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MEANINGFUL & IMPACTFUL RESULTS

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Tensions Between The Elephant & Rider – Our Brains & Change

I recently completed reading a book, “Switch” that focuses on the topic of change and found the following concept/notes valuable. We see this play out everyday.

Conventional wisdom in psychology is that the brain has two independent systems at work all the times.

  1. the emotional side – part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure.
  2. the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system – part of you that deliberates and analyzes, and looks into the future.

The duo’s tension is captured by an analogy in University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis book.

Our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.

Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Anytime, the Elephant and the Rider disagree abut which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.

Most of us are familiar with situations in which our Elephant overpowers our Rider. The weakness of the Elephant, our emotional and instinctive side, is clear. It’s often looking for the quick pay-off (ice cream) over the long-term payoff (being thin).

When change efforts fail, it’s usually the Elephant’s fault, since the kinds of change we want typically involve short-term sacrifices for long term payoffs. The Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination.

The Elephant isn’t always the bad guy. Emotion is the Elephant’s turf – love and compassion and sympathy and loyalty. Making progress requires the energy and drive of the Elephant.

If you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both. The Rider provides the planning and direction. The Elephant provides the energy. So, if you reach the Riders of your team but not the Elephants, team members will will have understanding without motivation. If you reach their Elephants but not their Riders, they’ll have passion without direction. When Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily. When they disagree, you’ve got a problem.

If you are working on changes at an individual or organizational level, how will you ensure you appeal to both the Elephant and Rider?

Source:

  • Switch, How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath & Dan Heath; 2010
  • Website – heathbrothers.com/resources/

When Hardship Comes Calling

When everything seems to be going right, you feel nothing can stop you.

You’re on a roll. Life is busy and everything seems to be happening as you would like it to be, or even better. You’re in the middle of things, and people constantly seem to be around you. You can sense the increase in status, success and the feeling of being wanted and valued.

Then inevitably sooner or later, hardship comes calling in some format. It may be in the form of unexpected health, job issues or other other personal disruptions.

Everything seems to shift and become challenging during that phase. Life seems to bring forth lot more questions and uncertainty. Connections and friends don’t call you or connect as they used to earlier. They just don’t seem to have time. Some disappear. In this phase, you can feel most things not progressing as you would like them to and your internal graph continues to fall.

For the totally unprepared, these scenarios can be debilitating and shocking.

Life throws up surprises with all possibilities of good and bad. Most experienced and wise beings would share the opinion that life is a mix of ups and downs – nothing is constant.

On a more practical level, the question about hardships is not whether they will appear. It is about how you will respond when they appear and how much resilience you have to tide over them. Difficult phases seem to last longer and happier moments seem to pass by quicker.

When you work through hardships in a focused manner without finding reasons to blame others or circumstances and focus on things that you can control, your probability of getting out of these “holes” increases. Your energy levels normally become low during such situations and you need to find ways to find sources of higher energy levels – physically, mentally and spiritually. Everything ties into each other. Physical momentum seems to impact mental momentum.

When the going gets really tough, normally your closest friends, family or connections will be the ones to give you their valuable listening ears, guidances, helping hands and shoulders. It is also a time when you need to remember to ask and stay open for help from any quarter without judgment. The ones who care about you will ensure you are on their agenda.

Your hardships provide strong opportunities for learning to cope and rebound from frustration and despair. Hardships lead to the discovery/confirmation of your core beliefs, values, and what defines and matters most for you. There are always things that you can do something about and it helps to focus on them, however small they may seem.

In the end, it is not about how the world sees or defines you. It is about how you see yourself and your life. Your life and search for meaning are unique experiences that only you can experience and complete. When we look back at our hardships, we realize that those hardships helped define us more than our good times.

The wiser, mature beings are those who have worked their way through hardships and understand the depth of such scenarios. Their magnanimity, abundance mindset and gratitude are also influenced by those experiences. The depth of their hardships (especially if life/death situations are involved) faced and their journeys can be observed in the way they interact with the world. Our society needs more wiser beings.

Our lives perhaps facilitate the evolution of our souls.

