Habit # 8: Personal Operating Principles

February 2011

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

Habit # 8 Personal Operating Principles

“ If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate good, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day.”
Alex Noble

A Personal Operating Principle is a value lived consistently, tested under pressure and through experience.
In my Act II coaching program, where people at midlife are exploring career and life transitions, one of the first exercises I provide asks them to identify their core personal values and then to test out the degree to which they are actually living them. We all like to believe that we stand for certain things. But if we do not live them out through a range of circumstances and adversity, they are not truly ours.

Examples of these values would include:

Value I L G




Productivity and performance
Autonomy
Self- Expression
Emotional Intimacy
Learning and growth
Integrity, honesty
Optimism
Aesthetics
Service to others
Creativity
Harmony
Fun and humour
Zest and energy
Action-orientation
Organization
Recognition and appreciation

A useful exercise is to rate each of these values on a scale of 1-10 first on importance to you (I),and then on the degree to which you actually live them out under pressure (L).
Note the gaps (G) between the two scores and reflect on why that is. The greater the gap, the less you can claim that this value currently serves as an Operating Principle for you.

Go ahead and do the inventory now before reading any further.
Then take time to write answers to the following questions. Discuss with your partner or a close friend.

What are your 3 primary lived values?
How are they contributing to the quality and satisfaction levels of your life?
How are they impacting your close circle of family and friends?
How are they impacting the people you lead? your organization?

Which 1 or 2 values would you like to make into an Operating Principle?
How could you do that?
What circumstances would give you’re the courage and commitment to start?
What obstacles would you have to overcome?
How would you prepare for the tests?
How would you debrief them?
How would you stay true to your conviction in a sustained way?

We now know from neuroscience that interpersonal relationships profoundly affect the physical structures and processes of the brain. This means that we can either ramp up each other’s arousal levels and reactivities while we are living or working together in the midst of ever-changing and unpredictable circumstances, or we can help others to ramp them down and activate their neural capacity to regulate their own emotions. When we are living in alignment with our values-based principles we rewire our own neural networks, bringing a calmness and clarity to ourselves which becomes permanent. With this grounding we can then listen to others and collaborate with them without “catching” their anxiety, or ambivalence. We adhere to our own Operating Principle, meet our own objectives, feel good about ourselves and create a stabilizing force in the group.

Let’s look at an example of how this works. Most people and workplaces espouse the value of Work/Life Balance. The common understanding of this value is that we direct some time each day to our personal lives, doing things we personally enjoy such as fitness, playing music or woodworking, and spending quality time with our children and partners. But wait a minute. Often organizations are governed by competing values such as” we must stay at work until we get this deadline met or this urgent assignment completed, or “we must be visually present in the office during standard business hours to be seen to be meeting our work commitment”. We then give priority to our work and we end up feeling tired, inadequate and guilty for not meeting our Balance goal.

Instead, let’s change the language and perspective. What nourishes us and creates quality of experience is energy not time. Think of life fulfillment as investing your best energy into your personal life as well as your work life. This requires honoring your genetic bio rhythm ( are you as bright as the birds in the early morning or are you a night owl? ), following the Resilience practices of changing up activity every 90-120 minutes in the daytime ultradian cycle, and making hard decisions based on your Operating Principles. You would then initiate purposeful behaviours such as going to the gym at lunch time, getting home twice a week by 6:30 pm to put your children to bed, or meeting your partner for coffee and personal conversation at 2 pm every Wednesday. You follow this pattern consistently for 3 weeks. It gets easier. As new synapses fire together, they wire together and we build new neural pathways which allow us to feel deep satisfaction when we are living our values, and which eventually embed the new behavior into an neural groove, ie unconscious competency ( like driving a standard transmission once we have mastered the feel of it ). This will happen within 3 months. Only then do we achieve a feeling of fulfillment and create a sustainable way of living.

Organizational Operating Principles are built by individuals. Daniel Vasella is an example of such an individual. He was the Chairman and CEO of Novartis. He had a history of serious childhood illness and was separated from his family much of the time, growing up in a technically competent but cold and impersonal hospital system. These experiences, coming at a time when most of us are being nurtured by our parents and living a more or less carefree childhood, were painful and challenging. He was lonely, frightened, and in pain a lot of the time. He speaks of finally encountering one warm and kind physician who showed a genuine interest in him, and would sing him to sleep before his surgeries, of which he had many. She transformed his experience and burned the value of compassion into his own heart. As he matured as an adult, he confirmed his core values to be compassion, competence and competition. When he assumed leadership at Novartis he embedded these same values into the organizational culture, creating a welcome alternative in the pharmaceutical world. Many of us live as if compassion and competition cannot be compatible and yet this combination can lead to a very integrated way of living.

Which Operating Principles will you live by?
How will they enrich your life?
How will they influence the organization in which you are a leader?
How will they influence the value system your children develop?
Will they create that elusive sense of peace within?

Try it. I will be most interested to hear of your experiences.

References
“ The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge
” Drive” by Daniel Pink

Habit #7: Reflection

January 2011

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

Habit #7: Reflection
To go within is not to turn our back on the world; it is to prepare ourselves to serve it most effectively.” Marianne Williamson

• How often do you relate KPIs and KPOs back to strategy?
• How often do you fly up to 30,000 feet and view key accountabilities or accounts from that perspective?
• What disciplines do you have in place that enable your staff to stay on-purpose and on-priority?
• How often do you present performance feedback on the fly?
• How often do you enter meetings unprepared?

All of these practices are improved with reflection, preparation and evaluation. Most of us know this but still do not take the time to block out time in our calendars for reflection.

For many of us, the only time we take time out of our busy schedule of doing, is in January when we pause to reflect on the past and think about how to create an even better future in the coming year. January 1 is the time of year when in the North American culture, we review the year past, looking for achievements, experiences and joys to appreciate, and for opportunities missed, perhaps both in our professional and in our personal lives. We do an inventory of where our accomplishments matched our goals and where we missed the mark. We then set new objectives for 2011.
The media bombards us with articles about New Year resolutions, asking “What are you going to do differently this ear?” I want instead to pose the question “How will you think differently about what it is you intend to do and why?

Performance in the business world is measured almost exclusively by actionables, outcomes, deliverables, results. Even though studies show that performance is enhanced by thoughtfully setting strategy, aligning objectives to these critical few, and making adjustments as the environment requires and that the way to do that is to take time every day to reflect, prepare and evaluate, we are reluctant to interrupt” doing” to think. What many businesses do is back up all evaluation and predictive processes into this time of year: strategy, business plans, performance development plans and compensation review. We rush through these improtant processes, and then we return to doing for the remainder of the year. We are afraid that if we reflect or relax at other times we might lose our competitive edge and our productivity. The reverse is verifiably true: the busier we are the duller our minds become as our mind-body is not getting the fuel it needs to operate efficiently. It’s like the carpenter saying that he is so busy working that he doesn’t have time to sharpen his saw. Instead, stop, sharpen the saw, and then use its clean edge for attending to what Stephen Covey named the important, not the urgent, which includes long-term planning, thinking, and evaluation.

