Embracing Uncertainty as a Leader and Changemaker

Embracing Uncertainty as a Leader and Changemaker

A new year holds promise and also brings with it uncertainty.

How do you respond to uncertainty as a leader and changemaker? Do you typically greet it with open arms, or hide from it pretending you have all the answers, as you feel uncomfortable not knowing the outcomes.

What happens when you approach uncertainty believing you have all the answers? You may set goals and push through to accomplish them, focusing mainly on the metrics, without taking into consideration your people and an intervention’s impact on your organization and its culture. You may miss out on opportunities and creative solutions that can arise from uncertain situations.

To illustrate what happens when we greet uncertainty with open arms …

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working in international health and development is the uncertainty, and with that, the opportunities for new and creative solutions, that present themselves. For example, when I was working in Afghanistan about 10 years ago as a Senior Technical Advisor in Planning and Performance Measurement, I met with the Minister the second day of my 9-month contract. At that time, she shared that although their original plan was to hire a policy and a planning advisor, since I had some experience with policy that she wanted me, within the first month, to give her a report of my impressions of her Ministry’s policy development and planning processes and what recommendations I would offer to improve them. This, on top of the tight timeframe I had to work with her folks to develop the Ministry’s first strategic plan and build their capacity in planning!

I went back to my office and asked the Afghan physician and policy advisor who sat beside me, if he had an org chart of the Ministry in English. He said “no” but he had one in local language. He printed one out for me and I asked him to tell me which departments were in the 15 boxes below the Minister and Deputies and the names of each Director while at the same time writing them all in English on the chart. Then I asked if he would take me to each one of their offices and introduce me to them (a few at a time).

At that time, I shared with each person that I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with them for 1 to 1.5 hours over the next day or so, and asked if there was a time that would work for them. I then followed up with the interview questions by email, which I quickly formulated. Within a month I had interviewed the top 15 department heads, rolled up in a report for the Minister what THEY perceived where the key strengths and weaknesses in their policy development and planning processes, their suggestions for improvement and added my own recommendations. In addition to learning a lot about how policy development, implementation and planning was done at the Ministry, I also had met one-on-one with 15 influential leaders in the organization, which served me well in the coming months.  

If I had planned the above scenario in advance, it couldn’t have worked out better!

What ingredients are required of leaders and changemakers so we can more effectively deal with uncertainty and embrace it?

I believe the following are important in this complex and rapidly changing world we live and work in:

  • Authenticity – Acknowledging that you do not have all the answers or aren’t sure what to do.
  • Flexibility – Creating opportunities to reflect, and the ability to change direction during a process that has an uncertain outcome (e.g. culture change process) .
  • Emotional Intelligence – Recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses, surrounding yourself with a team that has complementary skills and personality traits to yours, inviting their thoughts and suggestions, and truly listening to what they have to say.
  • Process Understanding and Inclusive Orientation – Valuing a facilitated process that encourages different voices to be heard and supports diversity.
  • Openness to new ideas – Inviting creative ideas and listening to what people are saying; (e.g. providing opportunities to encourage people to tap into and express their creative sides).
  • Trust that everything will work out. Chaos theory has demonstrated that order comes out chaos.

Uncertainty conjures up fear in many of us; however if we greet it with open arms and include the ingredients above, incredible opportunities and solutions are possible!

How do you embrace uncertainty? I invite your thoughts below.

What habits are you choosing to release from 2019 and bring into 2020?

What habits are you choosing to release from 2019 and bring into 2020?

A habit is defined as: “a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior … ; an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary …: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition”  (Merriam-Webster dictionary – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit)

When we choose to make something a habit, we integrate it into our lives and regularly repeat it, so over time we don’t have to make a decision about whether or not to do it. Becoming consciously aware of the benefits a positive habit brings to you, such as a feeling of calmness and being grounded that comes from meditating daily, is beneficial. Such positive results support you to continue those behaviors.

What habits have served you well in 2019 that you wish to bring into 2020?

I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on those habits that have supported your physical, emotional, social and spiritual health and to writing them down.  A personal example is – The habits I commit to continuing in 2020 are:

  • Daily meditation
  • Daily stretch routine
  • Regular yoga classes (3 times/week)
  • Regular walks in nature (3 or more times/week)
  • Listening to my body and trusting in its wisdom.

What new habits do you wish to embrace in the New Year?

The new habits I commit to embracing are:

  • Unplugging from technology for 24 hours or more every weekend
  • Writing on a regular basis (i.e. 4 or more times/week for 20 minutes or more each time)
  • Ending my days reflecting on what I am grateful for and any lessons learned
  • Having regular massages and/or energy work (every 6 weeks to 8 weeks)
  • Becoming more conscious of living in the present moment and practicing mindfulness
  • Meeting with friends one or more times/week
  • Increasing the percentage of plants and legumes in my diet to 50 percent

What habits do I commit to letting go of/releasing in 2020?

  • Judging myself and others
  • The belief that in order to be loved and valued I need to perform and achieve each day
  • Spending so much time on the computer daily.