Best wishes…

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“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”, Anne Bradstreet, The Works of Anne Bradstreet (GoodReads)

Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference…

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Easiest Way To Be Visible On LinkedIn And Add Value

I know many connections who are hesitant and uncertain about how to be visible on LinkedIn. They also doubt if there is anything valuable to offer.

Here’s the simplest way to be visible and add value for yourself, your organization and your LinkedIn network.

“Like”, “Share” or “Comment” on helpful updates, posts and articles from your network or people you follow.

These updates don’t need to be about you or your organization alone. When you “Like”, “Share” or “Comment” on an update from someone in your network, it appears on the LinkedIn feed of your network (many times, they go even beyond your first degree connections).

You may decide to act only on certain topics and from individuals you feel totally comfortable with.

These may be:

  • Job opening updates (not just limited to your area of work or organization, think about your network)
  • Key updates about your organization and others as well
  • Interesting, helpful articles or posts that you come across
  • Points of view or observations, including your own

It may help to know your network better. You also don’t need to go overboard – just one or two actions per week may be a good start.

It is also important to keep in mind always – “What you choose to share says something about you.” 

As you do this more and more, and consistently, it not only makes you more visible to your network but also brings value in terms of useful information, learning or awareness from your sphere (however small it may seem). Your name/brand also becomes more familiar to your network (sometimes, even beyond your first degree connections) over time. You also attract other connections who may share similar interests from different parts of the world. I’ve noticed and experienced this firsthand.

Overall in any network, it is important to not just be consumers. Think about contributing as well, in your own way. Start small. That will make you and your network richer, more aware and wiser. When there are more consumers and contributors in a network, the end result is a “win” for everyone.

Talent Magnets – Who Are They & Why Are They Important

“Talent magnets” are those people in organizations with whom most stakeholders, internally and externally want to engage, connect and work for. They tend to be in all functions, irrespective of roles or seniority, and attract other talented and competent individuals to their organizations. It is not surprising to notice that many successful organizations (profit, non-profit or government) have talent magnets in many leadership or management roles. Employees, consultants, contractors, partners, communities and customers prefer to work with such talent magnets and, they play a key role in retaining other talented individuals. Talent magnets in leadership roles often deliver tremendous unrecognized value to their organization’s brand and culture. In today’s fast changing and increasingly digital world, they play a critical role in their organization’s success.

So, what are some key characteristics and behaviors of talent magnets?

These are some of my observations from three continents.

  • Talent magnets encourage diversity and culture of inclusion. They do not expect or encourage others to be similar to them. They encourage authenticity.
  • They treat everyone with respect, and are caring. When someone needs a helping hand, they offer genuine support.
  • They are willing to share responsibility and recognition.
  • They have humility, acknowledge their mistakes, and seem accessible and vulnerable. When a correction has to happen with a team member, they are willing to have respectful, engaging, sometimes difficult developmental conversations.
  • They are emotionally intelligent, do not jump to quick conclusions and are open to listening to different perspectives. They do not blindly push their own agenda.
  • They try to constantly understand and work toward the larger picture, while executing their deliverables. While reflecting on the context and what is best for the organization, their actions sometimes may hurt their own individual short term standing or official objectives (KRAs) but they may still consciously choose to benefit the larger cause.
  • They don’t play politics but acknowledge, recognize and navigate related elements maturely themselves while helping others. They encourage collaboration internally and externally, and do not pit one team against the other. They manage through negative or toxic environments effectively and neutralize or positively energize team members and environments.
  • They establish and encourage fairness, and take a strong stand against unfair practices and behaviors. They are willing to initiate and engage in respectful conversations with other stakeholders.
  • They are reliable and stick to their word. If for some reason something promised or committed changes, they openly try to explain, discuss and clarify directly with the related individual(s).
  • They are open to continuous learning and encourage others to improve. They recognize the unique strengths and differentiating competencies that team members bring to work. In short, they build confidence. Other talented people feel more secure and seem to flourish under and after them.
  • They sometimes go beyond the organization’s stated policies and guidelines to bring in and nurture talent, when very convinced about the potential.
  • They build long term relationships, which goes beyond a single organization.

As a result, talent magnets also hold higher influence within and outside their organizations. Most stakeholders become willing to listen to their perspectives and suggestions seriously.

