Hope Leans Forward – Braving Your Way toward Simplicity, Awakening, and Peace

This post was shared by Bill Pullen, MSOD, MCC,  Director – Institute for Transformational Leadership Leadership

Many of us have experienced the feeling in recent years of being unmoored. Even lost at sea. At one time or another, most of us felt some degree of fear and disorientation during the once-in-a-century pandemic – coming at the height of a divisive political season while decades of racial and social tension finally come to a head with the murder of George Floyd.

And that was the world in the daily headlines. Closer to home and out of the spotlight, many of us grappled with our own personal struggles – whether that was personal problems, loss, or setbacks professionally.

In a world that feels continually disruptive, how do we take care of ourselves and keep going? Where do we turn for hope and wisdom?

I was honored to be joined on my podcast by one of the most extraordinary people I have met during my time with Georgetown University, Valerie Brown – author, Buddhist-Quaker Dharma teacher, facilitator, leadership coach, and self-described “professional pilgrim.”

We caught up on her new book Hope Leans Forward – Braving Your Way Towards Simplicity, Awakening, and Peace. In her book – written during a period of great personal loss and the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement – Valerie shares an abundance of Quaker wisdom, practices to stimulate mindfulness, and inspiring stories of ordinary people showing extraordinary bravery.

We caught up on the book, why it’s so important to slow down despite the frenzied pace of the modern workplace, and how to listen to the deep wisdom that comes from within.

Valerie quoted a poem by Mark Nepo that begins, “Brave your way on” – a phrase that encapsulates Valerie’s attitudes on persevering in the face of obstacles. Valerie has written of her own career epiphany and leaving a “high-pressure, high-stress” career as a lawyer-lobbyist. It took a moment of observing the clouds moving in the sky on a hiking vacation for Valerie to realize just how long it had been since she had turned her eyes skyward. She knew in that moment that she needed to make a change and slow down, ultimately leading to her newfound, purpose-driven work that she engages in today – no small task to walk away from a well-established professional brand and embrace the vulnerability of not having every next step perfectly mapped out.

Reading the book and talking with Valerie made me reflect on some of the darkest moments in my own life – personal struggles that I don’t always easily open up about (even when I know it helps to talk). Sinking into the depths of addiction, the loss of a brother to suicide, caring for my elderly mother after an accident. Each of these moments has shaped me indelibly.

In time, I have learned how each these experiences, as hard as they were, contained within them wisdom and the opportunity to grow and learn, deepen relationships, and transform the difficult times into something that could be shared with others -both in my life and in my work as a coach, leader, and teacher.

A few take-aways from our conversation.

Make time for quiet and reflection. As Valerie put it, “being brave is not just plowing through and keeping going.” Many of us operate under this approach and find ourselves burning out. We may venerate stoic behavior in the face of challenges (think of the iconic “Keep calm and carry on” mantra of the British in World War II) but we should also prioritize taking a pause to reflect on whether our day-to-day work still aligns with our values and priorities.

I’m reminded that countless other leaders have fought the temptation to cram every minute of their schedules full; in his memoirs, President Clinton wrote of his time in office, “I worked hard to schedule my time so that I’d have a couple of hours a day alone to think, reflect, plan, or do nothing. Often, I slept less just to get the alone time.”

Bring your whole self to work. Valerie talked about the virtues of what she calls “an undivided life” in which we bring the wholeness of who we are to the workplace. While some push back on the idea of revealing too much of ourselves at work, there’s a toll that is left when we feel like we must leave part of ourselves home each day. Valerie shared with me how she once felt that she couldn’t share the side of her that practiced meditation on the weekends. It wasn’t what was expected of someone with her high-powered legal identity. But over time, Valerie achieved greater equilibrium by bringing the two sides of her life closer together.

