The Power and Importance of Connection

The Power and Importance of Connection

I recently visited the Okanagan for a conference and to reconnect with old friends. It felt so good to spend time in the presence of folks I had gotten to know over the 8 years I had lived near Kelowna. You know how you feel when you haven’t seen or spoken to someone in a while and it seems like only yesterday since you’ve chatted? You pick up easily and effortlessly and feel relaxed, accepted and valued in their presence. Having moved from a place I had lived longer than anywhere since I left home at 18, I realize that I had started to put down roots. Do you relate? Moving to a new city within the past year, I so miss the deep connections I have with old friends.

So what is connection and why is it so important?

Brene Brown defines connection as “… the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

A growing body of research shows that our learning, health and wellbeing are profoundly shaped by our social environments and connections with others.

Matthew Lieberman in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect makes a strong case that the human need to connect with others is as basic as our need for food, shelter and water. Lieberman draws on findings from his own research and others to demonstrate that “being socially connected is our brain’s life long passion; … (and) “he argues that the need to reach out and connect with others is a primary driver behind our behavior.” We are wired to try to understand others and connect with them.

A strong body of research shows that social support, which includes emotional connection with “… a trusted group or valued individual, has been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological consequences of stress, and may enhance immune function. Social networks, whether formal (such as a church or social club) or informal (meeting with friends) provide a sense of belonging, security, and community.”[1]

Rita Pierson, an educator for 40 years, makes the case in a humorous and brilliant TED Talk[2], that a positive relationship and connection between teacher and student is important for learning to occur. It’s not just about “pouring information into children’s heads”.

Knowing these facts about the value and importance of human connection has amazing implications on the way we facilitate learning in schools, collaboration and productivity in workplaces, and a sense of harmony, security and belonging in communities.

Reflecting on your life so far, can you identify educators, peers, bosses and friends who have strongly influenced your life in positive ways? What characteristics did they possess, and what positive impacts did they have on you, your health and wellbeing, learning, and/or sense of security and belonging?

I welcome your shares and comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.

[1] https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/social-support

 

[2] https://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion

 

Leading in Uncertain Times: Lessons Learned from Living & Working on 5 Continents

Leading in Uncertain Times: Lessons Learned from Living & Working on 5 Continents

I believe that humanity is essentially good and that we are all interconnected.

I believe that everything happens for a reason.

The Universe provides me with what I need and Great Spirit is guiding me towards fulfillment.

Nature connects me with my soul.

I believe that life is an adventure to be lived to the fullest and

that I am here to help build peace in the world.

(Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women, p. 6 –

http://creativelivingcommunity.com/blog/the-book/

What do you believe?

In a previous post (http://creativelivingcommunity.com/leading-in-uncertain-times-the-power-of-perception/), I shared the power of perception and how it affects our ability to lead effectively in uncertain times. In this post, I will share some lessons learned based on my own beliefs and experiences gleaned from leading and managing in a variety of organizations and cultures on 5 continents.

Lessons Learned:

  • We are all the same. We all want to be valued, respected, to feel safe, secure and to belong.

When living and working in Afghanistan six years ago, I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry of Public Health eating lunch with one of my female Afghan colleagues when there was a powerful explosion. Within seconds of the huge blast, my Muslim colleague was phoning each of her family members to ensure that they were all safe. I think most of us would have done the same. We all value family and care about those close to us. The explosion was from a number of suicide bombers entering the military hospital across the road. The result was the senseless deaths of a number of Afghan patients and their families, and medical students.

I have enjoyed managing and consulting in a number of culturally diverse and uncertain environments, and believe my effectiveness has been largely due to the belief that we are all the same. When you view everyone through the lens of that belief, you are able to connect with them, and work effectively whether or not you speak their language or have the same cultural background or religion. In Afghanistan using participatory processes, I was able to collaboratively develop/co-create the first strategic plan with the Ministry of Public Health, and have it pass through all the policy layers and be signed off by the Minister within 9 months.

I invite you to experiment tomorrow and try throughout your day to view everyone you see through the lens and belief that “we are all the same”, whether it be a homeless person, a colleague you have a tense relationship with, or a family member you have difficulties relating to. Try this and notice what you notice.

  • We are all interconnected.

