What makes a leader? How can we create cultures where productivity, trust and collaboration are effortless? What really matters in work and life?
These are the questions many of us ask ourselves. These are also the questions Marc Lesser has been asking on his journey from running a Zen monastery kitchen to running a publishing company, to co-creating Google’s program on emotional intelligence “Search Inside Yourself.” Along this journey, Marc saw first-hand the benefits of mindfulness practice in creating cultures that are naturally joyful and collaborative. He wondered why mindfulness practice isn’t integrated into leadership development, because what matters more than ever is both high quality results and high growth people. Corporations today have the potential to dramatically impact our planet for the better or for the worse and we need leaders who are mindful of this impact.
In fact, many forward-thinking organizations like SAP, AETNA, LinkedIn, Genentech, Kaiser Permanente and others are exploring the benefits of mindfulness for developing their leaders, engaging their employees and transforming cultures. At a leader level, my executive coaching clients that achieve the highest sustained growth are those that incorporate mindfulness in their learning.
Marc Lesser has taught his proven 7-step method to leaders at Google, Genentech, SAP, Facebook and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies for over 20 years, and has distilled a lifetime of mindfulness and business experience into his book. Marc and I sat down to talk about “Seven Practices of A Mindful Leader” and below are the highlights of our discussion.
Henna Inam: What is a pivotal experience that inspired you to write this book?
Marc Lesser: I have always been fascinated with the relationship of mindfulness, work, and leadership. This really started when I was the head cook in a Zen monastery kitchen, at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California. All kitchens are high-pressure environments, yet here our goal wasn’t simply to produce gourmet-quality meals, but to cultivate a supportive, selfless, caring work environment. That marriage of mindfulness and productivity, of community and meeting goals, is what I’ve pondered and pursued ever since.
As for the seven practices in this book, my good friend Norman Fischer first named them when he was spontaneously addressing a group of Google engineers. He was listing seven qualities that are important to develop when training to teach mindfulness. I immediately recognized the power and possibility of these practices, and I knew they applied to much more than teacher training. They described the kind of workplace culture I wanted to create, and they described how I want to live my life. The more I spoke and thought about these practices, the more I knew I needed to write this book.
Inam: You have 10 minutes with a hard-charging and busy CEO. What would you share with them to help them get interested in exploring mindfulness for themselves?
Lesser: Mindfulness practice is critical as a support to your ability to focus your attention as well as expand your awareness and widen your perspective. It’s not simply stress relief. Mindfulness improves your decision-making and creativity, since it helps you recognize problems and find solutions even in the midst of chaos and deadlines. Just as importantly for leaders, mindfulness is necessary to manage effectively and create supportive teams. I always consider true success twofold: in the character and compassion of the people and in the quality and results of the work.
Inam: Briefly describe the seven practices of a mindful leader.
Lesser: The seven practices are very simple to understand, even if they can be challenging to follow and embody in practice:
Love the work refers to the “work” of being mindful, of developing your awareness and helping others.
Do the work means developing a regular meditation or mindfulness practice.
Don’t be an expert means approaching life and problems with an open mind, or letting go of being right.
Connect to your pain means paying attention to and learning from your own experience, especially when something hurts.
Connect to the pain of others means listening openly to others and not pushing away whatever is difficult.
Depend on others means fostering your connection to others and building caring communities.
Keep making it simpler is my favorite. In every moment, the best way to find clarity is to ask, what is most important right now? Do that.
Inam: In your book you talk about the “billion dollar mistake” in teaching people emotional intelligence. What are ways to grow emotional intelligence in yourself and your team that actually work?
Lesser: The billion dollar mistake refers to Daniel Goleman, who noticed that many corporate emotional intelligence programs failed because their instruction lacked the component of practice. People read books and listened to lectures without actually doing the work to develop mindfulness and emotional intelligence. That’s the key. That’s where “do the work” comes in. Our emotions are physiological responses, and thus the power of mindfulness and meditation trainings is their ability to work at the level of our bodies and our attention. Mindfulness practices come in all shapes and sizes, and all can be successful when done regularly. When that happens, people reap the benefits of developing their emotional intelligence and increasing their capacities for self-awareness, self-management, and communication.
Inam: You talk in your book about your experiences in the contemplative world and the business world. What can be done to bring these worlds together in today’s workplaces?
