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.
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.
In a recent episode of “The Art of Change” radio show that
focused on “The Entrepreneurial Journey” – http://boldbravemedia.com/shows/the-art-of-change/
– my guest, serial entrepreneur and Founder of the Westshore Women’s Business
Network, Deb Alcadinho, talked about grieving in relation to shutting down a
business; and she recalled one business in particular that was challenging to let
go of. On reflection, it struck me that in business we don’t usually talk about
and perhaps we need to.
In the third step of the Art of Change Framework, “letting go” is the work associated with the ending phase of a change or transition. According to organizational theorist William Bridge’s work, when we make a change it is important to do the internal psychological work, which he defines as the “transition”, in order to readjust and reorient ourselves to our new external reality. How often do we do this in life let alone in business?
I’ve launched four businesses since the early 1990s and realize that I didn’t take time to grieve any of them. When I no longer felt “juiced” by what I was doing, a new opportunity would present itself or I would think “What do I really want to do now?” and then think of who might be someone in that space to approach. Then, I would be off and running to the next project, or iteration of my business. I really didn’t take time between those changes to get in touch with my feelings or to process my emotions. So I’ve started on a journey to do that, and am openly sharing with you insights gleaned along my journey.
At this point in my life I am choosing to only do things that are fun and bring me joy. I’m noticing with my new “Art of Change” radio talk show that I’m energized, excited and having fun. I appreciate having a new focus in business and it aligns with my core values of contribution, adventure, connection and love of learning.
I’m also consciously filtering opportunities that come my
way through a new lens; that of will it
bring me joy and is it in alignment with my core values? Do I have space in my
life for this based on what else I’ve committed to?
I love the feeling of spaciousness I’m creating. I
consciously spend time in nature and notice when my body needs a “nature hit”.
I look forward to my bi-weekly Women’s Circle and include philanthropic
opportunities and a Women’s Business group in my schedule. I make time, more
and more, for friends, and continue to cherish special moments with my partner
and my family.
I feel like my priorities are shifting and with that a sense of no longer wanting to strive (which I thought I let go of years ago), but rather to thrive. To me that means awakening each day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart; feeling strong, healthy and flexible in body, mind and spirit; learning and growing through reading and courses; creating the program for my radio show; beginning to write a memoir; consciously tapping into and asking my heart and gut: What do I really want to do now? What will fill me up?
I consciously choose to let go of worrying about things I
cannot control and instead choose to focus on what I am grateful for and what I
In summary, how can we grieve in business? Here are a few helpful
- Take the time to tap into and express your feelings if you are shutting down a business or changing direction. Ask yourself – How do I feel about this? Relieved? Sad? Lighter? It’s helpful to journal about how you feel. If you have friends, colleagues or a loving partner, you may find it helpful to share your thoughts and emotions with them.
- Ask yourself: What is my experience with endings? Do you find them difficult? Do they cause you pain OR do you typically “Just get on with it” and not take the time to feel or process those emotions?
and acknowledge your accomplishments. This can include spending time
journaling about what they are, inviting clients and staff (and/or contractors)
to a party to celebrate the end of that business and how everyone has
contributed to it. It can be a small gathering of friends and colleagues who
respect and honor you; where they can share how much they value you, how you
supported them and you can also share your gratitude for them and how they
contributed to your business success.
on and write down the lessons learned from that business (i.e. what worked
well, what didn’t and then build on your strengths and learn from/shore up your
weaknesses moving forward).
a list of what you are choosing to let go of and consciously release those
emotions and beliefs from your body.
- Remember that grieving takes time. Give yourself that time to feel, heal and to rest.
regular time in nature. Being among trees reduces your heart rate, reduces
your blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells your body
produces (i.e. strengthens your immune system).
- Practice mindfulness (e.g. body scanning, mindfulness walking meditation, listen to guided meditations). These practices get you get “out of your head” and “into your body”.
I’d love to hear from
you about how you’ve grieved past businesses. Does this idea resonate with you?
I welcome your comments and suggestions below.
 “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” (source: https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/blog/2013/06/best-grief-definition-you-will-find)
 For more on “The Art of Change Framework” refer to: https://pamela-thompson.com/fear-change-overcome/
While vacationing in Mexico a
few months ago, I was lazing by the pool and decided to do some journaling. I
asked myself the question: What do I
really want in my life? Here are some of the answers that came to me:
- I want a new
- I want to
- I enjoy
- I want to
make a positive difference in the world
- I would like
someone else to promote me.
Within several weeks of
returning home, I received a phone call from someone from an advertising and
promotional company out of New York specializing in internet radio broadcasting.