You may have heard that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, two years later it can result in a tornado in Kansas. The butterfly effect[1] has demonstrated that a small change in one area can result in powerful future outcomes in another. If you as a leader believe in an organizational culture that focuses on people, understanding and collaboration, you have the power to shape and change the organization based on how you treat and respond to people and challenging situations daily. How you communicate with others has an impact throughout the organization and beyond. We all have heard about the disheartened employee who has gone home and kicked his dog or beaten his wife.

I invite you to “try out” this belief and have it in the forefront of your mind when you interact and communicate with others on a daily basis in your workplace, community, and family. Notice how this affects your interactions, the organizational morale and environment.

  • Nature connects me with my soul.

Did you know that when you walk in forests, it reduces your blood pressure, reduces your heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces (i.e. strengthens your immune system)? Based on longitudinal research, the Japanese have institutionalized forest bathing or forest therapy. In their highly competitive culture, they encourage and support people to regularly visit centers in forests throughout Japan to forest bathe, and they continue to collect powerful longitudinal data on its valuable effects.

I encourage you to spend time in nature for 30 minutes or more at least 3 times a week. When I spend time in nature I feel relaxed, energized, happy and free. My stress is reduced (if I’m having a particularly stressful day). If as leaders we are committed to spending regular time in nature, do you think it would positively impact our effectiveness?

  • Life is an adventure to be lived to the fullest.

Based on this belief, I’ve lead an adventurous and full life so far [and hope to continue doing so J ]. I’ve lived and worked in the mountains of northern Colombia with peasant farmers in the late 80s when Pablo Escobar was “running around” and the Medellin Cartel was in full swing. I’ve lived and worked in Kabul, Afghanistan for 13 months from October 2010 to November 2011 (a volatile and uncertain time), and managed large multi-stakeholder projects in Pakistan and Nigeria where corruption is rampant and violence can erupt at any time. When I don’t have adventure in my life I get restless and feel unfulfilled, and I either seek out adventure or it serendipitously comes my way. Similarly, if contribution and making a positive difference in the world is one of your core values[2] and you work in an organization that is “all about the money”, over time you will likely feel unhappy and unfulfilled. This will affect your personal and your work life.

I encourage you to identify your core beliefs and what is most important to you, and then begin living them everyday.

I welcome your comments and experiences below. What lessons have you learned from leading in uncertain times? Which lessons above do you resonate with?  Appreciate you sharing the post with others.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

[2] For more about core values and why they are important: http://creativelivingcommunity.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/

What will be Your Legacy & Why should You Care?

What will be Your Legacy & Why should You Care?

The passing of someone close to us reminds us of our own mortality and provides the opportunity to reflect on our lives and how we want to be remembered. Are you living the life you love? Are you using your gifts and talents to make the world a better place? Do you typically awaken with a smile on your face and a song in your heart? Are there some changes you would like to make to live a life more aligned with your core values? [1]

These are some questions that came up for me on the recent passing of my dear father, George Edsol Robert Thompson, affectionately known as Bob. Despite losing both parents by the time he was 21 and his only brother at 29, he was a compassionate man who touched the lives of many, and achieved most if not all the goals he set. A devoted husband and father, he and my Mom raised 3 daughters who all get along well and love each other.

As a tribute to my Dad I would like to share the open letter I spoke from my heart at his recent “celebration of life”.

Dear Dad,

Thank you for:

  • Believing in me and making me believe that I can “be” or “do” anything I choose to “be” or “do”.
  • Instilling in me the value of education and a thirst for learning.
  • Encouraging and exposing me to try a wide variety of sports. I remember and so appreciate all those rides from the cottage to Iroquois and back for swimming lessons, and the basketball games and track and field events you faithfully attended.
  • Modelling for me with Mom what a loving family looks, acts and feels like, and for instilling in me strong family values.
  • Exposing me to nature. I have such fond memories of those camping trips to the west and east coast, and in particular the six-week adventure we took with a tent trailer when I was 13 and my sisters were 3 and 5. Who does that? YOU did Dad with Mom’s amazing support. Thank you Dad for …
  • Inspiring me to be the best I can be.

You will be dearly missed and never forgotten, not only by me, my sisters, and our families, but by the many lives you touched throughout your teaching career and life.

