Leader-Led Change

Have you got what it takes to lead change?
Have you got what it takes to lead change?

Planned organisational change may be driven by many factors. Examples include seeking efficiencies and greater productivity, addressing dysfunction and conflict, revamping inadequate processes and systems, merging with a business partner, or setting your mark on the organisation as a previous manager has departed.

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their Harvard Business Review Primal Leadership article in December 2001 wrote: “A growing body of research on the human brain proves that, for better or worse, leaders’ moods affect the emotions of the people around them.” However, leaders not only set the mood and have a direct impact on the emotional worlds of their people, as the article describes, but also set the culture and behavioural tone and norms of the organisation. So, when considering change, what do you need to change about yourself and how you function for your organisation to perform better?

W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru, suggested that 85% of the responsibility for quality rested with management, to provide the appropriate tools, training, processes and other enablers, and after all that was provided, 15% of the responsibility rested with the workers. I believe that also applies to the mood, attitudes, behaviours and norms of the organisation as a whole.

Enormous energy is exerted in organisational restructures. Poor performance is identified and rooted out. Ineffective systems replaced. Reporting structures are adjusted. However, for all the effort a significant and often poorly addressed issue is the cultural and behavioural conserve held among the management team. While the organisation is being driven through significant and often unnecessarily painful change processes, the attitudes, behaviours, and cultural norms within the management team remain unchanged, unrecognised as contributing to the overall organisation’s performance. The decision makers are able to say “the problem is out there” and rarely take a critical look at their own contributions.

Consider:

  • What do you do to set the tone and culture within your organisation? Are your words and actions aligned?
  • Do you demand and expect respect without extending the same to those who report to you?
  • Do you demonstrate the loyalty you expect of your team? Or do you excuse your choices and actions that perhaps sideline and disenfranchise individuals, while calling for everyone to engage fully and authentically, and wonder why there is a disturbance within the rank and file? Do you permit others’ to spread rumour and conjecture, or undermine the work of those in your team?
  • Do you provide a high performance environment? Do you cleanly delegate work, providing clear boundaries on how the work should be performed and what the measure of success are, and allow the team member to grow and develop in the role? Or are you a control freak, driven by fear, who micromanages and strangles growth potential? Do you honour the established boundaries around agreed packages of work or do you allow scope creep to erode the authority of those under you? Do you then also hold them responsible for failure to perform?
  • Are you professional in your behaviours and relationships? Do you excuse angry outbursts, unreasonable demands and other corrosive behaviours because you’re busy and under stress? Do you meet the commitments you make? Do you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of others? Do you walk your talk?
  • Is your decision-making clear, calm, fact-based and rational? Do you expect this of your team, but when faced with a decision you rely on management imperative to make a rushed “gut” decision, rationalising it is from your years of experience, flying in the face of all you claim you want practiced within your organisation? Worse, do you then change your decision when next posed with a new opinion (perhaps without informing those impacted)?
  • Do you provide clear direction and leadership? Have you noticed the puzzled expression, or disdain, across your team as you issue instructions? Do you lack clarity, such that you are not able to understandably express what you want? Or have you changed direction yet again? Do you respond openly to questions seeking clarification or do you expect subordinates to read your mind (perhaps even when you can’t)?

It has been my observation from a couple of decades of consulting that these and other such issues are frightfully common. Why? Because leaders are human and no one is perfect. The problem is when a leader chooses to avoid checking on their way of being. In my opinion it would be ideal for the leadership of an organisation to honestly assess their behavioural and attitudinal contribution to the performance and mood of an organisation as part of any change process. Obtaining valuable, truthful feedback takes more than demanding it. Few leaders are blessed to be surrounded by people willing to say, “You are not wearing any clothes”, so obtaining such insight requires time, a sense of safety among those asked for input, and trust that negative feedback will not jeopardise the position of the person offering the feedback.

As a leader, are you leading from the front, enabling others to follow? Have you assessed your own short-comings in relation to the direction and practices required within the organisation and established a roadmap for your own development? Or are you metaphorically barking instructions through a megaphone on what the team should do, and excusing yourself because you’re a coach, not a player.

If you want to create positive change, be part of the change process, not separate from it. Ensure that your capacity as a leader and manager is maturing and developing, and that you have made some conscious, positive changes to your style, that you’re not as you were ten years ago. If you are not emulating the behaviours you expect your team to portray, get real with yourself and stop excusing your own poor performance.

Options available to you include coaching and mentoring, personal and professional development, primarily targeted at the long-overused patterns of behaviour and attitudes that hold you and your team back from truly excelling.

Organisational Consciousness

Consciousness refers generally to the state of knowing or awareness an individual has of their external surroundings, their own inner processes, and how to behave in a normal manner. From birth we each pass through developmental stages which are linked to changes in our levels of consciousness.

With each change in consciousness we learned that:

  • Life is more complex than we had previously appreciated
  • Our current approaches, methods and processes in life are not effective
  • New approaches become available to us as we open up to their possible existence, and have the courage to pursue them
  • Mastery of a new level of consciousness requires time, effort, and a fumbling or settling in period – mistakes are essential to the transition.
Aspects of an organisation

Frustration is the common state or feeling that initiates the transition to a higher developmental stage. Through frustration we recognise the inadequacies in our current approach, and our inability to manifest our ideas or desires easily. We encounter many barriers and much resistance that halts or impedes us.