They have a global audience that surpasses 50 million listeners. The representative
said that his analytics department had found me on the web and they felt that
there was a niche that I could fill based on my background and experience. We
set up a time for him to give me the details. He said that the niche included
women entrepreneurs, leaders, women in business, high achieving women, and
those aspiring to be leaders and entrepreneurs.
I was then offered the opportunity to host my own weekly internet radio talk show. It was to be my show, my own intellectual property that would stream live on Bold Brave Media’s global network and Tunein Radio to start and would be archived on http://boldbravemedia.com/about-us/.
I was excited about the
possibilities so I signed a contract and embarked on a new adventure as an
internet radio talk show host! It’s been fun the last couple of months learning
about radio and being trained by the Head of Production, an amazing guy with 40
years of experience in the business. My home office now is a studio with a huge
microphone on a moveable arm, and some BIG headphones!
I’m excited to share that
“The Art of Change” radio show launches
June 5, 2019 and will be live weekly
on Wednesdays from 3 to 4 pm Pacific/6 to 7 pm Eastern. The first show will
lay the foundation for future shows and will focus on change, the impacts of
resisting versus embracing it, and will walk you through a practical process
and strategies to embrace change. In future shows, I will be interviewing
inspiring women leaders and changemakers from around the globe and asking them
questions about key changes they’ve made in their lives, key challenges faced and
their lessons learned. You will have the
opportunity to phone in to a 1-800# and ask questions.
The intention for the show is
to create an informative, safe and supportive space for women to tune in to
weekly and phone in (if they feel comfortable doing so) and get their questions
answered about change, leadership, entrepreneurship, creating a social movement
I extend an invitation for you to listen to my first show on June 5th starting at 3 pm Pacific/6 pm Eastern and weekly thereafter at the same time. To access the show you can either download the Tuneinradio app on your phone (visit http://ww1.tuneinradio.com/ ) and listen there going to bbmglobalnetwork and then to the name of the show “The Art of Change”. You may also go directly to http://boldbravemedia.com/ at the scheduled time and click on the show on channel 100. If you’re unable to listen live, you may listen later or download the show from the boldbravemedia site under my name.
I’m excited to have you join me on this new adventure
and welcome your thoughts and suggestions of topics to cover, questions you’d
like answered and potential inspiring women leaders and changemakers to
interview. Please share your comments and suggestions below or email me.
It’s Pamela Thompson signing
off from “The Art of Change” radio show broadcasting live from bbmglobal
network and Tunein radio!
In many organizations regularly working overtime is still a badge of honor.
I have a number of close friends who have been high achievers in academia, brought millions of dollars into their institutions, and who have been harshly mistreated by certain “higher ups”.
I have also experienced colleagues who have been undervalued and made to feel they are in jeopardy of losing their positions because they have proposed a creative solution in an organizational culture where maintaining the status quo is the norm.
Increasing numbers of high performing younger and younger women (e.g. in their late twenties and early thirties) are coming into my life having been diagnosed with breast cancer, mono, and/or on stress leave and antidepressants. Burnout and adrenal fatigue continue to be rampant and yet are often “kept under the covers”.
Since I launched my coaching business in 2009, I’ve coached a number of high achieving women and provided them with tools and support to change their lives from constantly driving and striving to healthier, happier, more balanced lives. I’ve recently realized that this is not enough. It is one thing to provide a person with tools and support, but if they return to a work environment that does not enable them to put those tools and strategies into action, it is rather like sending someone on a training and having them return to a workplace that doesn’t enable them to apply the new skills they’ve learned. It is frustrating, unsatisfying and doesn’t address all of the issues.
I realize that it is only part of the solution to provide high performing women and men with tools and the vision of a healthier, happier life. The other part of the equation is to change our organizations so they are healthier.
I would like to start a conversation on this. What is a healthy organization? Is it possible to create healthy, successful organizations?
To start “the ball rolling”, here are a few characteristics of what I believe constitute a healthy organization. A healthy organization:
- Treats their staff and management with respect
- Is clear on their values and “walks their talk”
- Values creativity and innovation and creates space to enable this to happen
- Values and fosters collaboration within the organization and with outside partners
- Is lead by balanced and mindful leaders ( See –https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/balanced-mindful-leadership-time-new-type-leader-pamela-thompson/ )
- Recognizes that many of today’s issues are complex and require multiple disciplines and ways of thinking to address them
- Embraces change and supports its staff and management to better understand and embrace the change process
- Provides a physical environment that supports well-being; for example, a meditation room or garden, indoor plants, on-site gym, yoga and childcare
- Makes a healthy profit
- Gives back to the community
These are a few of my thoughts. I welcome yours in the comment box below.