Thirteen years ago, I launched Horizon Leadership Institute Inc. In doing so, I launched my second career (and my second business) as an executive, leadership and team coach.
It happened. The moment when I realized that I had left part of myself behind. Well, actually I left my suit case behind but it metaphorically slapped me in the face. I had packed all the stuff I needed to deliver my work yet did not bring any of the things I needed for myself. Wham!!
I’ve been going hard lately. Since September, consistently. I’ve been so focused on being in service of my clients and doing the work I love that I completely left myself behind.
Mid-Century Modern design is having a renaissance right now. It’s an architectural and interior design style popular from mid 1930’s to 1960’s. It really peaked in the 1950’s.
Style signatures include ample windows and open floor plans designed to create a sense of spaciousness. The intention was to open interiors spaces and brings the outdoors in.
As I sit in my own version of mid-century (I’m 54), I realize that there is an evolving state of being that I am embodying. A new normal is emerging. It’s a bit of a dance as some of it is intentional and some of is inspired by life’s natural rhythms.
Many of the elements mirror the descriptors of midcentury architecture and design – clean simplicity, organic, integration with nature, streamlined, abundant light, flexible.
I am choosing simple over complex.
I am choosing to be more open – with my stories, my heart, my dreams.
I am consciously claiming space in my own life to cultivate creativity and expression. By simplifying other things, I’m focusing more on writing and sharing ideas. It feels important to be doing this. It also feels like a gift of service.
I am choosing to be more integrated with the things that I love and value. This means getting really clear on what I say YES to and NO to.
I am choosing to engage in community in different ways – more simple, organic and fluid. Previously I would engage in more formal structures like Boards and committees. I’m seeing that I can share my time in ways that serve and that are also more flexible and responsive.
I am choosing to integrate with, and be fed by, nature’s wisdom. This is spirit work for me and it fills my cup to walk in forests, watch the clouds, and swim in lakes. It’s a sensory experience that stirs my heart and grounds me.
I am becoming more organic and textured as my body and being transforms at this stage of life. As menopause shifts me I am working to ride the waves in a way that is gentle, compassionate and curious. In a way, it reminds me of child bearing where I had to be completely open to each of the unfolding stages. I learned then that it’s better to dance with the waves and experiences rather than to try and control them. Even though my body is completing a cycle, I sincerely feel that something new is being birthed. It’s cool (she writes while having a hot flash).
So, my version of being a woman at mid-century is about being present, aware, asserting choices and keeping things simple. It’s a conscious life architecture that is also influencing my leadership. It’s an unfolding and I’m enjoying this time as it feels expansive. It certainly feels like more light is coming into my being.
I’ll end with this quote as it is a perfect description of how I am experiencing this phase of life.
“The more in harmony you are with the flow of your own existence,
the more magical life becomes.”
“From listening comes wisdom.”
I have decided to launch a one year experiment. I am self-appointing myself as the “Listener in Residence” at Innovation Works in London. In this role, I will be gifting my time to any of the co-tenants in the community who want someone to listen to them – deeply, with focus, in a non-judgemental way and with empathetic support.
I’m called to do this because I believe that being heard is one of the most empowering things in life. To pause and be present to another human is one of the most precious gifts we can ever give.
I have noticed that when people start to speak out loud about something that may feel vulnerable, bold, risky or over the top joyful, it’s a signal of something emerging. They are getting clear on something that is wanting to shift or change; on the cusp of something really important.
I also believe that people need to be heard, not fixed. Talking things out is a way of creatively figuring things out. As we give voice to a yearning or a concern, we are already finding our way towards solutions and actions.
In coaching, there is a principle called holding a person as naturally creative, resourceful and whole. So, as I listen, I will pay attention to all the creative brilliance that lives within each person through the stories they will share.
Innovation Works and the co-tenant community is full of amazing humans with all kinds of potential. This is a community of caring, innovative, socially conscious and inspiring people. It’s also a place where people show up because they are change agents and status quo disruptors. They are wired to take risk and live boldly. That’s not always easy work. I want to support this energy with a gift I can give – my time, an open heart and two big ears for listening.
I am called to do this as a way of giving back to a community that has given me so much. Innovation Works London is just over a year old. Its culture and model of community is still evolving. In some small way I hope this experiment will model the way for the power of thoughtful listening when being in action.
How It Will Work
So, here’s the deal. I will be dedicating 15 hours per month for listening sessions. Each session is 20 minutes. I’ll be inviting people to sign up on designated “Listener in Residence” days. You come with whatever you want to share. I’ll listen. I might ask a few unfolding questions. Through the process, you’ll find your way to some new insights, awareness and intentions. Everything shared will be confidential. My greatest hope is that you leave feeling supported, understood and find some new elements of clarity that will spur you on.
