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Expanding the Quality of Our Thoughts

These days, I am having to work hard at expanding the quality and sustainability of my thoughts — not only to help my clients navigate change, but also to stay focused and balanced as my own family is going through a bumpy period of transition.  So, I’m working on my ability to be comfortable with possibilities that I cannot yet see or imagine and on solidifying my thinking in ways that help me get to where I want to be.

Cognitive behavior therapy teaches us that our thoughts embed themselves into our words, our mindset and beliefs. And these, of course, fuel our behavior, attitudes and approaches to the world and how we react to things.

My personal vision and driving mission is to be a powerful and positive force that inspires, motivates and guides people to live their greatest potential as leaders of character and compassion.  But keeping my vision front and center and retaining my sense of priorities and empathy can easily get derailed in turbulent times.

So I’ve developed some practices that help me stay aligned to my inner vision and values, that ensure that my thinking and focus is of the highest quality, and that supports my sense of who I am, and more importantly, where I want to go.

  1. Build in “thinking time” every day – this is specifically a quiet time, with no distractions (phone off, no one around, no calls) to actually THINK and REFLECT about things – maybe even just gazing out the window, but really thinking about what I want to do, why and how.
  2. Double up on contemplative practices, particularly those which involve physical activity – I go for long walks in the beautiful Parco di Monza, which allows me to be immersed in nature, but also get the physical outlet of nervous energy.  What works for you? – Yoga? A run on the beach or on vibrant city streets? Dancing in your living room?  Singing at the top of your voice?

    Our minds and bodies are very closely connected, and being attentive to them together allows you to access different ways of thinking and knowing things, before you can even see them cognitively.

  3. Use mind-maps to help me think through things.  I prefer mind-maps to lists, or other ways of writing out issues, because it requires fewer words, shows inter-connections and, most of all, lets you expand your thinking and show the various co-concurrences of items.  Also, many of my mind-maps have questions coming from them – leaving room for further thinking.
  4. Talk, laugh, and share with your closest friends. One of the most priceless gifts in my life is having a network of close friends who give me support, feedback, perspective and love. I choose these friends very carefully; not everyone has earned the privilege of hearing my deepest thoughts and feelings.  When you find your people, cultivate and care for these relationships carefully and with great diligence – they will always be one of your greatest assets, particularly in pushing your thinking.

It is within everyone’s reach to be influential and inspiring – by working on the quality of our thoughts and mindset, we invest in ourselves and those around us.

All the best,

Of Transformation and Inflection Points

We all know the frustration of working long and hard at something, expending lots of mental and emotional energy…. only to see very little visible results.  I hear this from people who are working out to get fit or dieting to lose weight, or from writers and artists who feel blocked or stuck.

I also hear this frequently from clients who are struggling to change, to grow.

The other day my husband, who works with new startups and new products, was talking to me about how important the concept of inflection point is when launching any new or different project.   Although originally a mathematical term, in business, the inflection is the point in a trajectory when it makes a dramatic change in direction – the point when the fundamentals of a business or product change significantly.   So for example, when you launch a new product, it takes a while for the market to catch on and before things take flight.  Savvy investors know not to panic, to keep moving ahead even though it looks like “nothing is happening”.

An inflection point is usually the consequence of some catalyzing factor: reaching a critical mass of subscribers/members that sparks a network effect, or when youtube videos go viral, or any event that allows the intended target audience to very rapidly catch on to either the novelty or importance or usefulness of what you’re doing or selling.  My point is that inflection points are generally not just the sum of a number of initiatives – which is an accumulation of activities – but also a detonator, an event – ie: the fall of the Berlin wall for the political transformation of Eastern Europe – that allows all the work, patiently done over time, to bear fruit all of a sudden.

It’s not that there’s nothing for a long time and then, all of a sudden, there’s something — it’s more that progress seems to be very slow or hidden.  In the meanwhile, you’re usually operating on faith, which can often look like struggling to just get two steps forward and one step back.  Then, of a sudden, there is the inflection point when the tide suddenly changes, and everything comes together and blooms.

To me this is the perfect analogy of the nature of inner or personal growth – whether it’s related to leadership, maturity, or even parenting.  Because whenever you’re playing a long game (which, by definition most of transformation is), there’s a lot of underground work that you don’t really know when it’s going to pay off.   It’s messy.   It’s dark.   It’s murky.   But because we don’t know always know how to predict the precipitation point, we can give up too easily.

