What kind of explorer are you?

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“The more that you learn, the more places you will go.”—Dr. Seuss

“I am still learning.”—Michelangelo at age 87


Many leaders and organizations are experiencing great uncertainty. The rules seem to be dramatically changing and people often report that it feels like the ground is shaking.

With the rapid introduction of technology, globalization and innovation, we each are called to be resilient and to continually reinvent ourselves. You are no doubt hearing reports that many jobs are changing with the emergence of artificial intelligence and other world changes. Futurists are predicting that we are approaching significantly more marked changes in the next decade.  A colleague suggested the analogy of being on a plane to a dramatically different land. We need to ask if we are prepared for what we will experience after landing. Rather than being jolted and alarmed, we need to be open and curious like an avid explorer and learner.

I have traveled a lot and seen travelers who are alarmed when faced with different ways and keep wanting things to be “right” as they are back home. Others enjoy experimenting with new ways and work to understand different perspectives and grow from the experience. 

We need to embrace the unknown and to commit to continuous learning and to be open to disruption. We also need to be kind to ourselves and to each other. Adapting is not a linear process and not easy either. Just like an avid traveler, we also need connection and support more than ever and at the same time we seem to be more isolated. In a more stable time the paradigm for change was to experience unfreezing and then refreezing and stability. Now, we need a different mindset. We need to be open for what we will find as we disembark from a plane ride to a distant land. We need to stay open, curious and embrace our love of learning without hoping for stability.

We also need to ensure that employees and students are continually learning. A report by the National Research Council suggests that a combination of cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills—flexibility, creativity, initiative, innovation, intellectual openness, collaboration, leadership, and conflict resolution—are essential for keeping up in the 21st century. More than preparing people for a specific role or career, people need to know how to learn, embrace change and be open-minded with strong conversational skills to work in complex global environments with diverse perspectives.  We each need to be flexible to learn new skills and continually change roles.

Ed Gordon, author of Future Jobs and of the Gordon Report (www.Imperialcorp.com) posits that just as adjustments were required as we shifted from the Industrial Age to the Computer Age, we are experiencing a similar disruption as we enter the Cyber-Mental Age with a focus on innovation and intelligent machines. The U.S. labor market suffers from a lack of workers with the education and career skills needed in the tech-driven advanced economy. At the same time, workers are looking for jobs. Organizations are realizing the need to provide training and workers are recognizing the need to learn new skills. Some communities are bringing together various stakeholders including businesses, community members and schools to provide training and learning opportunities in Regional Talent Innovation Networks.  Many organizations are feeling the pain of job vacancies and the lack of qualified workers and are expanding their training programs in order to have the talent they need. A challenge is that not all have mastered the critical skill of “learning to learn.”  With this skill, people will have the confidence that they can explore and adapt to work in new and different ways. We each will be called to be flexible and resilient as marketplace conditions change. It will be easier with the confidence of being able to learn and with an explorer mindset. As leaders, we need to help others to embrace “learning to learn” and being an open and curious explorer in unknown lands.

As we shift in significant ways, we will benefit from working together rather than perpetuating polarization across differences. We need to learn with and from each other. I believe that adopting an open mindset and having the skills to effectively converse with people across disciplines, roles, locations and perspectives is one of the best ways to thrive in our current and evolving environment.

What are you doing as a leader to adapt an open-mindset embracing the uncertainty and continuous learning? What kind of connections and communities are supporting you as you explore new lands?

You are welcome to listen to an interview I had with Ed Gordon about the changing workforce conditions, the job-skills gap and the need to “learn to learn”  at https://soundcloud.com/ann-van-eron/interview-with-ed-gordon

What kind of an explorer and learner are you?

Are you Jumping to Solutions?

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“It often happens that things are other than what they seem, and you can get yourself into trouble by jumping to conclusions.”—Paul Auster

I was talking with a colleague about a work situation. In the middle of the conversation, he asked me if a storefront near my place that had been vacant was occupied yet. I was a bit put off. Here I was, talking about something important to me and my colleague completely shifted the conversation. My first reaction was to feel hurt and disappointed that my friend was not interested in my challenge.  I began to close down and thought I would shift topics or leave, recognizing that he may not be capable of being a real listener or a real friend.

Instead of shutting down or making assumptions and judgments, I remembered what I teach. I suggest catching ourselves when we are making judgments and work to stay open and curious. I was able to cool down and ask with curiosity, ”What makes you ask about the open storefront?”  My friend thought it was obvious.  He said, “I was thinking that you could open a coffee shop and would not be faced with such complex challenges.”  He had jumped to a solution.  He quickly confessed that opening a small shop is his dream and his own fantasy solution.

A few things occurred in this short interaction. A common one is that when I brought up a challenge, my colleague jumped to a solution. This is a familiar reaction. When someone has an issue we want to solve it. It is often easy to see a solution when it is a situation that someone else is experiencing and we are not emotionally involved.  In addition, when there is an issue or problem, we want to get it resolved or off our plate.  It is useful to recognize our tendency to jump to solutions and work to refrain from immediately solving and focus on listening more intently to ensure understanding. If we listen with openness and curiosity and give empathy, often people solve their own issues or feel satisfied with just being heard. I was delighted to learn coaching skills and see the power of listening and giving space to another to reflect. When people are heard they develop their own solutions and are more committed to following through.

I jumped to a judgment about my colleague and moved to an habitual pattern of withdrawing and believing he was not interested. We all have habitual patterns that color how we see things and it is useful to learn ours and work to try new responses. In this case, I was fortunate to notice my assumptions and work to shift to being open and curious.  This takes some practice and I don’t know of too many more valuable skills to develop than being open.  When I caught myself and shifted to a more openor what I call an OASIS stateI was able to inquire about his question about the storefront.  I realized that my friend did care and had just jumped to what he thought was a good solution. Of course, I would have benefitted from more empathy and understanding.

I was glad that I asked him the question. We continued our conversation and he did listen more and I felt closer to him by engaging in an open-minded conversation than I would not have had if I had withdrawn or was negative toward him. What else could he have done? He could have shared his intention when he asked about the storefront. For example, he could have said, “I wish things were easier for you, I wonder if you would consider other career options such as opening a coffee shop?” Hearing his positive intentions would have gone a long way. I would have also had the opportunity to confirm my love of coaching and consulting.

While I just shared one small interaction, I often see the same pattern of jumping to solutions and people fighting or withdrawing in response to others not listening.  When assumptions are made and not tested there are continual misunderstandings. I have seen people be angry with colleagues and family members because of assumptions, judgments and jumping to conclusions too quickly all across the globe. It is natural for us to make assumptions and judgments and to jump to solutions. Yet with a few moves (catching ourselves, being open and curious and engaging in conversations) we can have more positive and productive interactions with greater results too.

We will all benefit from catching ourselves and shifting to being open to others (and ourselves).  Notice your tendency to jump to solutions.  Begin to notice your patterns and build new conversation habits. Kindly share what you are noticing.

Contact us anytime.

Leading with Aliveness

Leading with Aliveness

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” —Howard Thurman

What supports you in experiencing aliveness?

So many of my executive clients, colleagues in organizations and others I meet report feeling stressed and disconnected these days. It is not surprising. Most organizations are experiencing disruption and change is a constant. Often companies are cutting resources yet more and more is required. There is a sense of unease and polarization both in organizations and everywhere.  Our daily news is filled with challenges and conflict.

People want to shift from feelings of scarcity and stress and to create more connection and possibility. Yet most don’t know how to do so. We are all influenced by our environments. How do we change cultures to allow more connection and innovation?

Leaders need to start with themselves. They need to make it their intention to create positive and productive environmentseven one interaction at a time.

It is worth the investment in paying attention to your experience and then recalling your commitment to create an innovative and inclusive environment. Yes, this does mean slowing down a bit to become aware and to really see your colleagues and to listen. It means catching yourself when you feel competitive and want to win over someone.  By being self-aware and making small shifts in our interactions, people start to feel heard and seen and more alive, and then they relax a bit too and are more apt to bring forth new and creative ideas.

Leaders can ask themselves, “Am I open to possibilities and experiencing aliveness?”  It is useful to develop a small practice or habit to keep focused on your intention. Perhaps you appreciate your situation and colleagues as you travel to work. You may take a walk, enjoy nature or a hobby, breathe deeply or listen to an inspiring podcast. You can share your goal to listen and create an open-minded atmosphere with a friend or a coach and reflect on your progress.

As we make the intention to be alive and open and engage in meaningful conversations the climate begins to change. Changing the culture involves supporting others in also being more open and addressing the systems and norms of the organization to be supportive and aligned.

Renew your intention of creating a positive and productive environment and start with noticing and nurturing aliveness in yourself.

Contact us anytime.

Are You Experiencing Positive Emotions?

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“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar

It’s one thing to understand that compassion, gratitude and other positive states will benefit us in our interactions and another thing to actually access these experiences when we need them.  Because of our natural negativity bias which we use to protect ourselves, we tend to pass over the positive states.

