Helping leaders emerge



How to Know if You’re Making Progress in Your Meditation Practice!

Worried about your meditation practice? Are you making progress? And is it worth it?

Assess your practice by asking yourself the following questions by Joseph Goldstein:

  1. Are you less immediately reactive in difficult or stressful situations, both in meditation and in life?
  2. Overtime, are you generally becoming aware of the wandering mind, more quickly in the sittings?
  3. In daily life, the feeling of rushing is a good feedback that we’re ahead of ourselves not beings settled back in our bodies, do you find that your rushing less often or becoming aware of it, more quickly?
  4. Is there more awareness with your speech, perhaps refraining a little more frequently from angry or judgmental speech?
  5. Is there a little more openness in being with other people, more willing to listen?
  6. Are you becoming a little more familiar with the qualities of calm and concentration in the practice?
  7. Are you using the tool of mental noting, is it becoming a little more continuous, at least for periods of time? Is the tone of the note becoming softer?
  8. Is there a little more ease in being with whatever arises in your meditation practice, simply noting it for what it is?
  9. Is it a little easier to sit longer?
  10. Are you becoming somewhat more aware of the changing nature of all experience and holding onto things a little less?

Source: As told by Dan Harris in his Ten Percent Happier Podcast #184, click here for more information.

The Science Behind Gratitude

Our family has a Thanksgiving tradition where each person shares around the dinner table what they are grateful for and why.

If you don’t have this tradition, you might consider it because research suggests gratitude activates our parasympathetic (rest and digest) system and positively impacts our brains:

  • Improving general well-being,
  • Increasing resilience,
  • Strengthening social relationships,
  • Facilitating more efficient sleep, and
  • Reducing stress and depression.

Shawn Achor, a Harvard educated happiness researcher who works with Fortune 100 companies, suggests the following tips for cultivating gratitude.

  • Journal – Each day, journal about one meaningful experience by writing down three specific details about it. It’s called the doubler because the brain doubles the experience, and you get to relive the experience. And, according to Achor, you only need one positive memory to judge the overall day as meaningful!
  • Express Gratitude – Each day find three new things you are grateful for and why. Achor calls this the 45–second disrupter, claiming the practice of spending 45–seconds (about the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth) on what you are grateful for and why, three times a day, has the power to transform someone from being a low level pessimist to low level optimist in just 21 days! The key is to find new things (which retrains your brain to scan the environment for positive experiences) and the why (which attaches positive meaning to everyday experiences that could be overlooked or taken for granted).
  • Write a Two Minute Note – Each day praise, recognize, or thank someone by writing them a short email note or text. Achor claims this is the most powerful habit.

For more information, I recommend listening to The 10% Happier Podcast #156: The Science Behind Gratitude with Shawn Achor and Dan Harris.

Tough Conversations

Being able to have tough conversations is an important part of being an effective leader – whether at work, in our communities, or at home with family members. Most people shy away from engaging in difficult conversations because it often feels uncomfortable and/or like they are being unkind. But to quote Brene’ Brown: clear is kind and unclear is unkind.

The key to being able to have tough conversations is being clear about what you want to say and how you are want to say it, and having a set of thoughtful questions makes the process more effective and easier – and will help manage anxiety around having the conversation.

Recently, a client struggled with one of his direct reports who was gaining a reputation for taking over meetings, not listening to other colleagues, and shutting down discussions. As a result, team members did not feel like their opinions were heard or valued, not committed to final decisions and not fully engaged in their work.

My client decided to provide the tough feedback to his direct report – he wanted to see if he could help her shift her behavior from thinking she always knew the best solution on her own to one where she was being more collaborative through active listening, asking questions, and engaging others for their point of view.

My client used the following framework to prepare himself for having the tough conversation with his direct report (see below for his process). This framework was developed over a series of workshops I led for an organization on having critical conversations. Personally, I have used this framework successfully whether at work, at home, and in the school system with teachers as I’ve advocated for my son and daughter.