Lesser: I call this the “dirty little secret” of the business world – it’s all human beings. The world of business and work is undergoing a major transformation. The need for collaboration, for people working together, solving problems together, creating new products and services together, has never been more essential. Working together requires connection and understanding – which are core qualities of emotional intelligence. The contemplative world offers practices that are easily translated into the workplace.
Work and getting things done in a rapidly changing world is challenging. Being a healthy, caring, connected human being is challenging. What appear as two worlds—the world of work and the world of well-being and mindfulness—are really one world. We don’t leave ourselves behind when we go to the office, but sometimes we act like we do. I believe the business world and the contemplative world are both primarily about growing, supporting, and developing people.
Inam: How would an organization go about creating a culture of mindfulness?
Lesser: Use the “seven practices”! Developing a culture of mindfulness means that, at all levels of an organization, people emphasize transparency and deep listening. In part, that means focusing on oneself: developing self-awareness and a flexible mind, so that mind and heart stay open in the midst of stress, challenges, and difficulty. It also means focusing on others: promoting healthy collaboration, or focusing on solutions to problems while fostering a supportive, caring community in which everyone’s welfare matters. To me, that’s what is most important.
Now friends we come full circle. What makes a leader? Who is the leader you’re inspired to be? Are you willing to try mindfulness practice to more deeply discover what matters to you in your work and life? I will be writing more on this topic, interviewing experts and change agents so hit follow above to learn and engage in this conversation.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” – Voltaire
If you want to inspire creativity, drive engagement, and get better results… you need to ask a great question.
Telling someone what to do might get you some nice short-term improvement. But, asking open-ended questions opens the door to empowerment, ownership and self-learning.
In my executive coaching practice, the most powerful tool I use is to ask the right questions, listen deeply and help my clients discover how to grow as leaders.
Asking powerful questions helps us “Stay Curious”, one of the seven practices of authentic leaders I wrote about in Wired for Authenticity.
The trick is to ask the right question! Here are ten ways asking questions can help us be more effective leaders and create breakthroughs in our impact.
1) Inspire Creativity & Innovation – When you make a statement like “We need to follow up with new clients” causes people to judge (agree or disagree) and can bring up resistance. When you ask the right open-ended questions you help people tap into the creative, solution-making side of the brain.
Examples of questions to inspire creativity:
If we were to totally delight our customers, what would that look and feel like to them?
What does success look like in this situation?
If resources were not constrained what could be possible here?
2) Sell Your Product or Idea – What is the biggest barrier to you selling your product or idea? In my experience it’s always about not knowing the buyer’s needs, wants, and constraints.
Questions help us better understand the needs of our customers and align ourselves with those needs:
What are the most pressing issues or challenges you face?
If we were to create the perfect solution for you what would that look like?
Why is this area of need important to you?
3) Improve Decision-Making – As companies move to flatten authority and widen span of control, leaders can no longer afford to hold on to decision making authority or expect to be an expert in every situation.
Questions allow us to learn and tap into the expertise of our people who are closest to the issue at hand. They help us challenge our assumptions about a situation.
Examples of good decision-making questions are:
What are your criteria for making this decision? Why?
What options did you consider?
What is your recommendation and why?
What options did you reject and why?
What assumptions have we made that we need to test?
4) Create a Culture of Learning – When we start with “a beginner’s mind” we open to learning more. The opposite is also true: if think you know everything you are closed to learning.
Creating a culture of learning opens the door for taking calculated risks and rapidly test new ideas. Great examples in recent history include: YouTube (was a dating site), Nokia (was a paper mill) and Nintendo (made playing cards).
Examples of questions are:
What did we learn from this situation?
What would we do differently in the future?
How and where else can we apply this learning for greater success?
5) Direct the Discussion – Great questions lead to great answers. And every question takes you closer to where the conversation needs to go: from what is the problem to what is the solution.
As a leader and coach your have great power to direct the conversation in a way that builds capacity in people and creates a positive vision of what’s possible.
Examples of questions to direct the conversation are:
What’s working well in this situation?
What did we do to create that positive outcome?
What could be a vision for this project that would really excite you?
6) Engage and Influence – You can’t lead if you don’t have a healthy relationship.
In particular, working across organizational boundaries can sometimes feel like the battle lines are drawn as each area has unique goals. Your questions can move the conversation from what is different to what is common.
Examples of questions to engage and influence:
What are your goals in this situation?
What are some constraints you’re facing?
What could be possible if we were able to remove these constraints?