Organisational consciousness parallels that of individuals. The level of consciousness for an organisation is based on the effective functioning and alignment of each of the following four aspects of the organisation, and is the responsibility of the leadership of the organisation. The Ends or ‘vision and values’ of the organisation articulates WHY the organisation exists. Through Organisational Leadership specific leadership practices, governance, planning, and communications define WHAT will happen WHEN. Sound management of Personnel enables the WHO to act effectively, while the Means of the organisation, including facilities, process, systems, policies etc define HOW things are accomplished.

I am sure we have all observed organisations thwarted by inadequate or ineffective practices, which gradually (or quickly) overwhelm through the growing number of crises. The typical response is to treat issues in isolation, viewing them as individual and discrete. Fire-fighting mentality takes over with each organisational group responsible for fixing their problems, applying organisational first aid. Frustration is a common feeling throughout such an environment. The organisation must shift its level of consciousness and discover a new way of operating to achieve greater effectiveness. Executive and senior leadership must lead this. It starts with the Ends and must move down through the other organisational aspects – organisational leadership, personnel, and means. Vision and courage on the part of the leadership team is essential to shift organisational consciousness.

As with an individual, an organisation necessarily faces significant confusion and upheaval amid change. Change always generates tension, fear and resistance. However the uncontrolled change brought on by the panicked reactions of a failing organisation is worse than planned, deliberate and conscious steps taken by an organisation seeking to establish a new vision, philosophy and approach to business. Successfully shifting an organisation to a new level of consciousness requires:

  • Recognising a need for real and lasting organisational change
  • Engaging the support and involvement of key stakeholders
  • Crafting the vision and the strategic and operational plans
  • Implementing the changes in an effective, deliberate manner
  • Assessing the results to ensure that desired outcomes have been accomplished, taking corrective action as required

As a result, those who work for, with or belong to the organisation will have a changed awareness of the long-term purpose of the organisation, what their specific function or role is within that purpose, and why and how goals are pursued and success is measured. Organisational consciousness has been raised. New mechanisms and measures for operating exist, and everyone affected is aware of the shift. This is more than just a change project. It is change that engages everyone and necessarily includes culture change.

Shifting organisational consciousness does not merely critique and focus on the methods used to achieve goals. It examines the goals being sought. It changes culture. It enables new ways of operating. It sheds the old and invites the new. It is a powerful journey, an awakening, and requires the courage of all involved, but most particularly and especially of those who lead the organisation.

Am I Ready for Coaching?

Coaching session
Am I ready for coaching?

The greater your responsibility, the greater the pressure on you to focus on and address external matters. You focus on meeting work and family obligations and duties, attempt to satisfy and maintain the demands of many relationships, and then you address what matters to you with whatever time remains. Do you wish you had time and space to delve into what really matters to you? Do you have facets of your business and personal life and performance that would benefit from genuine attention? Could you benefit from a safe, confidential space with a trusted confidant? If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you can definitely benefit from coaching.

Coaching is a fabulous way to take charge of your life, improve personal performance, own a new work role, strengthen relationships, deal with conflicts, manage a transition, develop personal capabilities, pursue stretch goals, and manifest dreams.

Getting the most out of coaching requires preparation. Having the right mindset and approach enables you to gain the most from coaching. You are READY or best prepared for coaching IF you are willing to:

  • take real action to create your own results;
  • eradicate old, redundant and limiting habits, thought patterns and beliefs;
  • be challenged in thought, feeling and behaviour;
  • take responsibility for your own results;
  • drop excuses for poor performance;
  • be open to self-directed learning of new skills and ideas.

OR

  • at least wish to occupy this growth space and develop these capabilities.

As your coach, I create a confidential space within which you experience unrestricted self-governance. You set the agenda. You work on what matters to you. It may be quite an unfamiliar experience to be in an environment where you focus solely on what matters to you without anyone else taking any degree of responsibility for what you do or create for yourself.

Coaching will enable you to enter new, previously unexplored, territory. I support and enable you by walking alongside you as your guide. I use questions to assist your exploration, expand your thinking, and confront new possibilities. I provide space for you to consider and reflect, generate insights, and develop approaches and ideas that work for you. Being with “not knowing” is integral to the coaching process. It precedes insight, the generation of one’s own solution that meets your unique approach and learning style, and which you own because they are your own ‘Eureka’ moments. A major outcome of coaching is your strengthened self-awareness and your capacity to intervene on yourself when you recognise you are undermining your own performance. Coaching is offered to support you generate ideas and pursue solutions. Are you ready for the benefits that coaching can offer you?

Being “ready for coaching” also considers how to prepare for a session, the first in particular. One of the tools that can assist you be ready for coaching is the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire. It is a simple process to assist you clarify and focus on what matters to you. While it provides me, your coach, with useful information, it is primarily offered to support your preparation for coaching. You benefit from completing it more than I do.

Coaching may be used to establish and pursue goals over an engagement (an agreed series of coaching sessions) or to address burning issues a session at a time. It can also be a combination of these and other possibilities. When you turn up for a coaching session, it is great if you already know what you want to work on, and are prepared to work. If you are not clear on what to work on, at least be prepared to work, to think, to be challenged, so that I may assist you gain the clarity that is eluding you. We will partner together in creating the purpose of the session, and ensuring you walk away satisfied with the time we spend together.

