Pausing, Lojong, and Leadership

August 30th, 2016   •   No Comments   

I was recently introduced to lojong, a centuries-old Buddhist practice for training the mind in compassion. As Pema Chodron describes it, lojong contains “fifty-nine pithy slogans that remind us how to awaken our hearts.” The slogans point to practical instructions for ways to awaken amidst the beauty and difficulty of the world.

I was struck by lojong’s use of pithy sayings as invitations (or exhortations) to practice a different way of engaging with what is right in front of us. And that made me think, this is what my business partners, Jennifer and Sheri, and I created with Pause, Inspired Mastery’s book and card set of 52 practices for leaders.

Concise practices and pithy quotes that cultivate presence

book_and_cardsxHang on for a minute. Before you think I’ve gone crazy, I am not comparing Pause to lojong as an important spiritual text. I’m not saying Pause is the path to enlightenment. And yet, Pause is a set of concise practices, with pithy quotes, that invite a different way of engaging with what is right in front of us. The Pause practices open possibility, expand awareness, and cultivate presence. In pausing and inviting a new perspective, we access our natural resourcefulness and open-heartedness.

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I often reach for Pause when I’ve got my knickers in a twist. Feeling frustrated with my ability to help a client get unstuck? Pick a practice at random.

Practice 5: Stay in the Game

A hero is no braver than the ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Ahh. I breathe. I relax. I get back in the game.

Less stress, more impact

Lojong also reminds me to use Pause in a conscious and dedicated way. I pick a practice for the week and apply it several times a day. I choose a signal – e.g. when the phone rings or before I begin a meeting, to remind myself to practice. This week I picked practice 27.

Practice 27: Turn Problems in to Assets

If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish. — Anonymous

As I practice in the moment I feel less stressed, more resourceful. I have a greater ability to do my work well. Isn’t that what we all want? Less stress and more impact.

If you already have Pause, take it out and pick a practice for this week (or day). Or try on one from the free sample pdf. Choose a signal as a reminder. Work with what is right in front of you, in the moment. No extra time required. Be dedicated, deliberate, and compassionate with yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about lojong, there is a wonderful short article by Pema Chodron at the Lions Roar website. To learn more or order a copy of the Pause book and cards visit Inspired Mastery.

Curator of the Good and Useful

May 16th, 2015   •   No Comments   

My client had a tough decision – go on the last business trip before retirement with a very special colleague or stay put and keep an eye on a very high profile project.

“Choose your answer,” I coached him. “Now imagine it is 10 minutes from now. How do you feel?
Now move forward 10 months. How do you feel? How about 10 years from now?”

He got his answer. “Great tool,” he said.

“It’s not mine. I stole it from Suzy Welch.”

“Fantastic. I’ve never had an original thought, but I’m great at recognizing them.”

That got me thinking. I’ve always been in awe of people who create something – those with a message, philosophy, or good and useful tool. I’m sheepish that everything I have to offer has been learned from someone else. My client’s words stopped me short. What if the eye for something good and useful is a talent? Indeed one of my gifts is the ability to find, absorb, and share things that are genuinely helpful to my clients. I hereby claim my gift. I am a curator of helpful perspectives, practices, and tools.

Please join me for my first curated exhibition: one perspective, one practice, and one tool.

One Perspective

There is an opportunity in every situation

Before I became a coach I held a pretty powerful and positive perspective – there is a solution for every problem. I was the master of seeing things gone wrong and finding ways to fix. This made me very good at my high tech job. However in coaching we aren’t fixing people! Instead we are stewards for transformation. Enter a new perspective – there is an opportunity in every situation. Rather than ask what needs to be fixed, ask “What is the hidden opportunity here? What greater good can happen? What needs to or wants to shift?” then partner with the potential and let the opportunity be the source for action. Alan Seale calls this leading from potential; it is at the heart of his teaching and now at the heart of how I coach and live. Read more about Alan’s potential-based approach at Alan’s blog.

One Practice

Start meditating using guided meditations

My life changed when I started meditating. I became aware of and less entangled in my thoughts, grew more compassionate to myself and others, and rewired my brain for happiness. Getting started was not easy. Using a guided meditation made it easier. Back then I bought tapes (yes cassette tapes!) by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Today there is the free insight mediation timer app. Search for insight timer or go to https://insighttimer.com/. It comes with 172 guided meditations varying in length from one minute to one hour. Tara Brach is one of my favorite teachers. Try her A Pause for Presence meditation.

One Tool

The rule of 10-10-10

Suzy Welch calls the rule of 10-10-10 a little life transformation tool. For any decision – small, large, personal, or business, ask yourself three questions: “What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? And in 10 years?” I’ve added my own twist to her tool. In addition to thinking about the consequences, bring in the wisdom of your gut. Imagine yourself 10 minutes from now. How do you feel about the decision? Now move forward 10 months. How do you feel? Now 10 years. What have you discovered? Try it on your next decision. Click here to read the original article where I first spotted the rule of 10-10-10.

There you have it – one perspective, one practice, and one tool. If you would like another good and useful tool full of helpful practices, check out Inspired Mastery’s book and card set: Pause: 52 Ways to Shift Any Outcome in Less Than a Minute.

This article was originally published at my sister site InspiredMastery.com.

Receiving the Gift of feedback

July 27th, 2014   •   No Comments   

Originally posted at my sister site www.inspiredmastery.com

feedbackcycle“How many of you regularly ask for feedback?” One hand out of 10 is raised. The rest of the group looks stricken. These leaders are voluntarily here for a class on receiving feedback and still the topic is uncomfortable.

What makes receiving feedback so difficult? “The process strikes at the tension between two core human needs—the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way you are,” say Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, in their Harvard Business Review article, Find the Coaching in Criticism.

Intellectually we understand the value of feedback – it helps us gauge if we are being effective and see inside our blind spots. No company would bring a product to market without getting customer input. Yet when the product is our self, even the thought of someone else’s helpful suggestion can trigger a strong defensive reaction.

Think back to the last time you received unsolicited feedback. Did you want to argue? Run away? Or were you temporarily frozen in place? Perhaps it was a combination: I can’t punch my boss so I’ll just say nothing. Our brain interprets feedback as a threat. The threat causes anxiety which triggers a defense – fight, flight or freeze.

This is a very basic protective mechanism. Even the most enlightened among us will get triggered. So what can you do? One way to receive feedback more easily is understand what triggers you, recognize your physical and emotional reaction, and engage the larger self by asking, “How do I choose to respond?”

You can get the most from even the worst criticism by choosing how you look at it. My mother-in-law once told me I was feeding my children wrong. Of course I took this personally. It felt like a direct attack on my ability as a mother. However, after breathing deeply for a few minutes, I tried a different perspective: Don’t take it personally – even if it is meant personally. Her comment is just information – it isn’t about my identity or worthiness or her worthiness. So I asked her what she meant. My girls didn’t eat her homemade soup for lunch (after Grandpa had been feeding them donuts all morning). This led to a great discussion on how to feed kids and a limit on morning donuts.

Another great perspective is to look for the coaching. If someone is giving you feedback – even if it feels like unwarranted criticism – try looking for the coaching. Is there something to learn here? Hillary Clinton said, “Take criticism seriously but not personally. Your enemies will tell you things your friends won’t.”

As leaders, we are models for growth and learning. You want to be a better leader? Ask for feedback. Make it easier for others to give you input – be specific and future oriented. Choose an area you want to improve that is important to you and ask for specific suggestions to support your future success.

Giving and receiving feedback may never be easy and it can be easier. What helps you more easily receive feedback?

Many organizations teach how to give feedback and few teach how to more easily receive it. If your organization would like to spark learning and growth by enabling individuals to more easily ask for and receive feedback please contact us at Inspired Mastery.

Turn Up the Willingness Dial

July 30th, 2012   •   1 Comment   

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” I’ll never forget reading this First Noble Truth in Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness. I was 42 at the time. When I was 12, my father died of malignant melanoma. I felt abandoned, let down by God, alternately mad and sad and numb. Thirty years of suffering.

This Noble Truth resonated deeply. It felt both honest – yes life can be hard and painful, and hopeful – I don’t have to suffer. I began to explore ways to find happiness and lessen suffering: practicing meditation and yoga, focusing on letting in the good, being kind to myself, staying present. How I experience life is forever changed. Thank you Sylvia! Thank you Buddha!

Imagine that each of us has a dial in our brain labeled Suffering that can be turned up or down. I have practiced turning down the dial on suffering. When negative emotions arise, I do my best to not resist and allow the experience. When things don’t go the way I want, I notice when I want to beat myself up and try kindness instead. I have spent a good deal of time and energy tuning my Suffering Dial. So imagine my shock when I read Martha Beck’s blog post on the Willingness Factor. She writes:

In Hayes’s book Get Out of Your Mind & into Your Life, he suggests that we picture our minds as electronic gadgets with dials, like old-fashioned radios. One dial is labeled Emotional Suffering (Hayes actually calls it Discomfort). Naturally, we do everything we can to turn that dial to zero.  … There’s another dial on the unit, but it doesn’t look very enticing. This one Hayes calls Willingness, though I think of it as Willingness to Suffer. It’s safe to assume that we start life with that dial set at zero, and we rarely see any reason to change it. Increasing our availability to pain, we think, is just a recipe for anguish soufflé.

This post rocked my world view. My Willingness Dial (Martha calls it willingness to suffer, but I think of it as willingness to experience emotional pain) is set pretty darn low! I have confused my quest to not suffer with a quest to not feel pain. I’ll say that again. Not only do I not want to suffer, I don’t want to feel pain. But pain is inevitable; pain is part of life. When I am avoiding pain, I am not available to experience all life has to offer: both joys and sorrows.  When I am avoiding pain, I have less to offer life.

How does this show up? Well for example, I avoid sales conversations. I proudly tell others that I get all my business through word of mouth. The truth is I craftily avoid situations where I might experience the pain of rejection. How many clients have I not served by not talking about my business? What could happen if I turned up my willingness to experience pain?

I also see this in clients. Often leaders know they have someone who is in the wrong job. They avoid giving the person feedback, or letting the person go, because they don’t want to hurt any one’s feelings. What is really going on is they don’t want to experience the potential emotional pain of hurting someone’s feelings. Imagine what is possible if they were willing to experience a bit more pain and discomfort as part of being the best leader they can be?

I am now practicing turning up the Willingness Dial. When I find myself avoiding a possible negative experience, I ask myself, “What would I do if I was willing to experience pain?”

So far I’ve told the truth to a potential business partner – and opened a great conversation. I’ve decided to ask a high profile client for direct feedback to make our relationship stronger at the risk of hearing something I don’t want to hear.

What would you do if you were willing to be emotionally uncomfortable? What is possible? Try it for yourself and let me know what happens!

Whom Do You Admire?

June 19th, 2012   •   2 Comments   

Whom do you admire? Think of someone you hold in high regard, respect or look up to. What qualities do you admire in them? Take a moment and write down your thoughts (you’ll see why later!)

For example, I admire Pema Chödrön. She is a teacher of the highest caliber. She lives authentically and teaches deep spiritual truths in ways that are so practical, helpful, and human. I also admire Peter Bregman. His topic is leadership. My sense is he too lives very authentically, and teaches deep truths in very practical ways.

Try this. Complete this sentence: I, ___________ (fill in your name), like _________ (fill in the name of the person you admire) am ___________________ (fill in the blank with all the qualities).

I, Kate Harper, like Pema Chödrön and Peter Bregman, am a teacher of the highest caliber, living authentically and teaching deep truths in practical, helpful, and human ways. Wow. I can barely write that in this blog post. It is too lofty, yet it deeply resonates with me. If I quiet my ego for a minute (who do you think you are, you’re no Pema), and listen to my heart, I am called to find ways to be a teacher, to live authentically and share my truth is practical ways.

The qualities you admire in others are a clue to what wants to be expressed through you. So go ahead and explore yourself by exploring the individuals you admire. Try this: pick at least three people you admire. What do you admire about them? Write down their qualities as your own. For the next week, each morning read what you have written. Listen beyond any ego thoughts (Who do you think you are?) to your heart. What wants to be expressed through you?

I would love to hear your experience with this practice.

P.S. I don’t know if you guessed it, but my writing this blog article is a result of my own admiration exploration. Yesterday I was feeling like I am watching too much TV and not living fully. So I took a look at whom I admire and it came to me how much I love Pema and Peter. They might be watching a lot of HGTV, but I doubt it. So why not get out there and do some writing/teaching myself? And so I have.

If you’d like to learn more about Pema Chödrön go to http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/. Or about Peter Bregman go to http://www.peterbregman.com