Writing down what you commit to, strengthens the possibility of you actually creating new habits and releasing old ones that no longer serve you.

I’d love to hear what habits you are bringing into 2020, what new ones you are creating and which ones you are choosing to let go of. I invite you to share your thoughts below.

Opening up Space to Create

Opening up Space to Create

I am opening up space once again to create. This time it is to write my memoir. In order to set up an enabling environment for creativity to flow, I made a decision to finish my radio show on Bold Brave Media on November 20th   at the end of my six-month contract. The 24 shows are archived at: http://boldbravemedia.com/shows/the-art-of-change/. They are also available on https://www.spreaker.com/show/3561427 and iTunes. Feel free to listen, comment and share on the various platforms.

I really enjoyed researching, preparing for and interviewing the inspiring women leaders and changemakers who were my guests on ”The Art of Change”. It definitely has been a labor of love. I would like to thank all the listeners who loyally tuned in to the show regularly or from time to time. I hope you found the shows of interest, were inspired and learned something from them.  Perhaps in the future I may create a podcast. I would appreciate you letting me know if that would be of interest.

Why do I feel the need to open up space to create?  Creativity is associated with the right side of our brain; whereas organizing and planning are associated with our left-brain. Planning a weekly radio show is largely left-brain. I find if I have to constantly be planning and organizing 6 weeks or so out on a show or a project, then it is more challenging to be creative.

How am I “priming the pump” to create? I’m continuing to meditate daily before getting out of bed in the morning. I’ve found plugging in to Deepak and Oprah’s 21-day meditation experiences helpful to do that. I spend regular time in nature walking, hiking, cycling … . I practice yoga three times a week and have a regular morning stretching practice.

I’ve found that my most creative time is in the morning so after meditating, coffee and stretching, that is when I write my blogs … . I haven’t yet set a time to begin writing my memoir; that said I have various stories and ideas percolating in my head. I feel like this experience will be a bit of a life review; an opportunity to reflect and write down stories that may not be included in the book. The process will enable me to let go of and clear some old stories and beliefs that are no longer serving me. I have read a number of memoirs, am about to begin reading several books on writing a memoir, and attended an inspiring 2.5 day workshop on the “Spiritual Art of Memoir” facilitated by Joan Boryshenko in July.

Stay tuned and thank you for your ongoing interest and support.

I’d love to hear how you “prime the pump” to create.  What strategies have you found helpful to get those creative juices flowing?

Preventing Burnout as a Leader and Changemaker

Preventing Burnout as a Leader and Changemaker

Do you feel like there are never enough hours in the day? Do you crave guilt-free time with family and friends without that “to-do” list nagging you in the back of your brain? Do you long for some time for you, to just “be”?

I understand. I’ve been where you are. In December 2012, I almost burnt out. I had been working on a one-year contract with a non-profit that promotes women’s and children’s rights around the world. When the opportunity came my way, I was excited as I felt so aligned with their mission and values.

As I flew to several African countries for project start-up, I felt energized and passionate; excited to meet the teams on the ground and learn about their needs and how I might be of support. 6 months in, I started to feel SOoo tired and that there was so much to do and so little time. Do you relate?

I was initially hired to be a Senior Health Advisor on 5 projects in Asia and Africa to reduce infant and maternal mortality. That morphed to 7 projects in 7 countries. I was initially to be a member of a multi-stakeholder working group of four non-profits that had received a large amount of donor funding to hire a research institute to evaluate the combined impact of all of our projects in Asia and Africa. Within a month of starting the position, I was informed that I was the Chair of that working group. The Chairperson position became almost a full-time job on its own.

I was working night and day feeling so committed to what I was doing and wanting to do the best job I could. Near the end of the contract the non-profit invited me to stay on for another 6 months in a reduced role, 2 days a week chairing the multi-stakeholder working group. I was close to signing the new contract and asked to sleep on the decision. I awoke the next morning feeling like a lemon that had been squeezed dry. In that moment I knew that I finally had to listen to my body and take a break. So I turned down the opportunity. The VP and Director I’d been working with were shocked and asked me why. I said “because I want to create more balance in my life”. At the time I had no idea what that meant or what my life would look like but, but I started 2013 with no work on my plate, committed to reconnecting with family and friends and spending a lot of time in nature. I studied mindfulness, started to meditate daily and continued with regular yoga practice. I slept 10, 12, 13 hours a night and after 4 months was still tired. So I went to a naturopath who put me on some homeopathic meds and within a month or so I started to get my energy back and feel more like myself.

About 5 months in, the 7 keys to what I call Creative Living; 7 keys to consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life, came to me. I then began writing my first book Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Womenwhich made #1 on Amazon on launch day. It is a guide for women, as well as men, who constantly “give” and “do” out of balance with “receiving” and “being”.