My June 2010 blog talked about how to improve energy management through understanding and respecting our daily ultradian rhythms with the use of resilience rituals. This same research creates a foundation for the argument about the value of reflection. Without shifting brain centres throughout the day, your brain chemistry suffers and the neo cortex is less productive. If you have just spent 2 hours focused on work, take time to change up your brain wave activity as you go into a physiological energy trough. I recommend a quick cardiovascular exercise or a connection with another person. Then, capitalize on the brain chemistry and energy generated and come back to a reflective practice before launching into more doing. Vary your mental activities throughout the day between doing or implementing and planning, creative thinking, and evaluating. The benefit of the practice of reflection is a greater liklihood of staying on track with your plans and adjusting the plans when conditions change. This contributes greatly to resilience.

A primary reason that most of us are disappointed by what we achieved in 2010 is that we have not revisited our objectives since last January and they slip away from us in the maelstrom of external demands placed on us. The question to ask yourself now is how to build a process of frequent review of behaviors so as to appreciate where alignment is occurring or not, where conditions are changing, what internal and external obstacles are preventing us from meeting the mark, and how we can redirect ourselves. Ask yourself:
• Why am I doing what I am doing?
• Is my lens wide enough?
• What are the critical few strategies in my professional life? My personal life? At work the critical few are the concrete behaviours which support the purpose or strategy you have identified and may include plans, projects, tasks, partnerships, development of people, building networks, influencing peers, your own leadership development goals, scanning for emerging market trends or consulting with stakeholders for improved customer satisfaction.
• Am I (and my team) investing sufficient time and energy on them? If not, why not? What is pulling me off purpose?
• What can I do to change that pattern of behaviour? deal with competing commitments? dissolve obstacles?
• What other strategies could I employ this year to monitor alignment between actions and the critical few on a more frequent basis?
• What do I need to do differently to refocus myself and others on the critical few and monitor alignment between them and work plans?

Planning
Before attending a meeting, initiating a conversation of influence, making a complex decision, or determining how to approach an ambiguous or complex problem, take time to plan it out. It is a proven fact that the more prepared we are, the better the product, service or communication we deliver. And we are coming to appreciate how every transaction involves interaction; so we need to plan for both the what and the how. Take time to write out the key points you want to make in a meeting and the questions you would like answered. Think about how others may react and account for that in your approach. Take time to articulate your opening statement and concrete examples of the feedback you want to deliver to a team member. Write out the essential points you will make in pitching an idea to a new customer and how you will intrigue and engage him. Or, if building relationship with certain peers or senior people in your organization is a priority, make a list and systematically book and execute one such informal meeting over coffee or lunch once a month. This planning time is a huge investment in both efficiency and effectiveness.

Similarly good intentions for living out a personal strategy like improving your health or creating more connection with significant people in your life such as your spouse or children, require planning and concrete actions to become realized. Book blocks of time in your schedule to go to the gym, play guitar, meet your wife for lunch (when both of you have high quality energy for conversation) or attend your child’s school play.

It is absolutely critical that you schedule this planning time in as formal and indelible a way as you would an action or a meeting. It should be the first entry in your calendar for any given week and if you are fortunate enough to have an admin assistant s/he needs to understand the value of it and to protect it for you. Treat is as sacrosanct and over time it will be embedded as the priority you now say it is. Without such planning, these good intentions get cancelled in favor of the immediate demands of the workplace, and your productivity and fulfillment suffer.

Thinking
Thinking has many purposes and forms. The first step is to identify the form required to address a particular strategy or even an emerging, ambiguous, unanticipated circumstance. It might require brainstorming, mind mapping, analyzing, researching, developing, innovating, challenging, predicting, integrating or evaluating. Each process has a rigorous methodology. Each requires knowing who you need to have in the room. Each must occur at a particular place in a delivery schedule, and the quality and experience of the product or service will be compromised without due thought applied. If we do dedicate a time during the day when our energy is strong to purposeful thinking, we are raising the value of our results significantly.

Extroverted-preference people need to do their thinking out loud. Invite others to join you, use the whiteboard or voice-activated software, move around the room.. Introverted-preference people prefer to think something through first alone and inwardly, and then bring their fairly well-formulated thoughts to a forum for discussion. In groups, we do optimally thinking for allowing for both these preferred styles. And we must schedule time accordingly to allow for best thinking practices to play out from beginning to end.

Evaluating
If you are innovating, initiating, experimenting, trying a new way of doing things, the value is doubled by taking time to debrief the experience and its value afterwards, extract the learnings and document them in a way that will serve you in the future. For example, if you are normally conflict- averse and you had the courage to take a risk and challenge someone else’s thinking or provide someone with feedback on something they are doing which has a negative impact on your group, and you spent time preparing how you would deliver the message, debriefing the experience and drawing your own conclusions about the value gained is essential for your growth. It also allows you to assess if you have reached the desired outcome: improved relationship and a willingness to change.

The most effective leaders use various notebooks in hard or electronic copy, to document their progress in such behaviours. For example, perhaps you decide to change the content of your regular one-on-one meetings with your staff to include a 20 minute period focused on their developmental and career needs. They set the agenda and you have contributions to make. Optimal value results from your making some notes before and after each of these sessions and referring back to them to track any actionables you might have agreed to, and their progress to date. Similarly, if you are running a cross-functional project in a different way this year, notes about the design, structure, process and engagement before and after each meeting can add great value.

Once we establish a reflective practice, its value becomes obvious to us and is reinforced by the improvements in both productivity and our fulfillment for ourselves and our teams.
The hard part is breaking the old habit based on a western cultural belief system that the busier and more overscheduled we are with activity, the more important and indispensable we are. Add to that our current environment of ever-changing conditions, downsizing and restructuring, in which uncertainty breeds fear for many of us, and we easily retreat to old beliefs. Our challenge now is to appreciate how it is these very conditions that require attention to the important and the emerging.

I challenge you to add 3 hours of reflection to your week starting today.
And as always, I encourage comments/ discussion/ case studies from you.

References
“First Things First”, Stephen Covey
“ZBA: Zen of Business Administration”. Marc Lesser

Habit #6: Integrative Thinking

November 2010

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

Habit #6: Integrative Thinking
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few.” Suzuki Roshi

How well do you perform under pressure in a first-time challenging situation?
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
Are you limiting yourself to logical and analytical thinking?
Do you find it difficult to escape binary or formulaic thinking?
Can your colleagues predict what position you will adopt on a given subject?

These are some of the questions which form the basis for our evaluation of ourselves on one of the leadership competencies considered most important for success in today’s organizations: Learning Agility. Research done by Lominger and Korn Ferry International has been collated into a 360 instrument called Choices Architect, and they have dedicated an entire FYI book to the development of this competency. It requires getting comfortable with complexity, using foresight to detect changing trends and patterns in the market, sensing problems before they are perceived; taking lessons from the past and fitting them into the new and different challenges which are emerging; examining problems carefully and making fresh connections; and a willingness to take the heat when things fail.

