About Vicki Flaherty

I feel most alive when I am creating, whether through my writing and poetry, gardening and photography, or simply living my life each day. Running and yoga enrich my being. Travel opens me to new possibilities and greater awareness. I am happiest when I’m with my husband Jim. I share my gratitude for all the gifts in my life on my This Abundantly Delicious Life blog. I find a special joy in helping people succeed. I’ve done something valuable when I’ve helped a colleague or friend see their brilliance and express their full potential. I have awesome opportunities to do this as an industrial/organizational psychologist through leadership, mentoring, coaching, career and other talent programs. I try to encourage Leading with Intention at my blog of this name. As a breast cancer survivor, I found comfort and hope in writing. Poetry flowed through me like a river of healing during my diagnosis and treatment, which I share on my Mostly My Heart Sings blog, that I might offer encouragement and a place of grace and heart for those seeking comfort and hope along their journey.

The Invisible Touch

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“Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.”

~William James

This past week I received an email from someone who attended a session I led on being social in a digital world. She was thanking me for something I said which inspired her to write a blog that she was sharing with me. While I certainly had hoped back in March to influence the group by sharing with them, I didn’t fully realize how something I would say might truly inspire someone to action.

As I reflected on what happened, I sensed this ‘invisible touch’. I saw how the way that I showed up, the words I chose, the intentions I set came together to reach someone in a way that I didn’t predict.

Six email for Jun17

Read Six’s thought-provoking and inspiring blog: Human evolution – For our next chapter let’s reinvent our humanity.

Six writes about the power of creativity, adaptability, and empathy as sources of change and evolution, and she invites us to embrace those aspects of our humanity that make us unique. Part of what makes us special as humans is our ability to engage with each other, to form relationships, to co-create together. How we show up and seize the opportunity of our interactions is truly a special power that we all possess.

I’m reminded that every interaction is an opportunity and that being present as we engage with others provides the nutrients for building strong relationships. It’s not just the words we use or the visible actions we take, there is an unseen energy in the intentions, attitudes and beliefs we hold and in how we carry ourselves. Sometimes a kind of ‘magic’ happens when two people come together, open up to possibility, and trust each other and the space they share. This magic can take us to places and outcomes grander than we could ever have imagined.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

 ~Jackie Robinson

 Can you recall a ‘magic’ moment where something invisible happened when you were with someone? Have you ever been made aware of how something you said or did shaped the actions of someone else? How you see your power to influence and shape the world – for yourself, and for others?

Here’s to truly being present for the magic of the moment and fully experiencing what’s possible when two people come together. May you grace others with the invisible touch. May you receive the invisible touch.

* Image: I took this photo at Newhall Refinery on my recent visit to California. I saw something magical about the 3 vases sitting together on the table. Together they created something that inspired me – they touched me.

The Truth About Feedback

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When people talk about feedback, sometimes there’s a subtle, underlying assumption that it’s about telling you ‘the truth’ you need to hear – the hard, constructive stuff that will make you better. Under that assumption is often another assumption that there is some specific way that we should be, that there is some absolute about how one should behave.

Feedback invites us to be kind and caring

towards ourselves, others and the environment within which we exist.

Have you ever heard someone say that ‘feedback is a gift’? To give it as it if were a present requires holding an underlying, corresponding positive intention for the receiver. Without feelings of openness and generosity, feedback feels anything but constructive, and can, in fact, be truly destructive. Feedback invites us to be kind and caring towards ourselves, others and the environment within which we exist.

Feedback is primarily about listening to what’s happening within and around us…

about seeking input to inform our thoughts, intentions, and actions.

It’s easy to get fooled into thinking that feedback is a process to follow, especially when organizations create processes and tools to support building a ‘feedback culture’. Feedback is primarily about listening to what’s happening within and around us. Feedback is about seeking input to inform our thoughts, intentions, and actions. It’s about sensing and responding.

Feedback is always available to us.

Feedback is always available to us. Sometimes we are just moving so fast, stuck in auto-pilot, multi-tasking and lost in action.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity

to look inside of ourselves for feedback.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity to look inside of ourselves for feedback. If we pause – even for a breath – we might discover how we are feeling, what we are experiencing, and what that information means to us. It’s so easy to forget that our emotions and bodily experience – not just our thoughts and the actions they trigger – are available to guide us in being our best.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity

to look outside of ourselves for insight.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity to look outside of ourselves for insight. We can intentionally move our attention to someone we’re engaged with and be curious: what are they experiencing, what are they really saying, and how can that inform me and what I need to do right now? We can sense what’s happening in our surroundings to help us know what’s needed. We can explore the energy in the room, or the culture within our team or the organizations within which we exist. How might what’s happening in the broader context provide me with an enlightened perspective or guide me in knowing what’s needed to move things forward in a positive, strategic and helpful direction?

