On Using Change to Access Transformation

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In many ways, being an effective leader involves being able to dance with change. This is difficult when the predominant stereotype of the strong leader is one who is a bulwark against change: A strong and effective leader is one who controls such that changes are minimized, if not eliminated.

The problem is that that is not reality. Change is reality. Change is what happens, regardless of what a leader chooses to do. The best that s/he can do it to adapt to change in every moment, to roll with the proverbial punches.

Thus, a crucial and necessary stepping stone in the leadership development journey is to transform our relationship to change. We must embrace that change cannot be managed out but rather can be the access to transformation.

A mantra, or set of aspirational statements, which I’ve been practicing the past few weeks is below:

Change is an inevitable part of life.

May I be kind to whatever feelings come up.

May I stay anchored in this moment.

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A Powerful Context for Leadership Development

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Much of the contemporary leadership development literature is framed in dichotomies: Either, you are an effective leader; or you’re not. Either, you’re skilled at something, or you’re not. … There’s very little room for gradations. As such, we relate to ourselves in very stark terms, when in fact, as human beings, our lives are anything but black and white.

It’s not that I am not the kind of leader that I aspire to be. Rather, the potential for leadership is continually unfolding and finding expression through me. I am already the leader that I wish to be, and it is a matter of degree to which where I am right now aligns with that aspiration.

What would it be like if let go of “being the way we want” or “not being the way we want” and gave ourselves permission to own where we are right now in our journey of evolution? What difference would it make for us to relax our high standards and to simply acknowledge where we are in this moment?

A Quick Way to Return to Center

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When I first started meditating, I had this misconception that I could achieve a certain level of centeredness, and that once achieved, that level of centeredness would just stick.

The reality is that every moment we are drifting, which means that every moment is an opportunity to return to center.

And yet, our minds do a very good job of keeping us distracted with the constant stream of thoughts and emotions.

A quick way to return to center is to reconnect with our body. The body is an anchor that never leaves us so long as we are living and breathing. All we need to do is note our bodily sensations. No need to chase after and interpret thoughts. No need to judge emotions. All we need do is just observe what is happening in our bodies.

It is being with the present-moment reality of our bodies that we bring ourselves back.

On Finding the Right Time

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The three most vicious lies we tell ourselves are “could’ve,” “should’ve” and “would’ve.” These three lies presuppose that there is a time – other than now – which is better than the one we’re experiencing.

Lately, this has been showing up in how I keep telling myself that “when I get done with such and such…” or “when I get through this and that…” then things will be better. … Then, I will be able to relax.

Another version of this is “when I get past this and that…” then I will be a better version of myself.

The thing is that, nine times out of ten, once I get through this and that, there’s almost guaranteed to be something else.

How often we do expend time and energy waiting for “the right time”?

There is no perfect time other than the present moment. No perfect time other than the one we are experiencing. No perfect time other than now to experience the fullness of joy and happiness in our lives.

A Starting Point for Effectively Addressing Stress

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Stress seems to be a regular occurrence in this hyperstimulating age of instantaneous connectivity and constant (over)working. That our bodies have developed a capacity over millennia of evolution to deal effectively with stress underscores that stress has been a facet of human existence for a while.

And yet, as ubiquitous as stress might be for an organism with the capacity for conscious thinking, stress is still a matter of perception.  It is a reaction to the perception of threat to our being, regardless of whether a rabid dog is truly running us down or we think that we’re being followed down a dark stress. Either way, the heart starts to race, the breath quickens and shallows, and the neck and shoulder muscles tighten up. The extent to which stress is great or not depends on how much we are convinced of the reality of the threat.

One way to begin to address stress effectively is to check our assumptions. Are we jumping to conclusions? Are we reacting to reality, or are we reacting to our story of reality? Are we processing through what was said, or are we processing through what we think was said?

By checking our assumptions, we can begin to move from the stress of perceived threat to the peace of reality in the present moment.

On the Four-Fold Way to Mindfulness

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Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of exploration of archetypes as a psychospiritual framework for exploring mindfulness and mindful leadership. Archetypes are powerful, because they are a symbolic language that taps into deeper parts of ourselves, parts that go unexpressed and yet still affect how we are being in the world.

I’ve been doing more work with Dr. Angeles Arrien’s Four-Fold Way. This classic explores four major archetypes that she has found among the indigenous cultures she has studied. The four archetypes are the Warrior (in the North), the Visionary (of the East), the Healer (in the South), and the Teacher (of the West).

As I’ve worked from this framework, I have begun to reflect on four questions that correspond to each of these archetypes and that are a great access to getting grounded in the present moment:

  • Warrior: Where am I standing right now?
  • Visionary: How might I speak my truth today?
  • Healer: How might I bring more love into my life today?
  • Teacher: How might I stay engaged in the process of my life today (rather than the outcome)?

These are great questions to journal around at the beginning of each day.

On Leadership as Self-Mastery

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“Engineers have computers; painters, canvas and brushes; musicians, instruments. Leaders have only themselves. The instrument of leadership is the self, and the mastery of the art of leadership comes from mastery of the self. Leadership development is self-development, and self-development is not about stuffing in a whole bunch of new information or trying out the latest technique. It’s about leading out of what is already in your soul. it’s about liberating the leadership within you.” – James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge

A popular (mis)conception about leadership is that leadership is about mastery over others. If this is true, one cannot have mastery over others if one does not first have mastery over oneself.

In many of the traditions of warriorship in Asia – from the Shambhala of Tibet to the Japanese samurai – true leadership begins with one being able to master every aspect of who they are. The true leader masters their thoughts and emotions. A true leader is deeply present to and conscious of their actions in the present moment. And they do this knowing that the only real control that they exercise is over how they respond to life circumstances.

Where in your life can you claim mastery? Where in your life does it seem like you are a victim of circumstance?

What is the first step you can take right now on the path to leadership as self-mastery?