Burnout and adrenal fatigue are reaching epidemic proportions. In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its classification of burnout from a medical condition to an occupational phenomenon. Their definition:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy. ” [1]

The importance of this change in the WHO classification is that it acknowledges that organizations and their leaders have a role to play in reducing workplace stress; rather than burnout being perceived as a personal medical issue, a sign of weakness and something to be hidden and ashamed of.

To learn more about burnout, its symptoms and causes see: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/

Proven Strategies and Powerful Practices

How can we as leaders and changemakers turn this epidemic around?  It starts with us, and our own lives. Here are a few strategies I’ve personally found effective and have shared with coaching and consulting clients around the world.

  • Integrate mindfulness practices into your life daily.  Mindfulness practices help us get out of our heads and into our bodies. They originate from Buddhism. Body scanning is a good place to start. Each morning on awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and release them. Imagine them flowing out of your body. Mindfulness walking meditations are another practice. I recommend initially doing these 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes a day; for example, at a lunch break or immediately after work. Ideally do this outdoors in a park or in nature if possible. Focus on all of your senses. Hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, smell the salty sea air, view the beautiful vistas surrounding you, feel the wind on her cheeks. When thoughts come in to your head, imagine they are clouds. Let them drift by and resume focusing on all of your senses. Notice what you notice during the walking meditations and after.
  • Listen to and Trust in Your Body’s Wisdom. This is one of the 7 keys in my book. What I know to be true is that our bodies always know the truth. Many of us were raised in cultures that value and focus on our rational, logical left brain and staying in our heads. Mindfulness practices help us get back into our bodies, and learn to listen to and trust them. Try something as simple as when you feel tired, go to sleep rather than pushing through that last task before heading to bed. When a decision doesn’t feel right, try going with your gut rather than rationalizing a decision. For more tools that assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in Learning to Dance with Life.
  • Tap into and Express Your Creative Side. Is there something you enjoy doing that when you do it you become immersed in it and lose track of time? Could be film editing, painting, writing, gardening, cooking … . Chances are when you have this experience, it is one of your passions, and when you tune into it you are tapping into your creative right brain. Usually you feel energized and positive while engaging in a passion. When you are filled with childlike wonder you also get out of your head and into your body. Regularly taking time to do something you enjoy that is creative helps reduce the stress in your body and takes your mind off work.
  • When you feel stressed Deep breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth consciously making a noise on the out breath. Do this about three times and notice what you notice. This practice stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin that relaxes us and makes us feel good.
  • Set firm boundaries; i.e. learn to say “no”. In order to do this it is helpful to clarify your core values  (For more info on values see https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/) – and ask yourself: Is this activity or this organization in alignment with my top 5 core values?  Another question to ask is: Will this activity bring me joy? Do I have time to add this activity to my plate?
  • Celebrate successes – big and small. Rather than checking a completed project or key activity off your list and quickly moving onto the next, take time to celebrate it with yourself and with other special people in your life. This can be as simple as taking a moment to go inside yourself and acknowledging the work you’ve done and feeling good about what you’ve accomplished. It could be treating yourself to a massage, bubble bath or pedicure or going out for a special dinner with a friend or partner.

I invite you to commit to integrating two or three of the above strategies into your life starting tomorrow. If you would like to learn more about how to stay happy, healthy and grounded while being successful in life and business check out my book Learning to Dance with Life – www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2 which is backed up by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.

I welcome your experiences and comments below. What strategies have you found successful in reducing work-related stress?


[1] https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/

Lessons Learned from Creating & Hosting My Own Radio Show

Lessons Learned from Creating & Hosting My Own Radio Show

Since I launched my weekly internet radio talk show – The Art of Change – http://boldbravemedia.com/shows/the-art-of-change/, a number of people have asked me about my lessons from doing it, so I’ve decided to write a post on just that.

Here are some key lessons I’ve learned:

  • Get clear on your WHY – e.g. in terms of my show to showcase inspiring women leaders and changemakers who other women could learn from and be inspired by; to create a safe space for aspiring women leaders and changemakers to listen, learn and phone in weekly with questions.
  • Identify your WHO for the show – i.e. your primary target audience; which for me is “aspiring women leaders and changemakers”. That said, my show is also relevant for men and women of a variety of ages and backgrounds.
  • If signing a contract (e.g. with an internet radio provider/media outlet) clarify when and how the sponsorship benefits kick in
  • Clarify how the station will be promoting you – e.g. on which social media platforms and how often?
  • Plan your show well in advance; e.g. at least 6 weeks out
  • Reach out to people you know, like and trust to be on the show. Select them from your own network, invite others to recommend folks to you, look for people on LinkedIn who you think might be a good fit, connect with them and plan a call via Skype or zoom to make the final decision and to plan the show.
  • When inviting people for the show give them a tentative date to be on your show.
  • Clarify your expectations of guests well in advance and reinforce them close to the show date.
  • Download all of your shows so you have them to repurpose at a later date; e.g. perhaps for your website.
  • When interviewing guests, be totally present and be conscious of what value you can add to their responses.
  • Have fun! (and set that as intention with your guests)

I welcome your comments and experiences below.

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