Incoming information simply provides a point of view

that enriches our perspective.

It’s easy to take incoming information as ‘the truth’, whether it’s from within ourselves, from others, or from the environment around us. Incoming information simply provides a point of view to enrich our perspective. What someone else shares with us, for example, our leader or colleagues giving advice about how our performance might have been even better, represents their truth – their gift is sharing what they feel or think. We gain insight into what they see from their vantage point, based on their experience and frame of reference. Receiving their truth can tell us as much about them as it does about ourselves. Likewise, when we give our feedback to someone, we are sharing our reality of a situation; it is merely information available to help fill out a picture. Just as someone else’s truth is not ‘the truth’, our truth is not ‘the truth’.

We can take someone else’s truth, particularly those in a position of authority, as ‘the truth’, and in the process, get out of integrity with ourselves, replacing our truth with their truth. The opportunity is in taking both perspectives and opening to an informed, broader view.

Want to go deeper? I invite you to reflect on the questions below. You might journal or start a conversation about them.

  • What does feedback mean to you?
  • What assumptions are underneath your definition of feedback?
  • How do you seek feedback?
  • When and how do you give feedback?
  • What does your feedback tell you about yourself?

Other related posts you might be interested in:

*  I took the photo that opens this post on a rainy day at Playa Fuentes, Cantabria, Spain. I selected this image of a flower because plants provide an example of responding to feedback in the form of sunshine or water.

Diggin’ me diggin’ you

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On my morning run today, one of my favorite artists, Martin Sexton, was singing to me through my headphones: “Diggin’ me diggin’ you”. His catchy tune added a little pep to my step. And, it got me thinking about how good it feels when I focus my energy on others. Directing my attention toward someone else and fully appreciating them gives me a feeling of connectedness that reminds me I’m alive.

If others feel like I do when someone gives me their full attention, then diggin’ someone else is a delicious win-win. When someone pays full attention to what I am saying, tuning into what I am feeling, I sense that they care about me as a person. It feels like they “see” me and appreciate who I am, not just what I can do.

“Leaders who succeed are those who are humble enough to be able to see beyond themselves and perceive the true capacities and capabilities of their people.”

~Paul Hubbard

I recently read a book recommended by an awesome colleague called The Outward Mindset – Seeing Beyond Ourselves: How to Change Lives and Transform Organizations by The Arbinger Institute. It’s an invitation to enhance our connectedness and be more inclusive, not just because it feels good, but because it unlocks collaboration, innovation and responsiveness that leads to enhanced performance. The book explores how our assumptions about the way the world works impacts our daily actions.

 “Mindset drives and shapes all that we do – how we engage with others and how we behave in every moment and situation.”

–The Outward Mindset

The ‘diggin’ me’ part might suggest an element of an inward focus. What’s important is that the diggin’ me is about my focus on you. The essence is introspective and self-observation, rather than what The Arbinger Institute calls an inward mindset, where we are primarily concerned with others’ impact on us rather than our impact on them.

The awesome colleague who shared the book with me is Jennifer Paylor. She is one of those people who gives herself to you. She truly listens to you, she completely connects with what you are saying, she ‘sees’ you. And her outward mindset enables her to see possibilities that others don’t.

Influenced by The Arbinger Institute’s first book, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, together we created an simple engagement approach we call “PALs” that is used in parts of our delivery and services organization. The foundational principle is “seeing people as people” starting from an outward mindset, consciously placing attention on the person you are interacting with. Two supporting components include awareness (not just of the other person but also what’s going on with you and in your surroundings) and listening (which inevitably leads to powerful questions). Just the simplest of small steps focused outwardly has incredible transformational power. When someone has become a PAL, not only colleagues but also clients notice. We’ve seen the PALs approach shift relationships from transactional to co-creative, strengthen how teams engage, and enhance performance and results.

Today’s workplace hinges more than ever on our relationships. Not only how we interact in more fluid and agile ways within and across our teams, but also how we engage with our clients and partners to make what seemed impossible possible. Now might be just the right time to open to the feel-good possibilities of diggin’ ourselves diggin’ those around us. What do you think?