On the other side of the scale, there are “talent repellers”, who most stakeholders seem to try to avoid, even though they may sometimes be highly competent individuals. The challenge here is that any seeming result happens for short term, with possible toxic environments and unsustainable ways of working.

Would you want to work with a talent magnet? Would you aspire to become one? Are there any other characteristics or behaviors that you notice?

Leadership In The Digital Age

 

There is a lot of discussion about “digital” currently and how it influences or impacts leadership.

Both the terms “leadership” and “digital” can be interpreted in different ways. Before we get to the details, it first helps to get to a shared understanding about what digital means.

A July 2015 McKinsey article stressed the importance of business leaders having a clear and common understanding of exactly what digital means to them and, as a result, what it means to their business. The authors believed that digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things. The three attributes of digital are: creating value at the new frontiers of the businesscreating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences, and building foundational capabilities (digital mindset and technology) that support the entire structure.

The authors of the book, “Leading Digital” share the definition of digital transformation as the use of digital technology to radically improve the performance and/or the reach of a company. Digital technology is radically changing and challenging businesses in various sectors, many times at high speed. According to them, the time to start digital mastery is now. The longer you wait as a firm, the tougher it will become and you will fall behind.

So, what do leading experts like Manfred de Vries, Josh Bersin, Zenger Folkman, Charlene Li think about leadership in the digital world?

  • Digital is not technology but a different way of thinking.
  • The traditional hierarchical model of leadership is disintegrating.
  • Leadership no longer defined by what a single leader does – it is more about the ability to collaborate, motivate and manage networks.
  • It is also about decentralizing leadership and connected networks of teams. Leadership behavior needs to be distributed throughout an organization.
  • Employees want more ownership rather than to follow instruction.
  • Leaders have to be good at the coaching part of their job.
  • Key Behaviors in the digital environment – Speed, Collaboration, External Sensing, Being Inclusive, Creating Open Environment.
  • There will be gaps in the leadership pipeline in this environment and due to the radical changes. It is very important to identify the gaps and work on them.
  • Being organized correctly with the right organization structure, right jobs, right people in those jobs are critical factors for success.
  • Leadership development professionals should have a strong context about what is going on in their external and internal environments. Developing leaders is about looking at the whole system, not just L&D or HR.
  • Organizations which take leadership development seriously outperform their competition. Strong leadership requires continuous development.

Charlene Li’s (Altimeter Group) simple yet powerful (digital) engaged leader framework highlights three core elements worth trying out for any aspiring leader.

1. Listening at scale – Leaders can listen and respond, not to just one person, but many at a time. It is about listening to support your goals.

2. Sharing to shape people’s mindsets and actions – Sharing forges connections with followers that improves relationships, achieve goals, and amplifies a leader’s influence.  The big shift that leaders have to make is to be more comfortable with openness.  Sharing has to help spread authenticity, emotion and point of view.

3. Engaging to transform – Leaders have to use two-way dialogue that motivates and mobilizes followers to take collective action.

What actions will you take for yourself and your organization to become a competent leader in the digital age?

“When you’re a disruptor, you move into your fear, not away…” – Whitney Johnson, Disrupt Yourself

 

References:

http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/what-digital-really-means

http://www.slideshare.net/capgemini/didier-bonnet-oow-leading-digital-presentation

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-right-leadership-style-for-the-digital-age/

http://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/evolving-leadership-in-the-digital-age-4611

http://zengerfolkman.com/podcast-ep-63-developing-leaders-in-the-digital-age-feat-josh-bersin/

http://www.slideshare.net/INBOUND/ie15-c-charlene-li-final

The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Digital Transformation

3 Basics In Interpersonal Communication

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I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to interact with people from multiple cultural and professional backgrounds, across various levels and roles. In my observation, the quality of interpersonal communication in any form varies tremendously and few fundamentals are often missed in organisations, irrespective of the roles or command over language. This may lead to frustration, misunderstanding and even conflict in organizations, internally or with partners. The less you know someone personally, the more cautious and aware you need to be. The more you know someone personally, it is important to not take them for granted.  Great individual examples always stand out in our minds and memories.

Here are three basic starting points to think about.

