Helping leaders emerge



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!

The Benefits of Meditation


Participants from previous meditation challenges shared receiving the following immediate benefits from meditating eight minutes per day over a 28 day period: 

  • General Health and Well Being 
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Kinder Nature to Self and Others
  • Positive Change in Mindset
  • Enhanced Productivity

More details below….

General Health and Well Being:

  • Better Sleep
  • Time of Refuge
  • Less Loneliness
  • Provides more daily healing and comfort

Emotional Regulation – managing stress and changing the nervous system:

  • Better able to deal with situations where others might push my buttons – I am able to step away and respond more constructively
  • I am able to remain more focused and calm during difficult situations

Kinder Nature – self and others – leads to better relationships:

  • More patient and thoughtful
  • More accepting of self and others
  • Kinder to myself and others

Change in Mindset:

  • Allows my brain to relax
  • In terms of managing disappointment, I’m able to acknowledge pain, accept the situation, let go of what I can’t control, and feel more grateful (versus blocking things out and numbing myself).
  • Provides perspective and philosophy
  • Pay more attention to beauty around me – like noticing a beautiful sunset

Enhanced Productivity – more effective life:

  • Improved memory
  • Focused on a singular task versus multi-tasking
  • Fresh perspective: bring a beginner’s mind approach to my work
  • Able to handle life’s daily pressures better
  • More accepting of unexpected situations that are given to me



The 28 Day Meditation Challenge*

Strengthen Your Existing Practice or Learn How to Meditate!

Starts June 21st

CLICK HERE to learn more and sign up!

Includes: mindfulness welcome kit, daily email with inspiring quotes, videos, and meditations, and a Google tracking sheet for accountability and community.

Be part of a virtual community: can be done from anywhere in the world!

Build up to 8 minutes per day, enough to create short term changes to your brain!

Entire $28 fee goes to Sheltered Yoga, a wonderful nonprofit whose mission is to improve emotional health and wellbeing of underserved communities.


Train Your Brain!

Every man can, if he so desires,
becomes the sculptor of his own brain.

– Santiago Ramon Y Cajal

I highly recommend reading Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Much Meditation Changes your Mind, Brain, and Body written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, both leading PhD scientists and New York Times–best selling authors.

In their book they share how meditation not only leads to pleasant mind states but also to altered traits, that is personality traits that remain and endure after meditation sessions have ended. And that with just two weeks of 8 minutes of daily meditation, participants can start experiencing short term changes to their brains, including less reaction to stress, better focus, less mind wandering, improved memory, more compassion, and less bodily inflammation.

On a more personal note, clients have shared receiving the following benefits from a meditation practice:

  • A self-awareness and awareness of the environment around them
  • A calmer, more grounded presence
  • Improved ability to regulate emotions, navigate difficult situations, and manage conflict
  • Gains in creativity and innovative thinking
  • Deeper active listening skills (being more present and patient)
  • More compassion towards others and less critical of one’s self
  • Improved concentration, engagement, and focus
  • Enhanced perspective (the ability to see different sides and points of view)
  • Stronger, richer, and more fulfilling relationships

More about Meditation …..

Meditation The practice of setting aside quiet time to calm our mind and relax our whole body by focusing on our breath, other body sensations, sound, sight, or mantra. Meditation is training for the mind; it involves an internal effort to self–regulate the mind; turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment.

Alexis Santos, meditation teacher and mindfulness expert, shares that meditators have three jobs:

  • Relate to Experience Skillfully To be in wise relationship with what is by not taking things so personally. Thoughts, emotions, and feelings come and go based on certain causes and conditions, so we can see things as being part of nature.
  • Develop Awareness Is the mind aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensations? Welcoming and accepting the present moment versus resisting.
  • Balance and Steady the Mind Anchoring the mind by focusing on the breath or something else like another body sensation, sound, sight, or mantra.

Mindfulness versus Meditation Mindfulness is a capacity of mind – a way of relating to whatever is happening – while meditation is an activity, a thing you do. If mindfulness is like strength training and flexibility, meditation is like running or going to the gym.