In the business world, the change and triggering factor is easier to notice because we’re used to tracking and recording every small thing; we are primed to watch for the change, and we have words and ways and stories to support it.

But internal growth is harder to track.  It often comes as a sudden flash: “Wow, THAT, wouldn’t have happened six months ago”.  We know that all the tedious work is necessary and that we wouldn’t get anywhere without …but it can be hard to trace the micro changes that occur within us.  We are hyper- focused on “How do I see results quickly” – to which the answer is, of course,  “You don’t!”.

So maybe in times of transition and growth, it would be better to focus on solving for “how do I live with uncertainty and microscopic growth”.   Which means you have to just keep doing the work and having faith.

If you stop because you don’t see immediate results, you just might deny yourself of the big inflection point, where things start to go your way.   But by building personal resilience, you find yourself quietly emerging and ready to bloom when the factors fall into place.

All the best,

Why I’m not doing resolutions this year… and some interesting alternatives

Every year most of us approach the New Year as an opportunity to jump-start our lives, or at least our vision for our lives.  Resolutions are one of the most popular ways to renew our sense of purpose.

This year I’m not doing them.

Instead, I’ve been experimenting with cultivating the right daily and weekly habits.  Increasingly I have been feeling that resolutions, while giving us focus, have too much of a duality: you either achieve them or you don’t.  On the other hand, improving daily habits will provide you with a richer life both personally and professionally. Annie Dillard got it right when she said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.

In this spirit, I offer three alternatives on what to focus on in 2019:

  1. Build in (and schedule on your calendar!) reflection periods throughout the year – either on your own or with close friends.  This is time devoted to reflecting on where you are and reflecting on how you want to course-correct.  This makes personal growth an ongoing effort, with smaller steps.
  2. Instead of a to-do list (which is, in essence, a list of goals), focus on a “not to do” list – what is it you want to let go of?  What do you want to clean out of your life? Leave behind?  View the new year as an emotional or mental house-cleaning time.
  3. Accept yourself the way you are!  (i.e don’t make a resolution this year).  Use the time to just be comfortable with yourself – warts and all.  Not only will this save you from the stress of the never-ending “fixing” yourself treadmill. Can you imagine how immensely satisfying the feeling of just sitting with “right now, I am enough” could be?

Whatever you choose to do – reflection, resolution, acceptance or nothing at all – growth happens in many ways and phases.  Here’s to all of us growing in 2019!

All the best,

Top Learnings from Columbia Business School’s Pan-European Forum

I am delighted to have recently attended Columbia Business School’s Pan European Forum in Paris. Aside from connecting with old friends and a fantastic community of over 700 attendees (!), the pure richness of learning experiences and stimulating keynote and panel speakers, including Carlos Ghosn, Dil Sidhu and Joseph Stiglitz, pushed my thinking and re-energized me on so many levels.

There were so many take-aways from the conference, but for right now, here are my top three:

1) Leadership and Culture change are still major drivers of organizational transformation….and some of the toughest nuts to crack. Almost all the speakers, regardless of the specific industry or topic they were addressing, focused on how vital it is for leaders to renew their own capabilities and styles and to create cultures where people, at all levels of the organization, are truly connecting with each other and with new ideas. Given the chance, people will bend over backwards to contribute their best to organizations who make them winners, so the job of leaders is to engage as many people as possible.

There were also lots of discussions on the importance of developing a leader’s ability to re-invent him/herself – to take the time to reflect, develop self-awareness and be ready and nimble in adapting and updating based on changing needs.

2) Get comfortable with holding opposing ideas at the same time. Instability and rapid change means complexity and constant evolution of what is required from leaders. Smart leaders learn to handle ideas that appear to be paradoxes: concentrating on short term and long term results at the same time or focusing on set targets and developing deep competencies while being ready to change quickly. Ambiguity is now one of the defining features of the workplace, therefore being able to stand strong in the midst of this uncertainty is crucial to success.

3) AI is growing…and it will augment, not substitute, human capabilities. A fascinating panel discussion with Tim Campos, Marc Bousquet and Jean-Philippe Desbiolles challenged the audience to view AI as Augmented Intelligence, not ArtificialIntelligence. As machines get better at even “soft skills” through progress in visual recognition, language, empathy, and experience, it can be nerve wrecking to think what they will be capable of. However, humans are unique, and have an innate ability to make complex decisions on far less data than machines. So the question is how do we challenge ourselves to interact with machines? How can they help us perform more better? The obvious answers are in tasks that require repetitive, routine work and detailed data analysis. However, machines can also help in other ways. For example, since machines have no biases, they can provide options human decision makers might not even have thought of (out of our comfort zone, prevailing corporate culture etc.). Machines are evidence based – they can provide alternative best options, then allowing humans to use their skills to make a decision. This type of AI is already starting to be used in areas such as recruiting and even interviewing, where by identifying key words and micro expressions, machines are already helping humans make better decisions.

In the end, I am deeply grateful to be part of such a vibrant community of business leaders and for the generosity of the many experts and leaders who shared their key learnings and insights on steering and growing organizations through difficult times. And of course, Kudos and huge Thank you to the fantastic team who worked very hard to put this together!

 

Best,
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Do you work as hard on yourself as you do others?

My fellow Forbes Coaches Council member Divya Parekh recently posted a story which has been on my mind quite a bit:

A little boy went into a drug store, reached for a soda carton and pulled it over to the telephone. He climbed onto the carton so that he could reach the buttons on the phone and proceeded to punch in the phone numbers. The store-owner listened to the conversation.

Boy: ‘Lady, Can you give me the job of cutting your lawn?
Woman: (at the other end of the phone line): ‘I already have someone to cut my lawn.’
Boy: ‘Lady, I will cut your lawn for half the price of the person who cuts your lawn now.’
Woman: I’m very satisfied with the person who is presently cutting my lawn.
Boy: (with more perseverance): ‘Lady, I’ll even sweep your curb and your sidewalk.
Woman: No, thank you.
With a smile on his face, the little boy replaced the receiver. The store-owner, who was listening to all this, walked over to the boy.
Store Owner: ‘Son… I like your attitude; I like that positive spirit and would like to offer you a job.’
Boy: ‘No thanks.’
Store Owner: But you were really pleading for one.
Boy: No Sir, I was just checking my performance at the Job I already have. I am the one who is working for that lady I was talking to!’

What I love about this story is not how smart or resourceful or clever the kid is, but the genuine and persistent way with which he actively pursued getting “real-time” feedback on his work.
Of course I know some will immediately point out the flaws in the methodology and/or format of the feedback, so let me acknowledge right away, of course it’s not perfect or complete. But that’s not the point I was trying to make.
What really attracted me was the natural instinct he had to get external validation for his performance, instead of doing what I’ve seen many of us do – rely just on our own idea of how we feel we’re doing. I also loved the unflinching and determined way he pursued getting the feedback.
What would happen if more senior leaders, who are investing heavily in changing and improving organizational capabilities, also intentionally took the time and effort to work on our own capabilities — to improve, update or just check we’re getting it right? Isn’t this the very heart of design thinking as it relates to Leadership? Are we all growing and changing as fast as the world around us is? Are we staying ahead of the curve on a personal level? How do we know? What are we doing about it?
Hope the rest of your summer is relaxing – and I hope I’ve given you something to dream/ think about!

Best,
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Addicted to Work? Getting Past Clichés to Recognize Your Tipping Point

We all know someone who cannot put their phone down. Ever. At dinner parties, at concerts, on vacations, the phone is always on and they cannot help but look at and answer the super-important emails.

And even though it’s hard to recognize, and even harder to admit – aren’t we often that person?

It makes sense – the super-turbo speed of our days, the jam-packed schedules and the non-stop digital stimulation has made most so many of us addicted to our work.

What’s worse, since we don’t really have time to stop and think, we aren’t often aware of or acknowledge our behavior, we continue to rush our way around the crazy treadmill of life and thus jeopardize our productivity and creativity and increase stress and frustration.

We recognize what this does to others, we don’t always recognize it in ourselves. This is not good for us, our work, our families, or for our society. And it’s expensive: one well cited study showed that job stress costs the US economy $300 billion dollars a year!!!

In this economy, we are our biggest assets – our futures and peace of mind rely on our ability to reinvent ourselves, to create, to execute with laser sharp focus. And true creation and insight comes from having “white space” in our lives to recharge, to idly let our brains make random connections and to be grounded enough to fly high mentally. So keeping balance is a key skill.

Culture Consultant and Millennial Engagement Expert MaryBeth Hyland has a great set of questions she uses to help clients understand their relationship with work that she has kindly allowed me to share with you.

As MaryBeth says, “One thing should be clear in life: We’re not meant to just pay our bills and die”. What are you meant to be doing?

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So let’s just lift our heads up from the tedium for just one second and start to understand how we relate to work. Only then can we start to do anything about it. As always, I am always interested in your thoughts and comments.

Best,
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