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.

Releasing the “Pause Button”: Lessons Learned from Creating Space

Releasing the “Pause Button”: Lessons Learned from Creating Space

Introduction to the Experiment

If you’ve been following previous posts you’ll know that I “pressed the pause button” on my business in late June of this year. What I mean by this is I consciously decided to take some time off even though I was healthy, but was feeling a bit tired and uninspired. You may check out this post – https://pamela-thompson.com/creating-space-the-how-and-why/ – to learn more about how I consciously created more space in my life.

I’m excited to share that within the past 2 weeks, I’ve become inspired, feel re-energized and a new direction for my business has surfaced. I’ve realized that I want to integrate elements of my consulting business with my coaching business and to serve heart-centered leaders and changemakers. Stay tuned for more details to come!

The intention of this post is to share the lessons learned from my creating space “experiment”. This past few months have been one of only a couple of times in my life when I have consciously decided to stop working, to spend more time “being” and to focus on “getting out of my head” and “into my body”. Perhaps you relate?

Lessons Learned

One of my friends recently referred to the past 4.5 months as a “fallow” period in my life. A time similar to winter (in the northern hemisphere) when crops and perennial plants go underground and it looks like they are dead and nothing is happening. What really is occurring is that they are in hibernation and things are happening but they aren’t evident. I recently heard that grizzly bears give birth while in hibernation. How cool is that! I feel like even though I wasn’t actively reflecting and wondering what to do next during this period, that things were indeed happening. Similar to a new green shoot pushing itself out of the ground, I feel like the new ideas for my work organically emerged.

So what were the key lessons I learned from this conscious “fallow” period?

  • Spending time in nature (almost daily) was an incredible gift. Now if I don’t go for a walk every day to a nearby park or the ocean for at least 20 to 30 minutes, I feel like I need and haven’t gotten my nature “hit”. I don’t feel as energized, joyful and as calm as when I immerse myself in nature daily.

 

  • I now feel more in touch with my body. I’ve changed my diet and have a lot less indigestion than before my “sabbatical”.

 

  • I feel more relaxed and that is a state I can access more easily than before.

 

  • I am more joyful and playful and feel more connected to my “inner child”.

 

  • I feel more present in my conversations with others.

 

  • I feel more sensitive to those around me and have to be careful not to take on their stress or negative energy

 

  • I feel like I’m letting go of some old patterns that no longer serve me; e.g. trying to change someone I care about when they demonstrate unhealthy practices.

 

  • I feel much gratitude for having been able to give myself this gift.

I realize that we can’t all take 4.5 months off every time we’re feeling tired and uninspired. However, I do believe that consciously creating space in our lives is therapeutic, reduces stress and stimulates our creativity, not to mention the positive benefits it has on our relationships.

I’d love to hear from you about strategies you’ve found helpful to create space and if you’ve done something similar to my recent experiment, what you discovered. Feel free to comment below and to share this with others.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Make Friends with Uncertainty: Valuable Lessons & Strategies for Your Personal & Professional Life

How to Make Friends with Uncertainty: Valuable Lessons & Strategies for Your Personal & Professional Life

Our world today is characterized by uncertainty. Our economies, our relationships, our jobs, our futures … . Uncertainty is ever present in our lives. Learning how to change your relationship with and to “befriend” uncertainty reduces stress and has a number of other benefits.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines uncertainty as: “a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known for certain” and “the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org).

Recently, I came to a point in my business where I was extremely tired and feeling little passion around what I was doing. I knew I needed to make a change but I wasn’t sure what that change was. I had launched a new website and had rebranded less that one year ago. What was I thinking wanting to change things up yet again? Perhaps I just needed to take a break; to relax and “recharge my batteries”?

It was an unusual situation for me to be in, as in the past when I’ve no longer felt “juiced” by what I was doing or felt that an organizational environment was toxic, either I would leave a position, or change my direction in business, and I nearly always knew what I wanted to do next. This recent experience was different. I did NOT know what to do next and felt uncertain.

What happens when we feel uncertain?  

We often experience fear and go into fight, flight or freeze – the stress response – as we feel unsafe and our body wants to protect us. When stress hormones are coursing through our bodies we often don’t make rational decisions.

We may “jump” at the first solution that presents itself so we feel more comfortable. This can be a position that we aren’t suited for because we need the money, or a relationship with someone who comes into our life so we won’t be alone.