1. When you call or connect with someone for the first time in any form, try to explain the context or background along with the introduction first. I’ve noticed many times when a customer service call comes in, the representative jumps straight to questions (with even questions that feel personal) without explaining the reason and background for the call. On social media, new LinkedIn or Facebook invites are often sent without any introductory message, leaving the receiver to figure out (especially if you haven’t met or connected in the past).

2. When someone you know tries to contact you, it is helpful to respond, even if it is a one liner saying you’re very busy currently. If you may not have clarity to respond regarding a question, it helps to say so. It is also helpful to manage expectations by referring to timeframes, if you think it will take time to respond. People should not feel that their messages went into a black hole and are left to decipher what that may mean. On the other hand, it also helps the sender to follow-up to ensure that it may not have been accidentally missed.

3. Related to the topic of givers and takers, it is not sustainable to just be a taker mostly. There are some people who seem to be happy as long as they receive help and support from others but when they receive a negative response or one that does not satisfy their needs, they miss to acknowledge and respond. It is important to acknowledge in any scenario and still thank someone for their time and interest for thinking and responding to you. It also worthwhile to ask yourself how you can as well be of help to others.

One may need to keep in mind that every action or lack of it, contributes to personal brand and reputation. Some people in positions of power unconsciously allow arrogance to creep into their communication (or lack of it). Everyone should receive the benefit of doubt, until proven otherwise through a noticeable trail of behaviors. We may be conditioned to pick up negatives faster than positives.

As we all work with so many different personalities, preferences and behaviors, it is valuable to get few consistent basic approaches in place, to avoid misunderstandings. We also live in an interconnected world where one’s personal or leadership brand image may actually travel long distances.

I still remember the time in university when I sent Daniel Goleman, author of multiple books including Emotional Intelligence (with no prior connection or influence) a note asking if he would be available and interested in joining a student event. It was a pleasant surprise and felt great to receive his assistant’s response next day and then Daniel himself in a couple of days, sharing that he would not be able to make it due to a hectic schedule. That left a strong impression. I also remember a time at work when someone I looked up to went totally missing (for probably good personal reason) during very challenging times, even when just presence and caring enquiries would have made a big difference. These experiences do leave long lasting impressions.

In any sphere of life (especially if you are a leader), how do you find opportunities in interpersonal communication to influence or impact other lives?

Would you have any notes of advice to share from your experiences?

Best wishes…

Leadership Trust At Any Level – 6 “Be”s

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(Posted on LinkedIn on October 21, 2014.  Modified version of a previous post on www.tojoeapen.com/blog.)

One of the most common leadership questions and challenges we come across in organizations is “How do I/we build trust?”.

This is a topic that will be constantly revisited by many, in personal and professional lives. Trust can be built more consciously through repeated, consistent actions. Every action and behavior can contribute to building or breaking trust. When a healthy mass of leaders practice trust building behaviors in an organization, it starts to shift and impact the culture positively. You can also build some of these aspects into organizational practices and systems.

1. Be visible.
Don’t get too busy with meetings and spend most time within closed doors. All stakeholders, especially your team members have a high need to see their leaders, even more when uncertainty is high. As human beings, visibility is reassuring and, builds certainty and confidence.

2. Be respectful. 
Being respectful in your direct and virtual interactions, irrespective of organizational levels are major acknowledgments and motivators for individuals. The deeper you go in an organization, the more charged up and motivated individuals feel when leaders find time for them. Respecting personal space and feelings, especially during difficult phases go a long way to building commitment and trust.

3. Be aware (of self and impact of your behaviors and actions on others).
Take time to understand yourself, what drives you, your values, principles, strengths and development areas. Self awareness is the starting point of any personal development. Next stage is to understand others around you and the impact of your behaviors on them. Trust is a two way street and someone needs to extend a hand forward first to get the process of interactions into motion. It becomes even more powerful when you extend your hand first.

4. Be authentic (consistent in behaviors and actions). 
Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else. Most people are smart enough to see through ‘fake’ and artificial personalities. This does not indicate the license to do whatever to be yourself, rather this is about being aligned to your values and principles. Practice what you preach. Admit mistakes with accountability when they happen and share recognition when success is achieved. Explain your thinking approach because people may think differently about a certain topic and struggle to see the rationale in another person’s point of view.