 

Another great read from The Arbinger Institute: The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

 

Check out Martin:

 

I’m also blogging over at the IBM Jobs recruitment blog:

Leadership Series 

Mindfulness Series 

And I’ve started a new blog featuring weekly quotes:

Where Possibility Awaits

The Path to Social Eminence in a Digital World is Value Creation

 

GBS Bee SchoolTaken with Lorraine Rapuano, GBS Bee School Program Manager, and Ramin Mobasseri, ‘the social guy’, a faculty member for the program.

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Last week I had the honor of delivering an informal lunchtime keynote talk on ‘social eminence’ at IBM’s Bee School, a 4-day class to equip the IBM Global Business Services workforce with core skills, knowledge, and tools to best serve our clients.

I started at IBM as a business transformation consultant nearly 20 years ago, and have always worked from home, so for me engaging socially has been, quite simply, the way to get work done. Internally, I was an early adopter of our IBM Connections social business platform to engage with colleagues, using it to connect and follow colleagues from across the business, sharing and reacting to content shared by others, collaborating on projects and building professional communities for everything from specific work projects to special interests like career development, leadership and mindfulness.

When it comes to using external digital social platforms such as facebook and twitter and LinkeIn for professional purposes, I am much more of a novice. I use facebook for personal purposes, although about half of my friends are now fellow IBMers and these days the content I share that gets the most ‘likes’ tends to be work-related. I have a twitter account that is primarily fed by my WordPress blogs (Leading with Intention, This Abundantly Delicious Life, Mostly My Heart Sings, and Where Possibility Awaits). Only recently have I realized the power of LinkedIn and am making more time to engage there.

To prepare for my session, I reached out to peers in my internal network who I consider to be socially eminent in the area of leveraging social tools. I got some great input that I curated into a toolkit for my colleagues. However, the lists of steps to take and ways to engage to build one’s eminence weren’t sitting right with me for some reason.

It wasn’t until I was flying home that I found the answer to that feeling I had. It came like a tornado siren in my ear as I read The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves – How to Change Lives and Transform Organizations by The Arbinger Institute. The message that was important was not “how to be eminent” – an inward mindset, but rather “how to create value” – an outward mindset.

Being social in the digisphere is about collaboration to create value.

Engaging in the digisphere is about collaboration to create value, versus sharing to shine the spotlight on yourself. When we engage on digital social platforms, internally within our own organizations or externally on the increasingly popular tools for personal or professional collaboration, value can be created for ourselves (for example, a need for self-expression), for others (for example, support discovery and learning), for our organizations (for example, innovative ideas), and for something bigger (for example, ending cancer). One little tweet can serve all those purposes.

What I love about using digital social platforms is how I can learn from and get help from others, share ideas and get reaction and feedback, create and design with others, and see what’s happening outside my little world. I think it’s really cool how great ideas come from unexpected places, like through the weak links in our network – that is, from people that are connectd to people we know. (Read more about the social serendipity effect by Jim Claussen.)

I’ve always believed that first we must take care of ourselves if we are to take care of others. And that applies here as well.  To add value for others and something bigger than ourselves starts with ourselves. There IS an internal focus that’s needed to support a powerful outward mindset. Asking questions such as these can help us gain clarity about who we are and the value we create:

  • What do I know?
  • What am I working on?
  • What do I have expertise in?
  • What are my signature capabilities?
  • What am I learning?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What energizes and inspires me?

There’s value in being thoughtful and intentional about what you share and how you contribute, and asking questions about your sharing and engagement such as:

  • What do I want to create and why?
  • What value will my sharing create?
  • How might I best contribute?
  • What personal needs and objectives am I meeting?
  • What needs and objectives do others have?

What I’ve discovered is that social eminence is a by-product of good social engagement, not the center piece. When we stay focused on bringing our best to the needs, objectives and challenges of others, organizations, and the world, being known for our value happens naturally.

Social eminence is a by-product of good social engagement, not the center piece.

Ultimately, what you discover as people begin to associate you with value around something specific, they want to connect with you, they start sending you things that you’re interested in, and they might even invite you to engage in cool things with them.

 

NOTE: The opinions, views, and perspectives shared in this blog are mine and are not intended to necessarily reflect those of IBM.

