Listening Pockets–think pita pockets with ears

listeningIn a short piece, Daniel Goleman(see Curing the Common Cold of Leadership: Poor Listening)  reminds us again of the importance of listening as a key leadership skill.  Neuroscience tells us that our brain is super proficient at mastering procedures like brushing our teeth or sending a text.  It stores these “how to” processes in the unconscious part of our brains so that we don’t have to think about them.  This works very well for habits that we don’t want to expend brain energy on.

It doesn’t work so well when we’ve developed a habit like “not listening” out of a desire for extreme efficiency in our back to back meeting worlds.  Yet we are told repeatedly that listening is the skill that leaders most fall down in and that they need to cultivate the most for success.

So, how do we begin to practice a new listening habit?  Goleman says, “The key is being mindful of those moments in your day when you have a naturally occurring opportunity to practice good listening. “  

When do you have listening pockets in your day when you can practice listening?  Here are three that come to mind:

  • When walking between meetings or between buildings.
  • During the first few minutes of a meeting, resist the temptation to check email.  Put your devices down and listen to the room and the people in it.
  • In conversation, wait, JUST WAIT, five seconds more before speaking.

Turn listening into a treasure hunt.  What are you noticing in your listening?  What is your listening telling you?

Challenge yourself to listen to your interior as well as your exterior environment.   Oh, but that’s advanced listening.  That’s listening for over achievers, which I know none of you are.  We’ll talk about that in a later post….. stay tuned!  And Happy Listening!

The Twenty Year Throw

Catherine 4th Kyu testIn Aikido there is a particular throw that practitioners refer to as the “twenty year throw.”  Why?  It takes twenty years to master this move.  I’m in my third year of learning the twenty year throw. (Yes, that’s me, the one standing in the snapshot). I am little more fluid, a little more graceful.  I don’t have to stop to ponder before I move, the way I did when I first started. I have begun this arc of learning.

Twenty years seems like a long time and yet the years pass and soon twenty springs have come and gone.  The baby is off to university.  Time passes.  We can look back twenty years and see what has shaped us.  And we can look forward twenty years and imagine what we would like to become.

What is the arc of learning you would like to begin today for the next twenty years?  Is it to learn a musical instrument, to write poetry, to become a triathlete, a masterful parent,  or an authority in your profession?  Or is it to know how to make the perfect crème caramel?

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Begin it now.”

Johann Wofgang von Goethe

Revolutionary Thought: We came here to play!!

kids_playingVisualize this:  two young girls recognize each other across the playfield and run to greet each other.  One girl’s father says, “We only have thirty minutes before we need to go home for dinner.”  The girls hug each other and are filled with delight.  They talk fast and their voices lilt with giggles.  They run off to the swings and play: thirty hot minutes stretch before them into infinity.
Isn’t this what we are here for?  To delight in each other’s company and to play.
Becoming an adult often means chiseling away at play time in the name of “more serious” pursuits.  Here’s the thing.   In organizations we want to be innovative, creative, and resourceful.  We want high performance and great employee satisfaction scores.  But we have forgotten how to play!
Begin today.
Take a breath.  On your inhale allow your energy to expand up and out like the branches of a tree.  Exhale…follow your breath like a slowly circling light through you, to your center and into the earth.  Ask yourself, “What would it be like to have a little more playfulness in my being?” Notice your body’s response.

Why pictures?

75percent.cbachy75% of our meaning making comes from visual input (Roam, 2009, p.22).  By visual I mean both physical and cognitive vision like dreams and inner vision:  both the STOP sign you see while driving and the inner vision you have of your car coming to a stop.
David Sibbet’s new book (2013), Visual Leaders speaks to a visual renaissance in business and organizations.  “Leaders, more than ever need to know how to use visual tools, manage visual practitioners and their work, and understand how to help their entire organization be visually literate,” writes  Sibbet (2013, p.xiii). The increased visual quality of our technology and the ease with which we share and manipulate images, pull forward our natural visual instincts.  Digital images, video, digital drawing are becoming as common as notepads and staplers.  Information sharing is increasingly rapid, colorful, and interactive.  Our brains love the variety of visual stimulation and have an insatiable appetite for more!
While the left side of our brains thrives on sequential activities like writing, language, reading, and analysis, the right hemisphere brain3cbachycompliments our thinking with holistic reasoning, pattern identification, non verbal and emotional comprehension (Pink, p.14, 2006).   While the left hemisphere feasts on words and numbers, the right hemisphere adds the texture, flavor, and imagery.   No one way is best.  It takes two to Tango!  Words+Pictures , explains Dan Roam, make an exponential difference in comprehension, recall, reasoning, and problem solving (2009).
Remember those chunky text books in college that had no pictures?  Finding a picture in those text books was like finding a lemonade stand in the middle of the desert: something to savor in the long traverse across black and white type face.  Comprehension and retention increases dramatically when you can map out, draw out, diagram, or simply take notes on what you read or hear.
It’s really okay to use pictures.  They don’t make our meetings or our content trivial or less important.  Pictures don’t “dumb it down.”  Pictures offer more opportunities for brain neurons to fire up and release our capacity for integrated, high level thinking.
Pink, D., (2005). A whole new mind: Why right brainers will rule the future. Riverhead Books: New York.
Roam, D., (2009). Unfolding the napkin: The hands on method for solving complex problems with simple pictures. Penguin Group: New York.
Sibbet, D., (2013). Visual Leaders: New tools for visioning, management, & organization change. John Wiliey & Sons, Inc.: New Jersey.