Many of us are not naturally this agile in our thinking. Most of us are products of a less- than-imaginative educational system which taught us to learn by rote and to make mental maps which then serve as established templates for researching, problem solving and decision making. This means that not only do we not have experience in thinking big picture or integratively, we lack awareness of the ways in which these same mind maps handicap us. Therefore we rely primarily on a linear sequential way of thinking through a situation (left brain) and do not know how to access, or do not trust the intuitive, imaginative powers of the right brain. We perceive only the sensations we are programmed to receive and our awareness is further restricted by the fact that we recognize only those stimuli for which we have pre-existing mind maps or categories. We do not appreciate the value of learning new patterns of attention until perhaps we experience the failure to be agile in a significant business or life situation.

In thinking about how to present Integrative Thinking techniques, I myself utilized an integrative thinking process as I revisited the writings of specialists in the field including Daniel Pink, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Lominger, Benjamin Zander and Michael Michalko. The result is the following 4 practices:
• Curiosity
• Complexity
• Creative Thinking
• Connecting

Curiosity consists of fresh eyes, beginner’s mind and open heart. This means entering a situation, novel or routine, with full sensory attention, a mind that is free of any previous predispositions, models or maps, and a heart that is open and registering information at an emotional level. Learn new patterns of attention. Approach the banal with awe and wonder as children do. Look at different things and look at them differently. Question the obvious. Be surprised. Ask an unexpected question. Look for the novel. Do not rush to define the nature of the problem. Follow up on anything that captures your attention. Broaden your vision. Dig channels to help the psychic energy that is curiosity to flow freely within you. And then, and only then, apply the analytical mind to critiquing the options you have created and apply discipline to action.
Try this. Take a simple task you need to complete such as writing a report on a project you are leading. State the intention. Now go for a walk, look out the window, or do some deep breathing and let your mind roam freely. Notice any images, physical sensations, thought or feelings that come up. Jot down words and images and then string them together into a story. What’s different about the final product?

Complexity is part of our DNA and is a kind of boundary crossing. Evolution favors organisms that are complex. Creativity requires complexity. This means a way of thinking that has many differentiated parts, and several parts that are working together smoothly. It provides us with the ability to move from one trait to its opposite easily. Instead of binary thinking, it incorporates the differences and steeps them into something novel. Thinking that is integrated and not differentiated produces predictable, one-dimensional outcomes. Thinking that is differentiated and not integrated is complicated, confusing and chaotic.
Boundary crossing is a practice in which you catch yourself in either/or thinking and interrupt this pattern, moving instead into both/and thinking. Studies show that girls who are most creative are also tough-minded and critical, and boys who are most creative are compassionate and receptive. Androgyny is an example of boundary crossing.
Try this. Notice how often you land in a place which then eliminates what you think of as its opposite. For example, you may catch yourself thinking “ I am either driving for results or putting people at ease” or “My boss is so critical; she’s making me rewrite this whole report.” Now convert how you are thinking about those same situations into both/and thinking. “I am focused on results and bringing people along with me” and “My boss endorses the content of this report and she is asking me to communicate it in a more concise and high-level style.” If we stay open to both/and thinking and keep increasing the complexity, we become part of the energy that creates the future.

Creative Thinking, according to Csikszentmihalyi, consists of fluency ( producing as many ideas as possible ie brainstorming), flexibility (producing ideas which are very different from each other) and originality (producing novel, rare ideas). The latter is most difficult to achieve and perhaps can be learned by studying the biographies of inventors and artists.
They show us that invention is usually the creation of something new by simply combining elements of existing products or processes that no-one else thought to pair. The inventor of Velcro, got the idea from watching his dog come home from the ravine with burs stuck to his coat. It sounds simple but he was the first to put two such disparate situations together. And we shortchange fluency by interrupting the flow of a brainstorming session with edits and evaluations. Very few teams I know are consciously practicing flexibility; there is no incentive to stay in creative and generative mode and purposefully percolate radically different ideas.
Try this. Order Michalko’s Thinkpak, a deck of cards which promotes brainstorming (amazon.com). Or next time you are a contributing member of a meeting defined as a discussion not a decider, jot down brief bullets of what others at the table have said. Then generate a very different opinion and express it and a little later express a very diverse opinion from the one you originally stated. Play with this flexibility. Invite others to do the same. Or drop your mind and move your body (run, swim, chop wood) and original thinking may result.

Connecting is a process of pattern recognition which allows us to see relationships between diverse and seemingly unrelated fields and to detect broad patterns rather than to collect data in a logical, sequential way as we do in an analytic kind of thinking process. Recognizing patterns or themes is the right brain hemisphere in action in a contextual, simultaneous and symphonic way. Daniel Goleman identifies it as the one cognitive ability that defines extraordinary leaders. Intuitive-preference thinkers get there more naturally but anyone can learn how to do it. It is gestalt or systems kind of thinking: seeing the whole which is greater than the parts.
Try this. Study a work of art or a fine example of architecture. Notice the negative space (empty) and the play between light and shadow. Stand close. Stand far away. What is the gestalt?
Or make brief, summary notes on what others at a Round Table have said and then connect the dots, drawing a pattern for all participants.
Or examine business solutions and look for what was always present in a success and never in a failure.

With fresh eyes, beginner’s mind and an open heart, we can respond to the unpredictable and difficult challenges we face with curiosity, creativity, composure and confidence. We can perform well in the midst of complexity and ambiguity, examining problems thoughtfully and making new connections. We can be outstanding leaders in what is being called The Conceptual Age.

Please send me your creative comments and let’s keep the conversation going.

Habit #5: Knowing Our Purpose

October 2010

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

Habit #5: Knowing Our Purpose

When we are living our purpose we “find the best in others, give of ourselves, leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or redeemed social condition; we play and laugh with enthusiasm and sing with exultation; we know that even one life has breathed easier because we have lived.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

What does it mean to live on purpose?
How do we discover our life purpose?
How do we align our life choices to purpose?
How does it make us feel and live better?

I have not posted a blog for the past two months because I have been living on purpose. My purpose is to intuit and illuminate the true potential in others, and adventure travel hones this skill. In August I spent one month travelling through the Southern African countries of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe absorbing the compelling desert landscapes, watching the Big Five and many more animals and birds navigate their natural habitat and interact with one another, and sweeping my internal landscape clean. My passion is to try to suspend my own personal and cultural filters, observe and interact with living beings who are living a life I know nothing about, and come to some new understandings of human possibility. I take very few photographs, preferring instead to embed my experiences in my mind, body and heart. I remember the leopard who ambled from the bushes towards our jeep and took rest under the vehicle, emerging one foot away from me and looking at me intently for what seemed like a minute. I remember the queen of a Himba village we visited teaching us how they prepare women to run a household. Theirs is a difficult, nomadic life as they herd cattle and goats who somehow survive in the limited offerings of the dry Namibian desert. I remember taking off at first light in a tiny microlight plane and flying over Victoria Falls, down the deep-cut gorges, and amongst the many islands in the wide Zambesi River, to see giraffe, elephant, antelope and hippopotami from above. And I remember how I had to struggle to manage my fear when it felt like the tent was going to implode in a wicked desert sandstorm. All of these experiences inform how I tap into my own potential and help others to do the same. They broaden my perspective, encourage me not to make assumptions about why people do what they do, and help me help others identify and appreciate their true unique strengths and purpose.