Steps for Preparing for Tough Conversations

How do I want to “show up” for this meeting? What are 3-5 things I would like to hear the other person (or a fly on the wall) say about me after the meeting? Able to give the tough feedback, empathetic, fair, supportive, and calm.

What do I want? What is my goal for this meeting? What does success look like from my point of view? To deliver the tough feedback and see if she is able to hear me and willing to change her behavior. Get information– understand that she may or may not be able to hear the feedback, so I need to remain grounded and calm regardless.

What does the other person want? What might a successful meeting look like from the other person’s point of view? To be recognized as a a valued leader within the organization. To be able to hear the feedback in a way that she is inspired (versus embarrassed or shamed) in order to make a change in her behavior to be a better leader.

What is best for the relationship? What can I say or do in order to bring in a sense of generosity, enhance the relationship, and lead to more trust? I believe this to be a blind spot of hers and not consistent with what I know of her values as a person and that I believe her behaviors are not consistent with her intentions.

What is best for the business? What are the needs of the business? That her job as a leader is not to know everything – or even be the expert – but to depend on her team for their expertise. Best for the business if everyone feels like they have a chance to contribute in meetings – team needs to feel like they are listened to and that they are valued for their opinions .

How can I be honest and respectful? How will I demonstrate that I’m listening to the other person? What do I want to communicate via my body language and tone? How might my need to be liked get in the way of having a tough conversation? I will start from a place of generosity and respect and share that I think this is a blind spot and make sure she does not think I am judging or shaming her. I will share a situation of my own development if it is helpful and appropriate. I will be careful to use the right tone and not show up as aggressive or harsh.

How do I minimize drama? What do I need to refrain from saying that might trigger the other person and make them feel defensive? What are my watch-outs? I need to be sensitive and make sure she has time and space to process. I will make sure that I make this about leadership development – that we all have things we are working on. I will offer support and resources so that she can work on changing her behavior.

How do I remain calm? How will I prepare myself for the meeting and what will I do so I don’t go into reactive mode? If I do get triggered, how will I get centered again? I will remind myself that this is an important conversation and be okay with feeling uncomfortable. I will take a short walk before the meeting. During the meeting I will focus on my breath and feet on the floor to stay grounded. If things get heated, I will suggest a coffee or bathroom break to give us both time to get centered.

Aimless Love by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door—
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor—
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

Boundaries and Trust

Setting boundaries and establishing trust are a challenging and important part of being an effective leader – whether at work, in the community, or in our families.

An executive client recently found these video clips by Brene’ Brown inspiring and helpful, so I’m sharing in this month’s blog. In case you don’t know her, Brene’ Brown, PhD LMSW, is a research professor at the University of Houston and an author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead.

Setting Boundaries
Brown shares why boundaries matter and how research suggests that the most compassionate people have the best boundaries. Brown defines boundaries as what’s okay versus what’s not okay. And that boundaries enable us to be loving and generous versus being resentful and hateful. Click here to learn more and watch Boundaries by Brene’ Brown (six minute video clip).

The Anatomy of Trust and Braving Connection
Brown defines trust as choosing to make something that is important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else and that trust is built in very small moments throughout our lives.

Brown shares her acronym BRAVING connection as a tool to create trust and build connection. Click here to watch The Anatomy of Trust by Brown (23 minute video clip but worth the time!)

  • Boundaries: I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them AND you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them
  • Reliability: I can only trust you if you do what you say you are going to do consistently – over and over again
  • Accountability: I can only trust you if when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends
  • Vault: I can only trust you if what I share with you, you hold in confidence and what you share with me, I will hold in confidence
  • Integrity: Trust involves three things one: you choose courage over comfort; two: choose what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; three: practice your values, not just profess them
  • Non–Judgment: I can only trust you if help is reciprocal and without judgment. I can fall apart and ask for help and be in struggle without being judged by you and you can fall apart and ask for help and be in struggle without being judged by me
  • Generosity: Our relationship is only a trusting relationship if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors and then check in with me

For the Meditators

  • Click here to listen to my two favorite meditation guys – Jack Kornfield and Dan Harris on Love, Death, Tech, and Psychedelics from Ten Percent Happier Podcast #204

Consider The Generosity Of The One-Year-Old

Consider The Generosity Of The One-Year-Old

who has no words to exchange with you yet
and instead offers up her favorite drooled-on blanket,
her green rhinoceros as big as she is,
her cloth doll with the long blond pigtails,
her battered cardboard books, swung open on their soggy pages.

