Where are the Silver Linings?

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

How do we cope with the rapid pace of uncertainty? Life as we know it is changing before our eyes with the spread of the Coronavirus. It is natural to fear the unknown and feel out of control.

First, we need to manage the shock and appreciate “what is.” We can give ourselves and those around us empathy and compassion. We can acknowledge our stress and fear of the unknown. Will we and our loved ones become ill? What will happen to our jobs and livelihoods?  Will our retirement funds rebound or be lost? How long will we be shuttered? How will we handle the social isolation? We need to recognize that each of us will be at different phases of accepting our new reality. And we will cycle through various emotions as things unfold.

While we cannot control the outcome, we can use this as a time to manage our response. We can shift from fear and contraction to choosing to be open and curious. We can catch ourselves when we are fearful and shift to being curious about what may be possible.  Our emotions are contagious. When we are open and curious, we support others in also being open to possibility.

Be open for the possibilities. One leader told me that the crisis was bringing his leadership team together and allowing some system changes that have been needed for a while without resistance. There can be more consideration and alignment around priorities. Perhaps we don’t need so many meetings. For some, there is an opportunity to connect with family in a new way. Others share that they are rapidly learning new leadership skills. The CO2 emissions have been reduced. Perhaps you can use the time of being sheltered to write the book you have planned or work on a special project.

Make it your intention to model an open mindset, be curious and find the silver linings.

Embodying an Open Mindset During Times of Stress and Uncertainty

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

Hoping you and your loved ones are well!

As we navigate this time, many of us are dealing with new challenges, added stress and perhaps moments of shock and paralysis.

We’ve all experienced uncertainty in the past and are resilient. However the current crisis we face as individuals, family members, leaders, professionals and as a society now is daunting.  As we navigate what’s happening, a challenge many of us may face is fully embracing the situations we find ourselves in yet being open and curious, relaxing into our bodies and moving into a creative response. Emotions are contagious and the power of an open mindset is beneficial now more than ever. 

The emotional and physical presence we bring will impact our choices, how centered we feel, and others around us. As we encounter frustrations, disappointment, and fears, there may also be unexpected opportunity.

In this spirit, we invite friends, clients, colleagues and others to join us for a complimentary 30 minute Zoom session for dialogue on:

Embodying an Open Mindset During Times of Stress and Uncertainty

Friday, March 27, 2020  12:30- 1:00 ET


This interactive session is designed to provide an opportunity to connect with others and support you now. Please feel free to invite others.

Hosted by Ann Van Eron and Jackie Sloane

Once you register, you will be sent a Zoom link via email before the session.

Spread kindness

A simple kind word or gesture can make a difference for how a person feels included in the workplace or family. Coaching clients often share these moments and many also share their sense of aloneness. Studies on the employee experience show that while people want meaningful jobs, fairness, transparency and growth they want to experience connection and kindness.

When people change jobs and organizations, they often feel a loss of friendship and connection with others. Research shows the critical importance of psychological safety. Yet intimacy cannot be developed when there is not a sense of kindness and openness to connection. We can each contribute to a sense of psychological safety and connection by being kind to those with whom we interact.

Small gestures of greeting people, smiling and showing interest make a difference. Cigna’s annual study on Loneliness in America showed 52%, a 6% increase than last year, in people feeling alone all or most of the time.  38% say they “do not have close relationships with other people.” With the focus on social media, the internet and emails many are not creating meaningful relationships, particularly young people.

As leaders, it is up to us to reach out to listen, show interest and compassion and to demonstrate kindness and build relationships. We each can make a difference by engaging with people rather than our cell phones.Clayton Christensen, wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “How Will You Measure Your Life?”  He was a highly successful professor and consultant who created substantial impact. Yet, he realized that he would assess his life by the individual people whose lives he touched. He stated, “Don’t worry about the individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”

Is Knowing Half the Battle?

I love learning and buy and read a lot of books. I listen to podcasts and am continually exploring. It would be great if I mastered a concept just by listening or reading about it.

Professor Laurie Santos has coined the term GI Joe Fallacy based on the 80’s cartoon in which GI Joe would state after a lesson that “knowing is half the battle.”  However, we all know on some level that even when we know that we want to be grateful, stay present, be kind and be an effective leader that we often fail to live up to our expectations. It takes more than “knowing” what we want to do or should do to make it happen. Behavior change takes conscious effort, planning, practice and habit building.

While we set goals and New Year resolutions, this is only one step. We need to identify small doable habits that we can incorporate into our daily lives.  For example, I set a goal of being more grateful and joyful. I built the habit of reflecting on my day and what I am grateful for right before I fall asleep. I also start the morning experiencing gratefulness for the day. It is a small action that I incorporated into my day.  And yes, it has made a difference. When I experience gratefulness I feel more joyful and alive. Knowing is not enough or even “half the battle.” Building a habit is the critical part. 

If you want to be a more effective leader perhaps you commit to listening and offering empathy before offering your solution. If you want to be more kind perhaps you will send a thoughtful text each morning after breakfast or consciously greet people as you enter your workplace or in your neighborhood.

Identify a goal or habit you would like to incorporate. Study what you need to know and then identify an action you will practice. When will you take a small action?

How Are You Making the World Better?

A question I ask myself often is, “Am I making a difference; how am I making the world a bit better?” It is not an easy question. Yet the question has shaped me and my actions.

I have come to see that there are many ways that we can each contribute.  I was fortunate to choose a career as an organization development consultant and executive and team coach to influence leaders and teams to create more engaged, inclusive environments that foster wellbeing and impact. One of my goals is to share the power of an open mindset and open conversation skills to co-create shared solutions amidst our turbulent and fast-changing environment.

I have come to see that there are many ways to make life better for others. Small actions such as greeting neighbors and volunteering are impactful. We can each take action, even in our full lives, to ensure we are contributing in a positive way.

Recently, I had the fortune of hearing Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ph.D., talk about her latest book, Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time. Kanter co-founded and until recently directed the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative to help people at the top of their fields apply their skills to national and global challenges. 

In her book, Kanter inspires us by sharing accounts of leaders who tackle real challenges such as climate change and economic insecurity. Leaders are reaching outside their corporations and joining across businesses, government and community sectors to deal with issues such as poor nutrition in inner cities. She shares the story of a journalist turned entrepreneur who decreased social divides by giving social media users access to free local education and culture. 

She also reminded us of Kanter’s Law: “Everything can look like a failure in the middle.” Something valuable to remember as we embark on making a difference. 

Kanter proposes more than thinking “outside the box” but thinking “outside the building.” She incites us to think broadly and to form collaborations across individuals, organizations and industries and to mobilize more people to think bigger and differently about how to engage in positive action.

I agree that the time is now for each of us to consider what issues attract us, what skills and resources we have and to join together to make the world better. The more of us who take action the more possibility.

What most calls you where you can make a difference?

What Do You Care About?

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

Often people talk with me in despair about the many crises in the world. We are concerned about the planet and the implications of the changing climate and pollution. There are many people who are displaced and poverty is rampant. People are stressed about political developments and these are just a few of the concerns. There are challenges in workplaces, neighborhoods and even in our homes.

Often we feel helpless. What can we do especially when our lives are full?   Of course we can become overwhelmed with all the challenges. However, we can each make a difference somewhere.

First, reflect and ask yourself, “What do I really care about? What breaks my heart open?” It is best to pick one area to focus on to avoid being so distracted or burning out quickly. Even a small issue such as building a stronger relationship with a colleague, neighbor or family member is worthwhile.

Next, ask yourself, “What skills, expertise or knowledge do I have to put toward this?” You may have social media skills and the ability to create awareness in that space. You may be a strong listener and can be a kind friend. You may have research skills or technical skills that can be used toward this greater need. Ideally, you can use skills that come naturally for you. You may also decide to invest in your own learning.

Then do some homework to find out what is needed and what others may be doing. Perhaps you will join with others or initiate your own project. You can start with a micro-project that can be an experiment or a prototype that can evolve into something more as you proceed. Ideally, you can join with others who also care about the issue.

Imagine what will be possible if we each adopt micro-projects and larger projects to make our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods and the world a better place for all. 

One person took the challenge and met with others in his racially divided neighborhood to read a book and talk about how to create a more inclusive community. Another supported elderly neighbors with some of their basic needs and spent time visiting. In a workplace, a person took on the goal of creating more connections between competing departments. Senior leaders agreed to engage in open-minded and candid conversations with each other and it created more harmony in the organization.

In each of these and similar projects, the initiator had the satisfaction of learning and taking action and knowing they were making a small but meaningful difference.

A critical factor for success is being open. Open to listening within to what calls your attention and open to learning, taking action and making an impact. I am open to supporting people in engaging in microprojects and expanding possibilities. My colleague and I are supporting Open Conversation Project Circles in which we support people in developing a practice of being open and engaging in conversations and projects that make a difference. Participants support each other in this endeavor and the community fosters well being and fulfillment.

Move forward on something important to you as you experience community and strengthen leadership skills. Consider joining an Open Conversation Project Circle. 


What is Your Project?

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

I am having a lot of conversations with people these days about all the needs around us. The challenges are many—political issues, climate change, violence, loneliness, stress, poverty, lack of mobility, and diversity issues to name just a few on a larger level. There are countless challenges in workplaces and homes. There is conflict, polarization, stress and the challenge of the need to be innovative and do more with less, find skilled workers and create engaged environments. There is disruption on all levels.

When people lament over the issues there is often a feeling of helplessness. What can one person or a small group do?  Most of us are already quite busy and are not sure we have the time or resources or ability to make an impact.

