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/

A Digital Detox: Is it for You?

A Digital Detox: Is it for You?

Do you habitually check the news feeds on your smartphone before falling asleep?

On awakening do you check Facebook on your phone?

Are you finding it challenging to fall asleep, and do you often awaken feeling unrested?

Do you feel stressed, and have difficulty focusing?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of the above questions, you are not alone, AND you may benefit from a digital detox.

What exactly is a digital detox? According to Wikipedia, a digital detox refers to a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic connecting devices such as smartphones and computers.”  It is recommended that you do a digital detox for 24 hours or more.

The Evidence[1]

Did you know that:

  • 67% of cellphone owners find themselves checking their device even when it’s not ringing or vibrating
  • One out of ten Americans report depression; heavy internet users are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed
  • 95% of people use some type of electronics in the hour leading up to bed, and
    artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22%  negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood
  • Unplugging for just one day can give some users mental and physical withdrawal symptoms.

The Benefits of a Digital Detox

Scientific studies and social experiments have noted the following results from digital detoxing:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved sleep/reduced fatigue
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased connection with self and others leading to improved relationships
  • Improved focus
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased energy
  • Improved memory
  • Increased clarity
  • Enhanced health

Getting Started/How to do a Digital Detox

Frances Booth[2] shares some valuable suggestions on how to do a digital detox. She and others recommend the following.

Create a Positive Mindset

Identify for yourself why you want to do the detox and the benefits it will provide. While thinking about each benefit, imagine how you will feel in your body when you have achieved it. For example, how will it feel to be more productive, more creative, more connected to family and friends, more relaxed. … .

Plan Ahead

Identify a 24-hour period when you want to try a digital detox. Ideally make it a weekend or a time when you aren’t working. Tell your family and friends your plans, and why you’re doing it.

Plan some time in nature, as being among trees reduces blood pressure, reduces your heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces.

Plan some one-on-one time with your partner, a friend or your family to truly connect with them.

Ask for Support

Tell your family and friends of your plans, and why you’re doing it.

You may wish to invite a partner or friend to do the detox with you. Support is important when changing any behavior.

Notice How You feel and Express Yourself

When you start the detox, notice how your feel. It’s not unusual to be fidgety and have some withdrawal symptoms. You may find it helpful to write down your feelings. If you feel the urge to connect, take some deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Experience the feelings rather than “pushing them down”.

During the detox and after, notice what you notice and write down those feelings.

Make Digital Detoxing a Habit

The more digital detoxing you do, the easier it becomes. Try unplugging for at least 90 minutes before you go to bed each night. Go offline for 24 hours each weekend.

Parting Words

I love the tagline of http://digitaldetox.org/   “Disconnect to Reconnect”. Unplugging is relatively easy, yet the results are profound.

An Invitation

I invite you to try a digital detox. If you’ve already tried one, please share your experiences and comments below. Share this post with people you care about who could benefit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://digitaldetox.org/manifesto/

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/francesbooth/2014/06/13/how-to-do-a-digital-detox/3/#7461fa00253e

New Beginnings: What will You Do Differently This Year?

New Beginnings: What will You Do Differently This Year?

The beginning of a new year is a great time to think about what you will do differently in the coming year. I love the image of a butterfly as it makes me realize I CAN reinvent myself in some ways, and the start of a new year is an optimal time to do this. 2017 is a particularly special year, as according to numerology, it is the first year of a 9-year cycle. This means that what do you in 2017 sets the path for the following 8 years. I am excited and rejuvenated thinking about what I am going to do differently this year! What will support me to awaken each day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart?

Here’s what I plan to do differently this year (in my life and in my work).

  • More “being” – open to possibilities, and to listening to the messages I receive
  • More “receiving” – self-nurturing; taking time for myself doing things I enjoy
  • More adventure – sleeping on a sailboat and taking a trip to Europe or Asia with my Sweetie
  • More time in nature
  • More cycling
  • More video
  • More speaking “gigs”
  • New/Updated website
  • More leverage in my business
  • More writing – perhaps start my memoir?

What would you like to do differently this year?

Take a few moments to ground yourself and get present. Write down the question above, and the responses that come to you. Try to stay in your body and write from your “heart” instead of your head. When you finish writing, go through each statement, say it aloud, and notice how your body responds to it. I suggest only including things that excite you, and will support you to awaken each day with a smile on your face, and a song in your heart.

I’d love to hear what exciting plans you have for 2017! Feel free to share them and your comments below. I appreciate you sharing the post with others.

 

How to Stay Healthy, Happy and Mindful during the Holidays

How to Stay Healthy, Happy and Mindful during the Holidays

The holidays are a time of joy, laughter, connecting with family and friends, and celebration. They also may be stressful on our bodies, minds and “pocket books”. With our already busy lives; extra baking, shopping, gift-wrapping, and entertaining can make us feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Here are a few tips to help you to stay healthy, happy and mindful during the holidays and beyond.