If coaching is right for you, or you wish to explore how it may help you, fill in the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire (click here for the questionnaire), and book a free initial coaching session with me, Stephen (click here to book a coaching session).

In summary, you are ready for coaching when you:

  1. recognise that you will benefit, get real value, from coaching;
  2. have the mindset and attitudes, or the desire to have such, that would make coaching work for you; and
  3. are prepared to get as much from a session as you can, knowing what you wish to work on, or at least being prepared to work with your coach to develop that clarity.

Offer: Free Coaching Session With Stephen

If you have never had a coaching session with me, you are invited to experience a free coaching session. To take up this offer, complete and submit the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire (click here for the questionnaire) and then book the free (up to 90 minutes) session (click here to book the session).

Responding to Change

“I have to find safety. My home is disappearing!”
“I have to find safety. My home is disappearing!”

The Western world is in an uproar over the predicted-by-some, yet surprising-to-most, election win by Donald Trump. For me, the event and its aftermath is a fantastic example of what many experience as “unwanted change”, and the behaviours that manifest at such times. This is a fantastic public theatre of what occurs on a smaller, often ignored, scale within organisations undergoing change, planned or unplanned, welcomed by or imposed on the employees. This article highlights some of the more obvious behaviours being exhibited and highlights some considerations that may create a more positive outcome at an individual level.

We have seen significant grass-roots responses to unrecognised needs by those in power in the form of Brexit. Now a surprise (to some) Trump victory. As life giving as change can be, it is not always positive. Enough wars show change can be damaging. Fear is palpable now. For many groups, if Trump seeks to fulfil his intent stated in his campaign speeches, there are real threats to loss of rights and liberty. Some of his early choices suggest he intends honouring, as far as possible, what he promised during his campaign.

Based on some of the more obvious behaviours being demonstrated since the Trump election win, here are some ways people react to change:

  • Polarisation and strengthening of positions: Ardent fighters for and against a change strengthen their positions and fight it out. The fight may be peaceful, or might descend as low as individual human morality allows. There will be a mixture of those aggressively assailing others with a different point of view, whether physically, emotionally or through power over. Others will assert themselves, clearly identifying who they are and what they stand for, without imposing on others. Mahatma Gandhi and his followers’ non-violent protests of British rule is a good example of the latter.
  • Run away and hide: This may be observed as people and groups getting busy with something else, a way of distancing from the pain of loss and occupying themselves with something they have control over. It may be literally exiting the scene, leaving the country, becoming a hermit, or otherwise divorcing self from the challenge of being or staying engaged.
  • Filter reality: Notice how many proponents of each side argue, using only the information (often opinions of others rather than real facts) that supports their view, and ignore anything counter to their position. This also shows when others are accused of falsehood when citing something that is counter to the position held. The media are getting a lot of flak for beating up situations if they merely mention something that doesn’t support promoted views.
  • Normalisation: “Give him a chance”, “Wait and see” and in a practical sense, sitting on one’s hands. Then, almost as in a frozen state of numbness nothing is said or done as ongoing change initiatives bring into reality the worst nightmares of those who voiced fear of the worst. For example,
    • Steve Bannon, former head of alt-right nationalists’ recommended media source, Breitbart News, appointed as Chief Strategist
    • Myron Ebell, a global warming denier, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency
    • Trump’s own children being put forward for cabinet and advisory roles, and simultaneously running his and their own businesses, with a simple, “You can trust us.” Very basic ethical principles are trampled underfoot, and seems to be widely accepted as okay. Not if anyone else tried it!
  • Disavow any responsibility: “I don’t know”, “I didn’t realise this would happen?”, “How could I know?” Or as in Seth Meyer’s case, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, when challenged on calling Bannon ‘controversial’, he was unwilling to give an opinion because he had not met the fellow conservative. Seth Meyers, of the Closer Look program, called Meyers on this side-step well when he said, “I’ve never met John Wilkes Booth, but I let his past work inform my opinion of him.” It is as though many are running for cover and refusing to say anything that may impact their future position with the one in charge. They could do with taking Lucy Gennaro McClane’s advice to Matt Farrell in Live Free or Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4.0), “You need to grow a bigger set of balls!”

When facing change, we each have choice. We can allow fear to overcome us and react to what is happening from that place. We rely on the fear-based survival reactions fight, flight, freeze and fabricate. Alternatively, we can function from our personal power, and manifest the power-based thrive responses assert, attend, act and authenticate. The former requires little consciousness from us, with our amygdala (or reptilian brain) reacting to threat. The latter requires conscious choice and self-intervention to assure we behave in a manner that is of our choosing. The thrive responses also require that we are clear about and are congruent with our values, not relinquishing them when the going gets a little tougher.

What I experienced as warm, heart-felt and assertive was the plea and invitation offered to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence by the cast of Hamilton at the end of their show. The play was themed around freedom,  the constitution and diversity. After the final curtain call, Brandon Victor Dixon addressed Mr Pence, inviting him to listen, and said:

“We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

New York Times, 19 Nov. 2016 (link)

Debate is as polarised around whether this was appropriate as it is on many other issues related to the election and subsequent events. One of the bigger questions is how to voice disagreement in an environment that seems hostile to any opinion counter to the future Commander-In-Chief.