I have been encouraging myself and others to engage in micro-projects. We can indeed make a difference with our presence. The first thing we can do is ensure that we are open to others and to listen and be kind to those with whom we interact. It is understood that Ben Franklin used to begin his day by asking, “What good can I do today?”  Even a kind greeting can make a difference since emotions are contagious.

We can also take on a micro-project. Identify an area that interests or concerns you and take one small step. It could be engaging with others on the issue, sharing information and researching what others are doing. Perhaps you talk to one of your favorite restaurants about an alternative to plastic straws. A person I know put together a handout about efforts being done to cause less harm to animals in research and shared the developments with friends and colleagues. Another project can be to build relationships between Marketing and Sales in your workplace or support elderly neighbors. Another colleague started a discussion with neighbors about racism in their city.

Research shows that we have a greater sense of wellbeing when we are working toward a goal or purpose we care about. In addition, when you connect with others who care about similar issues your connections also support wellbeing. Small initiatives and efforts do make a difference. I have heard many stories about how one positive interaction has encouraged others to take action. 

One of my projects is inspiring people to recognize the power of being open and to coach people to take steps with a project that is meaningful. When we are open and engage in positive conversations we create new possibilities.

Identify one area that you care about and begin to learn more and look for one small action you can take. Commit to one small micro-project as an experiment and see what develops.

Accept Different Styles

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

A friend told me that as an introvert she found it challenging to be with her mother. Her mother would talk continuously and ask many questions. My friend found it exhausting. Later her mother would be surprised to see her daughter journaling rather than speaking with her. It was hard for her mother to appreciate a different style. It was much easier for my friend to be with her father, because they did not speak much.

We naturally believe our way of doing things makes the most sense. And it does for us. We have natural dispositions and we have learned behaviors that work for us.

However, given how unique we are with our different mindsets and styles, it is useful to learn how to work with our differences. First, we need to appreciate that we are all seeing and responding in unique ways. Then we need to notice our reactions and manage to shift from judgment to being curious and even recognize the humor in how we can be so different. Without awareness, we can easily become frustrated and blame others for not behaving appropriately. We want to make the intention to be open to others and manage our reactions. When we step back and shift to being curious and engage in positive and productive conversations we can benefit from our various perspectives and ways.

I shudder to think of all of the people who have felt hurt and experienced missed opportunities simply because a colleague or family member has a different way of processing or has a different style.

Set your intention to be open to a different style, catch your judgment and shift to being curious. Notice what you learn.

I Will Be Happy When…

How often do you find yourself saying I will be happy when… I get a better job, get in a better relationship, lose 10 pounds, buy x, get a credential, learn a skill, etc. It is natural to think that our happiness will come someday when we achieve or attain something.

However, how often do you notice this to be true? How long did you stay happy after a raise or an achievement?  Instead, we can choose to be happy now rather than waiting until someday when… which never fully satisfies us.

We can begin to allow moments of joy in our life starting today. We only need to look for and add moments that bring us joy. You can notice the beautiful flowers and take in the joy of nature on your way to work. You can greet neighbors and coworkers with a smile and enjoy the moments of connection. You can take a walk and appreciate that you are healthy and can walk and breathe. You can savor a cup of tea or coffee and really appreciate it.

By allowing ourselves moments of joy and savoring these moments we actually create more joy in our lives. In fact, this joy is contagious and will positively influence those around us too. What are we waiting for? I know that I deprived myself of such moments because I thought I had to earn such joy. In fact, we are entitled to it now.

Allow yourself to savor and create moments of joy throughout your day and notice the impact on you and others.

Build and Enjoy the Open Highway of Possibility

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

We all have habitual patterns that supported us at one time. For instance, I was once a worrier, and this served me at the time by pushing me to do more than what was required and to achieve many things. After a while, however, worrying just became a habit—even when it did not serve me. We now know that a neural pathway was formed in my brain and this one became like a big highway.

I worked on replacing this pattern. Rather than focusing on what I didn’t want, such as, “I don’t want to fail or do a poor job or be unsuccessful,” I focused on what I did want. “I want to be at ease and confident.” I not only said such words, I allowed myself to experience ease and openness. I noticed that in this state, I was more relaxed and actually accomplished more with less effort. With worry out of the way, I really felt open and saw new connections and possibilities with my coaching and organization clients, as well as in my personal life. 

I amped up this sense of openness by experiencing gratitude. By not just reciting what I am grateful for but really allowing myself to experience gratefulness, I sense even more possibilities. 

I still have the worry road readily available (the neural pathways are still in place and less prominent). However, I am choosing the newer expanding openness road that is taking me to new and exciting places.

Begin to strengthen your openness pathway by focusing on what you do want rather than what you don’t want, opening yourself to ease and possibility.