Posts Tagged ‘ Behavior ’

The Mindfulness Revolution

Mindfulness Revolution

The Mindfulness revolution is here!

Even if you don’t practice Mindfulness or haven’t been on a Mindfulness course the chances are you have heard of the term.

It is now being taught in some schools, workplaces are using it to de-stress employees and it’s even being ‘prescribed’ by health authorities to reduce anxiety and relieve symptoms of depression.

For about a year and a half I have practiced mindfulness – it is part of my daily life and I get so much out of it. It is not for everyone – a colleague lately mentioned my interest in things that were a bit different and called it ‘fluffy’. That may be some people’s thoughts, but I have reaped the benefits of using various practices that work for me and discarded others that don’t. That’s the great thing about mindfulness, it is different things to different people and you take the pieces you like and leave the ones you don’t.

I have adapted this article from a post I wrote on the Silver Lining blog site.

What is Mindfulness and what is it not?

It is not daydreaming or thinking about the past or future. It’s definitely not hocus pocus and you don’t have to become a hippy to practice it.

Although scientists need to do more research into the benefits of Mindfulness, it is recognised by some neuroscientists and health providers as a way of reducing anxiety and stress. You can even do a Masters in Mindfulness now!

Mindfulness is about being in the present, being mindful of what you are doing here and now; this includes how your body feels, what emotions are you experiencing and just letting yourself ‘be’.

It can involve meditating as part of the practice of mindfulness, but the meditations are very much about shutting off distractions and focusing solely on ourselves.

Auto-Pilot – If you have ever driven or walked to work and seeming got there in ‘autopilot’, you are well aware of not being present. We can feel like our days slip away from us and we don’t fully enjoy the time we have. We also have stresses and commitments that keep us busy and don’t make time to think about our own health and wellbeing.

Taking time to be in the ‘here and now’ and examine how we are feeling is part of Mindfulness. It’s actually very simple!

The Neuroscience

When looking at the brain, scans have shown that the metabolic activity changes when we meditate. The active parts of the brain (shown in red on a scan) increase during meditation. This shows not only that meditation affects our minds, but it also affects how our brain works.

Dr. Michael Baim from the University of Pennsylvania says in his paper called ‘This Is Your Brain on Mindfulness’:

‘Several neuroscientists have shown that some of the brain regions activated during meditation are actually different in people who meditate regularly, and the most recent evidence suggests that the changes can occur in as little as eight weeks. This finding is at odds with what we think we know about brain structure in adults…’

‘ We used to believe that sometime shortly after twenty-five or thirty years of age the brain was finished with growth and development. From then on, the brain became progressively impaired by age and injury, and it was all downhill from there. But recent meditation research suggests that this glum outcome may not be inevitable.’

Using mindfulness meditation can be compared to going to the gym – the more you work out your muscles (in this case brain muscle) the stronger you get.

Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, a researcher in the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital, looked at the brain’s cortex (the outermost surface of the brain). She found that when brain images of two groups were compared, meditators and non-meditators, some cortical areas in the brains of the meditators were significantly thicker than the same areas in non-meditators.

The cortex wastes away with age; but in Lazar’s meditating subjects, these enlarged areas were the same thickness as what was measured in non-meditators twenty years younger.

Areas of the brain that are important within this region of the brain are the prefrontal cortex which manages higher cognitive “executive” functions like planning, decision making, and judgment, and keeps us out of trouble by facilitating socially appropriate behavior. Also, the insula which controls sensation and emotion, and processes social emotions such as empathy and love. It is thought to be essential for the capacity for self-awareness.

Practice

Mindfulness practice, also referred to as Mindfulness meditation, takes time to master. Here’s a few ways you can practice…

  1. Chocolate Meditation

We all eat without thinking. Get a piece of chocolate (I prefer dark chocolate because of its health benefits and greate range of flavours!) and put it on your tongue. Spend a few minutes letting it melt – think about the texture and all the flavours you experience.

  1. Noting – Using Your Breath

I use this regularly; when I feel stressed or need to take the emotion out of a situation. I also used in recently when I had to take 6 flights within a space of 2 weeks – for those who know me well, you know I passionately dislike flying!

If you have ever studied Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) you will understand that thoughts lead to emotions and potentially negative actions. This is a great way to break that cycle.

Breath in slowly and whilst doing so say (in your head) ‘breathing in’. Then, on your slow out-breath say ‘breathing out’. Repeat just focusing on the breath.

