On a Well-Rounded Leadership Style

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As someone stepping into the CEO role for a nonprofit organization for the first time, it has been quite the developmental journey to embrace a leadership style that works for the creative and collaborative culture of the Children’s Creativity Museum. My understandings of who I am and who I need to be as a leader for the organization have evolved over the fast-paced and packed year that I’ve officially held the role.

A recent realization that is providing me a lot of peace of mind is that I don’t actually have to choose one particular leadership style. Sure, my staff wants consistency, AND adaptive leadership requires that we have an array of leadership styles into which we can tap in order to respond to a changing world. I can be authoritative and make solid decisions, AND I can be collaborative in thinking through a project. I can feel like I’m alone at the top, AND I can consciously connect with my support network.

It’s like shifting gears. When I am going uphill, I can kick it up a notch. And when I’m on the highway, I can cruise.

The choice in leadership style, then, becomes not about who I need to be forever-and-ever-amen, but rather what is required of me in a given situation.

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On the 3 Fundamental Needs We All Have

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There has been a lot of science lately – e.g. Rick Hanson, PhD – behind the development of the three brains that human beings have. That’s right: Not one brain but three!

The oldest and least evolved part of the brain is the reptilian brain. It is responsible for the fight/flight/freeze response and is about survival.

The second evolved brain is the mammalian brain, which is all about touch and relationship.

The last part of the brain to evolve is related to our sense of who we are in the grand scheme of things. It is about the unique contribution only we can make.

What these three brains tell us is that all people have three fundamental needs that have to be addressed:

  1. Security
  2. Connection
  3. Meaning

How are we fulfilling these needs in our own lives and the lives of those around us?

Returning Back to Life

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In that way that Life is circular, recent life events and circumstances have given me opportunities to remember a basic truth:

Everything Life gives us leads us back to Itself.

Said another way, everything is a path back to God. My job – with all its attendant stresses and trials – is a path back to God. My life partnership – all the arguments and frustrations and complaints – are all meant to lead us back to God. … All the family dramas? God. … All the fall-outs with friends? God. …

What would it mean if we approached everything that happened in Life to us as an opportunity to return back to God, back to Life, back to ourselves?

On Staying Plugged Into Heart-Mind

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One of the unfortunate legacies of the Newtonian revolutions is the fracturing of the self. We set the physical body against the emotional body against the spiritual against the mental. Yes, these are different aspects of who we are, but behind them all is one self. And yet, we relate to ourselves as if there is only aspect or another. We are at war with ourselves, embracing those parts that work for us and banishing those that we consider to be “not me.”

How do we bring these different aspects back together again? What is the path to Wholeness?

A place to start is the heart-mind. In Western history, we distinguish between the heart and mind, between the physical/emotional and the mental. In many Eastern traditions, heart and mind are the same thing. It is heart-mind.

How do we stay plugged into the heart-mind? How do we in the West bridge the perceived difference between heart and mind?

A place to start is simply noticing how Self shows up in our bodily sensations, then in our stream of thoughts, then in our emotions. We simply note all of this and keep in (heart-)mind that it’s all the same Self.

Surrender = An Act of Wisdom

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There are moments in life where one wakes up, looks around, and asks oneself, “Is this all there is?” … Is this the relationship I want to continue with? Is this the job I saw myself being in? Is this how I want to spend the days of my life? … These are the critical moments of tenderness and humility when we choose between settling and leaping into the unknown, between surrender and resignation.

I was once asked, “What is the difference between surrender and resignation?” Resignation and settling means that we have given up hope. It is the limited self no longer seeing any possibility beyond what we already know.

In contract, surrender is an act of wisdom. It is a profound acceptance of Life. It is saying “I don’t know” and putting all that we are into the hands of something greater than ourselves.

In this way, surrender is not an act of capitulation, but rather one of victory for our Highest Self.

On the Nature of Recovery

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Today, I dragged myself to the “Heart of Recovery” Buddhist 12-Step group at the Berkeley Shambhala Center. I was resisting going, but with the encouragement of Jon, I just committed to showing up. I am glad that I went because I had a profound realization: I’ve been so focused on resisting and controlling my addiction that no energy was being devoted to my recovery. It was like I was in limbo in my war with myself.

In a text called Cool Water, by William Alexander, he talks about recovery as being a gift that is revealed to you. This made me think of all the ways I have expended energy on curbing my addiction rather than focusing that energy where it counts most: on my Self. I realized that recovery isn’t just about stopping an addiction. It’s about recovery of Self. It is about experiencing the same aliveness, clarity and vibrance inside of myself that I am beginning to experience without the haze of addiction.

All of a sudden, being in recovery wasn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it suddenly became a good lifelong process for recovering and awakening my Self. …

A Starting Point for Wholeness

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I have never been a fan of being “anti-” anything. For example, being “anti-war” is not helpful because for such a situation to exist, “war” as a concept must exist for which “anti-” can be a response. This is why proponents of peace, like Thich Nhat Hanh and Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, prefer the idea of being “pro-peace.”

In a similar regard, I recently had a realization around my addiction. I saw that I was investing so much time and energy worrying about and being vigilant against my addiction that such worry actually creates the conditions for my addiction to be triggered. I realized that, rather than being “anti-addiction,” I need to be “pro-self-compassion” and “pro-nurturing.”

The best way to end the war with oneself is to start from the space where compassion and nurturing are the only possibilities for being whole.