Throughout the year, I’ll be blogging about the experience from the perspective of what it takes to deeply listen. I won’t be sharing any details of people’s stories. The Vegas Rule will be fully enforced.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
I fully anticipate that this will be a transformative experience. As a leadership coach, I have been trained to be a highly effective and active listener. However, I think this experiment will teach me a great deal on the power of being present and still in service of others. I can’t wait to learn deeply through the process.
So, I am pleased to invite you on the journey with me. Let the listening experiment begin!
"Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it." ~ Buddha
We've all heard the phrase 'there is an elephant in the room'. It's code for a difficult issue or significant problem that people don't feel comfortable talking about. It has a power and weight to it that can immobilize an organization or team. However, despite being unspoken the "elephant" issue is either consciously or unconsciously impacting relationships and the ability to get things done.
I believe we should learn to embrace the elephant in the room. Yes, it means that there is some force causing people to be uncomfortable and not talk about something. It's an energy that is big and unmovable. In fact, it could be something that is so sacred, fearful or important that no one wants to go near it. Isn't that usually a signal of something of vital importance that has to be courageously and respectfully explored?
Elephants as a species are powerful. They are very strong and they are gentle. They are loyal. They are patient. It is often said that elephants do not forget nor do they forgive. They are also associated with having great wisdom and compassion. They will fiercely protect what is important to them.
I would like to shift the perspective on elephants in the room. I believe that when the elephants emerge in team processes it's a signal of something transformative unfolding. It may be a bold change that is on the verge of happening. It could be a shift in dialogue that is becoming more open and honest; that the true essence of something important is being revealed. The elephant tension denotes vulnerability and diversity of opinion emerging.
Elephant energy can feel edgy. However, when we embrace it and explore it we can reveal important things that untended to will limit change, innovation or brave new visions from emerging. When we pause to honour the elephant, to name it and work with its energy, we are tapping into a wisdom force that needs to be honoured in order to move forward.
In my experience coaching teams, I often call out the elephant(s). I draw one on a flip chart and ask the team what it is. I playfully identify that the elephant(s) are in the room. I then ask people to pause and quietly reflect on what elephants are present and to write them on a post it note. Everyone gets to put them on the elephant. From there we group them by similar themes. This is a way of revealing the voices of the system; often the marginalized or unpopular ones.
Once we see the themes, we create conditions for people to talk about the elephants. It requires a tenderness and respect in how people talk about them. I always ask about the elephant wisdom and how it is trying to serve at this time. We explore what is needed so that this wisdom can be considered as we go forward.
While it may be easier to ignore the elephants because they take energy to deal with, I find that when teams can talk about the elephants in a curious and supportive way they release energy that blocks them from true creative collaboration. Acknowledging and processing the elephants can be a bonding process. It is a way of sharing history and story of an organization in a constructive manner. By speaking of the elephants some of their power is diminished. It frees up energy and opens awareness to what people want to see happen. Elephant exploration helps rewire the collective brains of the team so that new energy can be realized.
It is my wish that instead of ignoring or marginalizing the elephants in the room, that we embrace them and actively invite them into conversations. Only then can we access their wisdom so we can move forward together in more productive and positive ways.
We have much to learn from elephants. The following is a description of the attributes of elephants from a shamanistic perspective. May we embrace these qualities for the sake of healthy and vibrant team relationships and organizational cultures.
"Elephants can teach us that gentleness, commitment, and communication in relationships is very powerful and necessary to keep relationships alive, trusting and loving, whether it be friends, family or partner. Deeply committed to all creatures with whom they have relationships, elephants are tough when protecting others and gentle when nurturing them. The matriarch (the oldest, most experienced female leader of a herd) leads in a way that is both gentle and inclusive. Elephants are able to communicate telepathically. This can teach us how to truly listen to others."
Many of my clients come to me because they are wanting to be the architects of change in their life or career. I introduce them to the notion of CHANGE BY CHOICE.
This is a decision to proactively change, not because they are reacting to someone or something. They are ready to advance a dream, amplify a value, or unleash a passion that’ been diminished for too long. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and be intentional about something that is important – themselves and their dreams.
You have lost connection with YOU - your wants, needs and choices. You are consumed by responsibility for everyone else to the point where you are no longer in touch with your responsibility to nurture and care for yourself. Your gas tank is perilously low and you've been ignoring the signals to fill up.
This past weekend I visited my sister Ellen. She’s on the cusp of a grand new adventure as she prepares to move to Nanaimo, BC. She’s picking up her life, packing her belongings and will be driving across the country in just a few weeks. Other than a destination and a new home to move into, the rest of her future is unwritten. She admitted she’s both excited and scared.
As I drove away after visiting I thought how courageous she’s being. Would I or could I do the same? Contemplating it gave me butterflies.