Typically, we do not consider the questions about our life purpose until we are at mid life. Until then, we are following the predictable adult social-emotional development path. In our 20s and 30s we are hard-wired to focus on completing our education, building a career, finding a life partner and starting a family. For most of us, the occupation or profession we select or stumble upon reflects our aptitudes and sometimes our interests. It may however not be at all related to our natural gifts, passion or purpose. For example, if you were good at Math and Science in high school, you probably chose Engineering, Computer Science or Financial Services. Or if you liked to problem solve, you may have chosen Law or ended up in Operations. If you like interacting with people and don’t like much supervision you may have chosen Sales, or a helping profession like medicine. You may have been very successful in your field. However, these choices may not be at all related to your natural gifts, passion, or purpose. You discover this when in your 40s or 50s you start to notice a growing sense of dissatisfaction or unhappiness. You lose your resilience and are less able to remain composed and manage your reactions to people and situations in your environment. You wonder what’s wrong, and you probably start the quest by examining the externals: marriage, job, the financial load you are carrying. And while it may be useful to examine these parts of your life, the most relevant question is “Who am I and how am I living out my true gifts? Where am I aligned to purpose and what are the gaps”?

A client of mine whom I will call David, graduated from Chemical Engineering and went to work for a global pharmaceutical company. He has a lot of intellectual horsepower and is very ambitious; so set his long term goal as a senior executive within the industry. While raising four children, he did an executive MBA, and secured a series of 3 year global positions to build experience and exposure. Now, at the age of 46, he is a Senior Vice President, and has settled his family back in Canada. Within the past 6 months he has been feeling restless, lost and unhappy and is trying to understand why.

I suggest that his unhappiness stems from a pattern many of us follow. We set and achieve challenging external goals in our career and sometimes our personal lives ( how many of us in our 40s begin to train for marathons or triathalons?) We strive to achieve or acquire, and sometimes once we meet our objective we are surprised by how little satisfaction we feel. We may indeed feel empty. This is because any true accomplishment must have meaning. And meaning comes from purpose.

Habit #2 in Stephen R Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “begin with the end in mind”. He suggests that we create a personal constitution and use it as a basis for making all major life-direction decisions. It is based on our most basic paradigms, and becomes the lens through which we see the world. We can then focus that lens on how we, as unique individuals, will relate to that world and find meaning.

Knowing and pursuing our purpose allows us to live “in the flow”. Similarly, if we are living on purpose, our experiences are harmonious and compelling. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” did extended research to find a path to happiness. He wanted to find out how to live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events. He studied business and state leaders, professional athletes, artists, and students. The state he discovered is one of “being in the flow” and he describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and you are using your skills to the utmost”. When operating in the flow his subjects reported :
• a high degree of focus and concentration on the task or conversation at hand
• no irrelevant thoughts, self-doubts or worries
• a sense that their abilities were stressed but not overwhelmed by the opportunities for action
• a sense of serenity and joy
• great inner clarity
• no sense of clock time
• intrinsic motivation; whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward
• peak performance

So we are in the flow when we are living our purpose, doing things that we were born to do and then the value of that experience will be reinforced by its unique quality. The mind and body are working together effortlessly and we experience a keen sense of enjoyment as well as peak performance. Flow lifts experience from the ordinary to the optimal, and it is in these moments that we feel truly alive and in tune.

Discovering your life purpose requires some deep thought and trust of your intuition. Begin at the centre of your Circle of Influence. Think back to when you were a child.
What were the activities in which you would get lost for hours at a time?
For what did other people come to you for help or information?
Before you were “encouraged” to follow in your parent’s footsteps or go to Business School because “that’s where the future lies”, which subjects and projects activated your curiosity?
How do you learn best (visually, kinesthetically, conceptually, empirically)?
What are your core principles and paradigms?
Where have you made the most difference?

David is in the midst of this process of finding his purpose which will inform his future choices and decisions.
I will be most interested in hearing about how you are currently living on purpose or what you discover as a result of this process.

Habit #4 Brain Fitness: Mental Focus

July 2010

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

Habit #4 Brain Fitness: Focusing the Mind

“Attention is like money; if we don’t watch how we spend it,
we waste it.” Edward Hallowell

When is your mind tired?
When is it at its most alert, incisive, creative?
How do you test for this?
What distracts you?
What prevents you?
What is the cost to you? your team? your organization?
What do you currently do to optimize the alert times and allow for the fuzzy times?

The objective of planning and prioritizing is to program ourselves and our brains to let the automatic functions located in the cerebellum to take over repetitive tasks and free up your frontal lobes to do the more creative and complex problem solving.More and more of the work we are called upon to do in today’s economy cannot be done by rote. It requires analysis, risk assessment, collaboration, foresight and creativity. It therefore requires a spark of energy, innovation and effort.

Do you hold yourself as responsible for creating this spark as you do for meeting a deliverable result? You should. In our global, complex, matrixed environments we need to understand and influence a lot of people we don’t know well, all of whom have competing priorities and limited resources. So success depends not only on tactical results and meeting of commitments; true success depends on mental agility, adaptability, resilience and creativity. How can we cultivate it?

Our current reality is that we are faced with a glut of stimuli, data and communications. Thus a very critical leadership skill is to sort out what really matters, to see the whole picture and think through its implications and possibilities. Now Neuroscience, through the use of the functional MRI, can teach us a great deal about how to create this kind of optimal brain functioning and shows what pulls us off course. In an earlier blog, I spoke of the ultradian rhythms which our bodies undergo in 90 – 120 minute cycles. fMRI studies show that in the midst of each cycle, the frontal lobes or problem solving centre of the brain, are functioning well if distractions are being controlled .And if do an alternate activity to rest this centre every 2 hours or so, our ability to think improves exponentially, as does our productivity. If instead we allow the ping of an incoming email to receive our attention, it takes 2.5 minutes to restore our concentration.

In this culture, we have a tendency to drive ourselves hard to solutions, decisions and outcomes driven by data, rather than taking the time to study the data, to think about what has been gathered, to let it suggest possibilities and patterns, and to let imagination and innovation roll new ideas into our consciousness. This kind of thinking yields extraordinary results. Biographies of people like Einstein and General William Slim teach us that they did not create brilliance by sitting at their desks pushing data. Instead, they varied their pace of hurrying and studying with lingering. General Slim led the Allied war effort in Burma during the Second World War, and kept the Japanese out of India. His methods were considered unique in that he listened to reports in the morning, rested and reflected in the afternoon, and executed strategy in the evening, both of military maneuvers and health care measures for his men, since the climate killed more soldiers than combat did. He was a thoughtful leader and was rewarded accordingly.