5. Be open (to discussions, while being conscious of biases).
Having the openness to discuss aspects that you may not agree with and have a strong view about, may help you see different possibilities and ideas. Sometimes, it helps to be open about the fact that you have a strong view for a certain reason. It also encourages others to share ideas and thoughts without fear. Presence of fear and defensiveness are among the biggest barriers to trust. It becomes more difficult to share mistakes that may come to haunt you later, or to speak up when the perceived power distance or threat of repercussion seems high. Being vulnerable, even to some extent is a big factor for others to see your humanness and increases accessibility.

6. Be fair (in your approach and communicate clearly, especially tough choices).
People can live with tough choices if they feel it was based on a fair process and they’re not being misled into believing so. Many times, lack of visibility on the process or the way it was communicated or an absence of it, results in difficult scenarios and contradictions for everyone involved.

To easily remember, we can also use the acronym ‘FAAVOR‘ (Fair, Aware, Authentic, Visible, Open, Respectful).

It is valuable to reflect constantly. Taking out some thinking time with yourself, your close connections, coaches or mentors can help you in finding more clarity. We all have different scenarios to think about and there are no perfect solutions. Observing, reflecting and adjusting our approaches accordingly would help to figure out an appropriate approach for our environment.

Over time and with practice, building trust becomes achievable and impactful through a concrete set of actions.

 

Changing Jobs? Notes for an effective transition

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Posted on LinkedIn on September 22, 2014.

We seem to be in an era of constant changes with shorter cycles of stability.

Organizations are constantly changing to respond to market needs and competition – repositioning, differentiating, streamlining, reorganizing and restructuring. In effect, there is a much higher demand on individual efforts. As a result, individuals are moving through different jobs with increasing frequency, many times with different companies. To survive and thrive in today’s hyper competitive world, the bar is constantly pushed higher.

At a personal level, it therefore becomes critical to understand the key elements for quick and effective transition across jobs and organizations, and develop the ability to learn and unlearn in shorter cycles.

Self awareness is the fundamental building block of any development process. According to Korn/Ferry, many business leaders continue to wrestle with a lack of self- awareness, a problem that can stall or even derail their careers. Armed with self-awareness, leaders can see themselves without deception or distortion. Barriers to self-awareness take two forms. Hidden strengths are the skills leaders have, but underestimate. This can cause such individuals to expend needless energy “fixing” something that isn’t broken or under-using a critical leadership skill. Blind spots, the skills that leaders overestimate, are more problematic. These are weaknesses leaders can’t see in themselves, even though they are evident to everyone around them. Distorted or inflated self-perception is a widespread problem.

Peter Drucker wrote, “Knowledge becomes obsolete incredibly fast.”

If we look across, most jobs have the following core learning components that are critical for effective delivery.

* SUBJECT MATTER/BODY OF KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS
Every job involves specific and core subject matter areas. These could most effectively be acquired and applied through a combination of on-the-job experiences and learning programs. For leadership roles, it is important to recognize and plug the knowledge gaps in the team, especially when a leader does not have deep expertise in the related areas.

* PROCESSES
Every organisation has a set of processes for most functional areas. Most of the work nowadays is defined through process flows. Building a good understanding of the organisational process flows allow us to determine what we need to do and how it impacts stakeholders.

* TOOLS/TECHNOLOGY
All organisations and jobs have specific tools and technologies that support work. They generally tend to follow the processes. Having a good understanding of how they work and are applied could substantially increase overall efficiency of one’s functioning.

Sometimes, basic processes or tools create the most frustration in a new environment. I’ve seen new employees frustrated with reimbursement process, time sheets or sometimes even with the difficulty in connecting to a local printer.

* PERSONAL NETWORKS 
This is one of the most important elements. It includes both internal and external networks of our personal connections that allow us to function with a high degree of awareness and effectiveness. In many instances, the personal networks are critical for avoiding organizational ‘landmines’, converting the perception of a new ‘threat’ to ally, achieving the extra mile of success and for managing crises. In most instances, people support beyond the specified requirements of a process when there is a strong connection. These connections are also critical links to tacit knowledge that’re often unavailable in formal knowledge management systems or databases. Treating individuals with respect and empathy normally will result in valuable help and inputs on the organizational culture, especially during the tough transition phase.

