The New Normal

“There is a river flowing very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold onto the shore. They will feel torn apart and suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. –unamed Hopi Elder, Hopi Nation

I used to think busy or chaotic periods were just that—unique and that soon things would settle down and get back to normal.  Likewise, organizations would plan for implementing a change and then return to a steady state. Well… most of us have experienced change fatigue and now we need to accept that chaos and rapid change is the new normal.  The military coined the term VUCA to characterize our times—volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

While we recognize that change is constant, disruptive and fast, we need to shift our internal paradigm of change.  How do we adapt? First, we need to give ourselves and others empathy.  The shifts we are experiencing are not easy and difficult to manage. In fact, the concept of managing may be outdated.  Instead, we need to be resilient and flexible and work with what is evolving. We need to work to be resilient and flexible.

The Hopi Elder suggests that rather than holding onto the shore for safety and fighting the elements that we allow ourselves to experience the river as it turns and shifts.  This does not mean we close our eyes and hope for the best. We can keep our heads above water by staying centered and present and making course corrections as we see obstacles. We can learn to ride the rapids. Ideally, we join with others and support each other on this challenging journey. When we relax into the evolving river of change we will see more opportunities.

Experiment with shifting your view of change from waiting for stability to learning to flow and experiencing the opportunities.  Who will you connect with on this journey for support?

Mindfulness on the Go

A coaching client told me that she enjoyed her morning quiet meditation and that she felt centered for a few hours.  As the day proceeded she felt less calm. She wondered if she should start meditating more times during the day and was a bit stressed about how to fit it in her busy day.

The value of taking a few minutes for quiet on a regular basis is to essentially practice being calm and building our skill of noticing and coming back to the centered state so we can do so in the midst of our activities.

It is not uncommon to become reactive and stressed as we face the challenges of daily life.  It is great to build the habit of becoming aware of our internal state and then centering. It is useful to build the habit of noticing your internal climate, naming your emotion and then shifting to become calm.  There are many ways to build this habit. You can notice your feet and feel grounded as you transition from one activity to the next and then calm yourself for the next meeting or interaction.  You can also focus on what you are grateful for as you hear the phone ring or stop for a light when driving.  You can give yourself reminders such as a tone on your phone or a note to yourself to remind you to reset and experience ease and calm on the go. You can also use moments of irritation as reminders to shift to being open. These small shifts support you in building the habit of experiencing ease and openness.

Notice how with practice the mindful process becomes automatic.

Show You Care About Career Development

I often speak with staff members about their views of their executive leaders. When it comes to career support, many leaders get low marks.  Leaders often feel they are too busy to be concerned about the careers of their staff. In addition, they often believe that each person is responsible for their own career.

Yes, each person needs to ensure they are learning and developing their skills and abilities.

Staff often indicate that they would like to feel that their boss cares about them as a person and takes some time to think about possibilities with them.  Managers can support their team by taking some time to explore their staff members’ aspirations and to help them see possibilities inside and outside the organization.  People want to feel like they are valued and that their boss will give them feedback and support their development.

While we often think of career progression as moving to a higher level position, it is useful to think of career development more broadly. When people begin to think of enhancing their awareness, skills, abilities and experiences as career development, there are many more options available.

How can you support the career development of your team members?

Practice Shifting Perspectives

We all have habitual patterns. Some serve us and some don’t anymore. Our patterns are like well-worn pathways in our brains. Someone irritates us and we yell. We get negative feedback and we berate ourselves until we feel we are not worthy and will always fail.  We feel anxious and worry about money or our health or our kids constantly.

Research shows that we can actually recondition our neural pathways and build new patterns that may be more productive.  The first step is to simply notice your current pattern and name it ideally with empathy. “I notice something in me is feeling angry as my teenager yells.”  “I notice I am beating myself up because I heard negative feedback from my boss.” “I notice that I am worrying about having enough money.” “I notice that I eat ice cream when feel alone on weekends.”

Recognize that you are human and experiencing these reactions is a part of our human condition. Your pattern did serve you at some point and now you sense it is less useful.

Practice exploring a different perspective.  You can imagine how a friend, a book or movie character or even your wiser future self may see the current situation.  “Perhaps my teen has not built the skill of managing himself. I will demonstrate that I can.”  “I am sure my boss is incredibly stressed and I recall the others times I received positive praise.  This negative comment does not wipe out my many successes.  What can I learn from this?”  “I’ve always had enough money.”  “Recall the people in your life that care for you.”

Practice noticing your habitual patterns, giving yourself empathy and trying on different perspectives.