How can we work together to make this happen?
How can I support you in your goals?
7) Coach to Fuel Growth – As leaders, how we make people feel about themselves can be as important as the direction we inspire them to take. As Maya Angelou wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Your questions can unpack years of resentment and frustration and instill confidence. Learn more about the steps to effective coaching tips for managers in this article.
Examples of good leadership coaching questions are:
What does success look like in this project to you?
Which of your strengths will be critical to leverage?
How can we make sure this project helps you develop?
What support do you need from me?
8) Get Commitment to Change – Great leaders inspire a desire to achieve more—a commitment to change. They instinctively know lasting behavioral changes only happen when people want to change – not because they were told to change.
By helping others identify their own motivators, constraints and barriers you give permission for real change to begin.
Examples of good questions to inspire a commitment to change:
What are your objectives and goals? Why are they important to you?
How can we make sure that this initiative helps you achieve your goals?
What do you see as the barriers to implementation?
How do we work together to resolve them?
9) Challenge Your Own Actions – How are you doing? Are you motivating others, but falling behind personally?
To be great leaders we need to always start with ourselves—challenging ourselves to improve and to be slightly better than we were yesterday.
Ask yourself these questions:
Why is this goal really important to me? What’s already working well?
What have I done to create that success?
What special talents or strengths do I have that can help me achieve my goals?
10) Grow in Our Self-Awareness – Are you aware—noticing what is working and what constantly gets in your way? This is hard work: to be both the leader of others and the leader of yourself.
And it is essential work.
Ask yourself these questions:
What are strengths I have that can be leveraged at work?
What brings me joy in the work that I do? What is a personal brand I can create for myself that inspires me?
How can my strengths taken to an extreme become derailers for me?
These 10 ways to use coaching tips for managers to challenge behavior and promote new directions, for others and yourself. I encourage you to print this out – create your own list.
Here’s the real challenge to asking good questions.
It requires a shift in our own mindset as leaders. We have to let go of three ego needs that hold us back. This is where executive coaching works to uncover limiting beliefs and stuck paradigms so we can let our curiosity naturally flow.
Do these apply to you?
Let go of the need to be superior or to prove ourselves (e.g. I’m the smartest person in the room so let me tell you everything I know.)
Let go of the need to control outcomes (e.g. The best and most efficient way to do this is my way, so let me just help you by telling you what to do.)
Let go of the need for perfection or need to succeed without any tolerance for failure (e.g We have to do this perfectly because anything less than success will make us or me look bad.)
My executive coaching clients find this Socrates method of learning and teaching a key driver of growth in leadership, engagement, and results. Try it for yourself!
A version of this post first appeared on my Forbes.com blog in 2013 and was updated in 2019.
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The average person has thousands of thoughts a day. It’s fair to say that most of us are in our heads most of the time. Mindfulness is the practice of fully experiencing what’s happening in the present moment without any judgment.
One-Minute Mindfulness are short reads that give you a practice a week so you can experience being mindful in the activities you’re already doing. No extra time required. So no excuses my friends!
This week, take the time to wake up and smell the coffee. Fully engage your senses as you drink your favorite morning beverage. See if it has an aroma. Taste the flavor. Feel it in your mouth as it goes down your throat. And notice how fully experiencing it makes you feel.
You just experienced a mindful moment. We’d love for you to share your experience from this practice, so please share what you’ve learned.
“I don’t know everything I need to know about my business!” Debra, an executive coaching client, said in a panicked voice. She was preparing for her first strategy presentation for the Board of Directors meeting the next day. Just three weeks in a new role as head of a division of her company, Debra was understandably nervous. This was the first time she was leading a division and she didn’t want to let down the CEO (her boss) who had promoted her.
Normally a person who loved to connect with people, she had spent much of the last two weeks behind closed doors prepping for the board meeting. She was torn between what she knew she must do (engage people, establish trust and learn the business through them), and what her fear of failure compelled her to do (become an instant expert on the business).
Sound familiar? Our fears and emotions are many times more powerful than our reasoning brain and cause us to make decisions that don’t’ serve us. This is where mindfulness (being aware of your thoughts in the present moment without judgment) can be an outstanding tool to help us make more emotionally intelligent decisions. In fact, I’m such a fan of mindfulness, I’ve even created a set of practices for you to explore.