  • Take time for you – Holidays are a time to give to others, and they are also a time to give to yourself. Schedule time in your day for that yoga class, to go to the gym, for that bubble bath. Rather than jumping out of bed each morning and “hitting the ground running”, do a full body stretch; close your eyes and scan your body from head to toe noticing any areas of tightness or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and release that tension or discomfort.
  • Spend time in nature at least 3 times a week (for 15 to 30 minutes or more). Being in nature is SOoo therapeutic. Focusing on the beauty that surrounds you takes your busy mind off that never-ending “to-do” list. Did you know that the Japanese have done longitudinal studies that show when we spend time in forests (they call it forest bathing or forest therapy) it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces; which means it strengthens our immune system. During stressful times it is particularly important to keep our immune systems strong so we don’t end up with that flu or cold after our guests leave!
  • Celebrate YOU! At the end of each day identify at least one thing you want to celebrate about yourself for that day. It could be something you accomplished or how you responded in a stressful situation. When you constantly give to others without nourishing and celebrating yourself, you will become depleted and may also become resentful and/ or ill.

I’d love to hear your strategies for staying happy, healthy and mindful during the holidays. Please share them below. Feel free to pass this on to others you care about.

[1] Here is a useful resource on mindful eating: http://thecenterformindfuleating.org/

What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?

What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?

I invite you to ask yourself the question, What would I do if I had no fear? Notice what comes up. You may get a message “Leave my job.” “Leave my marriage.” “Start that business I’ve been wanting to for awhile.” If you get a message, then notice how your body feels when you receive it. Do you feel tension, or excitement about new possibilities? You may then ask yourself, What’s the worst thing that could happen if … I leave my job, leave my marriage, start that new business? Notice again what messages and feelings come up for you.

The Importance of Listening to Your Body’s Wisdom

What I know to be true from my own journey and work with clients around the world is that our body always knows the truth. When we stay in a job or relationship that no longer serves us, it takes a lot of energy. We are living out of alignment with what Buddha calls our “true self” wants; what we intuitively know is the best choice for us. I’ve made a number of “pros” and “cons” lists over the years based on my rational left-brain. However, the decisions I’ve made solely from using my logical left-brain, have not always been the right ones for me. The ones I’ve made by going inside and listening to my body have always been the “right” ones.

What happens when We Don’t Listen

One of the keys to Creative Living[1] in my book Learning to Dance with Life is “Listen to and Trust in Your Body’s Wisdom”. There is increasing evidence of the negative impacts on our body of NOT listening to the messages it sends us. Dr. Gabor Mate, in his book When the Body Says No, provides case studies and research evidence linking stress with cancer and auto-immune disorders. Ruth Buczynski, licensed psychologist and President of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), wrote that the high stress of our complicated lives “can wreak havoc on our brain’s ability to control emotions, maintain focus and perform tasks”- http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/the-brain-under-stress-using-mindfulness-to-regain-focus/). When we stay in jobs or relationships that are stressing us out, over time this leads to negative impacts on our health and also negatively affects our performance at work.

Tools to Enhance Body Awareness

In my work with clients I teach a number of tools and techniques to assist them to listen to and trust in their body’s wisdom. It takes some time and practice, however the benefits are amazing! Imagine being able to ask yourself about a decision you are challenged to make, and being able to go inside your body and “know” the truth/the best choice for you? Imagine being able to trust that the decision you are making will bring positive results to you, instead of deliberating for days and a number of sleepless nights over what to do?

A good place to start is with Body Scanning, a mindfulness technique from Eastern psychology. This practice cultivates the ability within you to live “in the present moment”. When you do a body scan, you take the time to notice and feel your body’s sensations. A good time to do this is in the morning on awakening. Rather than leaping out of bed and “hitting the ground running” make a conscious effort to quiet your mind and scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any tension or discomfort; breathe into these areas and consciously release and let of the tension. – See more at: http://creativelivingcommunity.com/how-you-can-find-peace-amidst-the-chaos-of-daily-life-work/

Another tool that I’ve found really helpful to “get out of my head” and “into my body” is Mindfulness Walking Meditation. When you do a mindfulness walking meditation outdoors, you feel the ground beneath your feet, the breeze against your face, and the cool air flowing through your nostrils down into your lungs. You smell the salt sea air or the aroma of lilacs, and you observe the scenery around you. Rather than spending your time constantly thinking about and processing all the things you have to do, you stay present and experience all of nature’s beautiful sights, smells, sounds and sensations.

My challenge to you

I encourage you to try one or both of the tools above. Begin with one and start incorporating it into your life on a daily basis. Notice how you feel in the moment and over time. I’d love to hear your experiences below with trying these tools. I invite you to share your own tools and techniques for listening to and trusting in your body’s wisdom and the results you’ve achieved from doing so. Feel free to share this post with others.

[1] http://creativelivingcommunity.com/what-is-creative-living/