Make a deliberate attempt to find joy each day in small things. The last chapter of Valerie’s book is appropriately titled, “Bravely home, boundless joy.” She stresses the importance of finding small sources of joy each day to ensure the journey is rewarding, not just the \finish line. Even when the external circumstances we face are less than joyful – as amid a global pandemic – we can all find sources of rejuvenation, inspiration, and hope if we retrain our brains to actively seek them out – whether it’s a hummingbird in the garden or afternoon of sunshine.


One of my biggest take-aways was our talk was the idea of not waiting for the perfect conditions, “for everything to be joyful.” In our daily lives, we can embrace the seasons of life, accept it’s complications, and learn to find inspiration in each day as it comes.

To check out our full conversation, download the podcast today.

Unleash Your Complexity Genius – Growing Your Inner Capacity to Lead

This post was shared by Bill Pullen, MSOD, MCC,  Director – Institute for Transformational Leadership Leadership

Organizations around the world are undergoing a real time crash course in how profoundly our ways of working have shifted forever over the past several years. Based on my conversations and anecdotal observation, many executives are struggling to balance the competing priorities between the needs of the organizations they lead and the needs of their employees – priorities that can sometimes seem to be at odds with one another.

Shifting to “hybrid work” is one way organization have attempted to address the competing needs and navigate the complexity of the new ways of working. But as we see in any complex system, a change to one part of the system impacts others in often unknown and unpredictable ways. The human tendency in these moments is to seek certainty by trying to go back to the past.

But complexity alone isn’t a reason to call our ongoing experiment with hybrid working a failure and throw in the towel. Instead, it’s increasingly essential that leaders of today’s institutions become more capable of navigating and managing complexity – because it’s certainly not going anywhere. As one leader told me recently, she wanted to find “more ease” in the complexity of her leadership.

That was one of my key take-aways from a recent podcast conversation. I was honored to host Carolyn Coughlin and Jennifer Garvey Berger, partners at Cultivating Leadership and authors of the new book, Unleash Your Complexity Genius – Growing Your Inner Capacity to Lead. Their work offers insights and best practices to not only help readers better understand strategies to manage the complexity of modern society, but also tap into their own nervous system to redefine their emotional experiences and connect more deeply to others, reducing anxiety and exhaustion in the process.

A few insights I left our conversation jotting down for myself:

Complexity isn’t just outside of us. As Jennifer put it, “Complexity is life…the last few years have shown us all that growing ourselves to be able to handle a complex world is like hitting the ‘go’ button. It’s what we need to do in order to begin confronting today’s challenges.” We often can’t do very much to control the external factors causing complexity in the world around us, from inflation to climate change. But what we can do is focus on our internal responses to chaos around us and carve out a sense of calm.

Our bodies have a key role to play in our ability to manage the stress associated with complexity. Our “fight of flight” impulses can kick in when we’re confronted with additional complexity coming at us in our personal lives, in our public discourse, and in the workplace. This can be disastrous in narrowing our focus at the very time that complexity should be pushing us to broaden our aperture and be open to new perspectives. I was reminded that managing complexity isn’t an entirely mental or theoretical exercise; it also requires that we pay attention to exercise, diet, wellness, and taking care of our physical selves.

“Intentional evolution” is a core power skill. Leaders today must cultivate the emotional intelligence to grasp gaps between their capabilities and new challenges. Lifelong learning (and even un-learning) is essential in navigating a seemingly daily paradigm shift across industries and sectors.

Practice “genius behavior.” My guests also shared their insights on what they call “8 geniuses” – ways we can reconstruct our emotional experience toward emotions that are conducive to a “complexity-friendly” mode. These are interconnected behaviors that can regenerate our sense of joy and impact our physical selves as much as our mental gears. They “aren’t rocket science,” but can take time to cultivate into habits:

  • Noticing
  • Grieving
  • Moving
  • Sleeping
  • Laughing
  • Wondering
  • Experimenting
  • Loving

In truth, humans have an incredible capacity for handling complexity The paradox of today’s age is that we feel less able to handle it in the face of today’s organizational, societal, and technological shifts – admittedly all playing out faster than complex forces in the past. As my guests told me, “Tomorrow isn’t going to be like yesterday.” Rather than resisting complexity – as fruitless a task as resisting change itself – consider the new opportunities created by added complexity.