We may be influenced by a well-meaning friend or person whose opinion we value, and choose a career or position we have the aptitude for; however one that we are not passionate about, instead of taking the time to figure what really “makes our soul sing” and following that path.

I’ve coached a number of clients who were extremely successful accountants, lawyers, engineers … in their late thirties and early forties, who were dragging themselves out of bed every morning, feeling no passion at all for their work. When asked to reflect on when was the last time they felt passion about their work, many admitted that they never really had any passion for their careers; a well-meaning adult had influenced them in their late teens to; for example, “be an accountant because you’re good at Math.”

There was a time in my life when I became a workaholic because I didn’t want to face the uncertainty of what my life might look like if I left my husband. If I kept busy all the time, I didn’t have to think or feel and I numbed out. Possibly you relate.

Uncertainty means different things to different people. I invite you to take a few minutes to think about your responses to the following questions. You may wish to journal about them.

What does uncertainty look and feel like for you?

Do you typically feel fearful when you experience uncertainty? If so, is your typical response fight, flight or freeze?

Do you react differently if the uncertainty is in your personal life than in your professional life?

From experience I know that we often don’t make the best decisions when we feel uncertain. I also know that for those of us who are used to always “doing”, being busy, and having lots of structure in our lives, it can be challenging to NOT DO, but instead to slow down and BE STILL. Many of us believe that to be valued and loved we need to be “doing” and accomplishing important things. Being what I call “in the void” or “in the space between” is quite foreign to us. That said, it can be an interesting journey and valuable experience to learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty.

So how can you change your relationship with “Uncertainty” and perhaps even make it your friend? 

Here are some lessons I’ve learned (often the hard way) to “befriend” uncertainty.

  • Acknowledge and Accept that you don’t know what to do and that is okay
  • Trust that everything will work out for you and the greater good
  • Believe that in time things will become clear
  • Know that you can’t force clarity
  • Remember that creative processes require time and space
  • Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom; it always knows what is best for you.

Below are some strategies to assist in integrating these lessons into your life.

  • Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. A good place to start is to begin to integrate some mindfulness practices into your life. These practices help take you “out of your head” and “into your body”. They also focus on “being” rather than “doing”. One example is body scanning. On awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice if there is any tension, discomfort or pain in any part. If you sense any of these breathe into each part and visualize the tension or discomfort releasing or melting away. Another practice is mindfulness walking meditation[1] that I recommend you do three times a week for 15 to 30 minutes each time.

 

  • Spend regular time in nature. This can be going for a walk in a nearby park at lunchtime, hiking, running by the ocean. Finding your special nature place and going there when you feel stressed or would like some guidance.

 

  • Do yoga regularly. Find a style that works for you. I recommend you do it at least three times a week.

 

  • Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.

 

  • Reach out for support from family, friends, a coach or a health professional.

 

  • Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.

 

  • Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author

 

  • Move your body. Put on some of your favorite music and dance around your kitchen or living room.

 

  • Connect with your inner child. Do something you used to do as a child that “filled you up” (e.g. painting, drawing journaling) OR try something you’ve always wanted to do but never took the time for (e.g. dancing, learning to play a musical instrument, singing)

 

  • Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Remember that when you follow your heart and acknowledge how you feel, you give others permission to do the same.

I’d love to hear from you about your experience with Uncertainty and what strategies and lessons you have found useful to help you deal with it and perhaps even make friends with it. I welcome your comments below.

[1] A mindfulness walking meditation enables you to get out of your head and into your body. When you walk outside in nature, slowly press one heal and the toes of one foot on the ground followed by the next, being totally present with your movements rather than thinking about all you have to do or reviewing a recent argument with your child or significant other. Focus on all of your senses. Notice the wind on your cheek, the sound of birds chirping, the smell of the salt sea air, see the beautiful vistas that surround you. Notice how you feel while doing the mindfulness walking meditations and after. Over time doing these walking meditations on a regular basis, notice what you notice.

 

What Nature Can Teach Us as Leaders and Changemakers

What Nature Can Teach Us as Leaders and Changemakers

My husband and I recently returned from a long weekend kayaking and camping on the Broken Islands off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is truly a magical place!

For many years I was a driven professional woman with a packed agenda involved in work I was passionate about. My mind and my body were constantly “on the go”. At this phase in my life, I’ve made the decision to take some time to reflect, spend more time in nature and notice what I’m “called” to do. Here are some of the lessons Nature can teach us based on thinking about our recent weekend “off the grid”.

