to develop high-resolution perception.  High resolution perception allows me to see the tornado just as an incident on the radar.  It allows me to recognize when the tornado is coming.  For me, I know when the little cloud in the sky is gearing up to become a tornado when my neck starts hurting, my stomach starts churning, and I start clenching my jaw.  As Chade-Meng Tan said in Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), “the way to develop high-resolution perception is to apply mindfulness to the body.”  When I recognize that my body is signaling me to be mindful, I purposefully take a pause in that space between stimulus and response to be intentional about my response.

Creating a mindfulness practice is very helpful in nurturing the space between stimulus and response.  Mindfulness helps to foster emotional intelligence, as well as emotional and physical health.  Similar to maintaining your physical health, developing a mindfulness practice before an event can limit the severity of the tornado.  You can become a superhero within your own life who is able to calm the storm through mindfulness techniques.  There are many books and apps that can help you with developing your own mindfulness practice.  Personally, I enjoyed Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace).  He provides excellent information on how his program began at Google and the success they have had, as well as interesting research and personal experiences with developing a mindfulness practice.

running-is-alone-time
I have several mindfulness practices that I use based on the day and where I am.  What is important is to find what works for you and devote a block of time to that practices.  I have found it invaluable to maintaining health, as well as fostering innovation and happiness in my life and career. My regular mindfulness practice is in the morning.  I am a Christian, so I begin my day by reading Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  This centers me and guides my thoughts.  Find something that helps you to guide your thoughts and intentions.  I also incorporate mindfulness into my morning run and yoga practice.  While this sounds like it can take a lot of time, in reality it is only about an hour.  I have found, and spoken to many other people who have shared similar experiences, that if I don’t take the time for my mindfulness practice, I am less productive and find myself wasting time on meaningless tasks or problems that aren’t really problems.  Being a holistic leader means taking care of yourself and your people.  Developing a mindfulness practice and being aware of your personal weather forecast not only helps you, but it also creates space for your coworkers and staff to do the same.  You can help share the sunny forecast with your mindfulness practice.