While I have used very public examples from the follow-on of the Trump election, these behaviours often occur in change situations. The choices you make in response determine your contribution to the outcome. When confronted with change, particularly change you do not welcome, what do you choose to do? Do you voice concerns you hold? Do you assert what matters to you? Do you shrink away and leave it to others to work through? Do you get overwhelmed and find it all too much, unable to find anything you can constructively do? Do you look for what you can do, stay engaged and take some action? Do you blame others for what has happened? Do you act from a place of personal responsibility and ownership and attempt to help shape next steps?

Balance and Transition

Young Indian Ropewalker
Specialist balance and transition skills

It is common for people to say they want to be “grounded”, “centred”, “balanced”, “to find their equilibrium”, or “sink roots into the ground”, or “gain stability”. These are natural and important to maintaining a sense of self, though the degree of need differs from one person to the next. They also suggest movement and a desire to achieve a degree of stillness. In today’s rapid and dynamic environment, “balance” (the word I will use to summarise the ideas above) may be fleeting.

Balance is a capability we can learn and develop. As babies, we developed strength in our bodies to support ourselves, to shift from a prone position through crawling on all fours to walking on two legs. We also had to master balance. Balance is first learned in a still state, and then learned in conjunction with movement. A toddler clings to a door frame or a piece of furniture, developing their vestibular, visual, and skeletal and muscular systems awareness and capacity to hold themselves still and to balance. They take their first step. It is a whole new learning to reclaim balance after a step. It is true for us as we face transition. Transition requires us to relinquish balance, shift state, and then reclaim balance. Balance is not referring only to the physical sense of balance. It includes the balance we carry within our being in our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects.

This process became vividly apparent to me two and a half years ago when I had surgery that cost me my right acoustic or vestibulocochlear nerve (losing hearing and balance capabilities of my right ear). After surgery, sitting up was a challenge. Over a few days I learned to sit up, stand up and walk around the ward with assistance. I then learned to walk on flat, hard surfaces, then flat grass, then sand, then uphill. My brain had to relearn how to balance because a significant portion of the information system it had relied on was gone. All that was with my eyes open. Shutting my eyes was both comical and frustrating. Initially, standing still and shutting my eyes saw me immediately fall. Over time this shifted to falling almost immediately, and then to ‘after a little while’. The visual system is a significant element of the capacity to balance. Lots of training later my capacity to physically balance is vastly improved, yet it is immediately and significantly impaired if one of the main remaining components of the system are disrupted (e.g. tired, blurred vision).

Some people are highly adept at regaining their balance as they hop from one place to another. Others need more time between steps to settle their sense of balance. As it is with our physical balance, so it is with our emotional, mental and spiritual senses of balance. Where balance in those areas are desired, these capabilities and skills can be developed. Once we develop balance-enabling skills we can then integrate them within our active life. For example, learning meditation and mindfulness practices can support emotional, mental, and spiritual balance. First learned as an independent skill, we can then choose how and to what degree we integrate them into daily life. Exercise, healthy eating, reframing perspectives on situations we face, and shifting our attitudes and beliefs that are not working for us are other examples of creating or finding space within ourselves even while facing change. They can help restore or strengthen our sense of balance. There is no single recipe for all. We each have our own needs around, and preferred approaches to restoring, balance. Whatever we choose to use, it is a conscious intervention into a hectic life. One of the toughest lessons with fast paced change is that slowing down within, and providing space for self, provides greater energy, focus and capacity to address the external world with greater effectiveness.

When I work as a coach with people in transition, part of what I bring is the recognition that the state of your inner world does contribute to your power and productivity in the outer world, and that balance and transition are immutably connected. The “balance” between balance and transition varies from one person to the next, yet it still features. How important is a sense of balance in your life? What constitutes balance for you? Do you experience a sense of disconnection from “being in balance”? How do you restore yourself at such times? Another way of restoring balance can be through coaching. Is working with and through transition important to you? How about giving coaching a trial? You are invited to have a free coaching session with me so you can experience coaching and determine if I am the right coach for you.

Embrace Change with Power and Purpose

Changing your mental context
Changes, a new mind-set required

According to James Baldwin, the American novelist, “Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.”

Regardless of its nature, we need to embrace change with power and purpose. While there may be some change we do want, I also refer to those changes we do not want or seek. It is the challenge found in the unwanted and significant changes that truly tests our character.

Resilience, fear, and letting go are three factors we need to address when responding to change.

As humans, we have physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. Our emotional and mental bodies are similar to our physical in that without exercise and challenge they become flabby and lose tone. Our spiritual body does not so much get flabby. Rather we disconnect from it and lose sight of the being we are, or become aware we never have truly known who we are. It is our relationship with who we are that gets flabby. Change is the catalyst for encouraging and requiring “whole-of-being fitness”. How cleanly and powerfully are you able to respond to change? Does change throw you into a stressful place? Can you ride the wave of change and maintain your composure? The fitness of our whole being forms the basis of our resilience. Physical health, emotional intelligence, mental acuity and a powerful sense of who we are amidst change ensures we are internally resourced.

Fear is a natural reaction to change, even when we want the change. We fear losing the status quo, our current state. There is comfort in the familiar. We don’t KNOW what the end state will be like, even if the grass seems greener. There is the motivating force that pushes for change, and our reactive fear that retards our fluidity. If the reactive fear is greater than the motivational force, we are stuck.