* EXPERIENCE, WISDOM 
This could involve our combination of the above components and gained through the application of knowledge in a variety of situations, reflection, interactions with people at different levels, environments and learning/adjusting from successes and failures (what has worked/not worked?) over time. This is very important for managers and leaders as a lot of judgment is involved in making quick decisions on topics which may not have defined answers for the specific environment.

Korn/Ferry also found that personal flexibility is the core of one’s ability to grow and improve. People with this trait not only hear and respond to feedback but actively seek it. They also pick up on clues from other people or the situation and adapt their approach as needed. Studies have repeatedly shown that the ability to learn from experience is what differentiates successful executives from unsuccessful ones. They learn faster, not because they are more intelligent, but because they have more effective learning skills and strategies.

References:
1. Changing Jobs?, February 2010 http://www.tojoeapen.com/blog/2010/02/
2. The Korn/Ferry Insititute: Illuminating blind spots and hidden strengths by J. Evelyn Orr, Victoria V. Swisher, King Yii Tang, and Kenneth P. De Meuse http://www.kornferryinstitute.com/sites/all/files/documents/briefings-magazine-download/Illuminating%20blind%20spots%20and%20hidden%20strengths%20.pdf
3. The Korn/Ferry Insititute: Using Learning Agility to Identify High Potentials around the World by K. P. De Meuse, Guangrong Dai, George S. Hallenbeck, King Yii Tang http://www.successfactors.com/static/docs/LearningAgilityResearchWhitepaper.pdf

3 Omnipresent Leadership Coaching Scenarios

Posted on LinkedIn on September 16, 2014

We see these scenarios play out in organizations every day but leaders seldom seem to act with urgency or seriousness to support development for themselves or their teams through impactful coaching. Effective leadership impacts multiple lives, not just of employees but also their families and beyond. As we experience ourselves, emotions can be contagious and many times, our good and bad emotions stay with us beyond work.

The three most common leadership coaching scenarios I’ve observed in organizations, irrespective of locations around the world:

1. Strong Individual Contributor but Weak Leadership

2. Strong Technical/Analytic Skills but Weak Emotional Intelligence, Social, Communication Skills

3. Strong Execution but Weak Strategic and Long-term Thinking Skills

Would you agree?

Ignoring these weaknesses could lead to major derailers for leaders and organizations.

I have little doubt that disengagement in organizations stems from poor leadership and HR practices. Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workplace report found that only 30% of American employees, 15% of German employees, 9% of French employees, 6% of Chinese employees, 11% of Korean employees, and 9% of India’s employees were engaged at work actively sharing their best ideas and giving their all for high performance.

For leaders, it is important to recognize that building self-awareness requires a lot of work. The issue becomes compounded when leaders don’t seek feedback in the right manner and are surrounded by ‘yes’ people. In addition, they don’t receive adequate support or the ‘safe zone’ to reflect and modify their approaches. This leaves many teams and organizations with unresolved toxic emotions and issues.

If you are a leader or HR professional, please consider placing leadership coaching support and related skills high on your agenda – for yourself and others.

Have you encountered other common coaching scenarios?

Reference:
From Blue Ocean Strategy to Blue Ocean Leadership
http://knowledge.insead.edu/leadership-management/from-blue-ocean-strategy-to-blue-ocean-leadership-3577

A World Of Constant Changes, Uncertainties And Disruptions

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Modified version of the original post on ‘The Illusion of Work’ Blog.

We all go through many changes in life, both positive ones and those that are tough and challenging. None of us look forward to disruption in our lives.However, sometimes, we don’t seem to have much control of what life brings to our doorsteps. As much as we prepare to face difficulties, it takes a lot of energy and effort.

What are some basic, helpful steps when the world around seems to be chaotic, with things running out of control?

