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Personal Reflections

TIME TO JUST BE

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One of the greatest gifts my profession gives me is the opportunity to observe and learn from others. Without fail, one of the most consistent pieces of feedback I get from coachees is the value they get from taking time out to think. It creates the space for reflection, learning and growth.

Information overload, constant change, multiple roles, competing priorities and the rapid pace with which we live our lives mean that unless we intentionally slow down, we are at risk of living unconsciously. It’s certainly not a new idea, but in our complex, uncertain world it’s become more important to slow down to achieve more.

Research tells us the ‘24/7, always on’ world in which we live overloads our neural circuits. It tells us that creative thinking gives way to process and that our empathy and connection to others decreases. (See this great article in the Harvard Business Review)

So I’m taking time out.

It started as a conversation with my sons, as we idly day dreamed around how fantastic it would be for me to be home with them as they prepared for and wrote their final school exams. Idle day dreaming turned into a simple ‘why not?’ and a few conversations later, I find myself typing this as I am about to take time out for 30 days.

Yes, I have a few work things to do whilst I’m away from the office. And a new house to look for. But I’ve zealously guarded and protected the next few weeks because I know how meaningful and valuable this time is. It’s time for me to connect, to think, to support, to breathe, to reflect … and to just be. It’s probably also the last time that my ‘almost men’ will need me for a lengthy period of time.

I can’t wait. I’m off to sit. And possibly bake some cookies.

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WALKING MY TALK

It’s been a long month. resilience

On the 2 March, we were granted permanent residence in Australia, my husband got some tough news at work, and Bendelta were awarded an amazing project (for which I’d put heart and soul into the proposal).

That was the start …

During the next week, a crazy-busy wonderful week spent in Singapore, whilst I was so far way from her, one of my best friends told me that her cancer was back (after an 8 year remission). Back home, after weeks of feeling ill, one of my sons was diagnosed with an awful colon infection, work went into warp speed – and some amazing new opportunities presented themselves. And I’ve just realized that in two week’s time, we’ll be on holiday in South Africa. And the month’s not even over yet.

I feel like I’m living my life inside a washing machine.

And I feel like I’m a walking advertisement (maybe that should read guinea-pig), for the work I’ve been doing over the last few months which has been to integrate neuroscience, resilience and mindfulness. It’s an area of leadership development that our Australian clients are requesting, and we see evidence through our coaching practice what a difference conscious resilience practice makes.

Indeed, whilst in Singapore I had caught up with one of my clients who works at an organization going through tremendous growth, with 3 huge new projects online (one of which is planning for 2026 and is a classic mega-project). With all this change and increase in scope, I asked how they are helping their people develop resilience, and was particularly concerned when it emerged that it was not something they had given thought to. The assumption is that people should ‘just get on and do it’.

But how do you just ‘get on and do it’ when the load becomes too heavy?

To prevent burn out, and maintain effective performance you have to balance the load with lightness. What that lightness is differs from person to person, but the classic model I use for resilience training, The Corporate Athlete, informs us that we have to create rituals in 4 areas of our lives : physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. These rituals and the oscillating effect of load and lightness (stress/de-stress) is what enables us to last the distance .

I am reminded of the value of staying the distance as I watch how my 17 year old sons prepare for their final year of school and year 12 exams. They are fortunate enough to go to a school that offers tremendous support and really encourages the ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ type of preparation. (I’ll let you know how that goes as we get deeper into the year …)

So that’s the resilience piece – what about mindfulness ? Apart from the obvious benefits of quieting your nervous-nelly mind, I find it really helpful to be mindful that all we can do is to work with the hand of cards we’ve been dealt. Sometimes, it’s a really tough hand – one that requires simply putting one foot in front of another until the journey is done. At other times, the hand allows us to live life as nothing more serious than which cocktail to enjoy at sundowners. And if during these times, we fill up with light and gratitude, we’ll have more to sustain us during the heavy times. Because we all get them both … and they’ll both pass.

So, it’s been a long month. We’re all still here. We can all still laugh. We can all still hug.

And we’re going on holiday soon – now there’s something to lighten the load.

Happy almost April everyone !

 

 

 

 

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I’M BACK

It’s been 2 years and 4 months since I wrote my last blog post*

I now live in a different city, on a different continent, in a different culture.