I love you.

My Dad lived an extremely full, and fulfilling life. He accomplished pretty well everything he wanted to do. How many of us can say that?

What legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

 

 

[1] For more info on core values see http://creativelivingcommunity.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/

Leading in Uncertain Times: The Power of Perception

Leading in Uncertain Times: The Power of Perception

It is an understatement to say that we live in uncertain times. In this challenging period, characterized by worldwide conflict, sharp political divisions, and racism, you may feel uncertain about your future, the future of your family, your organization, and the planet. You may think there is little you can do in your day-to-day life and work to make a significant difference. You are a natural leader, yet in the current climate you may be wondering how you can lead with greater compassion, understanding, clarity and confidence.

What I know to be true is that HOW you perceive uncertainty has a powerful influence on your effectiveness and your ability to lead.

A number of years ago I read in Freedom to Love, Freedom to Heal[1], a phrase that stuck with me, and that I pondered for some time:

“Uncertainty is the path to freedom”

When we are in a sea of change or chaos, and much of what we know is being questioned, disassembled or is foreign, it is difficult to believe this is true. How CAN uncertainty be the path to freedom?

When I’ve worked in conflict zones and foreign countries where I didn’t speak the language, every day was uncertain. In Afghanistan on the way to work, my vehicle with its armed Afghan driver could be pulled over by police at any time, and we could be questioned at length or commanded to drive to the nearest police station for further questioning. At any moment, a suicide bomb attack could occur nearby.

To work effectively in these environments, I couldn’t be fearful and focus on the negative possibilities. To do so would result in stress hormones constantly pumping through my body, and an inability to function effectively. I had to focus on the positive difference I was making on the people and within the organizations whose capacity I was building. Many times I had to be creative about the processes and solutions I chose, and trust that they would work. One example was when I met with the Minister of the Department who I was working with to develop their first strategic plan. Within that first meeting she asked me for a report based on what I thought of the policy development and planning processes within her Ministry. She wanted this report within a month, and I had just arrived in a country that I’d never before worked in whose language I did not speak! The first thing I did was ask an Afghan colleague if he had or knew where to obtain an organizational chart in English. He said he didn’t think one existed so I asked him for one in local language. Then I pointed to the 15 highest-level “boxes” on the org chart and asked what departments they were and the names of each Director. Shortly after, I approached my colleague to take me in person and introduce me to each Director. At each introduction, I would ask for an hour or so of their time to be interviewed and stated that I would follow up with some questions prior to each interview. All those approached were happy to accommodate me. The result was, I met the top 15 key decision-makers in the Ministry within the first month. I asked them how they developed policy and did planning, what was working, what wasn’t and what suggestions they would offer to improve policy development and planning processes within their Ministry. I “rolled up” their data, teasing out the key strengths, weaknesses and their suggestions for improvement, and added my own observations and recommendations. In about a month I submitted my report to the Minister. Months later when I was in meetings with many of those I’d interviewed and they asked why a certain action had been taken, I was able to refer to those interviews and the fact that a particular action had been taken to address an issue they had raised with me months before.

Perhaps the reason I enjoy working in foreign countries and cultures is because many processes I’ve used have never before been tested in a particular culture or language, OR I am challenged to come up with creative solutions for situations I’ve never before encountered.

So how can we lead effectively in times of uncertainty?

Key Beliefs for Effective Leadership in Uncertain Times

1) It is important to believe that uncertain times provide opportunities for creativity, and new and innovative approaches versus playing it safe and doing things “like we’ve always done”. Belief and what we believe is powerful! Did you know that you CAN change your life by changing your beliefs? Bruce Lipton, an internationally recognized stem cell biologist, demonstrated in his research that “the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals that propel life.”[2] Epigenetics “… the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off”[3] further supports Lipton’s work, as it reveals that our perceptions influence our biology.

As leaders we have an incredible opportunity to influence the beliefs of those around us. What if we truly believed that uncertain times provide opportunities for creativity and new and innovative approaches? Imagine leading from a place of hope, rather than fear and uncertainty.

2) You have the power to change the world.

