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From the Blog

The Why Of Leadership

I am setting a world record for length of time to complete a Masters (of Education) but am slowly limping towards the finish line. One of the most interesting rocks I turned over was looking at the qualities of a transformative leader. I’m particularly interested in leaders of ‘social enterprises’, which are businesses with a social agenda. They may still aim to make a profit, but it’s not their core reason for existence. 

In writing a research case study on a social enterprise leader, I remembered a TED talk I had watched some time ago, from a guy called Simon Sinek, on how great leaders inspire action. He believes that people don't buy what you do or even how you do it, but they buy why you do it.  He says: 'the goal is not to do business with people who want what you have - the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.' It's about gut feelings, not facts and figures.

He reckons that a big mistake many businesses make is to focus on ‘What’ they offer, and after that, the ‘How’ they do it, leaving the ‘Why’ as a distant third. Sinek says that inspired leaders reverse this, with the primary focus on ‘Why’, then ‘How’ - and last of all, the ‘What’.

I’m not sure about this in all areas of the business world, but it is certainly intriguing and I am thinking it may have particular relevance in areas of social innovation and in businesses with a change agenda. Clearly we follow leaders in this area primarily because we believe what they believe.

If you’re interested, watch the whole TED talk.  It’s quite well known now, and has been downloaded over 28 million times (wow!) - that is because it is seriously good stuff.

What is your why?
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The Third Space - A Key To Happiness, Creativity And Productivity?

I’m a bit of a fan of the Happiness Conference (described by a colleague of mine as ‘that happy clappy thing’, but pretty excellent nonetheless…). Lots of great speakers, fascinating data, and enough mind food to last me quite some time. 

One of my favourite speakers a few years ago was Dr Adam Fraser, who spoke about what he calls the third space – the time when we transition between one role or task to the next role or task.

He reckons that how we handle these transitions could be the key to happiness, creativity and productivity. I followed up by reading his book, and have experimented with some success on my own third spaces.

His work is based on research he did (with Deakin University) where he took 250 small business owners and measured their mood and behaviour in the home. Only 29 percent said that they came home in a good mood, with a positive mindset and constructive behaviour.

He then asked them to perform three simple behaviours in the third space between work and home:

This is where they reflected on and analysed the day, with the focus on what they had achieved and what had gone well for them.

They took time to relax and unwind. Being calm and present allowed them to recover from the stressful day.

This is where they became clear about their intention for the home space and articulated how they wanted to ‘show up’ when they walked through the door.

After a month of the participants applying this principle, there was a 41 percent improvement in behaviour in the home. They said that the improved interactions with friends and family led to a greater feeling of overall balance. It’s not rocket science, but it is a serious study, with seriously interesting results.

I think this has great implications in all sorts of areas – between work and home, between admin tasks and creative ones, between one client session or meeting and the next. There’s no doubt that clearing your mind before doing something creative brings better results, and resetting between meetings allows you to be truly present to the people who are in front of you.

You can do this third space stuff as a longer process (where you write about your day, meditate and then reset your mind) or a shorter one (think of what your last session achieved, breathe consciously for a minute, then reset and move on).

I think it’s worth an experiment or two, what about you?
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30-Day Challenges

Nearly five years ago, I ran an experiment for a month. I made one little change to my life every day - with a commitment to continue every change at least until the end of the month. And each change had to be organic, to arise from that day, not be pre-planned or taken from a list of 'shoulds'. Changes included gratitude practice, walking and culling my ‘to do’ list.

It was pretty successful, with a number of the changes still in force today.

But I realised that it was a big ask, one change every day, and by the end it was very challenging keeping 28 new balls in the air...

So a couple of years ago I decided to pick a number of larger changes - meditation (that one only partly stuck around from last time...), sleep habits, eating and so on.

It worked a treat. Having a whole month to embed a habit (especially a big change) was brilliant. You get to stick at something long enough to start rewiring your brain, and the sense of achievement carries you into the next challenge.