What separates the great innovator from the mere data gatherer is the ability to stop gathering the data and instead to reflect on the data already collected. They use their powers of imagination and creativity to roll new ideas into consciousness. In first year university, I was fortunate enough to have Bill Glassco as my English Literature professor. We were studying the classics. My first essay was on Beowolf and he gave me an F with the explanation that I was simply regurgitating the text and critics and had not presented a single unique thought. He challenged me with writing my next essay without a single reference. And wouldn’t you know, the topic was Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. I struggled through that assignment and he rewarded my less-than-stellar synthesis with an A, thus teaching me the value of individual thought. Self-made millionaires are found to be four times more likely than the rest of the population to be dyslexic (Charlotte Fill 2003 ) and they think only with the right brain. Because they are unable to analyze particulars, they compensate by becoming adept at recognizing patterns and this puts them ahead of market trends. We all need to leave our left brain analytic thinking preference at times and actively engage the holistic thinking of the right brain.

Daniel Pink in his book “A Whole New Mind” talks about success in this century depending on high concept and high touch. High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine unrelated ideas into a novel invention. He advises us to cultivate thinking practices such as synthesis; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. These practices require curiosity, concentrated mental focus, no interruptions, and a commitment to the value of such thinking.

How does one set oneself up for success to create such practices?

  • get 8 hours sleep
  • take vitamin B and fatty acid supplements
  • balance protein, carbohydrates and fat so that your insulin does not yo-yo all day causing your blood glucose (the fuel your brain uses) to spike and crash, and with it your ability to focus your mind.
  • identify your personal favorite distracters and manage them
  • control your technology; don’t let it control you
  • train your people to honor thinking time
  • do the most important thinking when your mind is most sharp and least burdened by worry, fatigue or distraction ( for most people this is early morning)
  • as the limbic part of the brain produces negative emotions like worry or  overwhelm, this diverts precious neurons from the frontal lobes which are the problem solving centre in the brain. Before a time of reflection, do a simple warm up so as to increase concentration and redirect those neurons to the neo-cortex
  • practice bold thinking not busy thinking
  • engage in cardio-vascular exercise during the lull times in the ultrafine rhythm, even in quick bursts like running stairs for 5 minutes or swinging your arms
  • balance structure and novelty
  • balance analysis with synthesis; do not stay in any one mental mode too long
  • take some human moments to connect with people and supplement the high concept with high touch
  • go to the newsstand and select 10 magazines in fields you know nothing about such as Buddhism, antique cars or knitting. Read each magazine and clip whatever stimulates your thinking on a business issue. Make a habit of this.

I will be most interested to hear your thoughts and results. Please comment.

Habit #3: Brain Fitness: Stilling the Mind

June 2010

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

Habit # 3: Brain Fitness: Stilling the Mind and Staying in the Present Moment
“Meditation is brain training”
Oprah

Stilling the mind is an art and a science. It produces calmness, clarity and increased capacity, and, like all forms of resilience, is a product of energy management. It has a positive affect on brain chemistry and enhances our ability to focus the mind.

Stop reading for a moment and close your eyes, bringing attention to the thoughts running through your head. Now open your eyes and let that register. No doubt there were a jumble of thoughts ranging from
“I don’t really want to do this now”
“What do I have to do to prepare for my next meeting?”
What factors do I need to consider in solving problem x?
I wonder how my son is doing on his exam right now?

All to show that if we do not organize our thoughts they run us. They are often out of our awareness, they are chaotic, and there are far too many of them to make us effective or focused thinkers. We have about 60,000 thoughts per day. Many of them are recycled. Most thoughts involve remembering the past or planning for the future. They clutter our minds and take us out of the present moment. We are distracted. Many of us have “racing minds” which means we are always thinking ahead towards outcome and solution, even when we are in dialogue with others and should be listening, considering input, and working with it in the moment. Racing mind creates reaction, not response, and impatience. Others of us, especially senior leaders, no matter how much we espouse the need to be strategic in our thinking, and to align our team’s work to the critical few priorities, do not take time to think, plan or reflect. We are busy doing all day long and our thinking is tactical and reactive. How does that serve us or our organization?

Resilience by definition means agile response in the immediate present. So the practice of exercising awareness and choice in regards to our thoughts allows us to relax, rest the mind, and improve its agility.

Now add in the pressures of an ever-changing environment, uncertain circumstances or an at-risk relationship and a habit of not focusing our thinking on assessment and creating a well-considered plan, puts us at risk. And take into account the reality that we all default to a habit of judging people and situations through the filters formed in the past. We may be operating from a mistaken belief that “all junior partners are gunning for our job”, or “David exercises poor decision making capability”, or “I’ve seen a situation like this before and know the solution” even though talking the other person through the thinking process would serve us all better. Such beliefs prevent us from doing our best thinking in the present moment.

These are all bad mental habits.
What are effective habits of thinking and how do we develop them?

First consider the recent scientific findings that just as we have circadian rhythms in our bodies during the night, we have mirrored ultradian rhythms during our waking hours. This means that we can maintain mental focus and high energy for 90 – 120 minutes and then we fall into a physiological trough for 10-20 minutes. This shows itself as fuzzy-headedness, drowsiness, and loss of focus. If we push through it with sheer will or stimulants such as sugar or caffeine, we get a temporary burst of energy but our cycles of focus will decrease as the day progresses. If instead we rest our minds, they will regenerate.

How best to do that in a short period of time? Get into your body. Run up and down stairs, walk in nature. Breathe. Meditate.

Tool #1: Breathing
Let’s start with breathing, which is the only autonomic (meaning automatic like heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature) function over which we also have conscious control. We take about 13,000 breaths per day while awake. Breath is the link between the body and the mind and if we do it mindfully, it is the quickest way to rest and restore the functioning of the mind throughout the lower energy cycles in our day. We are always breathing; so it is the simplest tool to use to still the mind. It brings us into our body so that we have an alternative to thinking.

Take a moment right now and put your hand on your lower abdomen, just below your belly button. Does your abdomen rise on the in-breath and relax on the exhalation, or is all the action in your chest instead? Does your breath flow in a steady rhythm or is it choppy? Most of us use the chest muscles to expand the lungs rather than the diaphragm muscle. When instead we activate the diaphragm through belly breathing, we inflate the lungs more and take in more oxygen which the hungry brain needs for sane thinking. If we notice our breathing is shallow, we inhale more with our chest muscles, thus increasing heart rate and blood pressure and creating fatigue and anxiety.

Instead practice the 10 Belly Breath exercise with me right now. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, spine straight and eyes closed. Start with a sigh of relief, a long exhale. Then breathe into the belly through the nose, feeling the belly rise as if it were a balloon you are filling with air. Hold your breath momentarily and visualize the lungs filling with oxygen. Exhale through the mouth slowly, making a “whoosh” sound or a long sigh. Keep pushing the breath out even after you think it is all gone. There will be more. This resets the diaphragm. Repeat the process for 10 breaths, focusing on the sensation of the movement of the air in and out of your body. Go as slowly as you possibly can. This focus on body sensation gives the mind a rest. If you like, count each breath, or repeat the word “re-lax” or “let – go” , first syllable on the inhale, second on the exhale. At the end of the cycle of 10 breaths, notice how you feel physically. This may feel awkward at first and many people have difficulty training their body to breathe in through the belly. With time, you’ll get it. It is a wonderful technique to use in the moment when you are feeling rushed or stressed, before an important meeting, or while listening to an irate client. Give a sigh and then breathe deeply several times. Make a Save Your Breath sign and post it on your computer.