Setting the tone

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Our power as leaders comes from how we show up. How we behave, what we say, the energy we bring to each interaction and situation are often underappreciated tools for moving us toward desired outcomes. As leaders, every day we have opportunities to set the tone for our teams and our organization. According to the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, to ‘set the tone’ is to establish a particular mood or character for something. When something someone does or says sets the tone for an event or activity, it establishes the way the event or activity will continue, especially the mood of the people involved.tone1

Setting the tone shapes what’s possible. Some positive ways that leaders set the tone and influence others include acknowledging individuals, respecting differences, showing personal interest, being inclusive, celebrating progress, inviting experimentation, encouraging learning, listening and being curious, inviting others’ ideas, having an open-mind, asking questions, being calm, sharing information, being transparent, and openly communicating.tone2

Tone is set by the physical actions we take (or fail to take). As leaders, our every action or inaction is measured against the standards we communicate. If we say it’s important to prioritize, yet we continue to add new work into the funnel, our team experiences a disconnect (and likely burnout). If we say our team is empowered, yet we continue to tell them what we want them to do rather than guide their direction, trust their brilliance and be curious about what they will create, our team quits rising toward excellence. If we tell our teams that work-life balance is important, yet we don’t take our vacation and we are sending emails over the weekend expecting an immediate response, the expectation gets set that we need to be ‘on’ for work all the time. We lack integrity when what we do is not in alignment with what we say. Of course, we are human and that means we are imperfect, and values and behavior won’t always be in sinc. The goal is a level of consistency that shows we are serious about what we want to be creating.tone3

Tone is also set with the words we use. Words are a way of expressing ourselves and describing our experiences, and they are filled with emotion. Emotions get tied to words through our experiences, and with time and repetition, some words can have very profound effect. We can actually shape how we feel – and how those around us feel – by intentionally choosing particular words. Instead of saying “I’m fine.” when asked how we are doing, if we say “I feel great!”, we begin to create something very different.

Our mindset and attitudes are revealed through our words. Where we have our attention, what we value, and what we are afraid of or excited about are revealed through our choice of words. Our teams can see through us to our hopes and fears just by listening to us. The question is, are we aware of what we are projecting out into the world? Are we focused on what’s working or what’s not working? Do we see problems to be fixed or opportunities to create anew? Do we hold back expecting perfection or lean in and open to experimentation?tone4

How we speak our words is another key ingredient in tone setting. We set the tone not only through our choice of words, but also by how we speak them. It’s as much what we say as how we say it. The energy we bring stems from our own emotions and feelings, and in turn creates emotions and feelings in those who are in our presence. Have you ever been in a meeting and felt the mood shift when someone shared something deeply personal? Sometimes our body language and energy are inconsistent with our choice of words, and this can lead to a breakdown in trust due to perceived lack of honesty. Have you ever heard someone say one thing yet their body language or tone of voice did not match the words (e.g., someone standing with their hands across their chest and speaking in a commanding voice who says that openness is valued)?tone5

How often are we even conscious of how we are shaping our own and others’ experience through our actions, words, and energy? How often do we pause, even momentarily, to be clear in our own mind about the outcome we want – for ourselves, for others, for the overall situation? The path to setting the tone is being intentional – pausing to gather feedback, to gain self-insight, to get clarity about what we want to be creating, and then to choosing and acting in alignment with the vision we have.

Perhaps you want to explore these possibilities* for being intentional about atone setting along with me?

  1. Get to know each individual on your team so that you can hone your tone in ways that most resonate.
  2. Develop a distinct and consistent tone of voicethat illustrates your personality.
  3. Explore word choices, favorite expressions and personal stories that communicate values you want to impart.
  4. Identify images that help you connect with the emotional element of your tone.
  5. Consider the outcomes you are committed to achieving and the difference the organization’s work makes.
  6. Explore level of formality, leaning toward a conversational tone if you want to bring humanity to your workplace and build personal connection.
  7. Be consistent in using your tone across all channels (meetings, blogs, chats).
  8. Practice so that words come out naturally and your energy supports your message. When writing, read your message out loud to refine the tone.
  9. Slow down enough that you can consider what you say, rather than just blurting out what comes to your mind.
  10. Put yourself in your team member’s shoes and see how what you want to say feels, and then adjust accordingly.
  11. Consider what will add value in the moment, and rather than jumping in to fix a problem or focus on what’s important to you, be present and identify what the situation calls for.
  12. Use gratitude to invite kind, feel-good emotions that support a positive frame of mind.
  13. Open to feedback – from team members, peers, clients…really with anyone whom you interact.
  14. Be gentle and kind with yourself. Don’t forget to listen to the words you use with yourself. Notice your strengths and appreciate what is working well as you make enhancements.

* This list was developed based in part on advice provided in these articles:

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What did I learn?