Lesson #1 – Relax

Have you noticed when you’re in nature how much more relaxed you feel? The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our blood pressure, reduces our heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces. In other words, it strengthens our immune system. As leaders and change makers it is important to “get off the treadmill” and take some time out of our busy lives to truly relax, and nature is the perfect remedy.

Lesson #2 – Trust

One morning when I climbed out of our tent I noticed that the fog was down to the ground and visibility was extremely limited. I’m not keen on kayaking in fog and said to myself, this will burn off. I trusted that the sun would burn off the fog and the visibility would return, and it did! As leaders it’s important when things aren’t going the way we wish to trust that things will work out, and that we will learn something from the experience.

Lesson #3 – Presence

Last weekend I noticed that I was truly present much of the time. I was focused on what was in front of me while kayaking and when speaking with my partner. It is important to notice changes in the wind, clouds, tides and currents when you’re kayaking on the ocean. Likewise, as leaders it is important to be present in our work and personal lives and also to be alert to change or the need for it.

Lesson #4 – Playfulness

When I watch birds flying on air currents and humpback whales jumping, it reminds me of the importance of taking time to be playful and to connect with my inner child. It gets me thinking: How can I inject more playfulness into my life? What about you?

Lesson #5 – Courage 

Most animals have predators. While off the grid, we saw an amazing array of creatures; from bears to whales, to dolphins, mice and tadpoles. When these animals show themselves, it takes courage, as not only do we as humans see them, but they open themselves up to being seen by their predators. How can you be more courageous in your life and work?

Lesson #6 – Creativity

We experienced an amazing sunset while camping. When gazing at a sunset and watching it change, it reminds me of someone taking a paintbrush and constantly adding and changing colors and tones. In our work, it is important to take some risks and come up with creative solutions to those issues that arise.

Lesson #7 – Beauty

When spending time in nature it’s difficult not to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and to be amazed by the diversity. In our lives as leaders and changemakers, it is important to recognize and appreciate the diversity among our teams and also the beauty in how we “dance” together

Nature is such a powerful teacher. To relax, trust, be present, playful, courageous and creative, are a few of the lessons we can learn from nature. These are powerful reminders for us as we navigate our lives as leaders and changemakers. I encourage you to spend more time in nature and to notice what YOU notice.

I’d love to hear from you. How does nature inspire you? I welcome your comments and invite you to share your experiences below.

 

 

 

 

 

The Creating Space Experiment: Summer 2018

The Creating Space Experiment: Summer 2018

In late May of this year, I made a public commitment in my blog – https://pamela-thompson.com/creating-space-the-how-and-why/, that I was intending to create more space in my life this summer. This is an update on the actions I’ve taken so far to create more space and what I’ve noticed as a result. I’m sharing these with the hope that you may glean something useful from my experience, and feel comfortable sharing yours.

The first thing I did was to really get clear on what I wanted to “do” this summer and what I wanted to “stop doing”. I realized that I did not want to attend a business conference in the US as I wasn’t ready to declare my business goals for the coming year. I cancelled my flight, hotel and ticket for the conference and then booked a vacation to visit family and friends in eastern Canada as that felt “right’.

I was on the Leadership Team of an entrepreneurial women’s group, spoke with the head and handed off my position to another woman with a supportive call. I then put my membership to that group on hold.

I am on a number of lists and began to unsubscribe from many. It felt SOoo good. For some time I’ve been thinking of doing this but felt I might “miss out” on something. Do you relate? I was surprised at how easy it was to hit the unsubscribe button. It feels so much better each day when I open up my emails and see that they have decreased considerably.

In general, I feel more relaxed. In fact, most of the time I have an incredible sense of inner peace and calm. On a recent visit back east, one of my friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year, commented that I was getting younger!

I have little structure in my life, other than meditating and doing a stretching routine every morning and yoga three times a week. I make a point of spending a lot of time in nature, either walking, kayaking or riding my bike. It feels like I awaken each day with a clean canvas on which I can choose to paint anything I wish. I feel liberated. It’s wonderful!

In the past when I’ve taken some time off, I usually am thinking about the next thing I’m going to do. In contrast, this time, I have no idea what my work will look like and I’m relaxed and fine with that. I trust that I will get clarity when the time is right.

Most of the time I feel present and playful. This enables me to have more focused conversations with my partner, other family members and friends. I’m having more fun and I feel more centered and grounded.

I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve committed to creating more space in your life. What has the experience been like for you? How are things unfolding? I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this with others who you think might benefit.