I work in a different organization. Boy is it different !! Like awesome different. I need to tell you all about it. My husband works at a different advertising agency. L-o-n-g story there … one day perhaps I’ll share his journey. And our boys go to a different school. Don’t even get me started on that story …

But I digress … back to my blog … It was my intention when I started writing to share stories, insights and experiences that inspired me.

By applying simple logic, can we assume I’ve been uninspired for almost 2 1/2 years. Am I such a miserable sod ? I don’t think so, in fact I’ve always thought of myself as positive. Not like in an artificially contrived ‘Facebook life’ kind of way (Thanks Lianne for the depth of understanding in that term) but like deep down in my soul.

I guess I’ve questioned that over the last few years. Yes, we’ve left a lot behind – and although there is so much ahead of us, I’ve been pretty pathetic at finding pure happiness in the now. Part of my PNI training involved studying the effect of emotions like guilt and regret (from the past) vs fear and anxiety (for the future) on our neurochemistry and physiology.

I know theoretically what affect not living in the now has on us. And guess what, I’ve fallen right into the trap of wishing … wishing things were different. Instead of finding joy in the now. It’s a sure fire way to be miserable.

So I went back to my iphone. Gotta love technology. I write down random thoughts in ‘Notes’ (Yes, I know I’m weird). Here’s what I found. These notes are totally unedited. My last note as we were waiting to fly out of Singapore after living there for 3 ½ years, and my first note when we arrived in Sydney.

Thank you Singapore 22.4.2014 (1)

Thank you Singapore 22.4.2014 (2)

Thank you Singapore 22.4.2014 (3)

The first 24 hours 23.4.2014

Ironically, we started a jar in January to celebrate 2016. Originally it was called the ‘achievement jar’. Then it morphed into a ‘gratitude jar’. Here it is …

The Gratitude Jar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s going to be very full on the 31 December 2016.


 

* can you tell I went to a Catholic school ?

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WE ARE DIFFERENT. NOT BETTER.

east meets west

Western or Eastern ?

I’ve written before on my reflections around the cultural diversity between the West and East .… this article continues the theme hopefully with some new understanding.

Many of you know that I find Singapore a challenging place to live. Whilst it is incredibly efficient and organized, and sheathed in glamorous designer brand names, I battle with Singapore’s distinct lack of emotion.

As an African, a South African, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I like to think that I am warm and welcoming and have an open heart. So imagine my difficulty living in a country where people do not greet each other warmly, avoid eye contact, don’t say thank you when you hold open a door to let them enter, and generally ‘keep face’.

My work puts me in touch with many senior leaders and I find it sad (yes, sad) that so many Asian leaders in this country don’t now how to create relationships. Even worse, they have never thought of it as important. Because they have been taught that what matters is task, outcome, output, and efficiency. Let’s not even get onto the subject of creativity …

Against this background, I was completely taken aback this morning as I arrived at a client (a government ministry) to be greeted by the doormen and security guards. Greeted – as in ‘good morning’. Wow !

Only problem is, the greeting didn’t feel real. No eye contact. No warmth. No smile. And certainly no response when I replied “thank you, you too”. It felt like a consultant (a Western one most likely) had suggested that  greeting people in the morning would create a warmer, more welcoming environment.

And I find that so interesting. Because the longer I live in Asia, the more I realise that we cannot just transpose what we (Westerners) believe is ‘best practice’ onto an Asian culture. How condescending and colonial in the first place. But Asians – and this is a huge generalisation- are mostly introverts. And whilst I know I live in Singapore (which, as I’m constantly told, is Asia for beginners), I am fortunate to work around the region, and without getting into specifics about ethnic groups, I think the generalisation is fair. If you are familiar with the Meyers Briggs Typology, the most prevalent Type in Singapore is ISTJ. Introverts, they make sense of the world through facts, figures and data. They plan, prefer detail, are logical, methodical, analytical and organised. In my world – that’s Singapore in a nutshell.

Me. I’m a bit different. I’m an extrovert (like properly extrovert). I love talking about ideas, concepts, I trust my gut, look at the big picture first, I feel deeply and talk openly about my emotions, and I’m passionate. At times  maybe too honest and when I am fully involved, committed and fulfilled, a definite pain in the ass with my energy.

We’re different right ?

Better ?

No. Just different.

I remember arriving in Singapore and was given feedback by so many well meaning people to ‘tone it down’, to tweak my bio to appeal more to the ISTJ profile. To dress more conservatively. To fit in. And I tried so hard. For over 2 years. Earlier this year, I couldn’t any more. I just had to be me again. I had to be all of me. I had to be real and true and honest.