The Mind-Body Connection Routine stressors in the workplace – an abrasive email, a contentious conversation, a high-stakes meeting – feel as real and as threatening to us today as a potential attack from a saber tooth tiger did thousands of years ago. Whether it’s a tiger or an angry colleague, we have basically the same physiological response – that is, we get triggered, stressed, and go into a “fight or flight mode.”

To better understand how meditation positively affects your physiology and helps manage your triggers, consider these scientific findings:

Brain – The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, is responsible for handling our emotions. When we become triggered, we experience an “amygdala hijack.” Blood literally leaves our brain and moves towards our limbs, so we can either fight or flee. This also negatively impacts our memory and cognitive function. A regular meditation practice will improve your mental clarity and reduce the intensity and recovery time of stressful emotional triggers.

Heart – When we become triggered, the stress hormone cortisol is released, making us more susceptible to heart attack, stroke, and hypertension. A regular meditation practice will help you manage stress and its harmful effects by reducing cortisol levels in the bloodstream. This leads to slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure, helping you control your breathing and remain calm.

Immune System – A strong immune system is critical to maintaining overall health. Antibodies, which fight bacteria and viruses, are critical to a strong immune system. Meditation has been shown to boost activity in the areas of the brain that command the body’s immune system, making it work more effectively. Studies have also shown that meditation boosts antibodies in the blood.

Whether you want to strengthen your existing practice or learn how to meditate – consider joining the June 28 day Summer Meditation Challengeclick here for more information.

The Interrupter: Take the One–Minute Pause!

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

 – Victor Frankl

A leader recently shared with me the value of taking a one–minute pause before he spoke at board meetings so he could be more present, take a few deep calming breaths, create some space for himself, and respond in a more thoughtful, deliberate way. A Wharton student shared with me that she used the technique of taking a pause, focusing on her breath, and getting grounded in her body by feeling her fingertips to help her feel more calm during emotionally charged conversations.

Tara Brach, meditation psychologist and meditation teacher, speaks about how most things are really out of our control – even our thoughts, body sensations, and emotions – but because our mind is trainable, we can take control of how we respond to certain situations. She mentioned something called “the interrupter,” a mindful moment where we take a pause and respond to the situation at hand in an intentional way versus being stuck in autopilot or acting out based on our old patterns.

Tips around the one–minute interrupter!

  • Take a few deep breaths, with more focus on the exhale. This will help stop your fight/flight response, activate your parasympathetic (the rest and digest) system, regulate your emotions, and cultivate a sense of calm and well-being.
  • If you are in a conversation or meeting, and things get heated, request a short coffee or bathroom break to give yourself time to step away and settle your mind. Again, a few, slow, deep breaths will help interrupt the fight/flight response and facilitate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system.
  • Rather than mindlessly checking your phone, take a mindful minute to take a few deep breaths, get present, and feel centered. As a practice, because we’ve become so addicted to our phones, Tara Brach encourages us to skip once every four times we check our PDAs – and take a mindful pause.
  • At end of the day, right before you enter your home, take a moment, a few deep breaths, check in with yourself and ask – what’s my best intention for how I want to show up and be with myself, family, and/or others? Relaxed? Calm? Joyful? This is a great exercise to do anytime of day – either for yourself or before you meet with someone.
  • Here’s a simple four step approach – called STOP that I learned as part of my MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) training. It’s a simple way to be more deliberate and thoughtful about how you respond to any kind of moment – pleasant or stressful.
  1. Stop: Pause.
  2. Take a Breath: It might be half a breath, one breath or ten breaths – depends on the situation you are in and the pace of your experience, so trust your judgment and work with what you have.
  3. Observe: Notice what’s happening. Pay attention to and honor your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Say “YES” to this moment, accepting that it is here. Try to coexist with whatever you are noticing. The suffering comes in when we resist or want things to be different than they are.
  4. Proceed: What’s the appropriate response here given what you are noticing? What’s your best intention for this situation? Make a decision based on a deliberate choice versus habit.
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