(+61) 451 886 226

TIME TO JUST BE

img_3400

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.

GROWTH IS NOT A STRAIGHT LINE

When you open yourself up to a learning journey, professional and personal development is a never-ending quest to actualize, to become more of who you truly are as you offer more of your authentic self to your world.

In leadership training, I often ask leaders to plot their career journey so that they can take a step back from their reality and reflect on their journey. This process of reflection is important because our daily lives are so busy that we often get lost in the maelstrom of busyness and so aren’t able to appreciate the lessons we are learning. And as it so happens, reflection is a critical piece in the learning cycle – read more on Kolb’s model here http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

I so often hear from the wonderful people I coach that one of the most valuable aspects of coaching is the time devoted to reflection and deepening an understanding of self. Without fail, each one of these leaders have gone through tough times, periods where they doubted themselves, and where they felt like no matter what they did, they got poor results.

The trick is not to get caught up in the spiral, but to step back from it and identify how to move onto the next curve.

The tool I use is really quite simple. And it works not only in a professional context, but is also a tool for personal reflection.

Start by dividing the x axis into segments of time, with the y axis representing your fulfillment / success – however you define it. You then plot your career (or personal) journey over time, which may look something like this …

Career Journey May 2016

The idea is to then take time to reflect on what created the peaks and the troughs. How did the environment contribute / what was it about your boss, the culture, your role that facilitated this ? If you are doing a personal journey, reflect on your stage of life; what was giving you meaning, what were you contributing, what you were learning and who was in your world at the time.

With these insights, it’s onto the real question : “Now that you are consciously aware of what sets you up for success, how can you create the next peak (or indeed extend a peak)?”

You may need to create some change in order to jump to a new curve, or prevent a decline – and that change in itself may create some downward momentum for a while. But the idea is to do it consciously, using the factors for your success and happiness so that you know what you are moving towards and how to create it.

If you are an organizational leader, take some time to look at the success of your organization over time and identify what created success, what role you played and how you can contribute to additional peaks. You can do this for teams, departments, functions, families and relationships.

I’ve placed the basic template in the ‘resources’ section on my website. Please download it, give yourself space and time to reflect and then start planning consciously. I’m really keen to hear what you discover. To your success and happiness !

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 !

 

 

 

 

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 ?

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.

 

_________________

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