This noting will help you avoid distractions and get in tune with your breath. It will give you a great sense of calm.

  1. Happiness – Taking The Time To Be Present

With all the stresses and strains of daily life, we forget about what makes us happy and what we are grateful for. Take 10-15mins to write down what makes you happy and what you are grateful for.

Top 3 Reasons Why Being a Great Leader Isn’t Easy

A few months back, I asked a group of leaders for a show of hands on who had experienced either oversupervision or undersupervision. Almost every hand went up. But then I asked how many had themselves oversupervised or undersupervised their direct reports. Only one or two hands shyly peeked out from the crowd.

So what’s going on? Well, leaders can sometimes be unaware of what they should and should not be doing. And this lack of awareness separates good leaders from great leaders. Great leaders know that leading is a never-ending journey that can be filled with treacherous obstacles.

So what do you need to know to become a great leader?
 
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British vs. American Culture!

Are you a “Come On” leader, or a “Go On” leader?

I recently went out for some drinks with friends of mine who both work in the medical profession. Each of us being in leadership roles of some form, the discussion turned to styles of leadership. They both agreed that, in their line of work, you couldn’t work with junior team members – new doctors, and nurses; and tomorrow’s leaders of the health system – simply by telling them what to do. You had to be there to show your team how things should be done, and then let them take the reins whilst you step back.

This reminded me of a speech I’d heard about four years ago. I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember the key opening line. In life, you’ll come across two types of leaders. There are “Come On” leaders – leading from the front, setting the example, and pioneering the way for their teams; and there are “Go On” leaders – who take a back seat and keep a bigger picture overview, encouraging their teams and individual team members to be pushing their projects forward and taking the lead.


 “Come On” Leaders:

  • Inspire and motivate others by showing them how things are done. They demonstrate that something can be achieved, and encourage others to ‘have a go’.
  • Innovate and develop new and original ideas – challenging those who argue that “this is how we’ve always done it”.
  • Focus on people, their skills, talents and expertise, and utilizes those.
  • Inspire trust between others. They don’t need to continually check in on those they lead.
  • Have a long-range perspective and can see a clear long-term goal or vision.
  • Ask “what?” and, most importantly, “why?”
  • Challenge the status quo.
  • Do the right thing.

“Go On” Leaders:

  • Plan, organize and coordinate, instead of jumping in head-first.
  • Focus on systems and structure to ensure that everything is in place, and running as it should.
  • Rely on control – they know their team will follow instructions because of their position.
  • Can focus on the short-term view, and concentrate on the here-and now; ensuring they have all of the relevant data, and not ‘jumping ahead’.
  • Ask “how?” and “when?”, not only looking at what needs to be achieved, but detailing out how we can get there.
  • Accept the status quo.
  • Do things right.

An employee is likely to follow the directions of a “Go On” leader for how to perform a job because they have to – they lead others by virtue of their position, and people will follow because of his or her job description and title. However, an employee will follow the directions of a “Come On” leader because they believe in who they are as a person, what they stand for and for the manner in which they are inspired by their leader.

“Go On” leaders will have subordinates, but “Come On” leaders will have followers – and perhaps this highlights a key point, that – to be a “Come On” leader, a person doesn’t necessarily need to be in a leadership position. Think about someone on your team who is always coming up with the new ideas, and continually raising the standards.

“Go On” leaders have an ability to get their team as prepared as possible; making sure they are clear on the objectives, and then ‘get out of the way’. They don’t go away completely, but they allow the people they are leading to take responsibility – a leadership style which can give others on a team the opportunity to step into a leadership role.

The key skills of “Come On” leaders include:

  • Honesty and integrity – these are crucial to getting people to believe you and understand where they’ll be following you to.
  • Vision for the future – “Come On” leaders need to know where they are, and where they want to be.
  • Inspiration – a “Come On” leader won’t be able to ensure the success of a team unless they can win their hearts and minds and make sure they understand their role in the bigger picture.
  • Ability to challenge – they can’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, and to do things differently. They need the skills to think outside the box.
  • Communication skills – they need to be able to keep their team informed of where they are, and share openly any problems they encounter along the way.

Skills which might suggest being a successful “Go On” leader include:

  • Being able to execute a vision – take a strategic vision, and then break it down into a roadmap or an exact process to be followed by the team.
  • Ability to direct – they need to be able to step back and oversee, day-to-day work efforts, review resources needed, and anticipate needs along the way.
  • Process management – establish work rules, processes, standards and operating procedures, essential to holding people accountable and ensuring people are responsible.

