Yoda says “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Wow! Think about what that would look like in the business world: Letting go of winning, power, promotions and bonuses; letting go of being right and other people being wrong; letting go of complaining, blaming and shaming; letting go of stress and worry and all of the underlying reasons for the stress and worry. What would you have left?
Christopher is a Senior Director for a corporation in Atlanta. He’s been with the company just over two years and is extremely loyal and committed to the company’s mission, to the degree that he had a physical and emotional breakdown after giving his all to the project that will inevitably make or break the company. Now, a couple of months later, he currently faces a similar dilemma – this time consciously, and this time he realizes it’s not just his body that’s on the line; it’s his soul that could be taken.
“What options do you have, Christopher?” I asked him after his complaining how things are exactly as they were those many months ago. Matter of factly, Christopher responds with “There are no options!” “Really?” I ask. “There are no options?” “Yes, there are no options,” He said: “except to revert to the old me that yelled and hollered to get people to do what they are supposed to do. That means setting myself up for another emotional and physical breakdown, and that’s not an option!”
“There are other options,” I countered. “Let’s look at them.” What I was attempting was to get Christopher to see that one of his options is to leave the company and go somewhere that may be more in line with maybe a more workable situation for him. He didn’t see leaving as an option, nor did he see letting go of everything he feared to lose as an option, either. Christopher’s perspective offered no option. He’s in a stalemate.
Yoda also said: “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” What does that mean in Christopher’s situation? By having the deepest commitment and the most serious mind, it’s easier to fully align with that which you are truly committed to. In Christopher’s case, is it the success of the company orhis own personal success and the maintaining of his reputation (He fears that if he leaves the company his reputation will be tarnished.) that’s at stake? One other thing he is committed to is keeping himself healthy – it’s not an option to sell himself to the devil again. Yet, through my eyes, it looks very much like this is happening. When someone as brilliant as Christopher has no options, he’s a dead duck. He’s given his soul away if he gives himself no options.
We’ve been trained to see the world a certain way, and it’s essential to our survival in many families, communities and business environment, so we think, to maintain that perspective, no matter what. Our minds can’t make sense of our reality if it no longer looks the way it’s supposed to. Much like Christopher, we are then faced with no options and no way to move forward, except to do what we’ve done in the past and we know that’s not going to work.
If we don’t want to lose what we are afraid of losing, our egoic self will bend and twist reality in such a way that we experience stuckness. We can feel lost in the midst of bright lights and lots of people. It’s not uncommon for people to experience mental and emotional exhaustion and breakdowns, inevitably losing more than they were bargaining for. Aren’t we a curious species?
The dilemma Christopher faces is because he has a great deal at stake. On the one hand he has his position, his credibility and all that he’s invested in this company. On the other hand his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is deteriorating. Attempting to hang on to what he’s got will most likely mean he’ll lose everything.
Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose
Where Christopher sees no option, I see he has no options too, but from a different perspective. Unless he opens himself up to the possibilities he currently doesn’t want to see, he will lose everything. My job as his coach is to gently guide him towards what now appears to be too frightening to accept. Inevitably, he will have to choose to shift his paradigm and experience a reality that he doesn’t yet believe exists.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose
For some this process is a walk in the park; yet for others it can be experienced as a shattering. There’s nothing wrong with a shattering. A shattering is the same as a paradigm shift, it’s just way more painful in every way, you, I’m sure, have imagined. And, generally, it takes a great deal more time to recover from.
What’s right in front of Christopher is right in front of each and every one of us: the opportunity to discover what’s worth losing and what’s not. It all goes away, sooner or later. In this moment, though, it’s just a matter of choosing to choose to choose to be accountable and responsible for the consequence of the choices we make. I hate that part as much as most people do. I want it all good and all easy. When it’s not, I don’t want to look at options I don’t want to take. I’ve learned though that my life isn’t worth living if fear is the only conductor on this train. I’m listening to Yoda and other spiritual teachers in order to create a life worth living. Christopher will make a similar choice, I have no doubt.