Andrew Weill Breathing Technique
Exhale through the mouth with a whooshing sound. Place the tip of your tongue on the soft palate of the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth. Inhale to the count of 3. Hold your breath for the count of 4, appreciating the nurturing the oxygen brings to your whole body. Breathe out very slowly through the mouth to the count of 8. If at first you can’t slow the breath down to the count of 8, not to worry. Keep counting to 8 anyway as you will eventually train yourself to do this.
Repeat this cycle 3 more x for the first 3 weeks and then increase to a cycle of 8.

Tool #2: Meditation
“The only definition of a good meditation is one that you did.”
Joan Borysenko

Another very effective method of stilling the mind is meditation. I can hear you thinking “ Oh no, I’ve tried that and it’s impossible. I have too many thoughts. I can’t shut them down. I don’t have time.”etc. These conclusions illustrate another mistaken belief. Meditation does not require sitting totally still in the lotus position on a mountain top. It simply means a practice that moves us from frenetic, chaotic overthinking to a calm, quiet state for a period of time on a systematic basis so that you can refresh the mental function. If I were to ask you what you are thinking right now, chances are that you wouldn’t be able to tell me. Similarly, sometimes when we’re driving on the highway we realize we missed the exit and yet we also don’t know what we were thinking about. This illustrates how often we are not masters of our own attention. We are not living in awareness and are therefore not exercising choice. Meditation trains us to keep our awareness in the present moment, and to exercise choice in how and when we focus our minds and when we give them a break.

The challenge of this technique is to do it no matter how stressed, busy or overwhelmed you are. The goal of meditation is not to experience peace and quiet during a practice session. That may well not happen. The goal is to train the monkey mind so that gradually you feel more aware, calm and agile at all times. To be alive is to have thoughts. This mental martial art practice is about not attaching to thoughts when they arise. It’s about allowing and accepting all thoughts as if they were waves coming in and going out on the shoreline. Neither indulge them nor push them away. When thoughts come ( and trust me, they will), you have a choice. You can witness them objectively and let them go or keep on thinking. In 10 minutes you might have to bring your mind back to the focus dozens of times. This strengthens the mental muscles of letting go. After just a few weeks of practice, you’ll see that it’s much easier to control your mind throughout the day.

What are the tools for meditation? There are many, some passive and some very active. In his book “Meditation in a New York Minute” Mark Thornton, an investment banker, describes many such exercises. Each one brings your focus to the present moment and the inner space by way of a technique like conscious breathing, repeating a word or phrase, visualizing, or performing a routine activity such as eating, mindfully. I recommend that you check some out, find one that you like, and practice daily for 10 minutes for 30 days. This creates a positive habit. And did I mention that serotonin, that feel-good chemical will be released into your blood stream? Yes!

Olympic coaches such as Runne Gustafson of the Swedish Winter Olympic team found breathing and meditation improved performance in his athletes by means of a strengthened immune system, better sleep, lower blood pressure, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, accelerated muscle repair, renewed energy,and an increased sense of calmness, contentment, clarity.

For each practice, you simply uncross your arms and legs, sit with your feet flat on the floor and your spine erect. Focus your breathing on your lower abdomen, filling it with oxygen as you inhale through the nose and feeling it collapse on an exhalation through the mouth. Some alternatives include:

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Breaths
A simple technique that uses memories of being in nature to reclaim a desired state of relaxation or calmness. Here are some examples:

Breathing in, I see myself as a lake.
Breathing out I am still

Breathing in I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I feel stable.

Breathing in I see myself as a stream
Breathing out I feel fresh.

Whatever stem you use, visualize yourself in that place of nature and remember how it affected your senses and made you feel.

Chi Gung for Calm

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bend your knees slightly.
Put your hands by your side with palms facing forward.
Take a long, deep breath in. As you inhale, clench your fists and bring them toward your chin, with your elbows almost touching. Tighten all the muscles in your body, particularly the face, chest, arms and shoulders.The stance is similar to a boxer’s.
Hold your breath for the count of 6.
Exhale slowly through the mouth, unclench your fists, relax your fingers and chest, and bring your hands by your side with palms facing outward, releasing all tension.
Repeat 5 times.

Following one of these brain fitness strategies, you will find yourself able to focus your attention incisively throughout the day. I also highly recommend that you reserve time during the day to do your most strategic thinking at a time when your energy cycle is high (usually the morning). Protect this time and do not allow any interruptions. Everyone will benefit and you will go from feeling overwhelmed and believing that you are never doing your best work, to feeling on top of the important and no longer simply reactive to the urgent.

Let me know how your practice goes!!

References
“Meditation in a New York Minute” Mark Thornton
“Getting in the Gap” Wayne Dyer
“Inner Peace for Busy People” Joan Borysenko
“The Power of Now” Eckhart Tolle

Habit #2: Physical Fitness

May 2010

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

“When we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us.”
Dr. Gabor Mate

Most of us deny the effects that lack of exercise, poor eating habits, sleep deprivation and the lack of relaxation periods each day have on our bodies let alone our minds. We go-go-go until we are exhausted and then we consume stimulants to pick up our energy levels. If you knew the state of your adrenal glands, kidneys, or pancreas you might take another look at your habits. If you realized how you could dramatically increase your mental focus and decision making capability by taking better care of your body, you might change those habits.

Psychoneuroimmunology research has shown us that constant doing in an environment of stress disturbs the natural interface between the central nervous, autonomic nervous, endocrine and immune systems and the mind. Here’s how it works. Our bodies are hardwired to respond to a real or perceived threat to our survival with a fight or flight response. In these times, apart from natural disasters and acts of terrorism, the 3 leading threats or stressors in our daily lives are uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control. Perhaps your company has been acquired a year ago and now they are instituting a far-reaching reorganization. You are not sure of where you will eventually land. You were not part of the strategy- setting so do not know all the impacts of cascading change on those you have worked closely with in the past. And since the senior team in your division is in flux, you feel out of control. What can you do to manage this acute stress in your mind- body and remain resilient in your day-to-day operations?

Or consider another scenario. Your boss brought you into this company and you worked extremely well together to create a happy and high performing division. She accepts an outside promotion and the boss-from-hell replaces her. You had intended to dedicate 5 years to this job as it provides great opportunity for growth in both technical expertise and leadership. It has been 2 years since your new boss arrived and in spite of employing many strategies to manage up successfully and not get discouraged, you are feeling exhausted and irritable all the time. Now you are having trouble sleeping and experiencing something that might be heartburn. These symptoms may be only the tip of the iceberg of chronic stress, which occurs when we are exposed to stressors that cannot be escaped either because we don’t recognize them or because we have no control over them.

