All posts by Jonathan Henry

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.

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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?