And that’s what I realised this morning when I watched those poor doormen doing something that was so fake. So false. So not them. They were behaving in accordance with someone else’s set of values. They were so inauthentic that I actually laughed. Out loud.

I’ll say it again. We can’t just transpose western ideas, values and ‘best practice’ onto another culture.

Look at Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. As a woman working with female leaders in the corporate world I loved it. I‘ve quoted it, spoken about it, referenced it in programmes  – I completely get it. But, in Asia, her concepts are somewhat unworkable. This is a patriarchal society. One of the primary paradoxes Asian women face (and I’ll write more on this topic soon), is that they are so smart and incredibly well educated – and are expected to be subservient to men and people who are senior to them. “Lean in ?” I don’t think so. It’s about as unlikely as doormen creating a warm, open, connected environment just because they were told to say ‘good morning’.

I applaud the initiatives. I honour the intention. Not just the one I have written about here. But all the work that is being done by so many well meaning people to make a change. Yet, I think it would be so much more respectful and so much more impactful for us all to become familiar with the culture and to ensure that the work we do is relevant. Be yourself. And please, let other people be themselves. Let’s use our diversity to create more. Not less.

 

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PS – If you like the visual accompanying this post, it’s by Yang Liu, a Chinese artist born in Beijing who has lived in Germany since 1990. Her graphics depict with startling simplicity the difference between East & West – click here for a few more    

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INTEGRITY. UNDERSTANDING YOUR HEAD TO LEAD FROM YOUR HEART.

A few days ago I was telling some friends that research is currently being conducted on the neuroscience of integrity. Which initiated a discussion around whether integrity can be ‘acquired’. The prevailing view was that someone is either ‘integrous’ (not a real word, I know), or they’re not.

That’s a bit black and white for me. It’s like saying someone is either born a leader. Or they’re not.

Working in the field of human development, that view would negate my very raison d’etre.

So it got me thinking …. And what I thought about was what I do and how I do it.

Most people enlist a coach because they want to change something. Or someone has suggested they change something. And that something is generally speaking, a behaviour – to listen better / be more assertive / treat people with respect / be more collaborative / be more trusting / be more authentic … it could be any number of behavioural skills.

So that’s what I do.

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HOW BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE HAPPENS

How I do it is best described by enlisting the little man in the accompanying visual.

The change people want to see can generally be measured by a change in behaviour – because it’s the only part of the system that is external. But what I don’t do is work on the behaviour. You read that right.  The reason for this is that behaviour is simply the last visible sign in a series of thoughts and attitudes. Behaviour (what we say and what we do) is preceded by the way we think (and what we feel). And changing behaviour without changing thinking is only going to generate short-term change. So it would seem to make sense to work at the level of thought.

But it’s not enough. You see, what is needed is to go up even higher – to where we form our values, beliefs, attitudes, our cultural norms – our frames of meaning.  Because they determine our thinking. So if you wanted to exhibit integrity … to be more authentic, your behaviour would have to be congruent with your frames of meaning.

As a first step, you would need to unpack your head in order to examine your beliefs and values –to determine if they’re really yours. Secondly, to choose whether they’re really right for you. And if they’re not, to decide what your optimal beliefs are. This is the process of truly understanding yourself, of building self-awareness.

Then when you understand who you are, and you know what you really believe in, it becomes easier to think about things and take a stand. So often it is hard to act with integrity because we espouse values that are not really our own. And because we do things that we have been instructed to do – without really believing in the course of action.

On reflection, whilst integrity may be classified as a combination of cognitive and perceptual skills, and  by definition can thus be learned, I think more importantly, it is a consequence of having what the Dalai Lama calls ‘a solid sense of self’. As coaches, what we do is facilitate the discovery of that knowledge of self. What we ask of our clients is that they have the courage to go there and unpack their heads, examine what’s inside, decide whether it’s really meaningful – and if it’s not, change it. Or face the risk of behaving in accordance with someone else’s beliefs.

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STARTERS – OR THE MAIN COURSE?

Choosing from the Menu of Life

A long, long time ago in a previous life I was a doormat. I know it’s hard to believe. But I was raised to be polite, respectful and helpful and put the needs of others before mine. Somehow I muddled up those messages and mistook them for a need to say ‘yes’; to please and comply.

Things have changed somewhat over the last 25 years or so. First I got comfortable with the fact that it was ok to look after my needs, I started standing up for myself, and then I got comfortable to say ‘no’. Like, very comfortable.