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Tropical flowers growing at our friend’s house

I have been taking a week-long vacation some place warm during the last week of the year for 17 years now with my husband Jim. Initially we went someplace new every year (e.g., Hawaii, Bahamas, Jamaica), and then we found a place we love on the Pacific coast of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca – specifically in a little town called San Agustinillo which sits right between the towns of Mazunte and Zipolite. A little slice of heaven.

Since we’d been 10 times before, we had established some routines and patterns. For example, we always stay at Posada la Barca (“PLB” for short), a simple 8-room building tucked into a big hill overlooking a gorgeous beach. And, we liked to hang out under the palapas in the lime green Adirondack chairs at Mexico Lindo – we could lounge there with a good book all day every day on our holiday, watching the waves one after the other roll into the beach and listening to the mesmerizing sound of them crashing into the sand.

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View from our PLB hangout at sunset

You’ve probably heard the phrase “All good things come to an end”? Well, Mexico Lindo decided to close its restaurant! Oh, no! We like our routines…

Sometimes things just point you in the right direction. For us, it took another unfortunate occurrence to help us make a new discovery. On our second night, when walking the beach after dinner, Jim somehow tore his calf muscle. Oh, no!

Overnight we iced Jim’s calf every 3 hours, limited his movement, and kept his leg elevated. Having no experience with this kind of thing and uncertain we were taking the proper actions for healing, in the morning I went next door to get help from our neighbors. They pulled up some information on the internet (we were electronics-free) that validated we were doing all the right things. Plus, their guest was recovering from a serious hamstring pull and advised us as well. And, the man who works for our friends made a walking stick from a small tree behind their house, which supported Jim getting around. Even so, his mobility was limited.

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Late afternoon whimsical clouds and golden light

You’ve probably also heard the phrase, “Every ending is a new beginning”? Well, all the years of staying at PLB, and we were just now, on our 11th trip, discovering how wonderful it is to hang out under the palapa outside of our room! We had easy access to our stuff, and, even more wonderful, we had the company of the four-legged furry kind. Every day Celeste, the PLB owner’s dog, joined us under the palapa. (If you are a dog lover, you know what a delicious gift this is.)

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Our PLB hangout, complete with Celeste’s company

While hanging out one day, Jim and I had a conversation about exploiting your experiences to maximize your learning. We agreed that reflective questions encourage being conscious of what’s happening. Being inquisitive, you can help yourself take-away the most from what happens. So, it’s with this curiosity that I now find myself asking “What did I learn?” from our 2016 holiday trip:

  1. Shaking up routines can lead to delicious new discoveries.
  2. Even when ‘bad’ stuff happens, with the right attitude, you can enjoy the experience.
  3. Staying close to ‘home’ can be the perfect way to rest and relax.
  4. Asking for help makes things easier and can be reassuring.

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Playa Rincon – have walking stick, will enjoy the beach!

Other questions Jim proposed for consideration include:

  • What was difficult? (Letting go of expectations and truly going with the flow of what is actually happening)
  • What was easy? (Finding joy in the beauty and kindness surrounding us)

Do you ask yourself questions to explore your experience more deeply? Are there other techniques you use to learn from what happens? I’d love to hear your questions and techniques!

May 2017 be filled with moments of presence where we open to the awareness now and invite insight to guide us.

Feliz Ano Nuevo! Happy New Year!

Here’s to an abundantly delicious year ahead. . .

Notes:

  • I took the photos in this post in San Agustinillo, Mexico.
  • For more photos of our holiday, check out our photo album HERE.
  • For dog lovers, you might enjoy our adventures with Celeste – click HERE.
  • You might be interested in these other posts as you start a fresh new year:

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Our former hangout at Mexico Lindo

Being Intentional

Intentionality blog Mexico vacation photo

Can you answer the question: “What do I want to be creating in my life?”

For many of us, the answer is no, or ‘sort of’. Having clarity about what we want is not easy. We don’t typically slow down enough to know what we really want. We are pulled along by what others want from or for us – our partners, our children, our co-workers , our leaders – and by our human needs  –  to eat, sleep, move – and by the demands of the 24X7 world we live in, where something is always inviting us to give it our attention.

“A more intentional life purposely slows down enough to enjoy the very process of living more intentionally.”

— Tsh Oxenreider

I remember being asked the question “What do you want?” in a workshop and being surprised that I did not have an answer. At the time, with encouragement, I discovered that I wanted to ‘find my joy’. Until that moment, I didn’t know it was lost, and I didn’t really know what that meant. It’s taken 11 years of consistent curiosity and exploration to begin to have an answer. I want to create alignment; that is, I want to be in integrity, living my life and doing my work in a way that honors who I am. My answer has evolved with time, and I’m sure will continue to take shape.

