Eureka! - Go Deep

Next month I will undergo total hip replacement surgery to replace a joint that's worn out from wear and tear. I wish I had some glamorous story about what I was doing when the damage was caused, but I don't. Just heredity and my own unique DNA. As I traveled the path toward this decision, I explored both western and eastern medicine and discovered that just like our brains, our bodies, souls and minds need an integrated approach to problem solving and healing. A hip does not work in isolation. left unchecked, it will involve other parts of the body. You don't need to have an accident to damage a hip, you could just be built in a way that contributes to the problem. What I believe to be true is there are no "incidental findings" when it comes to your well being and this carries over into all aspects of the complex life we live and the business world as well. Through my experience as a Neuroleader and Certified i4 Practitioner with About My Brain Institute, here are my essential "eureka moments":

  • If team performance is suffering, you can't solve it by just taking a class. You need an integrated solution that takes things like balance, ethics and mental readiness into account.
  • It's not as simple as just telling people to collaborate better - you need to inspire them to do so. Communication, generosity and courage are the keys.
  • I hate to tell you, but there's not a magic pill that makes people more innovative. It comes from imagination, drive, curiosity and attitude.
  • If I accumulated wisdom every time I was asked to deliver a change management workshop, I'd be in a constant state of zen. However, I've realized that to achieve that state we need to tap into our intuition, awareness, influence and adaptability to optimize our agility.

Do you want to treat the presenting symptom or would it serve you well to dig into the deeper issue and have broader impact? I find the deeper issue to be much more intriguing and broader impact to be profoundly satisfying. Oh, and by the way, I plan on embracing 2017 with a bionic hip and renewed curiosity

Communication: My Life Story

My life’s work is centered around communication. Doing more of it, more effectively and illustrating how communication is more than a “soft skill”, but one that leads to real, meaningful business results. But at no other time I my life have I learned more about the practical application of communication than I have in the last year. I’ve been living in a multi-generational household with family members ranging in age from 13 – 83. I’ve been dining weekly with couples with children, couples without and empty-nesters with a temporarily full nest. We’ve lived through illness, recovery, and the tensions and gifts that come from completing a major home remodel when residential remodeling is the family business.

Last week we embarked on our 14th annual extended family vacation to a Guest Ranch in Northern California for a week of horseback riding, rest & relaxation. It became clear from the moment we hit the road, that communication was going to remain a prominent theme in my learning and life odyssey. Four pillars from the i4 About My Brain Neuroleader Model rang particularly true.

1st stop: Courage – In most families, there’s some element of stifling what needs to be said for the sake of cohesion and peace. But, when is it too much? Within the first hour of the road trip, my husband, children and I began a lively conversation of current events. At some point, my daughter said “gee Mom, you’re sounding salty today!” I replied “I’ve spent the first half of my life quieting my voice for the sake of harmony, and all it got me was the increased volume of the voice inside my head!” She called that “salty” – I call that being "authentic." Now having said that, there are some key companions to having the courage to be salty and authentic. Respect and safety are non-negotiable, but it begs the question – how courageous are you being when it comes to cultivating communication in your organization?

Next stop: Generosity – When you’re traveling in a total of three cars, it’s critical to agree on the preferred mode of communication before beginning the journey. Someone will need to use the bathroom and someone else will need a snack and rather than relying on hand gestures and “smoke signals”, we saved ourselves a lot of confusion by agreeing on how we would communicate between cars before we departed. Not long into the journey, we received a call from the car behind us, requesting more reliable use of our turn signals – a critical instrument in good driver communication. Being generous with these strategies dramatically improved our ability to stay connected and signal our intentions.  What tools do you have at your fingertips that could improve the quality of your team communication with more generous and consistent use?

3rd stop: Adaptability – the trick to remaining adaptable is staying flexible in the face of friction. Never was this clearer than when I found myself on the back of a horse. My horse had a reputation for taking a leisurely pace and taking every opportunity to graze on the nearby brush. Perhaps you have team members prone to similar distractions? The wranglers taught me how to use my reins and my legs to communicate with my horse, and I found myself incorporating favorite techniques as well – verbal cues and encouraging behaviors. Some techniques worked better for the horse and some worked better for me, but as the week progressed, we both managed to adapt and find common ground. My horse also like to trot when it suited him and I wasn’t quite ready for that. At first, I resisted and endured a very bumpy ride. But the more I leaned in to the rhythm and began anticipating what he would do next, the smoother and more fun the rides became.

Final stop: Curiosity – When you are on vacation with eight very different people, asking questions and listening skills need to rule the day! I can’t think of an occasion where one needs to be the smartest person in the room and especially not on vacation with family. Being curious, assuming positive intent and seeking to understand are all skills that served me well on this trip and maintained and enhanced very important relationships in my life. Which relationships on your team or in your organization could benefit from a renewed sense of curiosity?

I’m back from vacation and facilitating a three-day workshop on creating productive relationships this week. I’m reminded of the importance of story and personal experience in the learning environment. Instead of a room with one instructor and 17 students, I share the floor with my fellow learners and teachers, mentors and coaches. Imagine how you can wear each of these hats with your team today...

making sense of self awareness

Joseph Campbell defines the hero's journey as the common template of a broad category of story that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed. Brene Brown describes the process as the Reckoning, the Rumble and the Revolution. Whatever you'd like to call it, human beings are wired for story and here's how my mine began.