1. Taking The Time To Reflect and Be Grounded

When the whole world around seems to be rocky, one needs to find ways to feel grounded by finding moments of peace, silence and calmness. Consciously taking the time to reflect (individually or with a trusted connection), understanding the big picture, avoiding unrealistic panic from taking over by putting things into context/perspective, remembering what is really important to oneself in the overall scheme of things, acknowledging good aspects of life, and focusing on things that one has control over are some ways to progress meaningfully. It’s worthwhile to breathe deep, take a step back, and spend some time to think about our overall direction and focus.

2. Finding One’s ‘Secure Bases’

The term “secure base” comes from the post-war attachment theory research of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. According to this theory, all humans have an innate desire to seek closeness to and comfort from a person who gives them a sense of protection. This becomes especially relevant during tough and challenging times. George Kohlrieser and team defined “secure base” as ‘a person, place, goal or object that provides a sense of protection, safety and caring and offers a source of inspiration and energy for daring, exploration, risk taking and seeking challenge.’ In tough times, secure bases can come in the form of close friends, relatives, colleagues, teachers, coaches or leaders. They could also play an important role in providing a ‘safe zone’ to explore new paths and build momentum towards positive actions and outcomes.

3. Maintaining Physical & Mental fitness

Research suggests that staying physically active leads to better physical and mental states. According to John J Ratey, MD, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, adding exercise to your lifestyle sparks your brain function to improve learning on three levels. First, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, mood, and motivation. Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information. Third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells. Building exercise routines with a peer group or acquaintances increases the probability of consistency. When feeling low, getting fresh air into our system or spending time in nature can be refreshing.

Studies on meditation find that if practiced consistently, it has a huge impact on overall individual wellbeing, recovery and happiness. The practice of mindfulness meditation by trying to simply focus on own breath (non-judgmental observation) is a highly effective way to counter the panic and stress button in my brain from taking over. Tony Schwartz recommends in his HBR article (Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time) that deep abdominal breathing is helpful in defusing negative emotions. Exhaling slowly for five or six seconds induces relaxation and recovery, and turns off the fight-or-flight response. Dr. David Rock indicates in his book, ‘Your Brain at Work’ that a person’s capacity to use his or her brain effectively can be impaired under conditions of peak stress or anxiety. Our self-awareness muscle can be developed in everyday life by paying attention to the relationship between how we feel and what we do. Calming ourselves down or quieting the mind will help us to be highly effective.

4. Focus, Inspiration and Humor

Neuroscience studies support the notion that our focus is fundamental – focusing on inspiring, positive thoughts have a higher probability of spurring us towards action. Once ideas and insights flow out from our thinking, we have to follow it up with small, practical actions quickly. A general feeling of expecting good things generates a healthy level of dopamine and may be the neurochemical marker of feeling happy. When the going gets tough, even small moments of inspiration and humor can go a long way. Inspiration can come in different forms. It is important to keep an open mind and proactively seek them out as well – in the form of stories, books, movies, pets, real life role models and experiences. Humor tends to defuse stress and we immediately feel a bit lighter. It is also contagious. An important related choice is in considering with whom or where we spend our time. The book, ‘How Full Is Your Bucket’ states that 9 out of 10 people say they are more productive when they’re around positive people.

As we all know, no two human beings are the same. The effectiveness of change practices, how we cope with stress, and related solutions vary with preferences, individual personalities and environments. It is also important to recognize and act quickly when we ourselves or someone around needs professional support. This could unfortunately be an extremely difficult step in many places due to the fear of social stigma and negative attitudes in society. Understanding and compassion are critical.

What has helped you to personally navigate through challenging scenarios?

Wishing you the very best in your journey…

“Your joy is divine, and so is your suffering. There’s so much to be learned from both.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

References

  1. Secure Bases
    http://www.tlnt.com/2012/10/23/secure-base-leadership-what-it-means-and-why-it-really-matters/
  2. Your Brain At Work (Book) by Dr. David Rock
  3. NeuroLeadership Institute Website –http://www.neuroleadership.org/index.shtml
  4. Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, Harvard Business Review Article
    http://hbr.org/2007/10/manage-your-energy-not-your-time/ar/1
  5. Exercise and the Brain
    http://www.sparkinglife.org/
  6. Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn (Video of a session on Mindfulness at Google) And Multiple Books Published http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc
  7. How Full Is Your Bucket? (Book) by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton

 

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