One tool that my executive coaching clients find instrumental for making more emotionally intelligent decisions is a Mind Story Map. It helps us get more aware of how our (often unconscious) thoughts and beliefs can derail us. Our thoughts lead to certain emotions which lead to certain habitual behaviors which create outcomes that continue to reinforce the habitual pattern.
When we become aware of these thoughts and their impact, we can decide to make different choices with different outcomes. Self-awareness is a key foundation of emotional intelligence and the Mind Story Map helps us get more self-aware.
Thoughts: Debra became aware that her assumption about the board meeting was that she needed to be an expert and know the details of each of the businesses in her division.
Belief About Self: Her belief was that she wasn’t prepared and would let her boss down.
Belief About Others: Her belief was that Board members would judge her harshly for not being an expert and that her CEO would be disappointed in her.
Emotions: These thoughts and beliefs led to Debra feeling anxious, fearful and stressed out.
Behavior: She shut herself off in her office to fully prepare, writing detailed scripts for what she would say.
Outcomes: In the tool, the outcome is the impact of the behaviors. However, as Debra worked through the exercise, she realized that reading from a detailed script and trying to be the expert would hardly impress the board.
Working through this tool, Debra realized that her assumption about needing to be the expert was driving fear and anxiety. Ofcourse it would be hard to be an expert on the details of her business in just three weeks! As she saw this pattern, I asked her, “What could be possible if you didn’t believe these thoughts?” She immediately saw other ways of approaching her role in the board meeting. She realized that board members wouldn’t expect her to know the details. She decided she would reach out to her boss to understand different board members and to anticipate questions that may come up.
To her credit, Debra quickly saw how staying stuck in the assumption that she needed to be an expert would impact her relationships with her direct reports, and even prevent her from seeing all the other ways she could add value in her role.
What about you? When you notice difficult emotions arising, take a step back to become mindful of how your thoughts and beliefs are driving your outcomes. It will help you be a more emotionally intelligent leader.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.
I had worked really hard in my role as vice president of marketing. My team had the results, we had recruited new talent, our brands had grown market share and our P&L was healthy. I had my eye on the head of marketing position, responsible for overseeing all of the brands in the company’s portfolio. I made my interest known to my boss and my boss’s boss. I thought it was in the bag.
I didn’t get it.
Instead, I got one of the most important lessons in my career: Plan for your dream promotion, but be prepared to pivot, because something will change . Much of your career is outside your control, no matter how hard you’ve worked or how good your results are. Today, as industries get disrupted, jobs disappear and new jobs are created, this is more true than ever before.
My organization went through a restructuring. I got a new boss. My new boss wanted to bring in someone as head of marketing, someone who she had worked with before. My boss’s boss called me into his office and gave me the news. “We’re moving you to a vice president position in sales,” he said. I heard a loud thud. It was my heart falling to the floor.
Six months later, that position turned out to be my dream role.
Here are six lessons I have learned about dream promotions that I hope will prepare you for yours.
Dream wisely. Most of us (including me) just look to the next rung on the ladder as the promotion of our dreams. It’s logical because that’s what we know, and we assume anything higher up the ladder is better. In retrospect, I learned much more in the vice president of sales role than I would have in the head of marketing role. It prepared me for my next role as general manager. In today’s disruptive world of work, agility is key to development. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you imagine your dream role:
What new areas am I interested in learning about?
What transferable strengths and skillsets do I have?
What differences do I aspire to make? What roles will help me do that?
What role will challenge and stretch me outside of my comfort zone?
You don’t know what you don’t know. Challenge your assumptions. I had made all kinds of assumptions about the role of vice president of sales. Truth be told, I felt a bit superior and considered the role beneath me. “Sales people aren’t that smart. There’s not much for me to learn,” I had told myself. It turned out to be one of the most challenging roles I’d had at that point in my career. I realized just how much I didn’t know about leading people and influencing those outside my organization. The role stretched me outside my comfort zone. I learned new skills I would not have acquired had a I stayed in marketing. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What roles have I written off?
What assumptions am I making about these roles? Test your assumptions.
Who can I connect with who would have insight to expand my perspective?
Develop a dream-skills mindset. According to research by the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence will disrupt millions of jobs. In an AI-powered world, many jobs that require repetitive tasks or can be enriched by real-time data will be done by machines. According to the book Human + Machine by Paul Daugherty, humans will need to move up the value chain of skills to new skills that work with AI (i.e., designing, training and explaining algorithms) and soft skills (i.e., re-imagining how AI can improve processes and experiences, creativity, emotional intelligence, empathy and leadership).
As organizational hierarchies get flatter, get out of the dream-promotion mindset. There will be fewer layers to get promoted into. Instead, get into the dream-skills mindset. While AI will disrupt, it can also have great promise for human work being more fulfilling, creative and interesting. What are the dream skills you want to acquire? I recommend your list include learning how to influence people over whom you have no authority, be agile in change, connect with your innate creativity and bring out the best in others, whether they work for you or not. What roles—and they may not present themselves as promotions—will help you learn these skills?
You will be thrown curve balls. Be open to exploring, experimenting and pivoting throughout your career. About a year ago, I was asked to interview for a position to be a board director for a publicly traded company. This position was completely outside my “plan.” I was hesitant at first. Would this role distract me from running my business? I decided to go in for the interview anyway. I came away from the interview inspired by the vision of the future the company was creating. I realized that not only did I have value to add, but that I would be stretched and challenged in new and different ways, and that was exciting to me.
Know yourself and listen to your gut. As you get thrown curve balls or explore dream roles, pay attention to your inner GPS. Self-awareness and authenticity in leading yourself and others will be a skill that is more important than ever. As you explore a role for a promotion ask yourself:
Does this role excite me?
Does the culture of the team I’ll be working with feel like a good fit?
Would my boss be someone I can create a trusted partnership with and learn from?
What kind of culture do I thrive in?
What are the elements of a job that are important to me (i.e., autonomy, contribution, etc.)?
Find the opportunity in change. In the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world we live in, AI will disrupt millions of jobs. We must evolve so that we’re able to move from fear, a normal reaction to change and feeling out of control, to finding the opportunity in change. As you consider dream jobs, learn to embrace a mindset of opportunity. Ask yourself:
What can I learn here?
How can I connect this role to what’s important to me?
Here’s hoping you will continue to dream, while also being open to what’s changing around you. I will be writing more about the future of work, so follow my writing if this resonated for you.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. In today’s chaotic world, the future belongs to those who can imagine, influence, create and collaborate. As I wrote in my pre-Davos piece, it is important for each of us to rise above the urgency of our daily to-do lists to engage in the conversations that are shaping our fast-changing world. We have more ways than ever to do that whether we attend Davos or not.
Here are the questions that World Economic Forum (WEF) asks of us: How do we save the planet without killing economic growth? Can you be a patriot and a global citizen? What should work look like in the future? How do we make sure technology makes life better not worse? How do we create a fairer economy? How do we get countries working together better?
This is a brief recap of the highlights of my week at WEF from the perspective of someone deeply interested in how leaders can create a better future amidst chaos. It is also a call to each of us to widen our perspective and to add our much-needed voice to the essential challenges of our time.
It is obvious the moment you drive up through the 4-foot-high snow-banks into Davos that there are many agendas happening, global and individual. With 600+ simultaneous sessions on topics ranging from Globalization 4.0 to the need to reskill millions of people during the fourth industrial revolution, to impacts of climate change, to cybersecurity and technology policy, your individual agenda drives what you curate on your calendar. It is the place that more Fortune 500 CEO’s can look each other in the eye to make deals in 30 minute meetings. It’s the place that heads of state can drive their agenda to engage (or not) in the world. This year several heads of state (U.S., France, U.K., China, Russia) were conspicuously missing, some dealing with troubles at home. It’s also the place where leaders seek to influence in the chaos where no one is in charge but everyone is impacted by the others’ actions. What are the leadership qualities required to do that?
Leadership 4.0 was coined by WEF founder Klaus Schwab in 2016. He suggested that we need a new model to lead in the 4th industrial revolution: “We need leaders who are emotionally intelligent, and able to model and champion co-operative working. They’ll coach, rather than command; they’ll be driven by empathy, not ego. The digital revolution needs a different, more human kind of leadership.”
Throughout the week, I found evidence of leaders collaborating to create eco-systems of learning and action. Here are the highlights of my Davos experience:
Human + machine – There was a lot of conversation in Davos about the future of work for humans in the age of artificial intelligence (AI). I recommend Paul Daugherty’s book Human + Machine to wrap our heads around how humans and computers will collaborate in the future. Through multiple emerging use cases they describe a world where AI can improve the state of humanity and help us solve some of the most pressing issues of our time. At the same time, AI will require reskilling millions of workers and will significantly shape the future of work. Many organizations are preparing to reskill workers. Suzanne Kounkel, partner at Deloitte shared her company’s bold commitment to reskill 50 million workers in their ecosystem. Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, talked about the need to create a culture of trust with employees and partners in a world where the pace of change makes humans insecure. To learn more on this topic and WEF’s initiatives go here.