So how do you create greater clarity and live more intentionally?

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First, carve out time to do it. Having a clear direction doesn’t just happen. It has to be important enough to you that you are willing to make time to focus on it. Once you’ve decided you want to understand what is most important to you in your life, determine how much you are willing to give to get it. Is it an hour every weekend? Is it 15 minutes every Friday? Is it 5 minutes every day? It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. It does have to be time when you are undisturbed, time when you can simply be still. Also, you need to give your dreams consistent attention; the more regular your ‘me’ time, the greater your awareness.

“Happily ever after needn’t just exist in fairy tales – all you need to do is take control.”

— Stefan Wissenbach

Being in integrity requires that I have clarity about who I actually am. And, finding the answer to that requires my attention. I take 10-60 minutes each morning to read something inspiring, journal about my fears/feelings/fantasies, practice gentle yoga, and/or meditate. How I start on a given day is influenced by my schedule and the energy of the moment. I find this time is like food or exercise; without it, I don’t feel healthy, and with it, I feel vibrant and alive. It wakes me up and sets a tone for the day.

Intentionality article Mexico
Second, listen to your inner voice. The voice tends to speak when you ask it questions, such as “What is important to me?” and “Why is it important?” Key to living intentionally is building reflection time into your life. If you don’t have a clue about the answer, start by exploring other areas such as “What do I value?”, “What am I good at?”, “What inspires me?”, “What brings me joy?”, “When do I completely lose track of time?”, “What is missing in my life?”

“Listen to your own voice, your own soul. Too many people listen to the noise of the work, instead of themselves.”

— Leon Brown

I find that personal challenges are powerful engines of self-discovery. “Why does she make me angry?” “Why am I resisting?” “Why am I bored?” “Why am I distracted?” In fact, a breast cancer diagnosis pulled me very deeply into a journey with my emotions. It was by exploring the darkness that I ultimately found greater light. Of course, positive experiences are also great tools for self reflection and insight. I can just as easily consider: “Why was that conversation so uplifting?” “Why do things feel easy and fun right now?”

Intentionality article

Third, visualize what you want to create. Make your desired reality concrete. Envision how you are feeling, what you are thinking, what you are doing, where you are, who you are with. Immerse yourself in the experience…what do you see, hear, smell, taste? Recording your vision in some way can help solidify it.

“The simple practice of intentionality. When I do it, my life is different. More purposeful, more consciously lived, more content in any action.”

— Leo Babauta

What you want to create may be big or small, in the present or the future: a feeling, an experience, an impact; a goal for the day, a career aspiration, your legacy. I’ve captured what I want – my vision for something – in varied ways. I love to write so I’ve captured it via informal notes in my journal and as poems. I’ve made collages with magazine cuttings and created word clouds to crystallize my vision. I’ve talked with family and friends about my dreams and shared the future I want to move toward with my teams at work. You may find other ways – perhaps artistic expression such as painting or drawing, or sculpture, or short video. The ways are endless.

Peace sign, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

*  Photos are from one of my favorite places for quiet reflection – San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico

Previously posted on the Office Worker Health blog: 3 Tips for Building More Intentionality Into Your Life.

The internal landscape

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I have great respect for The Center for Creative Leadership and the research they conduct in support of evidence-based leadership practices so I was honored to be invited this week to share with them the work I’ve been leading related to mindfulness. I am especially excited about the Neuroscience and Leadership Initiative that Marian Ruderman and Cathleen Clerkin are leading and the white paper they wrote with colleague Carol Connolly: Leadership Development Beyond Competencies: Moving to a Holistic Approach.

They have given form and structure to many ideas that have been percolating in my mind. Their “Beyond Competencies” model focuses on the dynamics of leaders’ internal landscape  and includes:

  • the physical, chemical and neurological functioning of our bodies (CIRCUITRY)

“Perhaps one of the most exciting recent discoveries from neuroscience about our circuitry is that it is not set in stone. ‘Neuroplasticity’ refers to the brains ability to grow new neurons and neural connections over the course of our life.”

  • the raw emotions, gut reactions, and inner dialogue that happens inside of us (INNER CONTENT)

“Every waking moment, our minds give us unfiltered and unsolicited commentary on ‘shoulds’, ‘ifs’, ‘ought tos’, and ‘wish I hads’. This dialogue with the self is a product of both present and accumulated experiences of life – implicit and explicit memory, beliefs, cultural norms, and mental constructs, adaptive responses based on past experiences and interactions, and the emotions tied to these experiences.”