How has your organization encountered new levels of complexity, especially over the past two and a half years? How is your team adjusting? And what new opportunities does this added complexity create for you and your team?

The Inner Work of Sustainability

This post is based on an interview with Russ Watts, PCC, NBC-HWC – lead faculty in the Institute for Transformational Leadership program Sustainability – People, Planet, Prosperity, Purpose

What is sustainability and why is it important? 

It’s the question of our times; For leaders, facilitators, coaches, managers; it seems like we’re all wondering how we can take part in this movement, a movement awareness.  It’s about maintaining a system without further degradation to achieve a net zero. Just the word sustain is to keep this system going. A lot of us in our business systems and economic systems, even our personal systems, are trying to keep or lightly improve what we already have.  What are the systems each of us are a part of?  Internal systems, (for me as a father, husband, person in the world) as well as external systems (the people and social systems, business systems that I am a part of, and this very complex global system).  From the micro of self and all the way out to the biggest macro of this very beautiful complex planet spinning around the sun, we as individuals have the power to make and shift our efforts towards sustainability and regeneration, which is at the center of sustainability, where we use our intelligences and add the elements of listening intently and respectfully so that we can stitch together the broken strands that connect us all, people, animals, nature, culture, commerce and even religions.

What are the Inner Development Goals? 

I didn’t learn about the inner development goals until I became curious about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations (UN) created to help us as human beings be better caretakers of our social system, each other, ourselves, and our planet.  About a year ago, I learned about the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) which are framed in five different goals:  1) being and self; 2) thinking -how I think and how that process is either helpful & generative or hurtful; 3) relating, caring for others and how I can individually work with and care for individuals – humans, animals and nature around me; 4) collaborating in the complex social systems – our work environment and in our social networks that we’re in; 5) acting – being a change agent in the world and radiating the awareness that we have and then driving change in our in our world.

How does inner work impact the external environment?

I know that I’m limited in being able to help create any sort of healthy growth or healing without cultivating an inner understanding or a deepening of the frameworks I use to interact with the complex system of me, the social systems of me, and the environment. 

I’ll use the analogy of eating. As a health and wellness coach, I often see that when we eat certain things, we have a certain set of outputs.  If I look at all the ways that I eat and I act in the world from different perspectives, I see that certain things that I eat cause me to be energized or tired or have longer energy capsules like proteins.

For me, doing the inner work allows us to have a micro view of each of our actions, to have an inner compass, and apply it to the world around us.  For example, when I am authentic with a particular process and use that excitement, energy, talent, or skill in an area of the world, I can have a greater effect. Without judgment, just being able to say that I do better work over here, I might be able to activate more inside me and outside me.  If I do a lot of that inner work, I’m able to be more effective where I work, how I work, and with the talents, skills, and abilities that I work with.

What are the business benefits?

The word business brings up the idea of profit and loss, and I’m not sure that that’s a framework that’s going to work in its old form into the future. The economic systems that we’ve used in the past are based on growth and they have not taken into account externalities and a lot of those externalities are coming around to bite us. Climate change and how we extracted the things that we’ve needed to have this growth have been one sided. I believe that businesses, in order to stay competitive in the world, need to have a mindset that’s much more complex and that looks at the human systems. I see a lot of businesses right now looking at creating a chief happiness officer in the C suite, a really important role that didn’t exist 25 years ago, as the human complexity of happiness is linked directly to the supply that these humans give to the complex system of business.  Instead of just being paid to do a job, it’s about the flow, the excitement, the agility that this human system has inside the production of a widget or a thought idea out into the world in a competitive way.