For those of you who know me well and read my blog, you’ll know that I found it tough leaving an established coaching practice in South Africa & starting up all over again in Singapore. Ok, tough is a euphemism. But of course, I have been coached to within an inch of my life. So I really know what drives me. I’m incredibly conscious of my beliefs, values, goals and strategies. And I do my best to make sure my personal and professional behaviour reflect that. In fact I’m so conscious of who I am and what I want that over the past few months, I found myself desperately wanting to say ‘yes’ – just for a change.

Hence I’ve turned down 3 job offers this year. One of which would be my dream job if I ever wanted to move back into permanent corporate employment. Excuse me whilst I shudder  ….  Which is why I said no. The other two ? Well let’s just say that the growth/value/freedom/innovation /remuneration equation didn’t quite balance the way I would have liked it to. There were bits missing. And I just don’t do missing bits anymore.

Just like I don’t coach someone with whom I don’t have rapport. Just like I have also turned down work this year that was cleverly disguised as coaching, but in reality was probably counselling dressed in a beautiful Armani suit.

So, I really, really wanted to say ‘yes’ for a change. I wanted more business. I wanted the right business.  I also really wanted to say ‘yes’ to a few organizations in particular. It happened one Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago – I got to say ‘yes’ five times in one afternoon.

Looking back, what did I learn ? Sure, it reinforced the principle that sometimes you have to say no to say yes.

But … there was something else …

I know that when something is completely aligned to my values and goals, it’s easy for me to say yes. It just slips out. No analytical thought, discussion or consideration is necessary. I just know !

Here’s something else I know – I’m going to have to keep saying ‘no’ to say ‘yes’, because I love saying yes. It’s no longer even a shadow from my past. It is the result of having done so much self-awareness work, and so much professional work that acting out of integrity and courageous authenticity is the only way I can make decisions.

So, if you find yourself vacillating , going round and round with decisions, not knowing if you really want something, my advice would be to return to your core. Figure out who you are, what is meaningful for you and what you really, really want. Then start practicing how to say ‘no’ to the iffy things life offers you – so that one day you can say ‘yes’ to the items on the menu of life that really matter to you.

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SHIFT HAPPENS

The work I do is about change. I help facilitate internal change for people and then watch with delight as their external world changes. People who work with me want to change. And I personally embrace change as it leads to my growth and development. So I’ve often pondered the process of change.  Does it happen slowly – or in a heartbeat ?

My personal view is that it’s a combination of the two.

A couple of weeks ago two things happened to make me sit up and take notice. As I was parking my car for my first appointment of the day, I became aware of a woman whose (very new, very big) car was parked next to mine. She watched me reverse-park like a hawk (no front-first parking in Singapore), and my immediate thought was that she was so concerned I might scratch her car that she stood there protecting her precious property. Imagine my shock when she actually came over to me, did the ‘wind-the-window-down’ motion, and apologised profusely for parking so badly – and then offered to re-park her car as she had inconvenienced me. Excuse me ????

Later that same day … One of my boys was at soccer practice, and my other son had suggested we go for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. After our walk, we sat down to chat, and were deep in conversation when I heard footsteps approaching. Now, if you’ve lived in South Africa all your life, you know about listening with all your senses. And if you’re a mum, you protect with all your senses too. So, for the second time that day, I readied myself to do battle. And as I turned to see who was clearly watching us, an old man wearing a straw sunhat, smiled out from one of the kindest faces I’ve ever seen (clearly quite moved at the mother-son tableau he had witnessed), nodded his head at me – and walked on.

Message hit home. Yip. Time to revise that old frame of aggression.  Got it.

And I see this process happen in my work on a weekly basis. Clients who have been grappling for weeks with roadblocks, sabotage patterns or limiting beliefs do the hard work; they are aware, reflect, and look for patterns – and then boom – they get it.

Change may occur in a flash, but the process leading to it often takes some time, usually time that we’re not aware of. But it is in that instant when recognition comes, that we have the choice to move on and grow, or stay locked in a cycle of repetition. It is in that moment that we have the choice, and the chance to change our world.

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THE LEADERSHIP GAP

During the 4 months we have lived in Asia, I have had ample opportunity to look, listen and learn from a new culture (ok, this is Singapore, so new cultures would probably be more appropriate). And as a Leadership coach, a lot of what I look at is the quality of leadership I see, hear and experience. And of course I compare it (looking for both difference AND similarity) to my experience working with highly successful people and organisations in South Africa.