  • the ability to observe, modify and regulate mental processes (CONSCIOUS ENGAGEMENT)

“…conscious engagement allows individuals to choose a more mindful response to difficult situations…With time and dedicated training, leaders…can develop the ability to tune into thoughts, emotions, and inner processes to promote healthier physical and psychological responses.”

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Quite different from the behavioral models that have been so prevalent in the past.

“…behavioral competency models focused solely on tangibles, largely ignoring the not so readily observable internal and/or automatic processes that lie below the surface, such as personal life experiences, emotions, or mindsets.”

Their model focuses on leaders as complete people – not just their specific behaviors, but also their inner experiences which can influence, explain and shape behaviors and actions. These researchers bring to bear disciplines not traditionally associated with leader development such as neuroscience, positive psychology and contemplative practices.

“We see the outer ‘doing’ of a leader as blending and interacting with his or her inner ‘being’, and the internal landscape and external stimuli as cocreators of behavior.”

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Previously I’ve blogged about awareness as the foundation of great leadership. This new models helps clarify a couple of core elements of awareness. If we are attuned to our body circuitry and our emotional/psychological inner world, surely we’re positioned to better understand our reactions and more effectively shape desired behaviors. Pausing long enough to look inside for the insights to be found there remains a big challenge given our always-on environment. That’s where intention comes in. To grow and transform takes commitment – and practice.

To get you started, I offer some reflective questions to contemplate:

  • How often do I notice what’s going on physically with my body? What kinds of things do I notice, if any? What else might I pay attention to?
  • Am I aware of my emotions and gut reactions to people and situations? What kinds of things am I thinking or saying in my mind?
  • In what ways do I seek to understand and shape what I’m experiencing in the moment?

If you’re looking for some ways to explore your internal landscape, you might be interested in Building Your ‘Focus Muscle’ – Using your Breath to Create Greater Awareness or Get Going with Mini-Habits.

 

 

Creating Balance

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Balance is something we create. We experience it physically in our bodies, emotionally through our feelings, and mentally through our inner dialogue and mindset. It’s not actually a real thing. It doesn’t exist outside of our experience of it.

Envision standing on a balance beam. What do you see? How do you feel? What thoughts are going through your mind? What emotions are you experiencing? What body sensations are you having? Were you balanced or off balance? Whichever you envisioned, now imagine the opposite. What do you see? How do you feel? What thoughts are going through your mind? What emotions are you experiencing? What body sensations are you having? How were your experiences different?

Like performing a flawless routine on a beam, to achieve the steadiness and equilibrium needed to be in balance requires focus. Focus is achieved through intentional use of our energy. When we move to a place where we are paying attention to the signal and not the noise and when we are tuning in to the calm instead of the chaos around us, we find balance.

Below are three practices you can try in order to discover and use your power to create balance.

BREATHE

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Any time, any place, simply pause and notice your breath. No need to judge it or try to change it, just notice it. By bringing your attention to your breathing, you bring yourself into the present moment. As long as you are focusing on your breath, you are not anticipating the future or ruminating about the past – you are here now, where that sense of balance is possible.

This simple shift of noticing our breath is a way of moving us out of our always-on, analyzing, judging, evaluating, planning minds and into our bodies. We shift from thinking to feeling. The shift is important because it moves us to a place where we can be at choice. And, when we are at choice, we can opt for something that brings us a sense of balance.

IMMERSE

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Sometime during the day, focus on a specific experience and bring your full attention to the activity. You might choose a routine activity that you do every day like washing your hands or your face, brushing your teeth, making your bed, eating a meal or drinking, walking, or listening to someone. Just be awake for the activity, instead of letting your auto-pilot run. Pay attention to what you are doing and how you feel physically and emotionally while doing it. Notice your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Really observe yourself in the moment. The aim is to establish a solid base for appreciative attention.

Being in an experience is more fulfilling – we’re there for it, involved in it consciously, feeling and sensing – and that can create a sense of balance. We’re not just in our heads; we’re open to our emotional response and physical sensations. It might not be that you need to do less to find balance, rather it might be that you can simply engage more in what you are doing.

APPRECIATE

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Start or end your day in gratitude. When you go to bed each night or wake up each morning, name something from the day that you are grateful for. If you find this difficult, go beyond your experience of the day and include things you are generally appreciative of. You might identify people, places, things, feelings, activities, qualities such as friendship, home, flowers, joy, relaxing, or creativity, for example. Anything can be the object of your appreciation, even pain and mistakes that you grow from. You can do this in your mind, or you can keep a journal and record the objects of your appreciation.