As we look at competition globally, I believe that businesses need to more completely or aptly look at environmental use and abuse, as they can either bring about the degeneration of the world or its regeneration. Consumers are shifting and are looking at the systems as much more interconnected. I look at a product that needs to come from Chile in my European or American winter. I would think, wow, can I just do without? Or is the abuse and use that I have on the environment worth it? Generally, I don’t feel like I’m actually abusing, but I feel like I’m taking things from the environment to have a taste, or to have something. My consciousness has been opened up enough to say I don’t want to contribute to the edge- the weight that I am putting on the already taxed system.  

I would like to be somebody who lightens the load, so I’m looking to companies that are doing the work with me, and we’re looking at working for companies that are doing that work. Those businesses are getting better workers and better customers and they have a real edge. They are creating a more sustainable system internally and that is reflecting externally. Businesses that step up for the values that are seen as helpful for people, society, the environment, and our future, not just the bottom line this year, but multiple years and multiple decades moving forward, are the businesses that I believe are going to succeed.

How can we help others be adept in this space?

First, I feel we need to build trust and trust comes first inside ourselves. To be able to inspire and engage others in the process, it’s going to take courage, optimism, and agency. I’m really energized because I’m in a growth state where the ideas that I have are constantly being challenged in a really positive way to be able to act because my old frames are being dismantled to some degree.

The new structures and new views that we are developing currently are giving us possibilities. If we take sustainable actions or regenerative actions moving forward, we have a chance of creating a new set of systems and environments that can go beyond sustaining what we have. It can actually go towards creating a positive healthy environment. We need to challenge what we eat, how we grow, how we ship, and share ideas and items both individually and collectively.

It’s both the inner growth and the inner learning and the influence in larger systems to radiate out into the people who we manage, direct, and those who look up to us for answers.  We have a responsibility to do something. I believe that we all can take that step forward and grow intellectually, emotionally, and I’ll even be radical and say spiritually, feeling that connection to more than just us.  This will help us do the change that’s necessary to help us survive this next growth, this next challenge that’s in front of humanity.

To learn more about how to explore the intersection of inner work and sustainability, sign up for our fall section of Sustainability – People, Planet, Prosperity, Purpose in the Institute for Transformational Leadership

Creating a More Sustainable Future

This post was shared by Lynn Screen, Managing Director in Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.

Since its founding in 2012, the mission of the Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL) has challenged us to “create a more sustainable & compassionate future”.  This mission speaks to our higher purpose and responsibility to prepare leaders who can address the issues that will lead to greater peace, environmental and economical sustainability, and a future in which human beings relate to one another with a caring approach consistent with Georgetown’s Jesuit values. During our 10th anniversary year, we are engaging our ITL community to explore the sustainability aspect of our mission.  

My first stop was to sit down with ITL Founder, Kate Ebner, one of the visionary leaders who saw the critical need for an institute that develops leaders from the inside out. Kate challenges us to reframe our individual relationship with the earth.  Instead of thinking about sustainability as things that we need to give up, “become caretakers of resources – stewards of the paces we love”.  For me, it’s Burke Lake in Burke, Virginia and Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  Since our conversation, I have found several opportunities to both contribute financially and through service to preserve these places that mean so much to me.

Georgetown University’s Jesuit Value “Care for Our Common Home” invites us to enter into a new and different “dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.”  In addition to protecting the Earth through conservation and preservation efforts, there is also a moral imperative at play.   We recognize the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color, so we are called to advance the work of environmental justice.

Kate Ebner calls on us to create a shared global vision of the future.  “Not one generation can solve this problem; it will take all generations and their unique abilities and understanding to work together. ”

As an Institute, we are committed to teaching the skills needed to see the interconnectedness of systems and to prepare people for the challenging conversations ahead.  During this year of reflection and action around sustainability, we are exploring what sustainability means in the fields of DEI, Coaching (both Leadership and Health & Wellness), Facilitation, and Organizational Development. What does sustainability look like in each of our programs? How can we do better individually and as an Institute?