If you were outdoors she would hand you a dead beetle,
a fistful of grass, a pebble,
by way of introduction or just because.
And if, a moment later, she wanted it back,
it would be for the joy of the game
that makes of every simple object an offering:
This is me. Here is who I am.

In the same way, sun
drapes a buttered scarf across your face,
rose opens herself to your glance,
and rain shares its divine melancholy.
The whole world keeps whispering or shouting to you,
nibbling your ear like a neglected lover,

while you worry over matters of finance,
of “relationship,”
important issues related to getting and spending,
having and hoarding,

though you were once that baby,
though you are still that world.

By Alison Luterman

Listening as a Radical Act

Active listening is something that everyone struggles with and most executives include as part of their leadership coaching plan.

In the age of iPhones, email, texts, constant notifications, and Twitter “shouting contests,” truly listening can be a tremendous a gift, both for the speaker and listener.

I think listening starts with desire to be a better listener and also includes an ability to turn down our internal chatter so we are able to be present, engaged, and focused on what the other person is trying to communicate. Not a simple task.

Yoga, meditation, journaling, and exercise are excellent ways to settle and calm our minds, show up more present, and ultimately listen better.

Tools to Become a Better Listener

  • Click here to hear Jon Kabat-Zinn talk about Listening as a Radical Act of Love (six minutes). JKZ, a PhD in molecular biologist from MIT, is a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher who is known for bringing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) into the mainstream of medicine and society.
  • Click here to watch a short clip by Simon Sinek on Why Effective Leaders Speak Last, especially in the boardroom (< two minutes)
  • Click here to read A Simple and Powerful Technique for Better Listening

7 Practices of a Mindful Leader

Recently I listened to Marc Lesser, The Zen Priest with an MBA, speak with Dan Harris on 10% Happier podcast episode #184 (click to listen). I enjoyed the podcast so much, I bought Lesser’s book, The Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader that evolved out of his work helping create Search Inside Yourself Leadership, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence program at Google.

And this is why – Marc Lesser speaks about the tension between being and doing; his love of work; the importance of cultivating compassion, clarity, self–awareness, and a deeper connection to others – and how a mindfulness practice can decrease anxiety and increases one’s ability to lead with the ever–increasing complexity and demands that all leaders face both at work and at home.

The Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader by Marc Lesser

1. Love the work. Start with inspiration, with what is most essential. Acknowledge and cultivate aspiration – your deepest, most heartfelt intentions.

2. Do the work. Have a regular meditation and mindfulness practice. Learn to respond appropriately at work and in all parts of your life. Lesser recommends meditation, walking meditation, and journal writing – emphasizing the importance of spending some amount of time just sitting, without any of the activity or stimulation of exercise.

3. Don’t be an expert. Let go of thinking you are right. Step in to greater wonder, openness, and vulnerability. The quote “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” by Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki captures this concept beautifully.

4. Connect to your pain. Don’t avoid the pain that comes from being human. Transform pain into learning and opportunity.

5. Connect to the pain of others. Don’t avoid the pain of others. Embody a profound connection to all humanity and life.

6. Depend on others. Let go of a false sense of independence. Both empower others and be empowered by others to foster healthy group dynamics.

7. Keep making it simpler. Let go of a mindset of scarcity. Integrate mindfulness practice and results.

Always love to hear from you – feel free to email me and let me know how things are going!

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