Check Your Perspective

Even when our intentions are positive, we only see our perspective. A new principal saw how hard the high school students were working and wanted them to have a break and a “real” holiday. She wrote a note to all teachers telling them not to schedule tests or papers due the week after a holiday. She wanted the students to be able to take a real break.  However, her goodwill gesture was not received with joy by all. Many teachers were upset since they had a curriculum they were following and then decided to test the kids prior to the vacation. The students and parents complained that they ended up having many tests and papers due prior to the break. Other administrators complained because they ended up proctoring tests late into the evening prior to the holiday.

When we see something so clearly it is hard to remember that others may be seeing a very different perspective.

Check your perspectives out with others who may be impacted by your choices.

Take Time to Connect

An executive I coached was involved in high stress meetings from 8 to 8 each day.  He was known to be hot headed and exploded in anger often.  He was so busy that he remained task focused and failed to connect with people. He rarely shared anything personal and the environment he created was tense.  Team members failed to speak with him candidly in the face of his stress and anger.

He became a new person with a few simple changes.  He learned that by taking a few minutes to inquire about a person and be genuinely interested that he no longer had to question them harshly. When his team members felt safe and genuinely cared about, they freely shared developments and concerns.  He also shared more openly about his personal life and interests outside of work. People began to see him as a person and were more responsive. To his surprise, he enjoyed talking about his interests in sports and movies and felt more connected. Building rapport is essential.

Next he learned to notice and catch his reactions. He was able to pause rather than react and then be more at choice. He could give empathy or ask questions rather than yelling or telling. This worked a lot more smoothly and saved time and energy for all.  Noticing and managing our reactions is critical.

Finally, he began to notice energy.  When he was just thinking and focused on a task and not paying attention to others it felt like he was trying to achieve a goal in the dark.  When he remembered to pay attention to the relationship and was more present, it was like a light was on and the goal could be accomplished much more easily. Checking-in to assess our energy and the group’s energy is useful.  He took care of himself and maintained his energy by going to the gym, sleeping more, eating well and engaging in his interests. Reminding ourselves of our intention and how we support our energy is valuable.

With a clear intention and practice, he was able to build new habits and neural pathways that supported his new behavior. People were supportive of his shift and the team and organization benefited.

We all benefit from focusing on both tasks and relationships. Connection gives us the energy to achieve our goals together effectively, efficiently and enjoyably.

Practice Being Aware of Your Emotions

No doubt, we are each experiencing a range of emotions as we go through disruption and change after a heated and polarizing election. No matter whether you are experiencing anxiety or joy, it is valuable to make it a practice of noting your emotions and not making them wrong.

Our emotions serve a valuable purpose, they are energy in motion, e-motions that spur us to taking action or refraining.  When we are excited about a project, we are mobilized to jump in and begin.  When we feel hesitant or afraid, we are more likely to put off taking action.

When we appreciate the value of our emotions, we can be more of an observer and take note. A benefit of naming our emotions is that we activate the pre-frontal cortex part of our brain and we become more at choice about what kind of action we want to take rather than unconsciously reacting

Also, when you acknowledge (without judgment) your emotions, they more readily move through you naturally. A feeling of anger or worry can naturally dissipate with attention.  Of course, if we continue to ruminate on an issue and magnify our emotion, we continue to experience the feeling.  Some emotions require us to simply be with them without hoping they shift or leave. The more you become aware of your own emotions the more readily you will be able to notice and give empathy to others. As humans, we are continually experiencing a range of emotions.

Make it a practice of naming your emotions. Just notice and name.

Find Your Oasis Amidst Disruption

We are in the midst of change in our country, world and in our lives. We have learned that change is a constant and we have successfully adapted to many changes with technology, political shifts, family changes and aging. Even so, change is not easy.

Changing is particularly hard when we feel uncertain and ungrounded. It is easy to imagine the worst and to feel afraid. A part of us wants to hold onto what we have and resists change. When we are stressed we experience contraction and we literally don’t have access to the part of our brain that experiences possibilities. Continue reading

Be Aware of Polarization

Different Points of View

No doubt about it. Many have been shocked by the election results.  While there was a call for change, many are uncertain about what will evolve.  Whether you are happy with the election choice or not, we know that disruption also breeds possibilities. When there is disruption—whether an acquisition, a change in the marketplace, a change in health or another challenge—there is an opening for doing things differently.  Amidst the fear and concern with change, people are more willing to take risks and do things differently, especially when they experience the disruption as real.  Strong leaders see the opening and make significant changes during difficult times. Continue reading

Check Your Blind Spot

I don’t know what I don’t know

The election has heightened our awareness that we are seeing the world differently. Many have expressed their shock at how they were blind sighted by the number of people with different views.

Just as we can’t see cars that are in our blind spot when driving, we always have a blind spot in our interactions with others.  We each have different life experiences that influence how we view the world and make interpretations. Continue reading