When faced with fear we tend to be reactive and the four F’s come into play: FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE and FABRICATE. The first two are instinctual, reactions driven by the reptilian brain, the amygdala. Freeze is related to higher brain function becoming overwhelmed with information and decisions, and shutting down. We become stuck. Fabricate relates to creating or projecting a mask, a false image, like a chameleon changing colours, so we don’t have to fully face what we fear. It is a learned behaviour, often from our childhood, used to cover our fears. Whether belligerence, shyness, a whimpering “poor me”, these devices seek to control the actions of others in relation to us. We often use fabricate so fluently, these manufactured behaviours become confused with our personality, embedded patterns.

When I received the surprising news that I had a six cm benign tumour in my brain I left the specialists office and told my wife, Juanita, very matter-of-factly that I had a life threatening condition that needed urgent surgery. An observer could have misjudged me as being remarkably calm. I certainly portrayed calm. I was in fact overwhelmed, emotionally closed down. I coped by distancing myself from my emotional world. I was fabricating calmness. All natural, understandable, and in fact necessary. Time and space was needed for me to internally process and get my ducks in a row. However, I had to move past this initial reaction and connect with what was really going on for me to powerfully and purposefully work with the change.

To move forward powerfully, we need to bring the fullness of our being forward. We need to change our F’s to A’s. Fight, flight, freeze and fabricate need to transform to ASSERT, ATTEND, ACT and AUTHENTICATE. Assert who we are and what we need. Stay present. Take action. Be real and call on others to be as well, in themselves and in relationship with you. Then we are responding to change rather than reacting.

For the first few days I maintained my calm demeanour. There was also some overwhelm, self-pity and helplessness. I couldn’t be bothered looking for ways to be powerful or purposeful. Knowing the specialist was referring me to a surgeon, I was prepared to let the hospital process take its own natural course. My wife proactively followed up on it and found it was stuck in the system and would have never got to the surgeon without intervention. I would be dead without her efforts.

My overwhelm shifted. I took ownership of the process. I researched the tumour, and thoroughly understood its impacts and what the surgeon could do, and what the implications would be. By the time I saw the surgeon he was telling me what I already knew, apart from the date for surgery. A friend was a grief counsellor. In speaking with her, she suggested I actively enlist the support of friends as that would make the process easier for me and Juanita. I informed friends in various networks I was part of about my situation. I had been a facilitator of programmes for men for a number of years. I attended a meeting of men and shared my news, my terror and my uncertainty. I experienced a wonderful outpouring of love and support. That grew when the network of several thousand men were informed. We had friends from all around the world in a vigil while I was under anaesthetic, praying or otherwise actively sending positive energy in my direction. Over 120 people were on the update list who chose to be kept informed of my progress for the first few months. Many of those who were local visited me as I had strength to receive them. As shocking and frightening as the news was for me that I had a tumour, I never would have learned the power and support available in such time without it. It really was quite humbling. There was more good will available than I had the capacity to receive.

However, the surgery was only part of the journey. I found that as the post-surgical reality set in, I had enormous grief related to loss of function – primarily hearing, balance, and emotional composure. From time to time, uncontrollable grief welled up, and I would burst into tears for no apparent reason. I would have fits of rage, something entirely alien to me before surgery. These, among others, told me I was not functioning correctly, that I was broken. That is where the third major factor came into play. I had to let go of being who I had been and learn to accept my new self. Over time many of the extremes have disappeared, but my emotional world is much more volatile than it used to be, and some of the qualities I really liked about myself prior to surgery have been lost. Part of the process of letting go has been to reframe my new reality into something meaningful and workable for me. Reframing provides the brain with rationale for why the new situation is okay, positive, good. Once the brain becomes can then settle and find new and productive ways of working within the new context.

This experience has been a series of challenges for me. I have not always managed to embrace the change with power and purpose. In fact, sometimes I have struggled against my new reality, a thoroughly futile thing to do. However, I have never lost sight of the fact it is up to me, no one else, to create the life I want moving forward. While potently and patiently supported by my wife, who has been my rock, it has still been up to me to positively move forward, to assert myself, stay present, take action and be real.

What challenges are you currently facing? How could you strengthen your response to the changes so you claim and maintain your purpose and power? Whatever it is you face, I wish you potency and strength to face up to the challenges. May you find your resilience, your way to overcome your fears, and a means for letting go of what is no longer available in ways that work for you.

The Role of Rigidity and Flexibility in Adapting to Change

A gale rages. Grasses bend and allow the energy to pass by. A forest of tall trees copes by backing and supporting each other. The lone pine, finally worn by the buffeting, breaks. That is one analogy of the effects of rigidity and flexibility.

Have you noticed you judge some people as rigid and others as flexible? Which one is better? Where are you, if you assessed yourself as rigid or flexible? Why are you like this?

How does flexibility and rigidity affect your capacity to change?
How does flexibility and rigidity affect your capacity to change?

While these questions are interesting, I have realised they are too narrow and do not reflect the complex nature of what may constitute rigidity or flexibility. In fact, the question I find myself with is ‘What is the right balance of rigidity and flexibility?’ A person practising yoga, for instance, if too rigid cannot get into poses, needing greater flexibility, but if too flexible, without the requisite rigidity and they collapse.

Here are some contexts where we might assess people on their degree of rigidity and flexibility:

Principles and Values

People like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Adolf Hitler could be assessed as rigid to their principles and values. Each changed the world in their own way and refused to desist from their courses regardless of pressure. Their own lives were at stake, but they were firm (rigid) to the end.

You can probably think of people who change their principles and values to suit the situation. A victim of such flexibility is trust, any sense that the person has integrity. In ‘The Game of Thrones’ terminology they are ‘Sell-swords’, and their allegiance goes to the highest bidder, whatever the currency is for them, and past commitments only matter if it suits them.

Conserved or Spontaneous

In the area of change, conserve relates to our reliance on and application of established beliefs, practices, attitudes and behaviours. Someone bound to the conserve might say “But this is how we have always done it.” For example, the Corporate conserve may include formal processes, rewarded behaviours, and cultural folklore of ‘how we do things.’ The conserve makes us rigid to what has been, how we do it…

Spontaneity is the capacity to act or behave in a new and adequate manner (I.e. is not a perfect response but is suitable and productive ), whether it is new or pre-existing situation. Spontaneity builds on what is emerging now, rather than holding on to how it has been, flexibility in action.

Fear or Power

Fear causes contraction. What was flowing and easy becomes stifled, awkward and stiff. It robs us of the capacity to easily respond to what is present, and places us in a reactive state. Instinctual reactions of fight, flight, and higher brain reactions of freeze and fabricate, erode our capacity to take productive action. We might still do so, but it is not as easy as when free of the rigid and binding nature of fear. Many behaviours stem from fear. Examples include controlling behaviour (of self and others), micromanagement, denial, avoidance and biases/prejudices.

Power is our ability to do or affect something strongly. For us to exercise power we must expand, opposite to the effect of fear. Many confuse power with being able to MAKE yourself or others do your bidding. That is aggression, applying force, part of the fight reaction. Opposite to fear, power enables us to assert, attend (stay present), act and authenticate. I speak to these in my book ‘Appreciate the Fog’. It enables us to work with what is present now, take positive action, and develop and strengthen relationships. Fear makes us contract, rigid and reactive to what might be, while remaining in our power enables us to expand, be flexible and responsive to what is.

Attachment and Expectation

Attachments are those things we hold on to from the past. Expectations are our hopes, visions, dreams and aspirations of the future. In and of themselves they do not make us flexible or rigid. However, our inability to let them go when circumstances change does create the effect of rigidity as the individual pauses to process and adjust. At about the age of three one of my children threw a massive tantrum because they wanted something different from what was. Clinging to the pole of the clothesline in the middle of the backyard, screaming and crying, there was total refusal to let go of what they wanted. Not rigid in their body at all, they were stuck in place. Once the tantrum was over, their emotions fully expressed, the pole was released. Acceptance, then contentment and movement returned. Minutes later they had forgotten the tantrum. What we hold on to can make us rigid, especially when it is important to let go and move on.

I am very aware of how lightly I may hold on to things I consider safety-making, whether they are beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, or any number of other things, I often hold on beyond their use-by date and rob myself of my power.

Emotion

Many people, men particularly, are emotionally rigid, unable to connect with and express their feelings. Some cannot even discern what they feel. Childhood messaging such as “Boys don’t cry” served to teach a generation what previous generations had learned, that quashing the natural flow of emotion is important to control life and actions. Shame, embarrassment and fear are commonly associated with open expression of feeling, especially of grief and fear. Anger, in a man’s world, seems acceptable, though its link with violence is frowned on. Emotional rigidity has led to emotional illiteracy.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who are easily overwhelmed by their emotions, caught in a torrent of feeling, with little capacity to rein them in or manage them. That might be considered flexibility in the emotional world.

Healthy emotional expression lies between these extremes, with the capacity to recognise feelings, comprehend their significance, and express the needs that underpin the emotions. As we loosen emotional rigidity and gain access to and expression of our feelings, we gain a fuller, more authentic capacity to be ourselves. We are able to process what is happening to and within us more effectively, and adjust more easily to change. We are attuned to what is happening to us and the meaning we are making.

Conclusion

When it comes to adapting to change, your ability to adjust to the new situation depends on your beliefs, values, expectations, attachments, degree of fear, and your authenticity with yourself and others about what matters to you. These are part of what defines your personal power.

What gets in your way? What robs you of your capacity to be powerful? What robs you of fullness in relationships? What impedes you from responding to what is new and unexpected in a manner that serves you? How have over-rigid aspects of your being undermined your freedom to act? When have you been so flexible in a situation you lose track of what really matters to you? This is not about right or wrong. It is about the continuum of possible ways of being, and whether you are achieving what you want in a way that best serves you and those about you.

Know Yourself

What do I see when I look at myself?
How do I see myself?

Imagine you are looking in a mirror. Who and what do you see? Do you like this person looking back at you? Love them? Do you see their faults? Their strengths? What do you know about them? What do you deny about who you see? How well do you know this person? We spend our whole life occupying our bodies, but how much quality time do we actually spend getting intimately acquainted with who we are? And, why does it matter?
From the moment we are born we are shaped by our experiences, moulded by our parents and taught societal norms. We learn to cope, and those behaviours are often overused and kept beyond their use by date. By the time we are adults many of us are burdened with all sorts of behaviours that are so embedded that we think they are who we are. The normal response to pain is to erect protective armour, and over time this becomes thought of as our personality. Each layer thickens the barrier between what we present to the world and who we really are. We become so familiar with the armour that we fail to realise that what we are presenting is actually different from who we are.

The questions becomes ‘What do you want to do about it?’ and ‘Why would I do anything about it?’ become relevant. A significant consideration is that if you embark on a process of freeing your true and authentic self from underneath all the protections that you have in place, then you enter a lifelong endeavour you can never again escape. Once started the inner drive and desire for free and full expression of your essence grows and it demands freedom and will not stop fighting for its right. My process started when I felt so restricted by protections that it was remove them or perish. Like a cicada, there came a point where my inner being grew greater than the armour I placed around it. It was a painful, challenging and important process. I struggled to find my way through my labyrinth of darkness. For me this was a process of firstly recognising that I deserved to be loved, first and foremost by myself, and then learning to do so to some extent. I had a whole host of other things to learn along the way, but all were about liberating me a little more with each step.

Finding out who you are, who this person is that is in the mirror looking back at you, requires a lot of effort and commitment. It is so easy to disconnect from ourselves, to get busy with life and forget about living. It becomes easy to lose sight of our values, core beliefs, and principles as we get caught up in the rat race. It takes time and it takes patience and commitment to really be with our self. Some don’t do this because they’ve never realised there may be a benefit. They haven’t missed what they haven’t had. Others are too scared of what they will find, or of the empty space, not knowing how to fill it. And yet others make a complete meal of it, spending much of their life focused on themselves, and missing out on the richness of connecting with others. There is no right way to do it, to learn who we are or to be with ourselves in a manner that works. The thing is to find our way of being with ourselves in a manner that works for us.
One of the fears associated with the inner journey are the potential discoveries of things about ourselves that we do not like. The world of our Dark Shadow houses the dark, stealthy and unknown characters that wait for their moment to appear and interfere, or so it seems. They are the creatures of our dreams, especially our nightmares, of our unspoken, semi-conscious desires that shock us when they arise. As small children we learned what was not acceptable, and hid those behaviours, thoughts and feelings away. During puberty, more were added to the shadows. Every now and again they appear from the shadows, perhaps through our dreams, or during a crisis, or as a fleeting thought. The Dark shadow holds a lot of our energy and power, and while we often fear the characters that lurk there, they have much potency for us as we learn to release the strength they possess. One of my dark shadows is my Sniper. He shows up at times with brutal, direct and devastating argument that cuts through all the fluff and debate and gets to the underlying truth. He also doesn’t care who he hurts, lacks empathy, and isolates himself. I have seen my Sniper take verbal shots at people, deliberately hurting and pushing them away, knowing exactly what to say to cause maximum impact. However he has also brought power when appropriately applied to focus on what really matters. The way in which we draw on and apply the energy of a dark shadow character can have significant positive or negative impact. Developing awareness of our dark shadow increases our ability to take conscious action and reduces the derailing effects of an unexpected character showing up.

We also have what is known as our Light Shadow. These are the aspects of ourselves that we did not feel safe to bring out. This is often where we find our creativity, spontaneity and innocence. One of my light shadow characters is the Innocent, Enquiring Child. I struggled with my son when he incessantly asked questions as a little boy. I came to realise my difficulty related to this same part of me that I had disowned because I had not felt safe bringing this part of me out when I was a child. I was then able to soften toward my son, and more fully enjoy that aspect of him. As I healed my relationship with my inner child, my relationship with my son improved.

To become our true selves we need to liberate our dark and our light shadow in a way that is authentic and meaningful.

Feedback is another way to get to know ourselves. Caution needs to be applied to feedback as it is opinion about you, and not fact. However, there can be real value in noting what is received, particularly if the same feedback is received consistently from multiple people. I had a period of my life where I was told repeatedly that I was arrogant. This did not gel with my view of myself as being shy. I came to realise that I was perceived by others as aloof and disinterested. With this recognition I was able to identify protective behaviours that created this perception and reduce their impact. Feedback can broaden our understanding of how we are experienced by others. It may be difficult to receive, is not always valid, and does deserve gentle consideration. However, feedback is a doorway into who we are as seen by the outside world.

Life is a journey, and getting to know and be ourselves is as much a hero’s journey on the inside as life ever can be on the outside. While getting acquainted with who we are and connecting with ourselves often carries fear, shame, sadness and anger, truly knowing and connecting with ourselves offers a richness of connection, expression and congruence that it is well worth the time, effort and pain. How about taking some time this evening to look at the person staring back at you in the mirror and check out how you are feeling toward yourself and if there’s any room for greater love, acceptance and appreciation?

Easier Can Be Better

Taking the easier course of action
Easier can sometimes better

Tremendous energy can be poured into changing old patterns and behaviours. When you identify some quality of yourself that is not working for you, the tendency is to place enormous attention on changing it to a satisfactory behaviour. For most of us, that is accompanied by our internal critic working overtime, that voice within us that speaks into our middle ear about how we don’t measure up, won’t amount to much, and are under performing. The more effort we exert to change, the greater this voice that articulates all the accumulated negative feedback of our past becomes. It can become a riot in our mind. Even without the critic, and there appear to be the fortunate few with that blessed silence, focussing on changing old patterns tends to be a long and relatively unrewarding process.

Neuroscience has identified that once a neural pathway is established, and only a few repetitions are needed for the brain to adopt and establish a new pathway, it is almost impossible to remove. The best approach for change is to bed down another pathway, and place attention on asserting that behaviour until it becomes dominant. Rather than remove the old pathway, the idea is to create a newer, more productive, and more frequently used, pathway that makes the less productive pathway irrelevant through disuse.

I had an experience of this recently. Following significant surgery I had earlier last year I have found my confidence when facilitating groups markedly diminished. The degree of nervousness prior to running a session was significantly greater than my pre-surgery experience, and after I completed a session I found my critic undermining me for the most insignificant of reasons. However, when I was actually in front of the group running the session I had almost none of those issues, finding myself comfortable and increasingly fluent in my facilitation. On a recent weekend programme, the struggle against these before and after pain-laden attacks on my psyche were particularly pronounced. Rather than fretting over the behaviours that were undermining me, I shifted my focus by firstly sharing very simply with others I trusted that I was anxious, struggling, and otherwise authentically expressing and naming my experience in the moment. This had the effect of diminishing the energy building up around the anxiety, and curbed it. I then found that my capacity within a session improved because my warm up to it was cleaner, and the post-session internal shame game also diminished. As the multi-day programme unfolded I continued this practice and found that the confidence was easier to achieve as I owned my anxiety without making a big deal of it. I consciously placed my attention on the outcome I was seeking, a fluid and confident facilitation session. My focus and attention was very much placed on the outcome I sought rather than on changing the old pattern of anxiety, and the transition felt relatively smooth.

When you have an unproductive behaviour that is dominating you, perhaps you can identify what you would prefer to do instead, and find ways of asserting that behaviour, rather than condemning and “changing” the old one. Some ways of supporting and enabling such change in oneself can be journalling, enlisting the support of a coach, and developing awareness of your inner mental and emotional world to determine the most opportune intervention to offer yourself.

Reclaiming Self

The innocence of children
Children, relatively free of protective patterns of behaviour

When we are born into this world we are innocent (in my belief system) and unfettered by protective patterns of behaviour. As we experience life, encounter pain of varying kinds, we learn to erect protections to keep us safe. These become increasingly complex as layer upon layer of protection is established in response to all that life throws at us. Each protection requires energy from us to support and maintain, and as a consequence robs us of our life force and capacity to freely respond to life. It is often a crisis that makes us aware of how our behaviours interfere with our ability to engage with life in a meaningful way. We may experience ourselves as “too…”, an indication that our internal Critic or Judge (or external, when heard from those around us) considers us as having wandered from appropriate expression. Examples include “too volatile”, “too reserved”, “too pleasing”, “too aggressive” and any number of other judgements, singularly or in combination. These behaviours, when the judgement has some merit, have typically been developed in response to our needs being unmet and us seeking to satisfy them to the point that the behaviours become patterns that are applied without conscious thought, long past their use by date.

In becoming aware of such behaviours, perhaps through the failure of relationships, difficulties fitting in, negative feedback from multiple sources etcetera, the question then arises ‘What should I do about me?’ The process then becomes a matter of reclaiming oneself and finding ways of freeing our life force, returning to a spontaneous, creative and adaptive way of living, being better able to respond positively to the present.

In my own life this process started with a crisis of identity in my early 30s and has subsequently seen me free myself up and how I live and present myself to the world, an ongoing process. Earlier this year the surprise need for life-saving surgery plunged me into a whole new cycle of self-reclamation. The process of recovering from surgery required adapting to the loss of hearing in one ear, and developing physiological strategies to compensate for impairment in my balance processes. The physical recovery, while being a challenge, has been easier in many respects than the process of reclaiming my concept of self. In many respects it is as if the surgery sliced through significant protective mechanisms and unleashed old patterns of thought and feeling that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager and that I found particularly difficult in the first instance. Now, it is difficult seeing poor concepts of Self return, but at least they do so in an environment where I know I can process and work through them in a constructive fashion. In a sense, a very real sense, I’m back to dealing with old issues all over again. The reality however is that I am now working at a much deeper level, as if I have taken the head off and am cleaning out an infectious boil, rather than dealing with a superficial spot. While the issues are similar, feel very familiar, and are, I am better equipped to deal with this new level of emotional healing than I have been previously. The act of staying engaged with what arises within me, riding the wave as it forms rather than trying to escape it, will eventually lead to me being freer than ever before.

Some ways of engaging in the process of reclaiming Self include:

  • develop capacity to identify and observe behaviours in yourself that do not fit well relative to how you would prefer to be and what would work best in your context
  • develop love and acceptance of self that is free of needing to understand why you behave as you do and that opens you up to being able to forgive yourself unconditionally
  • define your core values, life purpose, vision and mission which will provide you with clarity about how you would prefer to live and present yourself to the world, something to aspire to
  • establish goals for moving forward into new, more productive, behaviours
  • find trusted individuals who are able to provide you with love, support, and constructive feedback
  • recognise that life is an ongoing journey and while you may have a preference for where you end up, and how you behave, perfection is out of the question and any vision you hold is a guide rather than an edict that must be obeyed at all costs
  • appreciate the fog that arises when life serves you growth opportunities, and allow that fog to water your life as rain does fertile soil

Through these approaches we can reclaim our lives, incrementally bring ourselves back to a fully free and available space to manifest our full, unfettered potential.