So, what have I noticed …?

There are no doubt many differences, ranging from a non-compliant (how can I do things differently) outlook in SA versus a compliant (follow the rules at all cost) mindstate in Singapore, to a culture in Singapore that is extremely courteous, polite and harmonious as opposed to my beloved country’s passion and fire.  From a business perspective, one of the most interesting observations is how the Leadership Gaps differ.

I am well aware that what I am about to say is based on my personal experience, which may  be biased and generalised, and I would be delighted to hear contrary views or read some research on the issue, however here’s what I see …

Generally speaking, it appears that International / Global Organisations focus on talent. Heavy emphasis is placed on hiring people who have external evidence of their technical skills. I have seen little evidence to date of organisations’ developing their talent’s inner leadership game. The focus appears to be keeping the talent gap filled, and as a result an Inner Leadership Gap is exposed.

Conversely, locally based / home grown organisations appear to have a higher awareness of developing the inner game. Unlike their global counterparts, their Leadership Gap is often external – there are bigger gaps in their talent pipeline and external hiring is often the norm.

So, how does this affect you?

Well, we are all leaders. Yip. Every single one of us.

Whether you are the CEO of a multinational organisation who is acutely aware of developing talent, or a homemaker raising the next generation of family and community leaders or a solopreneur who needs to focus on inner leadership skills to create a bigger business, we all have gaps in our leadership profile.

So, as you read this article – ask yourself where your gaps are.

Are your gaps internal – do you have the ability and belief in yourself; do you have the drive and desire to lead? Do people follow you? Are you genuine and sincere? Do you have a solid sense of values and beliefs? Do you listen to your internal voice of authority?

Or are your gaps external – do you have the ability to envision and to motivate people?  Can you serve interests bigger than your own? Or does self preservation feature highly in your life? Will you sacrifice for the greater good?  Can you make the tough decisions and tell people the truth?  Do you innovate, and actively look for new opportunities?

As you discover where your gaps, be thankful for them – and then work on them to become more. If each of us improved the way we lead ourselves (and others), think what a difference we could make to our world.

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JUST FOR TODAY…

Over the past week, I have encountered two personal situations where I have been reminded of the power of choice.

The first situation is one that involves a family crisis, and for a long time I felt as if my back was against the wall, as if I had no choice, but was forced to take action that conflicted with my values. All this resulted in me feeling considerable anger, hurt and disappointment.

Having worked through the situation with my coach (yes, of courses coaches get coached …), I was reminded that we always have a choice. On reflection, I was taken back to a lesson from my early metaphysical studies. One of my teachers pointed out that choice usually involves choosing between 2 things, normally what we don’t want and what we do want. But if we can extend that to three or more choices what we have are options. And options free us because as we free up our restricted thinking, we realise that we can always find a way that works for us. It’s called doing ‘a somersault of thought’ and it liberates us from necessity thinking.

The second situation involved a coaching session where a Client mirrored a highly painful situation I had found myself in previously (you’d be surprised how often this happens to Coaches), and I was able to gently facilitate a process which opened up different options for this Client. By the end of the session he felt empowered by the options he set forward and was able to take accountability for the decision he made, knowing that whilst there were other decisions he could have made, what he chose was right not only for him, but also for the greater good.

Feeling like there is no choice, or that things or either right or wrong is a thinking pattern that we call ‘either / or’ thinking. It’s either ‘this’ or ‘that’. When we move away from that restrictive thinking into what we call multidimensionality thinking we open up a world of possibilities that allows us to see opportunity and become solution focussed without losing our integrity.

As a country, we recently celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday. He is one of the true great leaders who embodies this thinking. There is always another way.  So, just for today, start practising your power of choice. Know that we are not ‘forced’ to do something against our will, and that when we exercise our right to choose, we become empowered and can create the world we want. That we never have to be victims !

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WHY AM I BLOGGING?

When I reflect back on 2009 (from a purely work-based perspective), I see how changing my changing my frame around marketing my business has resulted in tentacle-like extensions of myself on the web. Although I was initially sceptical, applications like Facebook & Linked In have contributed to widening my network – which as the marketing gurus tell me, is the way to build my business. So, the next logical step is create an outlet for articles, insights and tools that will add value to people I know, and who they know, hopefully in ever increasing circles. My blog is that outlet and my intention is for it to be a record of my learning and insights and an inspiration to others who are committed to their personal growth and development. To 2010 and beyond…

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