Grateful appreciation is cleansing. It’s like removing a film that has been covering the lens through which we see our life. Being thankful is, in fact, much more than that – it is good for you. It can lead to greater optimism, acceptance, resilience, alertness, adventurousness, creativity, and health. And, with all of those qualities flowing through our lives, we counteract the negativity, resistance, burn out, disappointment, and just plain crazy busy-ness that can pervade our lives.

 

Learn more at the IBM Jobs blog I’m writing with my colleagues: Mindfulness Series.

You might also be interested in this previous post: Focus.

 

* I took the photo on Menorca, Spain on the path between Cala Macarella and Cala Macarelleta, where I felt strong and firm on the cliff’s edge as I relaxed with my husband Jim on holiday to balance a productive first half of the year at work.

Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Great Leadership

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“Opportunities for leadership are all around us.

The capacity for leadership is deep within us.”

~Madeline Albright

The foundation of great leadership is awareness – whether you are leading a multi-national corporation or managing a team or leading work as an individual contributor: awareness of what’s going on inside you, with those around you, and in your environment. It all starts, though, with self-awareness.

So many people are moving so fast, trying to make a difference, whether for their families, their friends, their teams, or their clients. At our hectic pace, we often don’t see what’s really needed of us, we may not appreciate the impact we have, and we may not be aware of the unique ways we shape the world. We tend to run on autopilot. That pilot is fueled by habits and patterns and runs us in ways that lead to reacting instead of responding. That pilot takes away our power to transform and make the biggest difference.

“Every human has four endowments –

self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination.

These give us the ultimate freedom…

the power to choose, to respond, to change.”

~Steven Covey

Leadership is defined in myriad ways, and there are many critical and awesome qualities that contribute to great leadership. For example, today’s leadership calls for us to sense what’s happening in the moment and respond with clarity, to open to new ways of engaging and be courageous in taking bold action that disrupts the status quo, and to co-create the future with others, amplifying the positive and boosting the greatness in each other. The key to developing such qualities, and indeed whatever is needed of us, is knowing who we are and how we create value as individuals.

Gaining self-awareness requires that we explore that part of us that is rooted deep inside. That part of ourselves that can be so elusive and challenging to know. To understand ourselves at our core takes being vulnerable, and being willing to explore with curiosity, openness and acceptance. Knowing ourselves in a way that grounds us takes trust, and faith that we are special and here for a reason.

Under the armor that we often wear when we step into the workplace, there is a softness that our hearts keep alive. Some believe that exposing this is not professional or might keep us from taking tough action that can be required to accomplish great things. Failing to open to this aspect of ourselves holds us back from being awesome and delivering amazing results. It’s not about hard or soft, actually. It’s about blending both. It’s about bringing compassion to the office so that we build solid relationships that support collaboration. It’s about inviting openness and diverse perspectives so that unexpectedly delicious opportunities come alive before us.

The answer to the question of ‘who am I?” doesn’t show up and ‘stick’. It’s a continuous journey of discovery to have clarity about our inner strength, what it’s made of, why it’s important, where it comes from, and how it manifests itself. As we try new things that challenge and stretch us, we grow and are somehow never the quite the same for our experience.

“Awareness is like the sun.

when it shines on things,

they are transformed.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

To be a great leader involves ongoing check-ins and staying tuned-in with what’s going on right here, right now. Developing as a leader happens when we commit to knowing ourselves every day. Attending a class or completing a program can guide us along the path and provide us with markers for getting where we want to go. However, becoming a great leader is something we create for ourselves. As we cultivate from the inside our mindsets and attitudes, we set the foundation for powerful behavior and critical action.

Below are some questions designed to look inside and create greater self-awareness. They are broad because it is there that possibility opens. If you opt to build reflection time into your schedule, you might find it helpful to write your answers. You may be surprised by what moves from inside of you through your hand and onto the page. And, there will be the insight that propels you forward.

  • What matters to you?
  • How do you want to feel?
  • What do you value?
  • What do you enjoy?
  • What inspires, energizes, motivates you?
  • What do you dream of?
  • How do you make a difference?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What comes naturally to you?
  • What challenges you?
  • What words would others use to describe you?
  • If you could do anything, what would you do?

I offer the poem below as a way to warm you up for a period of reflection.

Namaste

 

 

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You might be also interested in this related post: Inviting Softness

* I took the photograph of a clematis growing in my backyard.