Once we decide we want to be more grateful, like any skill, we need to develop the habit of actually being more grateful. Fortunately, we know now about the neuroplasticity of the brain and that we can learn and develop in a relatively quick time (with intention).  It is not enough to meditate or think about gratitude.  We need to reflect on what we are grateful for. For example, one of my executive coaching clients began to devote five minutes at the start of his day to call to mind his team members and recount what he appreciates about each person. This was not a rote counting of their strengths; rather, he allowed himself to experience real gratefulness and noticed that he felt warmth in his chest as he did so.

Rick Hanson, a well-regarded neuropsychologist shares that it is not enough to experience activation of gratitude. We need to actually enjoy it and stay with it and extend the state for a few moments. He emphasizes that savoring the experience supports us in building or installing the neural pathways, so that we can develop the habit of accessing positive states that will serve us and our relationships.  

My executive client found his five minute ritual of experiencing gratefulness for his team members to be transformational. He became much more aware of how happy he was with the team and he became calmer and actually started giving more recognition to team members.  His intention and reflection and savoring actually shifted the entire culture of his team and it spread outwards and influenced the larger organization as well

Make it your intention to experience gratitude. Notice your sensations and bodily experience as you do. Savor the experience in order to build the neural pathway of the emotion. Make it a practice to remind yourself of your intention.  

Contact us and tell us what you are presently feeling grateful for and how you practice feeling so.

The Power of Awareness

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“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”—Nathaniel Branden

We have each adapted habitual patterns. Researchers estimate that 95% of our behaviors are, in fact, habits.  The benefit is that we take actions without expending a lot of mental energy for decision-making.  Many of our habitual patterns serve us; however, some are no longer useful.  The challenge is becoming aware of our patterns and making choices about what will support us in achieving our goals.  It is useful to appreciate that we each have blind spots.  I often coach executives who do not see that some of their behaviors are causing them to fall short of achieving their goals and even derail in their careers. Often, when under stress, leaders exert more of their habitual patterns that are hurting them such as not listening, criticizing, ignoring or becoming defensive.  

It is useful to make it a practice of noticing your thoughts.  You may find that you are constantly criticizing someone or yourself, complaining about too much to do and feeling stressed about a situation.  One of my clients realized that she felt overwhelmed by the need for a reorganization in her department and having a new boss. Under such stress, she buckled down to work and developed the reorganization plan without consulting or including others.  She also failed to inform her manager about the changes she was making. There was a lot of resistance from the staff, and her manager did not support her since he was excluded from her planning, as well. The disruption cost her on many fronts.  

Upon reflection, she realized that her habitual pattern when under stress is to hunker down and do the work herself. This pattern served her in childhood and college, as well as when she had an analyst role earlier in her career. However, the habitual pattern of doing the work herself did not work in a managerial role.  

Another executive found that he was extremely hard on himself.  He would take on very difficult and visible projects and did not appreciate his contribution and success. Despite his accomplishments, he did not feel confident.  He realized that he had a habitual pattern of immediately starting new projects and had an inner voice saying “don’t show-off” that served him in his humble family.  By becoming aware and consciously appreciating his contributions, he was able to be more relaxed and confident.  Because we had created a safe place to explore their habitual patterns, each of these leaders became aware of what triggered their behavior and explored and chose new options that supported them in their goals.

While it is not easy, it is useful to stop and reflect. You can ask for feedback and often people will be glad to share if they sense you are open to learning.  You can ask others to collect perceptions and engage in a formal coaching process to learn more.  A key for success for leaders and anyone is to become self-aware and then make choices that support your goals.

What are some of your habitual patterns that you can bring to awareness and subsequently be at freedom to choose what will best serve you in your current situation?

Contact us at any time with your thoughts.

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

Self-Awareness is Paramount

Self AwarenessExamine your assumptions, emotions, and background before choosing what to share with others. Internally, we process what we observe, making sense of it, and then select an action or response. Sometimes, this process happens very quickly. We may feel we don’t have a lot of choice about our actions, particularly when we have a strong emotional reaction.

The ability to observe ourselves and become self-aware is one of the key characteristics that makes us human. We have the capacity simultaneously to make assumptions about an observation, experience emotions, and also become aware of what is going on. It is as if we are in a theatre, shining a light on the actors and noticing their thoughts and feelings. When we notice our excitement, some part of us is feeling excited and another part is noticing this emotion. Becoming aware is a critical tool for managing and supporting ourselves to engage in valuable conversations. When we are aware, we are more free to make a choice about how we will respond and what we will share with others. Continue reading