Meet Bigness with Bigness

We-Own-The-Sky1When faced with big challenges, it’s easy for our bodies to contract, to tense—to brace for what is coming towards us.   I notice this impulse in my Aikido practice.  My opponent comes towards me with a strike, and my body wants to brace and contract.  Yesterday, in one of these moments, I heard the words, “Use the sky as your ally.”  Instead of contracting to meet my opponent, I expanded past him, up and out, pulling energy from the space above me.  My movement was filled with power and decisive.  When faced with big challenges, resist the impulse to curl up into a ball.  Reach for the sky and meet bigness with bigness.
Take a breath. On your inhale expand your energy up and out, reaching for the sky.  And on your exhale, see that slowly circling ribbon of light move through you, into your feet and into the earth.  Find your ground.  And reach for the sky.  Ask yourself the question, “What would it be like if there were just a little more expansion in my being in this moment?”

What is your vision?

The great leader and visionary, Martin Luther King Jr., would have celebrated his 84th birthday this week.   Dr. King held the vision of equality for all.  He dreamed a world where, “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  In some parts of the world this is possible.  It’s possible in my world, in my family, where only fifty years ago it was impossible.
Holding a vision for the world we want to create—even if we don’t live to see that world—is central to leadership.  Leaders inspire with their vision of what’s possible despite the nay-sayers.  The leaders I admire most live out their vision in their daily lives.  They embody their vision.  Their enthusiasm and deeply lived passion enrolls others in the creation of a shared vision.  We want to follow them; we want to help create what they hold out for us as attainable, possible, and filled with grace.
What about you?  How are you holding your vision?  Who is holding it with you?

The Circle: A Liberating Structure of Leadership

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hill Elementary in Connecticut, I have been reflecting on the circle as a liberating structure in leadership.  It’s not a new structure yet it is so rarely practiced in “civil society.”   In the very old days we sat around a fire for warmth.  And in that circle we began to create our plan for solving a problem or for celebrating.   In a circle we see each other.  We aren’t talking to each other’s backs or over each other’s laptops but into the collective territory we are creating together in the center.
In pre school, children and the adults gather in circle time several times per day.  It is the structure for coming together and organizing, problem solving, getting started on a project, and so on.  The process always begins with a circle.  Then in kindergarten and older grades the desks and chairs get in the way. Gradually classrooms look like pyramids with the teacher at the top of the pyramid, and students in rows underneath it.  Pyramids are so familiar in organizations.  Organizational charts all look like pyramids: a few at the top and then rows of people underneath, with more populated rows at the bottom of the pyramid.  Our societies reflect the pyramid structure: a few at the top, lots at the bottom.
The circle liberates us to share leadership, to find solutions in the collective wisdom and knowledge of the whole.
The words of Marianne Williamson, which Nelson Mandela made famous in his inaugural address, remind us that leadership is not just for a few:
“It’s not just in some of us.  It’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fears our presence automatically liberates others.”
What would happen if we brought back the circle in our organizations, maybe not all at once, but little by little, a few minutes at a time?
Try this:  Meet in an open space, gather a few chairs around in a circle, or stand in a circle. Conference tables are great but they invite us to bring in all our stuff: our laptops, papers, cell phones—all tantalizing distractions from the important work of really seeing and listening to one another.

Soupir: Rest Notes

In written music rest notes are marked just as all the other musical notes are indicated.  The rest notes are pauses of a certain length between notes.  Not every rest note is the same.  Some are whole rest notes, some are half, or quarter, or sixteenth rest notes.  The one pictured here is a quarter rest note.  I like it for its swoosh.  The French name for this rest note is “soupir,” which means a soft sigh, a soft exhale.   The pauses between the notes are precise and on purpose.  And they give greater voice to the composition of sounds on either side of them.
What would it be like to take precise and on purpose rests in our conversations?  To not rush to fill the space with words, but to let the words land, and to softly exhale before verbalizing the next thought.
Take a breath.  Allow your inhale to extend your energy up and out.  On your exhale see your breath like a slowly circling light winding through you and into the earth.  Notice the space above and below you and around you.  Allow gravity to relax your shoulders.  Ask yourself the question, “What would it be like to have a few more rest notes in my conversations today?”

Listening to the Whole

“Leadership is about being better able to listen to the whole than anyone else can,”

 Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation

What is the quality of your listening?  Are you listening to your own opinions forming in your mind while being spoken to—preparing a response?    Or are you able to place your intention in your listening, allowing new ideas and new meaning to emerge?  What treasure or concern might you be missing if you aren’t fully present in your listening?
Take a breath.  On your inhale, extend your energy up and out like the branches of a tree.  On your long exhale, see a slowly circling ribbon of light go all the way through you and connect to the earth.  Find your center.  Notice the space around you and above you.  From this centered place, ask yourself the question, “What would it be like if there were just a little more listening in my being right now?”

Skillful Action Begins with Connection to Center

On the aikido mat I learn that mastery of movement and action begins with connecting to my center.  From my center, I connect to my partner and lead him or her into graceful action.  If I skip the connection part, my action is as effective as vacuuming the carpet with a vacuum cleaner that is not plugged into the electric socket.  I work really hard to drag my partner into action and not much happens!  I realize I talk about connecting to center often in these emails.   It’s a central and overlooked concept in our fast paced world.  We tend to skip over the connection part and move straight to action.  Connection to center is key to skillful communication, listening, and action.
Take a moment now:
Inhale. Feel your belly expand.  Allow your breath to extend your energy up and out, like the branches of a tree.  On your exhale, see that slowly circling ribbon of light on your breath.  See it circle through you and into the earth.  Bring your attention to your center, two inches below your navel.  Inhale and exhale again.  Be aware of your breath expanding your belly.  Notice your connection to your center.  Promise to return to center often throughout your day.