The more I look around the world as I see it, the more I am struck by the urgency that exists for a new way to communicate. This does not mean a new language or a new platform – we are inundated with ‘communication’ platforms from phones, watches, social media and more. What is desperately needed is for us, as human kind, to start communicating in a whole new way.
The overwhelming experience of our interactions in our modern world appears to be ‘speaking at’ each other. From the meetings we attend at work, the conversations with our spouses and children, to the catch-ups we have with our friends; there is so often only an information download that is taking place. We are busy. We have lots to say and lots to ask. And we want the answers to reflect this reality. There just isn’t time to get into anything more than the surface details and the more we can remain on the surface and not get into any depth – or even real truth – there remains a perception that we will be more effective and productive.
But living this way comes at a great cost and I was reminded of this on a conversation with a client recently. In a bid to find the top talent with the greatest work output for a vacant position, his HR team had designed an interview series that focused on work experience activities for candidates to complete in order for a comprehensive perspective of their capabilities to be portrayed. Interviews with the MD were kept to short 15 minute chats in order to save him time. What happened in reality was that those conversations that really matter when going through the hiring process were eliminated. Although the person that was eventually hired was very capable of the outputs (as demonstrated in the interview activities), what emerged was that expectations between the employee and organisation were misunderstood and it soon became clear that the person was not the right culture fit for the organisation. The result is that they are looking again for a person for this role, 6 months down the line, at huge financial and emotional cost to all. No value can be afforded to the benefits of true conversation of the type that allows intuition, deep listening, questioning and wider probing and meaning to occur. When we look at the challenges we experience in all our relationships from organisational, to family, to friends, to self; it becomes clear that we need to do this differently.
I am currently involved an assignment-marking project for the powerful Nexus Leadership Programme at GIBS (Gordon Institute of Business Science). It has been such a gift to read of the experiences of these young professional candidates as they engage in a year-long opportunity to significantly shift their way of conversing, using an exploration of the tools of Dialogue. Based on the work of William Isaacs (who himself used the work of physicist David Bohm) Dialogue is reflected as four co-supporting principles: Listening, Suspending, Respecting and Voicing.
Listening: This principle looks at what it takes to be truly engaged and active when we listen. How are we listening with our body, mind and soul? Listening of this deep kind entails letting go of what it is we want or expect to hear and listening instead with a curiosity and interest that allows the other person to feel safe enough to open up.
Suspending: Inevitably, as humans, we are continually hooked and triggered and start formulating opinions and ideas while the other person is talking. Very often we experience an emotional reaction which in turn takes us off into creating our own story about the speaker and what is being said. Suspending then, involves developing the awareness of these thoughts and feelings – and then letting them go without becoming attached to them.
Respecting: This principle involves the attitude that we bring to the dialogue. We need to enter into the interaction with humility, curiosity – knowing there is more for us to learn-, and openness. It is about the awareness that everyone, including ourselves, will have their own perspective which is completely valid and everyone has the right to share this. Respecting, too, involves the reality that we should not always be trying to get others to change to our point of view, merely to listen and understand it.
Voicing: This is a principle that is often misunderstood. It does not simply mean ‘speaking’. (If that were true, many people would be able to claim to be experts when in fact they have not even come close to engaging in dialogue). Voicing is about being aware of what you want to share and what its possible impact on the conversation will be. Am I wanting to voice my perspective out of ego, love of hearing myself, competition or such? Or is what I want to offer going to add a new dimension to what is being said here?
Difficult though these capacities may be to practice, becoming aware of how we show up in our conversations and attempting to incorporate these dialogue principles can have a profound effect on the creativity, trust, and understanding that becomes prevalent in the relationship. And those are capacities we are in desperate need of in our society.
In the first two blogs of this series we looked at Creating Your Dream Life and The Art of Reflection. In this final one, we will consider the second of the two competencies I believe are essential to develop in order to create your dream life: Imagination.
Blog Three: Imagining Your Way Forward
The art of imagination is a favourite pastime of mine. So much so that I have to work on getting out of my fantasy world and putting things into action in order to avoid the resentment that builds when watching others moving forward and staying stuck in the same place myself! This is where imagining needs to be balanced with its sister competency – reflecting – on the way to creating your dream life. Reflection will show you the stuck-ness that inaction and hiding in imagination will create.
Since this is a strength of mine, I find it hard to understand that there are people out there who find it a challenge to imagine a life they would like. But experience with my coaching and workshop clients has shown this to be true. Many people are at a complete loss for an answer when asked what they would like out of their lives. And they find it so difficult to access their imagination to create anything other than the soul-sucking mundane or toxic existence that they are currently mired in.
Working on your skills of imagination takes creativity, bravery and the willingness to say ‘yes’ to many things that may at first surprise you and make you feel uncomfortable. Like an executive who is courageous enough to stay with his imagination to consider a dream life that may not involve the dizzying forays up the corporate ladder, and may instead involve growing herbs in a tiny village in the Karoo. This is terrifying as it very likely will rock his entire perception of himself and call his very identity and life into question.
Or what about the PhD student who, with a little bit of imagination, comes to the realisation that although she is an outstanding researcher and a top expert in her field, it is music that makes her soul sing and, when she is deeply honest with herself, this is the journey she would rather pursue, even after the fortune of money, time and effort spent on her degrees.
The truth is that, like the process of reflection, imagination can give you access to many emotions and thoughts that paint a picture of who you really are – or at least show a better direction to take in this search than the path you are currently on. This often causes an incredibly uncomfortable, rocky lead into the unknown that most people would rather avoid. Change is unpredictable and messy so why would we want to bring it upon ourselves unnecessarily? The honest truth to this is that without working on your capacity to imagine your dream life – your true dream life unfettered by the consumerist, egoist trappings of society – you will never experience what it is like to feel truly free. You will never know the exhilarating rush of realising that you are doing what you love and that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than where you are now. And, importantly, you will never be able to live out of the gratitude that comes from going deep inside you, facing some of the toughest times and knowing that you did it anyway.
Quite simply, without the capacity to imagine, and to imagine grand things, you will never have a direction to move towards. To many people, this rudderless, safe existence is what sucks enjoyment from their existence in a more profound way than any other thing could do, and they are very often completely unaware of it.
Using your imagination to envision something so exciting and full of hope that it leaves you tingly and breathless is what will propel you forward to reach it. And the amazing thing is, you will probably far exceed what you imagined. The momentum of going in your right direction, doing what you were created for, will bring so much more that you could ever have imagined.
Do you have the courage to do this? Are you ready to open your eyes to what you really want – and start to take some steps towards it? You never know, you just might find your dream life after all – and it won’t just be in your imagination.
If you take this journey, surround yourself with encouraging people who only want the best for you. And, if you can, invest in a life coach to help you create your dream and achieve it.
In the previous blog in this series, we looked at Creating Your Dream Life.
Blog Two - The Art of Reflection
There are people that are good at reflecting on their path, circumstances and reality. And there are many that are not. Those of us that find it difficult to do so very often avoid reflecting and thinking about the situations we are in and the choices we have made because it is difficult, uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant to see the truth. Far easier to keep pushing forward and let things happen as they may. The reality of this, however, is that it makes personal mastery – the ability to grow and achieve our potential – far more elusive. And it often results in lack of responsibility or initiative within us. When we fail to reflect in life, we are living in a rather haphazard and directionless manner and are less able to make choices that we feel we can engage with. So we live with a mentality of life happening at us, instead of with us.
The capacity to reflect requires great discipline, courage and honesty. It asks us to stop what we are doing and to think and feel deeply about what is happening, what we are doing, and our impact on the situation. We reflect on conversations we have had with our partners, colleagues, family or bosses, and become deeply aware of the emotions we experienced. Was the conversation fueled by anger, fear, pride, shame, ease or manipulation? What was our part in this reality? What is driving our behaviour here? What are we truly trying to get out of the situation? The truth is often very different from what we first think!
We reflect on choices we have made and the results and outcomes. What had we correctly assumed, and what not? What worked well and what would we like to do differently next time? What do we need to change and seek forgiveness for? What do we really believe and want?
The art of reflection engages us deeply with our inner being. As we get to know ourselves better, our self awareness leads us into a more considered and effective way of showing up in the world. Crucially, reflecting is the capacity that will allow us to connect to our true self. We will be able to see those instances where we are following the plans of someone else or where we are striving to fulfill a false sense of self that has always led us to misery. We will start to see the patterns in the relationships we choose, the roles we end up with at work and the self-talk we use during our waking hours. And it is only once we start to see these patterns and understand the assumptions, beliefs and perceptions we carry that fuel them, that we can finally start letting go of what is holding us back from creating our dream life.
The reality is that it is impossible to ever truly know what our dream life is unless we master the art of reflecting.
A final powerful dimension to the capacity of reflecting comes with the image of a physical reflection. In looking at a tree reflected in the perfectly still water of a lake, we see what looks like a perfect representation in the reflection. But the longer we stay with the image, the more we begin to see the differences. The minuscule ripples become obvious, the minor distortions in shape, and – importantly – the truth that the entire reflection is upside down! We literally see the image from a different perspective. This then is the gift of the capacity to reflect. We are able to see things from a different perspective and notice subtle changes that wouldn’t be available if we had never paused to observe.
So finally, what can we do to develop our skill in reflecting?
The final blog in this series will look at the importance of imagination on creating your dream life.
Blog One - Creating your Dream Life
There is something so liberating about finally realising that you are, in fact, your own worst enemy when it comes to living the life you dream of. This is because of the existence of the reciprocal principle: You are also your greatest advocate when it comes to living the life you dream about.
The reality is that, because it is ultimately up to you to make the choices that lead you toward your dreams, you are the one with the power and so you don’t need to rely on anyone else.
But equally, because it is up to you, this also means that you are the one that needs to go through the pain, challenge and difficulty to make it happen. This is unavoidable.
When we wait for someone else to do it for us, it will never be what we want. And the reality is that we very often won’t even recognise it as being our dream because we haven’t personally done the hard slog to get there.
All that said, the question becomes: How do I do the work of creating my dream life?
Many of us are very aware of what is not our dream life, but feel completely out of our depths in knowing what it is we really want our lives to look and feel like. We know what shuts our soul down, what we vehemently dislike and what drives our intense anxiety, anger or boredom. However, we struggle to identify what will set our souls alive and allows each day to be faced with joy and excitement. While we may look to others and envy the lives they lead – the online programmer who works every few months in a new city of her choice, or the dolphin trainer spending his time in the water – this doesn’t necessarily mean that we would love to do what they do. Very often it is something else entirely, something far more elusive, that creates the feeling of envy and interest within us. Perhaps it is the feeling of freedom and adventure within the life of the travelling programmer that we aspire to, or the connection with an animal spirit instead of an ego-maniacal boss that appeals to us in the life of the dolphin trainer. Unless we realise this we may find that when we look at any path we‘ve taken in life, we experience discouragement with what appear to be dead-ends that never seem right for us.
My experience and research has led me to the following beliefs:
How do we create our dream life then?
My thoughts are that it takes two competencies: the capacity to reflect and the capacity to imagine. Each of these takes on a particular flavour depending on the individual and circumstances involved, but essentially it is these capacities that form the fertile ground for our journey towards our dream life. Ultimately, it is our ability to reflect on the perceptions, assumptions and beliefs that are driving our behaviours and choices. This allows us increasing self awareness. And it is our ability to imagine that allows the creation and desire for movement towards a particular direction…and takes us toward our dream life.
Watch out for the next two blogs in this series that will deal with each of these independently.
Women’s month, August, always gets me thinking about family. I find myself contemplating the many women who have gone before me in my family, most of whom I’ve never met and some of whom I knew only briefly - like my great grand-ma who I remember as a little old lady who gave me sweets when we visited. Some of those women are known to me only through stories from my parents and other family members.
Womens Day in South Africa, on the 9th August, marked the day that 20 000 women marched on the Union Buildings against the Pass Laws in the then-Apartheid government. The choice taken by these women to act against something they knew to be unjust, and to take ownership for getting involved, made a huge impact on our country and the changes that were slowly put into place. The day is now celebrated as a day of honouring the strength, resilience, courage and value of women. For me, it is also the day that marks the birthday of my dear late aunt, Maureen. Perhaps that is why I always find myself thinking about family and the line of women I come from around this time? There is a sense of missing and remembering. And an awareness of the fact that, though she is gone, she is still a part of who I am, and who my family are, through the impact she had on us and those that knew her.
And then I wonder what part I am playing in my family’s lives? What is my impact? I wonder what my daughter is taking into herself from me? And my husband? My mother and father, siblings, cousins…. What do I add, or take away from, their lives? Sometimes the magnitude of my affect on others can seem crushing and wholly intimidating. But I am also aware of the resilience and compassion inherent in all those people. I remind myself that it is not up to me to be everything to everybody or to be ‘perfect’– just to be the best me I can be.
But that takes a choice! And that is one of the hardest choices to make because it involves taking a hard look at ourselves, reflecting on what we do and say and taking responsibility for how others experience us. And it means acting in order to grow and change in order to enhance the gifts we have.
So, in the interest of providing the best legacy for my family, and in honour of the 20000 women who did their best on 9 August 1956, here are some steps I am going to try in order to be most aware of myself and mindful of the affect I have on others:
I hope some of these thoughts may be useful to you in creating your best impact on your family and friends? Whatever your roles – mother, father, friend, colleague, child, sibling, employer, neighbour – you matter and you have an impact. It is up to you to choose and put in the work to being the best you can be at those roles.
Looking someone in the eye and being able to say “I trust you” – and to mean it – is one of the most important and fundamental building blocks in all our relationships. The ability to trust someone lies at the root of all successful business partnerships, thriving teams, happy marriages, life-long friendships, and open parent-child relationships.
It is with people that we trust that we can start to be vulnerable, to open up a little more, and to ask for and invite more in. We are able to show who we are and what we need and, in so doing, are able to develop a better understanding of ourselves in the process. As we offer more of ourselves, we unconsciously give the other person the courage to do the same. The result is an opening up of opportunities, creativity and freedom.
When most people are asked about what they value most in another person, or in a relationship, trust will come up as an answer. It is simply the glue that holds all relationships together. And yet it sometimes seems so elusive. Each of us can think of relationships, past and current, that are filled with trust, and many that aren’t – or haven’t been.
So why is trust so hard to find in our relationships?
One of the answers I’m playing with at the moment stems out of a great quote by Mark Sanborn: “the self-mastery index (is) the ratio between promises made and promises kept – both to oneself and to others.” This is profound. Self-mastery involves self-awareness, accountability and ownership. And promises are inextricably linked to trust. When they’re kept, trust remains. When they’re broken, it is eroded.
But what really got me thinking with this quote was the reference to being able to keep promises to ourselves. And reflecting on how much we actually trust ourselves. It takes great courage to look and see the instances where we don’t - and I’m realising that the more I don’t trust myself, the more impossible it is for others to trust me. All the times I tell myself that tomorrow I will work on the report I’ve been procrastinating over; go for a run; go painting with my daughter; phone a friend back…and then fail to do that thing – I’m revealing to myself that I can’t depend on myself, I can’t trust myself. And I unconsciously convey that to others.
Trust is an intricate dance between trusting and being trustworthy. They are two sides to the same coin. When we are truly able to stand honestly in our own promises – clearly stating needs and expectations – and stop trying to be everything to everyone (including ourselves!) we just might be able to step into and invite more of the kind of relationships that are built on trust.
And it’s worth remembering the following: “We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.” – Walter Anderson, political scientist and author.
Small business owners, entrepreneurs and consultants are not always the first people to spend their money on business coaching. This may be because coaching often seems like a luxury, a ‘nice-to-have’ if you need to spend some budget on training or personal development. It is certainly not often seen as a critical string in your bow. People from this group often view coaching as something for bigger, multi-staffed organisations and certainly not something they can fit into a business life that is already consuming them with the multitude of focus areas that leaders of small businesses must tend to.
That crazy story – you have a major deadline due for a new client that you really want to retain, but you web-design consultant urgently needs your copy in order to change something on your website that a press release is going to drive people to - today. And your printer has just run out of ink… When it is you alone wearing all of these hats and needing to solve all of these issues, there just does not seem to be time to fit in monthly business coaching sessions.
But business coaching could be precisely what is needed because you are mainly working on your own. People who spend their money on a business coach are able to counter the effects of their isolation and use the powerful coaching relationship to take their business forwards and, most importantly, closer towards the business life they have always dreamed of creating.
So what are the benefits of business coaching to a small or solo enterprise?
A coach is able to ensure that you remain on target toward your goals – and can assist in the process of setting them, or revisiting them when necessary. The busy-ness of running a business often results in us just getting through what needs to be done today, but we are often caught jumping from one thing to another with no real planning, or even taking on projects that are sabotaging our chance at real success. The role of a coach is fundamental in keeping us on track and moving forward.
The feeling of overwhelm that many people feel at the start of – or even well into – running their business can lead to a tendency to act with little forethought or reflection. As a result lessons are not learnt from perceived failures and unhealthy processes and habits are unclear to the business owner. Coaching is a great tool to see clearly what is happening in the business and what role you are playing in assisting or hindering positive growth.
The reality of being a sole owner of a business is that you have no-one to answer to except yourself. While this is the dream many people chase when going solo, anyone who has tried it will be able to tell you that it is also the most difficult aspect of forging your own path. You may be well aware that setting up an efficient accounting system is crucial to your business, or that you need to develop a sales and marketing strategy, but it is incredibly difficult to get yourself to focus on these things when they really are not what you enjoy. Having a coach can assist you to understand better why you are actually avoiding these activities, assist you in developing a plan to tackle them – and, importantly, hold you accountable when no-one else is there to do so.
One of the loneliest things about working for yourself, or being a part of a really small business, is that you are often plagued by doubts and are unable to see the fantastic things you have already achieved. When your focus becomes too negative and narrow, it is vital that you are able to feel encouraged and supported in order to gain a realistic perspective and develop the courage and confidence to keep going.
The coaching relationship is so incredibly powerful because of its ability to assist you to live according to what is truly important to, and for, you. You will be able to focus deeply on your own goals, fears, talents and opportunities and will have the chance to create a business life that is truly your own. Making sure that you are living out of your own truth, and in your own unique way, is critical to your enjoyment, fulfilment and success. And – importantly - to the creation of your own unique brand.
A business coach is able to ensure that you are focusing on the big picture, as well as the little details that your day-to-day business requires. By taking the time to reflect with your coach, you will be able to see how all parts of your business hang together, or don’t, and how they can be better aligned. Coaches will also be able to assist you in goal-setting and planning, ensuring that your strategy is worked out and not forgotten.
The relationship between coach and coachee can be something that truly sets a small business owner a part. Being able to factor in your strategic planning and reflection time, you will find the time with your coach a rich opportunity to engage in crucial decision making processes with your coach as a thinking partner.
So I encourage you – take the leap and go and find your coach! The power, and enjoyment, of having someone to think with can never be over-estimated…
Conduct a search on the internet for the link between ‘leadership’ and ‘questions’, and reams of articles will surface which detail the top questions to ask of leaders – as well as their all important answers!
But I don’t believe this adequately scratches the surface of what true leadership can bring to the table. To understand that, I believe we need to turn this ‘questioning the leader’ paradigm on its head, and find the leaders who ask the questions themselves.
Because, to me, that is where true leadership lies. Individuals who have the courage, confidence, insight and persistence to continually ask questions, even if – or maybe especially if – they don’t know the answers, may be the most effective leaders of our time.
Why is this?
Well, to answer that, we need to look at what questions are capable of doing…
A well crafted, open-ended question has the power to:
But rather “What questions are our leaders asking?”…
On a personal note...
I am curious, creative, determined, committed and (a bit too much of) a perfectionist.