Whether stress is acute or chronic, we all carry it and for the most part try to ignore it. In the face of the perceived threat, a message goes to the brain and the adrenal glands kick in, raising the heart rate, directing blood flow away from the internal organs and to the muscles ( believing we need to fight or run) and releasing blood sugar into the bloodstream to generate energy with which to mobilize our muscles. Remember the petite woman who lifted an automobile to free her trapped child? That was adrenaline not upper body strength. Under threat, the neo-cortex registers an experience. The Hypothalmus involves the endocrine (hormonal) system by alerting the pituitary gland. The adrenals are called to action and if the threat is sustained, the adrenal glands release cortisol and DHEA all day and night to help the body function. This puts our immune system under pressure and will cause harm. Chronically high cortisol levels destroy tissue. Chronically elevated adrenalin levels raise the blood pressure and damage the heart. And if you are living a hurried lifestyle, working around the clock, travelling through time zones, you will reach a state where because you are not creating rest and rejuvenation activities which calm the nervous system by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system ( yes, you do have one and this would be a good time to make its acquaintance) you will reach a state of chronic stress and exhaustion. You won’t be able to quiet your racing mind at the end of the day and sleep is disturbed. Hypervigilant adrenals use up your calming neurotransmitters. Brain circuits are interrupted and you get edgy and fuzzy minded. You will not be responsive and resilient to the many unanticipated demands of your day.

Most achievement-oriented people ( my kind term for driven over-achievers of which I am one) have at one time or another stopped to think about what might happen if they keep driving themselves at the same rate indefinitely. Could this be you? You love raising the bar and exceeding expectations. You are motivated by self-imposed goals. You work long hours, stay up late at night, and may even manage to fit in long runs or rides. You rely on caffeine, sugar and other stimulants for energy. Every day is an adventure; life is a blur of activity. You look and feel great! Except for the darkening circles under your eyes and the reflux condition. But wait a minute, have you considered what might happen if you keep driving yourself like this while your body struggles to keep up?You are not just a mind being supported by a miracle. You have a body which also requires attention in order to keep you functioning at high levels of performance. Sometimes we ignore our bodies and their needs altogether. Sometimes we push them as hard as we push our minds and our deliverables. To create optimal performance and a high degree of resilience, you must take care of your body. You know what to do. You just don’t do it because it goes at the end of your day’s priority list. Time to change that around.

4 practices done in moderation will balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, reduce the stress on your adrenals and allow your body to move fluidly between action and rest/repair. This combination supports resilience and allows us to bring focus and concentration to any task or relationship, to problem solve and make decisions in a timely and effective way, and to adapt to the ever-changing environment.
I call them resilience rituals and they include moderate physical exercise, good nutrition, relaxation, and rest.

Exercise signals the brain to release endorphins, internal opiates which reduce the sensation of pain and heighten pleasurable emotions. Dopamine, a feel-good nuerotransmitter is stimulated. Some people like to over-exercise to get a sustained high and do not realize that by so doing they are creating a continuous flow of adrenaline which is tearing the body down faster than it can repair itself. At the other extreme, after only 3 days in bed we start to lose muscle mass which means we burn less energy and store more fat. If instead, you eat protein and exercise regularly and moderately ( strength training and cardio) your body will transform fat from your fat cells into sugar to burn as fuel, and your brain will not have to call on the adrenals to release cortisol to regulate your blood sugar. You will lose body fat and feel more energetic, experience elevated moods, and increase your flexibility, agility and endurance. These physical qualities are mirrored by the mind and make us resilient thinkers.

Good nutrition: we all know what it looks like. Essentially, if we can wean ourselves off sugar, white flour and caffeine, our energy is balanced and our digestive system is clean. Sugar and refined carbohydrate intake leads to the the well documented adrenaline/cortisol/insulin vicious cycle which spikes and dives all day and will ultimately deplete your adrenal reserve. When we need 2 venti lattes to start our day and a sugar snack mid morning, we’re hooked in this cycle of craving. We get a brief energy high and then we crash again. And on it goes. Eating or drinking sugar at night ( yes, alcohol counts as pure sugar) is particularly harmful to this cyle.To cut down on sugar and caffeine, first initiate a habit of eating protein at every meal and snack which will increase your serotonin (feel good ) levels. Eat whole foods often in small amounts. See any one of the many diet books you have on your shelf or Kindle. Drink 8 glasses of water without fluoride per day , and organic green tea. Fast for 12 hours every day between dinner and breakfast.

Relaxation is the 3rd resilience ritual. We believe falsely that if we get up in the morning and drive ourselves hard all day, we will be optimally productive. Wrong. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have debunked this myth in “The Making of a Corporate Athlete.” It turns out that our biochemistry is such that just as we are hard wired with a circadian rhythm which alternates between REM and deep delta wave sleep at night, we
are also governed by an ultradian rhythm during the day, which cycles us from a high energy state every 90-120 minutes into a physiological trough for 10-20 minutes ( when we feel dull and sluggish). If we do not pause and rejuvenate at the end of that time, but continue to work in the same fashion all day, we deplete our sympathetic nervous system. Instead, if we take a break and engage in an activity which is oppositional to what we have been doing, the nervous system is rested and revitalized, increasing our mental focus and resilience. If your work is mostly mental-emotion, do something physical or relational on your break.Athletes and their coaches have perfected the use of interval training to mirror this natural rhythm. Hockey players come off the ice no matter how well they are performing. Jack Nicklaus used the time between shots to rest his mental focus by chatting with his partner or consciously breathing in the fresh and fragrant air.

Because we are conditioned to be work horses not pace horses, our tendency when we encounter these low energy periods is to artificially pump up our energy with stimulants. This may get us through one afternoon, but it contributes to energy depletion, a decrease in mental focus, creativity, patience and optimism. If instead we see ourselves as corporate athletes, we institute interval resilience rituals such as: run up and down the stairs in your office building, lift a few weights, do one or two yoga postures, do 5 minutes of deep breathing practice, listen to one tune on your ipod, eat an energy bar, call your spouse, connect with somebody, take a power nap, walk through the food court, laugh out loud.

Paying off your sleep debt is the final practice. No matter what you may tell yourself, you need at least 6 hours of sleep per night in a dark room ( so melatonin can do its thing). This is when the body rests and slips into the biochemistry of repair. It needs to rebuild the reserves in preparation for all the demands tomorrow will bring. It is also when the mind integrates information and experiences of the day and consolidates new knowledge into long-term memory. REM sleep occurs every 90 minutes and it is the time when the mind repairs itself, grows new connections, and puts it all together. The duration of each REM cycle increases as the night progresses and extends for a full hour between the 7th and 8th hour of sleep. When we don’t sleep deeply or long enough, our brain carries a backlog of information and does not complete its creative processing. This interferes with our mental acuity the next day. And then of course, sleep can also be disturbed by time zone change, the time at which we have our last meal, our drugs of choice, racing mind, whacky hormones, watching TV in the bedroom ( any light especially flashing light prevents the production of melatonin by the pineal gland which induces sleep), young children, snoring dogs etc. Our ancestors never experienced these issues because they went to sleep in dark rooms once the sun went down and awoke at sunrise. Their mind-bodies got the repair they needed to function well the next day.