Four months prior to my "face down in the arena" moment, my self awareness started to kick in. I became aware that I wasn't showing up in the world the way I wanted, but more importantly, I wasn't being the person I wanted to be. Self awareness can be a blessing and a curse, as it brings clarity and focus, but it also shines a light on the good, the bad and the ugly. However, self awareness is a necessary part of the hero's journey, or my personal odyssey, as I've taken to calling it.

Self awareness comes from within and it's also triggered by external events. It's a long way from the amygdala, in the emotional limbic region of our brain to the rational thinking region of our brain - the neocortex - but it's the only way to get there. The amygdala is the region responsible for the "flight, fight or freeze" response. I had been doing plenty of flight and freeze & now it was time to do the work and fight! In order to increase self awareness, you need to see, feel, hear, taste and smell - in other words, you need to tap into your five senses. Senses that we tend to take for granted, but when fully awake, make us alert and alive. In the absence of self awareness, we are personally hollow and oblivious to the the impact we have on ourselves and those around us.

My self awareness came in a "face down" moment, but it doesn't have to be that way. I've since learned that if we mindfully create the space to steep ourselves in self awareness, it becomes a way of life. However, doing that can be easier said than done. When intentional, self awareness is personal and professional nirvana, that's implicit and attainable.

Start with your five senses and clear the space to notice how you move through your day today. How are you experiencing your colleagues, family members, friends? How are they experiencing you? From there, ask yourself - what do I need to learn? 

Let's start a conversation...

punched in the gut, and the heart, and the brain

Nine months ago today, I was punched in the gut, and the heart, and the brain. I received the results of my SPECT brain scan imaging from the Amen Clinic in San Francisco and my life changed in a heartbeat. As I looked at my scans for the first time with a semi untrained eye, I knew they were bad. Nothing like being told you have the brain of a senior citizen, when you are in your late forties!

Looking at me from the outside, I'm sure you'd disagree. I'm vibrant, confident, "put together" and present pretty well. Heck, I teach this stuff, so I should be an expert, right? But, my heart and my gut were telling a different story. Thank you intuition! Through the ability to know something without the involvement of conscious reasoning, I was able to create deeper awareness of the symptoms of anxiety, depression and general sluggishness I was experiencing and begin the process of adapting. I learned the condition of my brain was due to many factors, including stress, numbing behaviors, unbalanced diet, not enough exercise and fitful sleep. If I stayed on the same trajectory, I was putting my short term memory in jeopardy. The scan gave me visibility to the parts of my brain that were underperforming allowing me to get busy with the work of shoring these regions up!

I also credit my intuition for influencing me to take a closer look at the work of leadership expert and founder of the About My Brain Institute, Silvia Damiano. The i4 Neuroleader model she developed is a personal leadership model, supported by neuroscience with the brain at its core, made up of four key competencies – Performance, Collaboration, Innovation and Agility – desired outcomes I hear from my clients mouths every day. I originally became certified in the i4 Neuroleader model a couple of years prior, reminding me of the truth to the proverb “when the student is ready, the master will appear.”

The i4 Model features brain and body processes that have been relegated and in many cases forgotten when it comes to leadership and management practices. Abilities such as intuition, the importance of an integrated brain, inspiration and imagination and are the origins of the term 'i4'. These four abilities exist in our brains and bodies and what would you say if I said – anyone can learn how to develop them! By tapping into my inner core abilities I’ve re-learned how to lead and thrive in this ever-changing world.

Once the intuition had kicked in, it was time to get busy on integration – the effective functioning of the various components of the brain and body that result in a healthy system. To restore a sense of equilibrium or balance, I began focusing on mindfulness. Having said that, I’m convinced the term mindfulness gets a bad rap in a business world that considers such things to be “airy-fairy” or “woo-woo.” Therefore, I’m following notable authors and scholars in this space by referring to mindfulness as having the mental readiness to “pay attention!”

Next up – inspiration – the energy, enthusiasm and desire to act as a result of feeling mentally and emotionally stimulated. Along the way, I developed the courage to re-introduce my authentic and vulnerable self to the world. A critically acclaimed film calls the high stress, pressure filled world of high school advancement and college admissions the "Race to Nowhere." I now understand that title can work just as well to describe life, if we do not know and live as our true selves. Given that I make my living through communication, I had a built-in platform to share my story and the more that I did, the more that I found I was not alone. Now I spend my time benefitting from the generosity of others willing to join the conversation.

Over the past several months, I began to re-imagine my work – the faculty of mentally forming new concepts, ideas or patterns without involving the senses. My curiosity is at an all-time high and is being fed through reading and listening, my attitude is bolstered through daily affirmations and my drive through visualizing the effects of the i4 Neuroleader revolution! Today I engage with clients by sharing my story with executive, leadership and management teams as well as with groups of individual contributors interested in creating and working in brain friendly cultures. Through the use of a dynamic 360 feedback instrument, and customized coaching and development on how to optimize the brain, I’m privileged and humbled to be contributing to the creation of 21st century leaders.

As I conclude, rest assured that the news I received about my brain is not terminal. I do not have cancer, or a tumor, or some other horrible degenerative disease. The brain is "plastic" and my brain is repairing daily due to elegantly simple exercises that bolster my integration, intuition, inspiration and imagination that in turn have helped me become a better spouse, friend, family member, parent, colleague, manager, leader and person. It was inside me all along, I just needed to create the space and the stillness to pay attention. I invite you to discover how to harness the power of the head and the heart together and start experiencing your own miraculous results.