Not losing is a no-win game.
5 Steps to Presencing (Being Present)
Presence: It seems like a no brainer; aren’t we always present wherever we go? Actually, it’s rare that we are present, in the moment, with our full attention on the individual, the group or task in front of us. Opportunities to have distractions pop up and take our attention away from what we are intending to be attending to.
Cell phones, emails, texts, phones, people passing by our office or cubicle – these are the some of the external distractions; what about the thoughts, emotions and body sensations that also pull us off course; the emotions, stress, anger and fatigue; or worries about money, partners, friends and family; hunger – isn’t it time for a snack break?
Choice-making is occurring – we are choosing to choose what to be present to. So, what has us choose to choose what we choose? We can be present when we want to be – like when playing a video game, or to the quick perky tune that lets us know someone has just texted; in a sense we are present to our distractions – always alert to their call. What are we committed to that allows for our presence to be usurped by distractions? Maybe it would be more helpful if we turn the question around and ask it this way: What allows us to be so present to distractions? What is so compelling about the sound of a text coming in or the footsteps of a passerby? What are we committed to that has us so available to distractions?
My curiosity has me explore some possibilities:
- When someone calls me or wants my attention, I feel important, wanted and needed.
- There’s something missing that distractions provide.
- Sometimes I’m stuck or challenged and frustrated with the task at hand. I want a distraction to take me out of my misery.
- If I’m fully present in the moment I might miss out on something.
- I don’t like what I’m doing, I don’t care what I’m doing and I’d rather be doing anything else but this!
If we choose to interpret our work or work environment as boring and lacks stimulation, or if we enjoy the tiny but mighty shots of adrenaline that arrives with each text, email or phone call, or if we are overstressed by what’s in front of us, most likely we will allow ourselves to invite in what is otherwise missing. We are then committed to relieving stress, boredom and the mundaneness of our environment.
I believe, generally speaking that we think that the state of presence occurs only in the physical world we call reality; but the fact is that presence has an energetic component that fuels, inspires, propels and provides momentum to relationship, connection and fulfillment of our intended outcome. By not presencing ourselves we are not maximizing the fullest expression of our intention to make a difference.
Consider a Practice of Presencing
What’s required of you to be fully present? I suggest we do it all the time – selectively choose to be present to what we choose to be present to.
Here are 5 steps to practice presencing:
- Intention: The intention to be present has to be in place.
- Focus: The practice of focusing is required.
- Willingness: The willingness to exercise the muscles that distinguish to what you bring your focus and attention.
- Noticing: The ability to notice or witness what is occurring while you are practicing presence; what’s showing up? What feelings, thoughts and body sensations arise while practicing? By noticing, you become aware of what generally pulls away from being present.
- Mindfulness: Assessing what’s valuable and available through the practice of presencing. There is a degree of mindfulness that is required in any practice such as this. A practice in mindfulness is in itself a practice of presencing.
Presencing is a discipline to be practiced, first as an experiment and then perhaps because there is actual fulfillment experienced by being present. What’s it like when you are fully present – what’s the quality of the experience? What is available to you when you are fully present, as opposed to answering texts while listening to your direct reports talk about the challenges they face?
My work as a life and business coach requires 100% attention to every word and action taken by my client. I cannot afford to be present to anything that distracts me from fulfilling my intention to empower them. In a matter of seconds, my work can become sloppy and haphazard when out of the state of presence. I miss something and my effectiveness goes down the toilet; I’m not committed to that!
The question then is, what would have to be here, now that is compelling enough to turn off cell phones, emails, internet – everything that isn’t serving this moment and being present? I ask you to seriously consider asking the question for yourself, for most likely the degree to which you bring presence to your work is the same degree to which you presence yourself with your partner, your children, and to any other aspect of your life.