As I pondered, I thought of the many courageous people I am surrounded by. Most of the clients I work with are experiencing some form of vulnerability. Most of the time they are on the cusp of change – either one that they are designing with intention or one that life has presented and they are reacting to.
Moving to a new city or country without a job or a social network because of a vision and dream of something different.
Fleeing your home land so that you can find a safe country to call home.
Speaking your truth at work or in the community when you know it will be unpopular and possibly put you in danger.
Continuing to apply for jobs after being rejected or ignored many times.
Saying no to people you love to preserve boundaries that you need to sustain so you stay whole and healthy.
Taking a stand for your values and making choices that others might not understand.
Taking the leap and starting your own business.
Asking for help and being uncertain how people will react.
Believing in yourself when no one else does.
Trusting your gut feelings and acting on it when there is no “tangible” proof of evidence to support your actions.
Leaving a job when you don’t have a new one to go to. Doing so because you aren’t fulfilled and won’t stay in a role that sucks the life out of you.
Courage and vulnerability go hand in hand. Courage requires us to dig deep into our own soul, our own beliefs, and our own spirit. It’s a call that reminds us of what is important. It’s a choice to be brave, to take action when we don’t exactly know how it will end. It’s the belief that action is better than doing nothing.
As Brené Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”
I’m inspired by the many people I work with and witness who choose courage. In doing so they are honouring their own vulnerability. They are being wholehearted in their action because they are choosing to change their state of being for the possibility of something bolder, brighter and more fulfilling.
Courage is not easy. However, courage is choice in action. It reminds me that vulnerability is the flirt of something trying to happen. For me, that is inspiring and exciting.
So as my courageous sister drives towards her new life, I’m going to be paying attention to my own flutters of vulnerability actively listening for the call of courage to move me forward in my next adventure.
Where am I from?
Where am I going?
What is my purpose?
Who do I want to be?
These are the four questions that Justice Murray Sinclair stated are at the heart of all Indigenous people as they quest for meaning in this life. He said exploring these questions is part of the healing that must unfold as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada.
Today I attended the first ULab course in London, ON to explore the concepts of TheoryU and the work of Otto Scharmer, cofounder of the Presencing Institute. Over 100 Londoners are part of this emergent learning experience, joining 35,000 people around the globe. These are just a few highlights and reflections from today’s experience.
Over the course of the C2 Conference I participated in a number of brain dates. Brain Dates are a brilliant way of creating connection for idea sharing. You put out offers of topics you are willing to share information about as well as topics you want to learn about. You can search for topics that resonate and reach out to the person offering to request a meet up. Brain Dates are 30 minutes of quick, passionate sharing and often end with a commitment to follow up and share further.
I just experienced my first C2MTL Conference – Commerce + Creativity. One of the speakers challenged us as participants to have the courage to change before we have to. All of speakers spoke about the importance of leading change, embracing change or being the change we want to see. However, I love that there was the acknowledgement that change requires courage.
I have the great joy of being away on vacation. As I sit on the condo balcony I can hear the surf of the ocean, the waves caressing the shore. I can feel the gentle breeze and watch the palm trees swaying..
Vacation is a time for retreat, renewal and reflection. The very act of getting on a plane lifts us up into the air and helps shift perspective. Lift off temporarily closes the door on ‘regular’ life.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, is one of my favourite thought leaders. This quote of his spurred me to reflect on both the power and vulnerability of standing in the place of "I don't know". "When we say what we don't know, it increases the likelihood that someone who does know will offer to help."
For me to feel optimistic I must trust. Without trust my optimism waivers. That is what I find myself pondering after this year's (2013) State of the City Address by our Mayor of London, Ontario (Joe Fontana). Having attended these events regularly I'm noticing a different feeling leaving the event this year. I'm feeling subdued and reflective. I noticed that the audience also seemed subdued as well.
I’ve been noticing a lot of my clients are living with a lot of disturbance in their lives right now. It seems that people are being challenged – work or personal relationships are going off the rails, unexpected events are messing with well crafted plans, credibility and integrity is being questioned, or they are feeling immobilized by uncertainty in the face of rapidly changing conditions. These are painful experiences; all of them legitimately cause a person to go to some degree of self doubt and wondering of “Why me?” From a broader perspective, the world feels universally unbalanced right now. Political, economic and environmental systems are unpredictably shifting like a rapidly moving roller coaster. This is creating waves. People are being humbled by their inability to exert influence or control over conditions impacting them.
We humans are facing a new disorder. It’s called Nature-Deficit Disorder a phrase coined by researcher Richard Louv. NDD is the human cost of alienation from nature. I learned about this listening to CBC and it struck me like a bolt of lightning. One of the many reasons that people are feeling so disconnected from themselves is the lack of time spent in nature. I see it again and again with leaders that I coach.