This idea applies just as well to work changes. One a month, and a year later your career (or business) will be all shiny and new...

And then I read an article in the paper, about an American guy who has been doing this 30-day challenge thing for three years. He has adopted a vegan diet, learned to play the ukulele, gets eight hours' sleep a night, does something nice for his wife every day - he has even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro as one of his a 30-day makeovers.

Now, I have no interest in the ukelele or going vegan, I don’t have a wife - and I climbed all the way to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro myself twenty years ago. (I’d love to get a guaranteed eight hours a night, though...). But of course these challenges need to be tailored to your goals, to be the things you’d love to change about your life - or the things you’d like to add to it, like mountain climbing or meditation. 

I’m using a mix of these ideas to focus on returning to being a writer, and embedding the health and wellbeing habits I wrote about last week.

What about you?
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Are You Stronger Than Your Excuses?

I am on a bit of a health and fitness campaign - currently five to six walking sessions a week, stretching, back into meditation, AFDs (alcohol-free days), drumming group and a few other things. It reminds me of when I used to do gym classes, and every time I’d walk past a big poster that has a picture of a woman (you know the type, someone who has clearly never had to go on a get fit campaign herself) and the words ‘You are stronger than your excuses.’

It’s become a bit of a mantra for me for my new habits, and is very motivating on cold mornings.

But I also find it helpful in my work. In two ways. One is in becoming aware of how many excuses I make for not writing my book on working after 50 - and as it now has a publisher and a deadline, it’s pretty important that I stay focused on it every day, even when I don’t really feel like it. I repeat to myself ‘You are stronger than your excuses’ when I notice I am procrastinating or prevaricating, as a way of getting off the drama or the story I tell myself, and just doing the work anyway, no matter how I feel about it.

The second way it’s helpful is in noticing the places where I play small, where I avoid taking risks or trying something that may or may not work. The mantra is a great way to develop my courage muscle, to work on being stronger than my excuses about my life dreams and goals.

At this rate, soon I will be so strong that I will be in danger of rusting (and I guess, as gorgeous as the woman in the poster, too...).

What about you? What do you make excuses about? Maybe it’s about sticking with an unsatisfying job, or not having time to start a creative project, or not getting up early to meditate. Why not practice with the mantra and see if it helps you, too?
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5 Tips for Taking Risks at Work

I am in the process of changing my business model, in order to make ongoing time for writing and also academic work.

What this means is that I need to take some risks, both financial and strategic. I need to rethink my financial needs (and how I can satisfy them), I need to change where I work, how I work and when I work. And more.

During the day, this all makes perfect sense. It’s based on sound planning with a good dash of excitement and possibility. I am focused and keen to make it happen.

At 3am, it all feels less sound, and much less exciting. Whilst I have a great appetite for adventure, spontaneity  and risk in some areas of my life, I have discovered that parts of me are not at all happy about my taking risks in my business. 

Can you relate to this? Do you know you should try some experiments in your business or your career, take a few calculated risks, speak up or create something new? And do you worry about how this will work out? Do you hesitate to commit to change? Where are you playing small?

So, what to do? I have come up with 5 tips that help me.

Risk tolerance
If your tolerance for risk is high, you may need to force yourself to plan before you commit to some big change. If it’s low, you will need to take lots of small risks, rather than one big leap into the unknown. It’s fine to do this stuff in baby steps (in my case, it’s the only way...)

Plan, plan, plan
Just because you need to be brave and try something new doesn’t mean you should do it blindfolded. You most definitely should research possibilities, think it through and have an action plan that sets out the steps to take (as far as you can work these out). You should also have a contingency plan to deal with fallout if your idea doesn’t work.

Get support
I am developing my strategy through a most excellent co-coaching arrangement with a  colleague.  I am also seeking out assistance in areas where I lack skills. Where could you access support? It might be as simple as finding a sounding board to talk through your ideas.

Trust your gut
We all have a natural intuition, but often we lose touch with it, and don’t listen when it’s trying to tell us ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Start paying attention to these instincts and you may find it very helpful.

Have Courage
Success in work (and life) requires a heap of qualities such as resilience, persistence, the ability to learn - and courage. It actually doesn’t matter how scared you are, provided you don’t let it paralyse you. Find strategies that help you keep your courage up and keep you moving towards your goals.

What risks do you need to take?

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Success and Satisfaction

I often talk about the importance of creating an ‘internal’ definition of success, one that doesn’t rely solely on the stars aligning for you in the external world. This is particularly important in changing times, allowing you to maintain equanimity an leverage new opportunities.

Along the same lines, from time to time it’s good to ask yourself questions like: What does success mean to you? What are the elements of a happy (or satisfying, or meaningful, or complete) life for you?

As you move through your life and work span, it is a good idea to keep these questions in mind. That way, your career strategies will be not just consistent with your overall life aims, but will take you closer towards them. If you’re up for it, you can even add in the biggest question of all:

What is the purpose of your life?

Think about the elements of your satisfying life - work, family, community, friends, travel, finances, health, purpose, whatever it is for you. There’s no right or wrong here, but it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about the elements that you need to have in place, even if some of them haven’t happened yet.

It may help to imagine that you are at your own 80th birthday party. Someone close to you is making a speech - what will they talk about? (I tend to shy away from coaching cliché exercises, but this one does rather concentrate the mind...)

You can also think of this in connection with your values. There are no ‘correct’ or ‘better’ values for your happy life, that’s entirely up to you. For example, which of these would make you the most excited:

  • making $1 million in your business
  • receiving an Order of Australia award
  • becoming famous or a celebrity
  • gaining the respect of your peers or community
  • or?

One good way to work with these questions is by doing a mind map of the elements of your happy, successful life. If you haven’t mind mapped before, check it out by Googling - you guessed it - ‘mind map’. If you want to mind map your life, try this:

  • Put an image in the centre for the main idea - add a few words that will give your map a  focus (‘My Happy Life’, ‘My Meaningful Life’, ‘My Successful Life’ or whatever).
  • Use a colour to draw a branch line out from the centre...add a word or two that relates to an aspect of your life (‘Family’ or ‘Financial Security’ or…).
  • Keep it to one idea per branch, and make sure each branch is connected to the central image.
  • Add sub branches to cover further detail about each element 
  • Draw pictures or symbols to prompt your memory and bring your map alive

You can hang your map up somewhere that you’ll see it every day, or write about it, or just ask yourself the question from time to time, ‘What would it take for me to have a successful life?’.

As you work towards your career plan, you can check your ideas against your map, to make sure that your plans will help you to flourish in every part of your life.

What does your satisfying life look like?
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Have You Met The Procrastinator?

I am pretty excited to have been given a contract by Harper Collins for my upcoming book on working past 50. Of course, that means I now have a high deadline to deliver the completed manuscript, so I am busy making space to actually finish writing the thing…

First thing on Monday morning, I fired up my computer, opened Scrivener (the best book-writing software I know) and pulled out my notes and mind maps. My work was mapped out for the week - I had a few new interviews to add and edit, a chapter to rework and some research to nail. Easy.

After staring at the screen for five minutes or more, I went and did a load of washing. I came back and looked at the screen again, then made a pot of soup. More screen staring, then I went for a walk for an hour.

Lunchtime. So I ate the soup, then checked my emails. At about 3pm, I started work. Once I had started writing, it was fine, and the rest of my time went well.

Clearly I had survived an attack from my old friend, The Procrastinator. I am quite familiar with this pest, and generally manage to deal with it much more quickly than I did this time. In my experience, the more creative or scary the project, the deeper the hold of The Procrastinator. Whatever form it takes, in the end it comes down to fear - of failure, of finding out you have no talent, of people laughing at you, of not being able to live up to your own expectations. Or maybe fear of finding out your idea wasn't as clever as you had thought, or that you have fallen out of love with it. The list is pretty long, and I'm sure you could add to it, too.

So, what can you do about this?

  • Find some simple and mechanical tasks – housework, cleaning out a cupboard, organising your office or studio, cleaning out the shed, gardening. These work on multiple levels – they get you moving, let you start and finish something (with the sense of achievement that comes from that), they take your mind off things…
  • Get moving – dance, walk, swim, jiggle, shake, breathe. Believe it or not, these feelings exist in the body and they can be removed by moving the body and letting the feelings find a way out.
  • Stop for a moment, relax, and explore what you are feeling. Is it overwhelm, pressure, frustration, indecisiveness, anxiety, panic,? Whatever it is, accept the feeling and make friends with it. You can journal, walk with it, breathe through it, meditate… there are many ways through this, but naming the feeling and accepting it are crucial. 
  • Finally, my favourite, which is to bribe yourself: 10 minutes (or whatever feels possible) on the dreaded project and then the reward..

If you need more than a quick fix, then try some baby steps. I first encountered these when trekking in the Himalayas, where I was told that the way over a (seemingly endless) mountain crossing was ‘baby steps, baby steps’ – it worked then, and whatever the project, it’s a very powerful way to get from here to a (seemingly unreachable) there.

You just do a very little bit of your project (open a book, find that phone number, sharpen the pencil) then leave it for an hour or a day, then do the next step and so on… it’s simple, but it really does work. Try doing 5 minutes at the same time each morning, and 5 minutes at the same time each night – it sounds like nothing, but can add up to real progress over a relatively short time.

What are your procrastination-busters?

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Energy and Focus

I mentioned last week that I was busy, and this week I have decided to take a proactive approach to my energy and focus. I remembered that a few years ago I heard Andrea Culligan speak at a most excellent event (She Business’s annual Fearlessly Creating seminar and celebration).

I really enjoyed her tips for staying sane and managing your energy in a most hectic world, so I revisited my notes and thought I’d share them with you.

She had five main points:

  1. Identify what gives you energy and takes it away. Do this for both your work and personal life - then allocate time accordingly. Sounds simple, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who persists in activities that leave me feeling depleted and would be best minimised or even avoided altogether...
  2. Set your people priorities, based on who gives you energy and who you should share with. Be kind to the others, but don’t put them in the centre of your life. I find this quite challenging, but have made great progress this year in working out who’s best for sharing my triumphs and challenges, and who is best for a more low-key relationship. It works a treat.
  3. Where attention goes, energy follows. This is another obvious but oft-overlooked suggestion. If you put your energy into reading celebrity magazines and watching re-runs of NCIS on TV, then you will get to a quite different place than if you put that time into reading something well-written or watching TED talks. Enough said.
  4. Spend time alone - every day. Meditate, journal, take a walk, just ‘be’- even a few minutes is helpful. For me, this is essential, it’s the space that makes the rest of my life work.
  5. Surrender to the things you can’t control, and don’t give them energy. This is the well-known serenity prayer: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference’. I think developing the capacity to surrender is one of the most helpful life habits. It changes everything, and frees you up to focus on what is possible, rather than being a victim to your own life.

I’m going to consciously ensure I (re)establish these habits. What about you?
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Time For Some Mini-Breaks?

I am busy at the moment, really busy. (Actually, REALLY REALLY busy is more like it…)

So a few days ago I went off on one of my recurring fantasies, which is about taking a year-long creative sabbatical, or even a three-month gap trip, or even a month of reading and gardening and…You get the drift.

Then reality kicked in - I actually love my work, and the last time I took a week on my own at a health retreat I was utterly bored after three days.

It got me thinking about a middle ground, some 5 minute 'spacers' I could put into my day, in order to survive the coming weeks with some grace and dignity - and stay fresh enough to actually deliver competent work!

Here's my list, in no particular order, and each taking about 5 minutes:

  • Meditate
  • Pranayama breathing
  • Move my body...jiggling, dancing, shaking, whatever
  • Scan my body and relax the muscles that are tense
  • Make a cup of tea and vague out while the jug boils
  • Drink the cup of tea in my garden
  • Pick some fresh herbs to add to dinner, and really smell them
  • Write about my day
  • Write about my fears
  • Write about my favourite places
  • Do some juggling (this is only relaxing if you can already juggle, though!)
  • Visualise a favourite place, somewhere that makes me feel relaxed and spacious
  • List 10 things I am grateful for
  • Arrange at least one fun activity with friends or family over the next week, and spend time looking forward to it
  • Call a friend for a chat (OK, that one will take more than 5 minutes…)
  • Remind myself that this time will pass

So, that's my list - and I am going to make sure I do at least two of them a day.

What about you? What do you do for a quick refresh?

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Are You In Flow?

I’ve been doing some talks lately about using your strengths, and on each occasion I include a discussion on that state called 'flow'. It's an almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused and pleasurable state of consciousness where you are in your element and performing at your peak. If the pursuit of each activity is more important than the recognition or results you get from it, you generate an internal sense of satisfaction and pleasure that is not dependent on external success, sweet though that may also be.

If you're in flow, it's a pretty sure bet that you are using one or more strengths.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has done plenty of research on this, and has found that flow generally includes these 9 elements:

1. Having clear goals every step of the way

This is about knowing what needs to be done, being sure like a surgeon how things need to proceed step by step. Or the goal may be to solve a work problem, or to find a way to increase production, or...

2. Having immediate feedback for your actions

The musician knows instantly if they have played the right note - in a flow experience, we know in ourselves how well we are doing..

3. Balancing skills and challenges

In flow our abilities are well matched to the opportunities for action. If the challenge is too far above our current skill level (like being promoted too soon), we become frustrated and often anxious. On the other hand, if the activity is way below our potential (like being stuck in a job way below our training), we become bored.

4. Action and awareness are merged

Awareness is focused on what we are doing, not on what we have planned for the weekend, or the chores we need to do, or even whether we are performing the current activity well or badly..

5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness

We are aware of only what is relevant to the here and now - our consciousness is entirely in the present. You may become so immersed in your project that you aren't even aware someone is standing in the doorway of your office.

6. There is no worry about failure

While we are in flow, we are too involved to be concerned with failure. It may feel like being in total control, but in fact we have no awareness of control - the issue does not even arise.

7. Self-consciousness disappears

In everyday life, most of us spend a lot of time monitoring how we appear to other people, and whether we are making a good impression. In flow, we are too concerned with the activity itself to care about this.

8. Our sense of time becomes distorted

We forget about time, and hours may pass like minutes. Or the opposite: a skater may execute a turn that in reality takes a second or two, but to her it seems like 10 or 20 seconds. In other words, clock time and experienced time are no longer the same.

9. The activity becomes autotelic

This is a Greek word which means something that is an end in itself. In flow experiences, there is generally a sense of doing the activity purely for the experience it provides, even though there may be larger goals as well (like earning a living!)

The direct relationship between flow and work is complex - Csikszentmihalyi found that most people experienced more flow at work than in the rest of their lives, but he also found that many workplaces were set up to make flow very difficult to reach or sustain.

What is clear is that we will be well on the way to a satisfying life if we learn to get flow from as many of our daily activities as possible, in or out of work. The easiest way to do this is to use our strengths as often as we can.

And for more on flow, check out Csikszentmihalyi's excellent TED talk. Well worth 18 minutes.
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News & Events

Dangerous Minds

Check out Dangerous Minds, an article I wrote for BOSS on corporate culture and creativity. Do some cultures encourage creative thought and innovation? Do other cultures kill it stone dead?

Taking Charge of Your Work. 
Joanna is speaking at the Network Central breakfast in Sydney on 20 September on Taking Charge of Your Work. Do you have a strategic plan for your working life (or even for 2012)? Whether you run your own business, or work for someone else, you need to take charge of your career development. If you'd like to find out more, why not come along? Use this link for the discount rate: