Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Do nothing - perfectly

‘Do nothing – perfectly’.

That was an instruction at a recent Satipatthana meditation course I attended recently.  

8 days of sitting on a mediation cushion, doing nothing but observing one’s sensations with equanimity.

To ‘do nothing – perfectly’ takes some doing.  It's hard work.

Your mind starts wandering, flicking between memory and hope.  Rather than staying aware with non-judgement, you find yourself evaluating and assessing each sensation rising and falling – like, don’t like, hate, bored.   You engage those faithful strategies of positive self talk, to keep motivated and focused, but all they do is distract you from the real work of learning to be in the present.

On the meditation cushion, as in life, we will do anything to do something, rather than nothing.   Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has been fundamental in bringing mindfulness to the West so beautifully plays on a familiar action slogan, to say “don’t just do something, sit there”.

Learning to notice ourselves, to be aware, equanimous and self-compassionate in our meditation, helps us in our daily life.  Particularly in those times when we are in the grip of a conversation, in the daily rush and juggle or when faced with a pressing issue, and come up against our familiar triggers, ever-present wanting and old fears.  If in those times, we can ‘do nothing – perfectly’, even for a split second, we can find new ways forward.   

As a partner, as a friend, to ‘do nothing-perfectly’ can be the ultimate in acceptance. Other times it simply gives each other space, time and energy to see things differently.

As a coach, to ‘do nothing- perfectly’ can be just the thing to create the necessary shift within the coaching relationship to help the coachee move deeper into self-awareness and resourcefulness.

As a leader, to learn to ‘do nothing – perfectly’ helps us to lead in this VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  If we can viscerally experience sitting in this zone, and be able to suspend judgement and remain open and curious on the mediation cushion, we have a better chance of doing it in the workplace.  It may mean we get skilful at being wholly and utterly in the presence of our direct report,  giving them our full attention.  It may mean being more comfortable in encouraging silence as a collective, in a busy team meeting.   It may be about being more courageous to stand back from your own agenda, to reconnect with a deeper wisdom.

Indeed, what leadership actions and political decisions would have benefited in these last few weeks, if not ever from taking up Lao-Tzu’s challenge..

Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?



Sunday, June 5, 2016

How great are you?

Every so often a human being emerges to remind us of the greatness we are capable of.  Muhammad Ali was such a being.

He was The Greatest.  He told us so and he showed us how to fight for that title, in the sports ring,  in front of a microphone, in humanitarianism, in facing illness.   A man who had the courage to stand by his principles and stand up to those in power. A man who amongst his notable acts, sacrificed his title and the prime time of his career rather than kill Vietnamese.  

Such a great man, such a great leader can tip us back into buying into the “Great Man” theory of leadership made popular in the 19th century.  The likes of historian Thomas Carlyle believed that the capacity of leadership is inherent, that leaders are born not made.  Effective leaders were seen as those gifted with divine inspiration and who due to their particular characteristics of charisma, intelligence and wisdom were the ones able to have a decisive historical impact.

The flaw in sticking with this theory is that it fails to account for context, change and human potential.  We can end up putting such great people on a pedestal – which in itself is understandable. There are indeed extraordinary people.  It is just a waste of the inspiration and gifts they have for each of us.   Worshipping them from afar detaches us from the possibility that they have entered our life, our consciousness to offer us different ways of relating to ourselves, to others and the world.

We can admire Ali’s attitudes, actions and achievements.  Celebrate him for just being him.  And we can use that admiration to dig deep to access the qualities we admire in him, in ourselves.  

We may never be as pretty...but we can believe in ourselves.  We can fight for justice, freedom and equality. We can show bravery and courage in what we do. We can demonstrate our faith and integrity.  We can explore new ways to improve our own natural talents.  We can help others.  We can show grace. We can take risks. We can keep our mischievousness.  We can embody paradox....

Images via google images and ©Flip Schulke

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The bed is back in business

The bed is on the agenda.  Opinion leaders are encouraging you and your organisation to pay attention to your bed behaviour, your ‘sleep hygiene’.

It was certainly a topic of conversation with a group of senior leaders on a retreat recently.  Leading lives busy with travelling and sleeping in hotel rooms,  they were not so impressed with having to share a bunk in a mountain hut.   If there was a mini case study in the correlation between happiness and sleep quality, there you had it.

We all have a bed, regardless of our status, culture, religion and lifestyle. What form it takes and how we feel about it varies from moment to moment, year to year, from our birth to our death.  Give or take, we spend about a third of our lives in it, so it makes sense it should be important to us.  It plays a multiple of roles and its implications are significant.  Giving attention to our bed from a leadership perspective, the following can be relevant: 
  • In busy lives, the bed sometimes offers the only stillness, escape, retreat, rest and privacy in one’s day.  As Napoleon is quoted as declaring “the bed has become a place of luxury to me! I would not exchange it for all the thrones in the world”. 
  • Our bed is often our daily milestone, a point of reference for our day.   Steve Jobs poignantly said “being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me”. 
  • It forms part of our mantras for how we want to live. Who hasn’t heard of Benjamin Franklin’s “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man, healthy, wealthy and wise” or its equivalent? 
  •  Actor George Burns wryly said “don’t stay in bed, unless you can make money in it” and that was before the advent of smartphones and laptops.  Maybe this is why our office space now extends to our bed. 
  • Leaders like Arianna Huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, talk openly about the role that a good night’s sleep plays in discovering our inner leader.
  • And we know, it is in our beds, in our sleep, that our dreams are most likely to come to us. In Wild Courage, Elle Harrison explicitly encourages us to start noticing our dreams as a fundamental way to develop our intuition, which is so integral to our creativity, innovation and decision making capabilities as a leader.
  • Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn writes about the sacredness of sleep, for being able to sleep is a sign of harmony in one’s life.  You will know yourself, that the most common and early symptom of stress is sleeplessness.
  • On the mindfulness meditation theme, the popularity of ‘Beditation’, a body scan meditation to assist relaxation and sleep is now advocated by the UK National Health Service.
  • The success of Professor Tom Rath’s book Eat Move Sleep may indicate how little we regard these basic steps for good health.  Appealing to individuals, groups and organisations he advocates focusing on small choices which lead to big changes.  A top sleep tip is “structure your work schedule for better sleep. Help your boss and colleagues understand why good sleep is in everyone’s interest”.  One leader on our programme, after his ‘solo’ time, came to his guiding principle of an 888 structure – no work before 8am, leave work by 8pm and get 8 hours sleep.
  • Lack of sleep is “fast becoming an issue the corporate world cannot ignore”, with research indicating a majority of managers across the board are getting less sleep than the recommended minimum. This is showing to have a real impact on manager’s health, social and emotional lives, and is having a  negative impact on their performance in managing complex tasks and displaying effective behaviours. 
And that is why Ashridge Professor Vicki Culpin who explores how sleep patterns impinge on our business and personal lives,  offers the following recommendations:

  • Put sleep on the agenda. Talk about it at all levels of the organisation and share information about the different ways sleep loss can affect people
  • Develop a travel policy for employees and ensure it includes provision for sleep as well as recovery days for national or international travel
  • Recommend breaks before major meetings where key strategic decisions are being made
  • Encourage good work-life balance and healthy lifestyles in employees
  • Act as a role model in terms of sleep management
  • When arranging development for employees, make provisions for sleep prior to the start of the programme
  • When employees appear to be struggling with physical, social, emotional or work issues, be mindful of potential symptoms of sleep loss
  • Find and share examples of how successful employees at all levels of the organisation have addressed and overcome the impact of sleep loss
  • Create flexible ways of working that enable employees to operate at their peak
  • Treat each individual differently, as each employee will respond to sleep loss differently, and may or may not seek assistance.  Do not assume age, seniority or other factors impact all people the same way

 image: Claudia's