My client, Jeremy, when home from work would continually be distracted by emails and texts from his boss. He was constantly on alert to his boss’s every need. Through our conversations he realized that his concern and worry about what his boss thought of him was a priority over what his wife and children thought about him and a priority over his own enjoyment of his personal time. He realized too he couldn’t allow himself to be present and enjoy his family as long as his sense of value and importance was coming from outside himself. He began to practice being present at work and at home and found a whole new perspective from which to be most aligned with his highest truth, his integrity and his vision as a human being. A small practice with a gigantic benefit.
Every Choice-point Grows Leadership
Leaders aren’t made by titles, position, and prestige; they are made by the choices they make at points in their career, which in the moment seem to have nothing to do with becoming a leader. It has only to do with current situations throwing curve balls in their direction, requiring them to make choices that are in the highest good of the company and in their own highest good as well.
Let’s say that the company you work for is challenged on many fronts. They are not fulfilling agreements made, which initially enticed you to join the organization. You still believe in the product and service, but no longer trust the competence of the leaders to generate what’s required for success to be yours. Given the current state of the situation, you feel powerless to make a difference for yourself or the company.
You saw yourself rising in the ranks to a level of leadership where you’d make a difference in how this company functions and fulfills its mission. You looked forward to the responsibility that came with the title and position. You want to make a difference but in this moment you are asking yourself why work for a company that seems chaotic, disorganized and off course.
Though you’ve seen yourself on this trajectory towards leadership, currently you feel stuck, with no clue how to choose what’s next for you. You feel as though your future may have been stolen from you and now you are at the mercy of this company to make choices that will hopefully impact in only positive ways. Should you go or should you stay? What to do … what to do.
Too often we look at the situations we find ourselves in and feel disempowered, disappointed and perhaps depressed. We’ve put trust in the company we work for to make good choices, which will inevitably bring rewards to us personally and professionally. But what happens when they don’t seem to be making good choices – choices that lead to healthy development of the organization itself, its bottom line and its employees – you in particular?
Leadership development takes place in the present moment – now! The challenges you currently face are the very elements that are required for leadership capacities to be cultivated. And, the choices you are making now, regardless of your current level of power, have a huge influence on the company. It’s rather funny how we miss this point.
We think that the trajectory to leadership is one thing and when we arrive we will have what it takes to lead well. However, it doesn’t occur to us that we actually have to develop muscles of leadership somewhere along the way. Learning theories in trainings, books and MBA’s isn’t the same as having to actualize those theories in real business situations. Every good leader learns to walks their talk through countless moments of uncertainty. They’ve learned which muscles were required for each specific situation. They strengthened and stretched those muscles – and others they were yet conscious of, in order to be the leader they’ve become. Leadership is an evolutionary process. Every confronting situation builds a repertoire of skills. Over time, those skills look natural and intuitive, as those that individual always had what it takes.
Choice-making is the essential element of leadership. How you choose to be, given the circumstances of this current moment, are very telling. Being present to the dilemmas that face the company and face you – personally and professionally, is the point where great leaders are born. They are born, not by their companies or their promotions; they actually birth themselves through every choice-point they meet.
Every one of these choice points have to be met with a level of presence to one’s personal and professional investment in the organization with the company’s needs and requirements. These dilemmas can be very weighing. Great leaders intentionally cultivate their capacity to lead in situation they meet; distinguishing all the variables at play and discerning what’s in the best interest of the company at large, which includes themselves.
In the previous article The Personal is the Professional, we explored how every choice made by every employee is personal and professional. Some choices we face are good for us but not for the company. Sometimes the choices we make are good for the company and not for us. Some are not good for either the company or for us, and what good leaders are able to discern is how to choose so that the highest good for all is attained.
Every situation provides opportunities to grow leadership capacities. Attempting to bypass challenging or confronting relationships and situations means you are missing opportunities to cultivate the very skills required to be the leader you see yourself to be.
You might be expressing frustration right now because you think you don’t know how to cultivate what’s required to be in your current situation in anyway other than frustrated, powerless and incapable of change. I encourage you – and your organization to bring in a thinking partner – a coach or mentor to empower all of you to look at your situation differently; allowing you to see the choice-point you are currently engaged in and what’s required to choose most effectively as a leader for your own development and for your company as well.
