A new year holds promise and also brings with it
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:
– Acknowledging that you do not have all the answers or aren’t sure what to do.
– Creating opportunities to reflect, and the ability to change direction during
a process that has an uncertain outcome (e.g. culture change process) .
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.
Understanding and Inclusive Orientation – Valuing a facilitated process
that encourages different voices to be heard and supports diversity.
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
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.
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
The new habits I commit to embracing are:
- Unplugging from technology for 24 hours or more every
- 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
- 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.
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
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?
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
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 Women” which 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. ” 
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?
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?
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
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
your expectations of guests well in advance and reinforce them close to the
all of your shows so you have them to repurpose at a later date; e.g.
perhaps for your website.
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.