To return to your beneficial circadian rhythm, make your bedroom your sanctuary. Use it only for sleeping and lovemaking. Start quieting the mind 30 minutes before bedtime with relaxing music, white noise, pleasure reading, deep breathing, meditation, a bath with epsom salts, magnesium supplements.

References
“Tired of Being Tired” Jesse Lynn Hanley MD & Nancy Deville
“When the Body Says No” Gabor Mate MD
e newsletters of Dr. Christianne Northrup and Dr Andrew Weill

HABIT # 1 BUILDING COMMITMENT TO OURSELVES

April 2010

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:
1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
2. Physical Fitness
3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
5. Knowing Our Purpose
6. Integrative thinking
7. Daily Reflection
8. Personal Operating Principles
9. Building and Maintaining Networks

“Externally we are driven by competition and rewards. Internally we are driven by our desire to control outcomes and avoid personal failure. Think about it; how does this serve us?”

Richard Hallstein

Establishing a new, positive habit is always a challenge; albeit a very worthwhile one. Let’s say you make a commitment to your health. Think about the number of times you may have decided that you want to get back to the gym, or you want to start eating healthier meals. Gyms are full of eager initiates in January and then attendance drops off dramatically. Eating simple, balanced, healthy meals sounds smart and simple. But “just for today”, since you’re pressed for time, you pick up some fast food to eat at your desk. You do not meet your commitment. Such commitments may be simple but they are not easy to master.

Fact#1: New habits are simple, but never easy. Why? Because the hardest part of establishing a new habit is unlearning the old one and the cues that trigger it. Most of these cues are internal beliefs which we have formed unconsciously, and live according to as if they were true.                 For example, we may believe that if we do not complete every task assigned to us to an equally high degree of excellence, we will not be seen as competent, or we will meet with disapproval.

Or we may believe that if we do not exceed expectations, we will be exposed for the imposter that we believe ourselves to be. Or perhaps our belief is that first we should work and when all the work is done, we can play (and of course that time never comes).

Any of these beliefs could sabotage the commitment we have made to ourselves to improve our health and wellbeing. Without uncovering the belief that drives us to put our head down at the beginning of the day and not come up for air, and without challenging this belief to logically determine if it is working for us, we will  predictably fall back into the old habit no matter how strong our intention to create the new one. This is human nature, not personal failure.

Let’s look at an example of this in action. How are you living your commitments to yourself? Maybe you have set a goal of working out at the gym 3 times a week at lunch time. And your body remembers how good you feel when you leave: strong and energized. And your mind recognizes that your afternoon is more productive because of it. However, you are working to a deadline all week, meeting your commitments to several deliverables set by yourself, your boss, or corporate, and on Friday night when you take stock, you realize you never got to the gym once.Why not?

Fact #2: It is much more compelling to meet an external commitment than an internal one. Think of an example where this has been true for you.  What was the commitment you made to yourself? What “pulled you off purpose”? ie  What was the external commitment?    And what internal belief lies behind the choice you made? What would you have to stop thinking/doing in order to start doing the new behaviour?

How could you challenge both that belief and the habitual behaviour you have reinforced for so long? Obviously you are not going to neglect the deliverable. But can you look at your method of singular focus on your outcomes, and challenge that? Are you even practicing optimal productivity by having your engine in overdrive all the time?

Let’s look at some recent brain research. Tony Schwartz in his book “Manage Your Energy Not Your Time” cites findings in which it is clear that our waking hours, like our hours of sleep, run in cycles or rhythms and this ultradian rhythm allows us to give focused attention to any activity for a maximum of 90 minutes only. To balance our mind-body and improve focus and output we then need to engage in a short ( 5 to 20 minutes) oppositional activity such as walking around the area and chatting with people, calling a family member, running up and down stairs, or listening to a single piece of music on your ipod.

This research could motivate you to transform your original belief ( that of the need to plow  through work until it is completed), to one that reflects and strengthens your intention to take breaks in order to  increase your capacity and creativity, as well as improve your health. For example, your new belief could be something like “I am more productive and mentally focused when I take systematic breaks during the day.”

The next step will be to test your belief and the behaviour that expresses it. Do you actually feel more energetic after regular, short breaks or a work-out? Do you get more focused work done in less time? Is the quality of your work measurably better? If so, the new belief is validated and will likely strengthen your commitment to yourself to change a lifestyle habit in a sustainable way.

Please experiment with establishing this Resilience Habit #1. Build commitment to yourself and let me know how it goes.

References:

“Managing Oneself” Peter Drucker

“Do Your Commitments Match Your Convictions?” HBR, January 2005

“The Making of a Corporate Athlete” Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review on Developing Leader

Get in Shape to Lead

March 2010

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”
Peter Drucker

As daylight hours lengthen and the promise of spring fills the air, we are hardwired to start thinking about new beginnings. We want to get in shape for the golf course, kayaking, running that marathon we have always wanted to do, or going on long bike rides.
This year, the Vancouver Winter Olympics have inspired us even further to set challenges for ourselves and our kids. What would it be like to feel the speed of a bobsleigh and hear the roaring sound as we bank a corner? Mogul ski racing and snowboarding look so exhilarating and not that difficult really. Zip lining seemed like a lot of fun, judging by the enormous line ups. We are feeling motivated to get in shape and enjoy the challenge and exhilaration of sport.

Get in Shape to Lead
Similarly, Spring is a good time to get in shape to lead. Are you a senior leader who is leading in a climate of constant change? Do you sometimes demonstrate impatience and distractibility? Do you question the way you set and stick to your priorities, manage your time, focus your attention on the important and make smart and timely decisions? Is your day full of firefighting and measurables that may lack meaning? Is your Inbox haunting you? As change is the new constant, and data increasingly floods our brains, we lose the ability to focus on what’s important, solve our problems, and handle the unknown. It is the steady normal. We must learn how to dance with it over the long term. It is a marathon, not a sprint, yet we act as if it were only a sprint. We run it like circuit training, believing that this level of intensity is sustainable and productive. It is neither.

Learned Resilience
More than ever before, effective leadership requires learned resilience. I will initiate discussion in my blog over the next few months on how one can develop this kind of resilience. It involves changing our beliefs, mental and behavioural habits, and our reactions so as to increase our capacity, clarity, calmness, and creativity.

What habits can we develop to build our resilience? I propose:

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders

1.The habit of building commitment to ourselves
2.The habit of physical fitness:
3.The habit of brain fitness: stilling the mind, developing patience
4.More brain fitness: focusing the mind
5.The habit of knowing our purpose: being in the flow; time as meaningful not just measurable
6.The habit of integrative thinking ( creative and strategic thinking)
7.The habit of daily reflection; planning, preparing, debriefing
8.The habit of establishing and living Personal Operating Principles
9.The habit of building and maintaining networks

Which habits are well developed in you now?
Which do you need to focus on so as to increase your capacity, calmness, clarity or creativity?
Add your comments now.
See my April blog to read about Habit #1

Reference: “The Making of a Corporate Athlete” by Loehr & Schwartz, HBR http://www.hbr.org