Choices made from integrity and accountability will always be in the highest good of all involved. Every moment will provide opportunities to cultivate your leadership capacities. Be curious about yourself and notice opportunities to experiment with different ways of being. Today is the day to step into the leader you see yourself to be. Enjoy the exploration!
Gift Me with My Enemies and My Ministers
I woke up from a dream this morning that made me question: “Really?” It was only the last few seconds of the dream that seemed so profound. It was a children’s choir – all boys, and they were singing a Christmas song. The only lyric I heard was: “Gift me with my enemies and my ministers.” This is a pretty profound phrase, especially for a group of youngsters to be singing as a Christmas song.
My enemies infuse me with intense emotions – rage, hatred, vile condemnation and contempt. Judgments are automatic, so much so I don’t even know that I’m judging. How I respond, more often than not is a knee jerk reaction. I’m inflamed and my actions inflammatory. I want to violate them as they have violated me based on my sense of what’s right and wrong, good and bad. I want to wipe them off the planet so that I can live peacefully. However …
What I know is that my enemies are my best teachers. They reflect what I most hate in the world and most likely (like about 100%) they reflect aspects of myself that I do not wish to acknowledge or own. When my enemies are around, I have no doubt, I have something to learn.
Ministers are also my teachers, my coaches and counselors. They are my thinking partners, who also reflect back to me, through deep listening and questioning, how aligned I am with my highest truths and how I may be ignoring or distracting myself from the ways I’ve contributed to the very violence I hate in my adversaries. These wise beings bring my attention to the learnings so available for me by embracing the enemy as my long lost lover.
Sometimes, though, in the company of my enemies I retreat, hide and disappear into a myriad of disguises to protect myself from harm and from looking bad. I may throw stones from behind a barrier and pretend it’s not me at all who is engaged in warfare. I disown my anger, my feelings of righteousness and indignation. “It wasn’t me!” I exclaim with defensiveness and contempt for having been accused unjustly.
My ministers inquire regarding my actions, curious as to the origins of my behavior and the thoughts that precipitated them. What has me be blinded to my own truth – in denial (Don’t Even Know I am Lying) of my barbarous attitude and position?
We need our adversaries – our enemies to confront us. They bring out the worst in us and provide opportunities for us to truly reflect on the importance, value and priorities of our hierarchy of desires. We need our ministers, counselors, therapists and coaches to reflect what gifts are available for us by engaging with our enemies.
Many of us love to hate! It makes us feel good to think violent thoughts and even go to war for what we believe to be right and true. How can we get even, or better yet, how can we be victorious? What if I consider the possibility that my enemies are gifts? What would that mean – what are the consequences of such a consideration?
I’ll tell you right now, I hate the thought of giving up my armor of righteousness and entitlement, because I feel safe, powerful and in control when I can wield them with stealth accuracy. Without them, I believe myself to be defenseless, exposed and vulnerable.
I ask myself – what is considered right? What is considered wrong? Who is responsible for the woes of the world? My ministers smile and with their eyes they inquire into my soul’s wisdom for what is true; and I then, for that moment comprehend that I am an accomplice in all acts of violence on the planet. Only by recognizing the seed of vengeance within me I’m able to receive the gifts of freedom from my enemy.
Through deep discernment and with the support and empowering nature of my ministers am I able to choose to choose to see myself and my enemies differently. Through the annihilation of my own pretence and the shattering of the barriers of them vs. us, am I truly allowed to realize I am my brother/sister’s keeper, and they are mine.
The dilemma as a choice-point shifts when I choose to honor my highest truth and risk losing my attachments, my position, my identity – perhaps even life itself for something much larger than me. I’m working on it!
A client of mine, Hui Zhong, called me yesterday somewhat distressed. She is in product management as an information analyzer for an international corporation headquartered in Silicon Valley, CA.