The butterfly effect[4] demonstrates that powerful outcomes are extremely sensitive to initial conditions; such that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can result in a tornado over Kansas 2 years later. Another example is how the black woman, Rosa Parks, refusing to go to the back of the bus, resulted in the birth of the civil rights movement in the United States. If you believe that you have the power to change the world, the values you emanate and the courageous actions you take influence those around you.

3) The Power of Collaboration and Synergy – When I was young, I believed that I could get things done better if I did them all myself, based on my experiences working with groups in elementary and high school. You may relate. It wasn’t until I was chairing a national strategy in my 30s with representatives from a number of organizations, facilitated by a skilled facilitator, when I realized that a group of diverse individuals when focused around a common and powerful vision CAN make an incredible difference. It was then that I understood the power of synergy; the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

4) Understanding and Compassion is the way forward – One of the lessons I’ve learned from living and working in a number of diverse cultures, is that if we seek to understand why someone does or says something, rather than judge them based on our own perspective, our life and work is much more interesting and fulfilling. Rather than becoming angry, judgmental and imposing our beliefs on others, coming from a place of curiosity and compassion builds connection and enables people to do their best work. … What I’ve learned is that people always do things for a reason that makes sense to them.

Our perceptions have a powerful influence on our effectiveness as leaders in uncertain times. I welcome your comments and invite you to share your experiences below. Feel free to share this post with others.

Together we CAN change the world!

[1] A book by Dr. David Simon, neurologist, and internationally renowned expert in mind-body medicine.

[2] The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles, xiv

[3] http://www.whatisepigenetics.com/what-is-epigenetics/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

 

Do You Often Go “Full Out” then Crash? Tips to Change that Pattern

Do You Often Go “Full Out” then Crash? Tips to Change that Pattern

Oh, how I love spring! Here on the west coast, the daffodils and crocus have been out for several weeks, and the cherry blossoms and rhododendrons are starting to show their beauty. Many of us in spring get “spring fever” or a burst of energy; particularly if we’ve endured a long, cold winter. This time of year, I have to remind myself that I’m not 25 anymore and avoid taking on too many new obligations and activities even though I feel so alive! Perhaps you relate. Do you often take on alot of activities and obligations, and say “yes” because you’ve been asked and you think you should? I’ve been there and know what it feels like to lose your energy and not feel like doing much of anything. So how can you prevent yourself from taking on too much and then crashing?

Here are a few tips:

  • Spend time in nature several times a week or more. Go for a walk, a hike, visit a garden, use all of your senses to take in the natural beauty. Bathe in forests. The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk in forests, it reduces our heartrate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (strengthens our immune system).
  • Be aware of your energy and the people who “give” and “take” energy from you. Get clear on the people in your life who energize you and those who tend to sap your energy. Spend most of your time with those who energize you.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Write a list of the things you enjoy doing. When people ask you to chair a committee or serve on the Executive of a group, be clear that this is what you enjoy doing rather than what you feel you SHOULD do. Living life following the “shoulds” is energy-draining and doesn’t bring out our “best sides”. For more strategies visit http://creativelivingcommunity.com/are-you-giving-too-much-2/
  • Practice saying “no”. You may have been raised in a family where children and women were expected to do what they were asked and experienced the repercussions of NOT following the rules. … Start small. It’s like a muscle; the more you say “no”, the easier it becomes.
  • Listen to and Trust in Your Body’s Wisdom. Our bodies always know the truth. There are a number of decision-making tools that enable us to get “out of our heads” and our logical left-brains, and tap into our bodies. Muscle testing is one way to determine whether we should say “yes” or “no”. One way to do this is to stand up straight, feel like you have a plumb line going from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Then ask yourself the following: Is my name …? And state your real name. Your body should sway forward meaning “yes”. Then say to yourself Is my name John Doe? If that is not your name, your body should sway backwards. Now you have a baseline. Now ask yourself other questions such as Should I accept the position as President of this Club/organization?. When your body moves backwards it indicates “no”, forwards “yes”, and if it doesn’t move ask again. It may be that this decision won’t have strong impact on you either way. For additional examples see http://creativelivingcommunity.com/how-do-you-make-decisions/ . 

I’d love to hear from you and invite you to try any or all of the strategies above and notice how they work for you.

Please share below strategies that you’ve found helpful in preventing you from taking on too much and then crashing.

Here’s to your health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace!