When the Wheels Come Off

This week we’ve been looking at different ways to self-coach ourselves to be more intentional and more present in our lives. We started with the power of getting up an hour earlier and priming ourselves for the day ahead. Then, we looked at seeing our days as a series of pivot points on which to focus. When our attention wanders (as it always does) we simply bring our attention back to what’s most important now.  

Next, we looked at bringing more focus to our days by becoming more aware of the power of entrances and exits. Because this is where we have the most control. Finally, yesterday, we looked at a super simple way to focus our attention by following the Four R’s.

These four practices all address what to do when things are going according to plan.  All good so far.  

But learning to self-coach ourselves has an even bigger impact when we get triggered. When the wheels are coming off and we find ourselves careening toward the ditch.

Our goal here is to recover. As quickly as possible.   

In an ideal world, we recover before we say what we will later regret. That’s next level.  

According to Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within, we experience stress physiologically. With practice, we can become attuned to stress building in our bodies. 

[From my perspective, that’s aspirational.  I’m a “work in progress” with regard to recovering before I step in it…]

The bigger idea is to narrow the gap between getting triggered and becoming aware. Because once we are aware, we’ve moved to the rational part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex. Now, we can choose how we want to respond. We aim not to survive or find calm in the eye of the storm, but rather to engage the situation or crisis by acting from our values.  

Later, we can reflect on what made us upset. Being curious: what was it about the situation that triggered me? Is there a pattern? By reflecting we can learn to become more aware and effective if a similar situation were to arise again.

Life is messy. We all lose our temper. But, people understand we will make mistakes. Fortunately, we can apologize and come back to center.  

In truth, we strengthen relationships not by being perfect but by making amends 

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Reflection:  When do I get triggered?  Are there patterns?

Action:  The next time I find myself reacting, pause, breathe, and consciously “name it to tame it.”

The Power to Notice and Choose

Are our days an endless parade of zoom calls, emails, and follow up’s?

There is a better way, says Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within.  This week we are exploring some of Danny’s wisdom around the specific ways we can learn to self-coach ourselves and teach others to so the same.  

Yesterday we looked at the power of being intentional about priming ourselves for our day by getting up an hour earlier to create time to reflect, ask questions, and then trust in what Danny calls the flow of emergence.

We can take this same mindset with us into our day.

Really?  Quiet time by ourselves in the morning is one thing.  But life is busy!  Our days are hectic.  There’s not enough time to get it all done.

As it turns out, cultivating a more intentional mindset is surprisingly accessible.  

We begin by simply deciding what we will focus on right now. Perhaps the first thing on our schedule is dropping our kids off at the swimming pool. We ask ourselves: what’s most important about this moment?  Perhaps we decide it’s enjoying this time in the car with our kids. So, we focus on that. When our mind wanders (because it always does), we simply return our focus to what’s most important now – which happens to be driving our kids to the pool.  

Next up is a team meeting. We ask ourselves (or perhaps the team): what’s most important about this meeting?  Then, we focus on that.  We are in that moment. When our attention wanders and we find ourselves getting stressed about a big deadline later in the day, we gently return our focus to being here, being present in the team meeting.  Again.  And again.  We keep coming back.

Our day becomes a series of pivot points. We focus 100% of our attention and energy on each pivot point as it happens. We are intentional. THIS is my pivot point right now.  

When we are at dinner with our family at the end of the day, we focus on that.  And when our mind wanders (because it always does), we simply return our attention to the moment.

One other benefit of this approach is – with time – our lives begin to feel more integrated. Our days are no longer a series of separate, unconnected responsibilities and deadlines. Instead, we live more coherently, bringing our highest and best self to each encounter and experience.

Living mindfully may sound intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. It’s simply the power to notice and choose. We do three things:

1: Decide what to focus on.  And then, keep coming back to that.

2: Ask: what’s most important now? [or another creative mindset question.  Example: What am I here to learn?]  

3: Be open to what emerges.

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Reflection:  How present am I during my day?

Action: During my next meeting, when my mind wanders, experiment with bringing my attention back.  Again.  And, again.

Miracle Morning Mindset

We recently looked at what makes great teams great.  

Great teams are committed. Commitment is created by starting with purpose. Which begins with intention. Not expectation. 

“Inside out” (intention) beats “outside in” (expectation) every time, says Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within.  Danny has been leading me through a process of self-coaching. This ability to self-coach ourselves and then teach other leaders to do the same so they can rise through powerful cycles of continual learning and growth is a powerful leadership model.   

Earlier this month, we looked at the power of establishing a consistent morning routine (H/T Hal Elrod).  Mostly, we looked at the mechanics – how and why to get up an hour earlier and different options for how we might spend this time.

Today, let’s look at the mindset behind the miracle morning.  

When we get up an hour earlier, we are priming ourselves for the day ahead. Think of it as priming ourselves for elevation.  

As humans, we are programmed to react. We are programmed to be safe.  But, we also have access to a different power: the ability to reflect.  And, like the great teams referenced above, as coaches self-coaching ourselves, we, too, want to start with intention.

Danny suggests: see this morning time as a gift.  We can be intentional about being open, kind, and curious – which Danny connects to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Ironically, by being open, we create a greater sense of safety: I can handle whatever comes up.  Kindness connects us with the belonging frame.  And curiosity enables us to cultivate significance.  

Starting the day with an open, kind, and curious mindset creates space for emergent learning.  

When we journal, when we meditate, when we pray, Danny advises asking ourselves a question or questions: Is what I plan to do next in alignment with my values and purpose?  

How can I contribute?  How can I be of service?

In this difficult moment, what am I here to learn?

How can I more fully connect with others?

How can I best express myself?

What is the most helpful question I can ask right now?

Ask ourselves a question and then trust in the flow of emergence. Answers arise in mysterious ways. Days later, we meet someone or read something – an idea, a thought, an answer…  Are we accessing our deepest intuition? I choose to believe these emergent ideas are divinely inspired.    

We can take this same mindset from our Miracle Morning into our day. When we are open, kind and curious, we don’t get knocked off balance. Or, when we do, we recover quickly by asking: What am I here to learn?  How can I use this challenge to get better?

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Reflection:  What am I here to learn right now?

Action:  Set aside time tomorrow morning to reflect.

Activation required.

Yesterday we looked at what makes a great coach great.

A related question: what makes a great team great? According to Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within, it all starts with intention.

Not expectation.

What’s the difference?

Expectation is outside in.  Intention is inside out.  

We understand intention through the lens of purpose.  Why is this important?  Who am I here for?

When we ask ourselves these questions (as coaches self-coaching ourselves), we tap into the depth and power of purpose.  

Which activates commitment.

Which is what makes great teams great.  

When people are interested, we will do what is convenient.  

When people are committed, watch out.  We will do whatever it takes.

Start with purpose.  Because purpose creates commitment.

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Reflection:  What is the best question to ask right now? 

Action:  Ask it.

The One Question that Creates Clarity

So, what makes a great coach great?

This week we are looking at the idea of self-coaching and then teaching others to self-coach themselves.  According to Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within, it begins with asking inspiring questions.

What is the desired outcome?  What am I here to learn?  How can I best serve? 

Learning to ask ourselves questions is at the heart of self-coaching. Doing so elevates our mindset.

It starts with us. We are “client zero” (H/T Brian Johnson). Then, we teach others.  

Being an effective coach is not about becoming indispensable. It’s about coaching others to coach themselves. The goal is to elevate the leadership capacity across the organization. 

Quick caveat. Asking questions is the key. But, Danny tells us, first we listen. If the person is experiencing a challenge, begin by listening. With empathy and compassion.  And affirmation: I can appreciate how hard this is for you.  In his book, Danny connects Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to brain science.  

It starts with safety.  That’s why we start with listening.  When we or someone else doesn’t feel safe, we get stuck.  Stress occurs when the demands outstrip our resources.  By telling our story, by putting it into words, we gain elevation.  We rise up.  “Name it to tame it,” Danny calls it.

So, as coaches, we begin by listening.  Next comes creating a sense of belonging.  Once the story has been told, Danny asks: “Have you felt me being compassionate with you?”  Yes…  “How do you know?”

We might think this is a weird question.  But the reason Danny asks this question is to model and have us explicitly recognize what compassion looks like, such as the warmth of his tone and the affirming words he expresses. This enables us to internalize this expression of compassion as self-compassion so we can engage in a similar dialogue within ourselves, much in the same way we’d express this kindness with a best friend who was struggling too.    

Only when we have claimed safety and then belonging can we move to significance.  Which is when questions become powerful.  

And, one of the most powerful questions we can learn to ask ourselves is: What is the desired outcome?  What is it we want to happen? 

Because this question moves us from victim to creator.  

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Reflection As a leader, how much time am I spending coaching those on my team?  

Action:  Ask myself: What is the desired outcome?

The Genius Coach

So, what exactly is leadership anyway?

Let’s agree to skip the boring text book definitions.  In one ear, out the other…

Not management.  Not being a manager.  That’s an important skill.  But, management is not leadership.

Ready?  

Leadership is about the ability to influence others.

I like it because it’s simple.  And true.  Think about it at a gut level.  Who do you consider a leader and why?  Think of a real person. He or she has influenced you, right?  The moment he or she stops influencing you is the moment he or she stops being a leader.

As leaders, that’s our job: to influence others.  And, one of the most important ways we do that is by being a coach.  I’ve been working on this idea with my coach, Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within.  Danny has been leading me through a process of self-coaching. I’ve come to appreciate that leadership is largely the capacity to coach others to coach themselves so they can rise through powerful cycles of continuous learning and growth. What Danny calls the Infinite Curriculum

Imagine you have a choice.  You can either be a genius coach who inspires others to get better. Or, you can coach others to self-coach who then teach others to self-coach, and so on.

The inspirational genius coach sounds great.  But… there is a shadow.  How many people can our genius coach coach?  Not only that, we can become dependent on the coach for their wisdom.  And, what happens if they leave?  

Wind back the clock to the pre-clock era.  Who’s more impactful: the genius who can look at the sun and tell the time, or the person who teaches others to build a sundial so they can tell time?

Learning to coach ourselves and then teaching others to coach themselves is a true paradigm-changer.  It’s not about our genius.  It’s about activating the genius in others.  That’s leading from our highest self.  That’s how we elevate the leadership capacity across the organization.  

The leader as coach who coaches others to coach themselves.  

That’s influence.  That’s leverage.  That’s playing the long game.

That’s leadership.

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Reflection Think back on my most successful coaching relationship.  What made it so?  

Action:  Track the time I spend coaching this week.

Name it to Tame it?

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares the research of Daniel Khaneman that shows us we don’t always act in rational, logical ways.  

When threatened, we are hard-wired to “fight or flight,” also known as “emotional high-jacking.”  This instinct serves us well when our house is on fire and we need to make a quick escape.  But not so much when our spouse makes a comment and we “fly off the handle” and give them “a piece of our mind.”  Two hours later, we find ourselves sleeping on the couch, feeling guilty and wishing we’d never said what we said.

To avoid this fate, we must get in between what happens to us and how we respond.  Steven Covey calls it “response-ability” – the ability to choose our response.  To insert ourselves in between the stimulus and our response.  But how do we actually do that?

In his book Leading Well from Within, Dr. Daniel Friedland shares a four steps to manage reactivity:  

Step one: Pause.  In other words, don’t react.  Slow down.  As best you can, release any resistance and relax into whatever you are feeling.

Step two: Take a breath.  Better yet, take three breaths.  You will likely notice your mind becoming clearer.

Step three: Name it to tame it.  The research shows “naming” your emotions shuts down our stress reactions almost instantly.  Naming engages the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain.

Step four: Consider your best response.

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Reflection: What are the specific situations in which I get triggered?  What are the patterns? 

Action:  Based on my answer above, anticipate and challenge myself to pause and take three breaths before responding.    

Is Meditation About Achieving Inner Peace?

For years, I heard people I respect admire talk about the power of meditation.  Occasionally, I would try it out, but it never stuck.  I wasn’t very good at blocking out my thoughts.  And the idea of achieving inner peace seemed a bit “woo-woo” to me.

Then, I had the opportunity to attend a Dallas Conscious Capitalism workshop on leadership led by Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within.  Danny explained that meditation is about the ability to notice and choose.  We practice “paying attention to our attention” and focusing on what is most important now.  Meditation is not the end.  Rather, it provides an opportunity to practice being present during real life.

Okay.  That’s much more interesting.

During a mindfulness meditation, we focus on our breathing.  The goal is not to block out our thoughts, but simply to notice when our mind wanders and bring our attention back to our breath.  A great meditation is not about feeling relaxed or having a clear mind.  Instead, the best meditation may occur in an internally or externally noisy environment where our attention continually drifts and we simply choose again and again to focus on our breath or what is most important now.  

One technique Danny shares is “name it to tame it.”  When we have a thought, simply say (aloud or silently), “thought.”  Watch it pass through our mind and disappear.  If that thought stirs anger or sadness, simply say “anger” or “sadness.”  If we notice an ache in our shoulder, simply say, “ache.”  Each time we have a thought, feeling or sensation, we name it and then calmly bring our attention back to our breath.

The payoff comes in real life when we notice our mind wandering – perhaps during a meeting or at home hanging out with our spouse, kids, or friends.  We simply acknowledge that thought and bring our attention back into the present moment.  

Powerful.   

The ability to notice what we are thinking or feeling also allows us to choose how we show up.  We humans are emotional creatures, but we are not our thoughts and emotions.  We have the ability to observe how we are feeling and then choose to be positive or proactive.  

When someone make us angry: “You made me feel this…” or, “You made me do this…” – we can realize our consent is required to feel this way.  Instead, we can be intentional about our attitude and our mood.

This “superpower” of paying attention to our attention and choosing how to respond is available to us at any time. 

_________________

Reflection:  How present am I in my life?  How would I rate my ability to “be here now?”

Action: Notice my mind wandering today and gently bring my attention back into the moment.

Show Up or Shut Down?

I’m a goal-setter.  I like setting goals.  Part of my identity is about setting and achieving goals.  I like structure.  A framework is a good thing.  Plan the work.  Work the plan.

I’ve also come to appreciate the reality of the saying:  “We plan.  God laughs.”

This week we are looking at some of the lessons from Dr. Daniel Friedland, author of Leading Well from Within.  Yesterday, we discussed the idea that times of crisis and uncertainty are also times of learning, growth and transformation.  According to Danny, this idea is part of a larger understanding. “Everything is curriculum,” he says.  The “goal” here is simply to remain open to what comes up next.

Remaining open to the raw current of life runs counter to our desire to retreat when life gets stressful.  The Oxford dictionary defines anesthetize as to “deprive of feeling or awareness.”  I tend to switch off my mind with excessive television or movies.  For you, perhaps it’s gaming or music.  Substance abuse is also rampant.  Whatever the poison, the result is to shut down rather than show up.

By contrast, Robert Greenleaf explains in his seminal essay, The Servant as Leader, servant leaders are “sharply awake and reasonably disturbed.  They are not seekers after solace.  They have their own inner serenity.”

It will be two years ago this August that my wife Julie passed away from neuroendocrine cancer.  She was diagnosed in September 2017 and died eleven months later.  This was a terrible, turbulent, and sorrowful experience on many levels.  Losing my beloved wife and mom to our then 9- and 11-year old daughters was difficult beyond measure. 

There were, however, moments of connection and meaning during this experience which I will never forget.  Julie’s cancer was a particularly aggressive one.  Not only did she never complain (truly), she was a fighter.  And, fight she did.  Late in this journey when her doctor told us we should consider hospice, Julie turned to me and said, “My word is hope.  I want to be a miracle.”  While she did not ultimately win that fight, she never, ever gave up.  It was one of the great privileges of my life to love and support her on that journey and to witness the power of her human spirit in action.  

In circumstances like these, many believers question their faith.  This was not my experience.  For me, this tragedy was an exercise in letting go.  In giving over.  In trusting.  Each morning I would pray with all I had for Julie to be healed.  And, then, I would turn it over to God.  “Thy will be done.”  

I still like to make plans and set goals.  But, I’ve also become more open, kind, and curious as to what comes next.  Like many things in life, we can choose “both/and” (rather than “either/or”).  It is good to be intentional and create a vision for our lives.  And, it’s also wise to listen.  To make space for what shows up.  

We create our legacy both by design and by seeing what emerges through us.

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Reflection:  When in the past have I shut down rather than engage life fully?  What behaviors do I demonstrate at times like these?  Are these behaviors present currently in my life?

Action: Make time today to reflect and be open