Paul Morin writes on Company Founder of the benefits of ‘leading from behind’, as a “Go On” leader might do – and gives some specific examples of how it might work to take a step back; and even Nelson Mandela demonstrated a love for being a “Go On” leader with his quote: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

Yet, Fred Hassan speaks in the Harvard Business Review about the importance of having “Come On” leaders on the front line.

No single type of leader is better than the other – both “Come On” leaders and “Go On” leaders have their individual merits; and very often, they work hand in hand.

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Moral Courage

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird


Courage is a well-admired human trait; but when asked what courage is, what do you think of?

Is it a soldier, fighting a battle far from home against a fierce, unknown enemy?
What about a fire-fighting hero running in to save someone from a burning building?
Perhaps your imagination stretches to a fictional hero, rushing in to save the day?

All of these are an example of physical courage – someone’s life is in imminent danger, and our courageous hero puts everything right again.

But forget about your cape-wearing, pants-on the-outside, lycra-clad hero. What about normal, average people?  The British have a wonderful phrase for this: “The man on the Clapham Omnibus” – people going about their everyday business.

This could encompass individuals who blow the whistle on corporate corruption, at risk of losing their job; or – an example from one of my favourite books (Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird”); a Lawyer, who stands up to defend someone who is innocent, even though society condemns them for doing so. Could these people be described as ‘courageous’?

In a word: yes!

The courage demonstrated by holding on to one’s own values – regardless of whether this is on the battlefield, or in the boardroom – is Moral Courage.

Lisa Dungate defines Moral Courage perfectly in her blog on Lions Whiskers, where she explains that: “Moral courage means doing the right thing, even at the risk of inconvenience, ridicule, punishment, loss of job or security or social status”.

Novelist, J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech for the Class of 2008 provides some moving examples. The  video of her speech, from TED.com, is 21 minutes long; but at 12 minutes she gives an emotional recollection of her time working at Amnesty International, with people who risked their own lives to speak out about the persecution, abuse, and torture taking place in their home lands.

Everyday moral courage often isn’t this extreme, but that does not mean that it is any easier to practice: moral courage might mean being different or disagreeing publicly.

As difficult as it is – displaying moral courage can earn respect, trust, and admiralty; and by practicing moral courage very day it gradually will become easier.

Let’s take moral courage away from the corporate setting, for a moment; and consider practicing in every day situations:

  • You and your friends are deciding what movie to see, or where to get dinner, but you don’t like the choice they all prefer. Instead of going along silently, or pretending to agree, say, “Well, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you all like it, that’s OK with me.”
  • One of your friends has gotten a tattoo, and everyone is admiring it, but you don’t like tattoos. Instead of letting everyone believe that you also think tattoos are really cool, have the courage to express a different view. “I’m glad you like his tattoo, but personally, I just don’t see the appeal.”

You don’t need to be being rude; or enforcing your own opinions on others, to demonstrate moral courage.

But, as professionals, how can we use these skills to make values-driven decisions consistently?

The Ivey Business Journal gives examples of moral courage in leadership: In August 2008, when Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, stood in front of the press to accept responsibility for the contaminated meat scandal that resulted in numerous deaths, he undoubtedly needed courage.  Southwest Airlines CEO, James Parker, would have needed courage when he went against the industry job-slashing trend following 9/11 when he courageously announced that he would keep all employees

Why is moral courage important in leadership?

Moral courage is crucial in developing authenticity – it empowers individuals to discover and demonstrate what they stand for – even if this is at the disapproval of others. By developing self leadership through action in moral dilemmas, professionals and leaders can ensure both integrity and impact.

Actions speak louder than words.  Leaders at all levels need to act out their expectations, behave honestly and openly, and demonstrate loyalty. They need to establish and maintain open communications, so that those working with them know that their suggestions will be listened to – that they have a voice. People need to know that their leader isn’t going to act on a whim, just because it’s the majority decision. All of these qualities are facilitated by a leader who has courage.

Leaders with moral courage can be trusted by colleagues to do the right thing. It takes courage to tell the boss something that they do not necessarily want to hear; or to redirect an employee; or to make unpopular decisions.

An awareness of the importance of doing the right thing – which is not necessarily the popular thing – can help leaders demonstrate moral courage when they face ethical challenges in the workplace, and uphold ethical working environments and business standards.

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