In the coming months, you can expect a variety of reflections, challenges, and programming as we work to more fully live into our mission to create a more sustainable and compassionate future.  

What does sustainability mean to you individually and with respect to your chosen field?  How might you do better?


Download the ITL podcast with sustainability expert Jim Massey who inspires us to unleash the potential of people and the planet.  We explore the intersection of personal transformation, leading sustainability efforts in organizations, and some surprising ways to set off on your own sustainable journey. 

Finding the Power of Your Energy Body

This post was shared by Ana Polanco – faculty of the Executive Certificate in Organization Development Consulting & Change Leadership in the Institute for Transformational Leadership. It was originally posted on LinkedIn on 2/3/22. 

You are more than a mind and a physical body, you are also made of energy that is ready to be activated.

Each layer of energy that makes up your body is important to activating a deeper version of your true self. The energy body stores your most important relationships and histories. In this body, we can see whether you are connected or disconnected from your purpose.

How you interact with the world on any given day is only a fraction of the expression of your energy. Each layer of your energy body has a particular vibration and role that occupies its own size, shape, and vibration to make up your being. As we do the work to disentangle ourselves from the external and material world, care for our being must take precedence over doing.

When you’re initiating into your purpose, your dreams, and your desires, a major part of this work is about expanding energetically. Taking up more space with your energy begins by locating and frequently activating the parts of yourself that are silent and subtle.

What parts of you have you ignored or pushed away in order to please the outside world? 

This is the time to really get quiet and still to listen to those parts, to give them more of a front seat in your navigation system. Bringing awareness to your innermost parts through somatic practices requires repetition, consistently centering the sensations of your body for a cumulative effect. The more often you connect to your energetic body, the easier it becomes to access these parts that want to help you become even more embodied.

Many people get caught up when accessing these innermost feelings around not being what we imagine ourselves to be in the current moment. There is often a gap in our minds between where we are currently, and where we think or have been told we should be. Energy work allows us to begin accepting where we are at this time so we can begin calling back the version of ourselves we aspire to be.

Your energy is larger than all the collective things you have or do, so it has the capacity to bring you back into a right relationship with yourself and the world around you as well.

Binary thinking about how we access new information about ourselves in the “modern” world would have us think less of the intuitive ways our body signals to us. Yet when we look at civilizations of the past, we see their energy practices woven into the fabric of their culture.

Ancient Egyptians practiced Sekhem, similar to Reiki but using a different frequency. Qi Gong is a practice used by Buddhists to align breath, movement, and awareness. Indigenous cultures of the Americas often used temazcal (sweat lodges) as tools to access energy and histories of our collective and individual bodies. These are just some examples of ancestral practices that use somatic techniques as a means of connecting to and amplifying our internal energy fields.

Returning to the ancestral wisdom around us and within us is where we will find deeper layers of strength to change ourselves.

Moving into the body’s energy fields isn’t a microwaveable strategy.

Working with your energy is about making space for new habits to form. As you begin to do energy work, you will feel more like yourself and also less interested in the distractions the world presents. When the energy work builds we can leverage the mind to make conscious choices to engage our life’s work, and then allow the body and its energy fields to take the lead.

Learning to hear ourselves and center our intuition opens our own doors of acceptance. In our path of accessing purpose, inner acceptance is invaluable in letting the societal baggage fall away.

When you feel your body intuitively light up – when you smell a particular scent that activates a memory, when you feel deja vu, when you see some kind of visual pattern – don’t ignore those sensations. Those moments are the activation of your energetic body, calling you with information to offer you guidance. Creating space for yourself to listen and answer its call will open your world to the possibility residing within your own being.


Ana Polanco teaches in Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL). In ITL’s Organization Development Consulting and Change Leadership (ODCCL) program, we explore how to support change efforts, as organizational leaders and as an external consultants. If you would like to be part of a community of professionals committed to helping organizations and people thrive, consider joining our next cohort.  Applications are due FEBRUARY 15th.