A few months ago Hui Zhong, pronounced hoy-zong, began reading a book by Robin Sharma – The Leader Who Had No Title. She began practicing some of the exercises, which allowed her to stretch and expand her comfort zone to include more of her authentic leadership style. The dilemma though, is that as she exercises and stretches to expand her repertoire, she’s experiencing growing pains that bring with them discomfort, uncertainty, fear and insecurity. She is finding it distressful and uncomfortable to shift the way she is showing up in her work, uncertain if it will make her more attractive for promotions and all that goes along with them. She knows she’s on the right track with regard to cultivating greater professionalism and effectiveness, yet she is has doubts whether these traits truly make a difference in the corporate world where flash and charm often win the promotion. Is she really doing the smart thing if she’s wanting to gain more visibility and be acknowledged for what she brings to the role of leader? She’s in a dilemma.
As we change and grow – as we discard what no longer serves, we find ourselves in the midst of a leap. It’s very exciting and disconcerting at the same time; with practice, the long term rewards will be ease and agility in growing and in evolving in to the person and the leader we say we want to be.
There are those who expect that with the right education and the right connections it will be easy to rise to the top. There are those who play the game the right way and anticipate that the right way will get them the outcome they want. No one really knows for sure, and too often we lose our souls in order to find out.
As Hui Zhong lets go of her suitable education, connections and playing the game appropriately in service to exploring authentic leadership styles, she is getting triggered and collapses into feeling anxious, weak, vulnerable and unworthy. In the first few moments, she can hardly stand. She reports though that she recovers in a matter of minutes.
Hui Zhong is a model of resiliency. There are many who cannot stand being triggered into feeling vulnerable, weak and inadequate, and they do whatever they can to avoid this experience. Their unwillingness to cultivate and strengthen this essential capacity will suffer from the effects of no promotion. Hui Zhong is taking personal and professional risks, that on the inside feels, sometimes, like she’s failing and will never recover. It’s a debilitating momentary feeling, yet she knows that to do it any other way is out of integrity.
This intense practice develops muscles required for the type of leaders most organizations are truly hungry for. What’s at stake for Hui Zhong is her personal identity as a winner and as a perfectionist. She’s putting it all on the line because she knows the degree to which her egoic-self is influencing her choice-making, which doesn’t serve her team or her organization in the way that has her feel like a real leader – one who puts aside their own personal needs and desires for the sake of the people she works with and works for.
Even though there are tons of books on the market about leadership development, so few people actually take up the practice of shifting their personal perspective to something more. Personal gain vs. professional integrity; the experience and angst of cultivating self-awareness while developing leadership capacities that inevitably do lead to mastery; while eliminating manipulations and political motivations, which are inconsistent with corporate visions and statements of integrity.
I suggest to Hui Zhong that she herself to be the experiment – an exploration. What makes her valuable to her company, in my mind, is that she is willing to be in the “I don’t know,” finding out what’s beyond the games, and political motivations and manipulations that actually limit possibilities within most organization.
She is learning that she isn’t supposed to know or have the easier or right way to move through a transformative process such that she is in – She is only to observe, witness and assess, noticing what works and what doesn’t; then make slight shifts in how she is being and what she is doing; and then, again notice, witness and observe. This is the path to mastery, innovation, inspiration, freedom and selfless leadership.
As anyone of us, like Hui Zhong, cultivates the resilience to move through this process we’ll be developing not only the wisdom and mastery but we’ll be able to empower others to explore, witness, and experiment too. This to me is the most powerful form of leadership – making space for others to explore, experiment and discover for themselves innovative styles of leading.
The dilemma – that choice-point between one type of success and the other, are each pulling Hui Zhong and keeping her on the fence, though this happens far less so than before. What she is currently practicing – where she is putting her attention, will inevitable bring her into the light, because she is acknowledging and honoring her highest truth. My belief is that this is the sustainable, healthier and more effective way to lead and will inevitable be recognized for its value – growing pains and all.
This is not an easy path, nor should it be. We will not cultivate strong and innovative leaders by having them travel the well worn path. To truly be a great leader, each of us will need to become the experiment, embracing the moments when our findings are thrilling and monumental in their effects.