Shaping technology policy – We live in a world of bytes without borders. Who has the power to regulate and ensure that technology helps us move toward utopia rather than dystopia? Eco-system thinking and public-private partnerships are critical. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, who headed the WEF this year (along with six young people from around the world) spoke to the urgent need for new global norms on privacy, data and Artificial Intelligence.
Safeguarding our planet and its people – There were many conversations on climate change. One that I participated in is Matt Damon’s work with Water.org. He talked about the mission of the organization: “We envision a world where everyone has access to clean water…and we envision it in our lifetimes.” He spoke about what makes this personal for him. He wants his four daughters to achieve their dreams and realized that it is the young girls and women around the world that are often kept away from school and a more empowered future because they are tasked with fetching water.
Gender equality – This year 22% of participants in Davos were women. We are a long way from gender equality at Davos. A great place for conversations about advancing gender equality globally was The Female Quotient (FQ Lounge) curated by Shelley Zalis. Here CEO’s such as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Tim Ryan of PwC shared the work each is doing to advance gender equality in their respective organizations and beyond. Tim Ryan has created CEOAction to get other CEO’s to commit to diversity and inclusion and share best practices. Bloomberg’s Kiersten Barnet shared the gender equality index selecting 230 companies committed to transparency in gender reporting and advancing women in the workplace. Cindy Robbins CHRO of Salesforce spoke about the company’s annual salary audit to correct gender inequity. Marc Pritchard, Chief Marketing Officer of P&G and Linda Yaccarino, Chairman of Advertising & Partnerships at NBCUniversal told the story of how a partnership across the industry led by the Association of National Advertisers have created the Gender Equality Measure (GEM) index. Companies can use this index to score gender equity in ads and entertainment so we can together shape how young girls and boys think about what they’re capable of.
Inspiring conversations with young global shapers – Some of the best connections I had were serendipitous conversations with people while standing in line at the bathroom or standing in line to get through security. One such conversation was with a WEF global shaper Natalie Chan from Hong Kong who is working toward growing young leaders in her community. The Global Shapers Community at WEF is a network of city-based hubs with young leaders between 20 and 30 years old who want to serve society and develop their leadership potential.
Coming back from Davos, it is clear to me that the future belongs to those who can imagine it and can create ecosystems of impact. Leaders of the future will be committed to collaborating with others to move forward agendas that are in service of something other than their ego. We are surely not there today, but we need to get there urgently. This is the journey I am interested in and I ask you to join in that journey. Here are some small actions you can take to add your voice to the post-Davos conversations:
Go to the WEF website and see what sessions inspire you and learn more.
Familiarize yourself with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and the list of 170 small daily actions you can take by downloading the SDGsinAction App.
Add your voice to the six questions that WEF is asking the global community to engage in.
Here is a recap of some of the accomplishments of Davos 2019.
In the coming weeks and months I will be writing more in-depth stories about some of the fascinating leaders who are embracing Leadership 4.0. They are creating in chaos through connecting with like-minded others. They are moving forward the missions that matter to them to solve the most pressing issues of our time. To learn from them, follow me here or on LinkedIn.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.
From January 22 to 25, 2019 thousands of the world’s most influential leaders will gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. This is my first time participating and as I reviewed the agenda, it was frankly overwhelming. In 600 sessions over four days, leaders will come together to discuss how to cooperate and create solutions to several major challenges we collectively face. The series of global dialogues include:
peace and reconciliation in an increasingly fragmented geopolitical climate,
the future of the economy including new technologies and monetary systems like blockchain and cryptocurrencies
new technology policy and ethics in a world of artificial intelligence and gene editing
how we manage the impact of key environmental systems (climate, ocean, biosphere)
how we rethink the future of human capital to help people upskill and self-actualize
That’s just a start. There are many more global dialogues engaging heads of state, CEOs of organizations, NGOs, policy makers. Whether you are attending in person or participating through the news or social media, here is a guide on why and how to engage in the conversations in Davos.
First, we must move beyond our limited day-to-day focus toward a view of ourselves as concerned and caring citizens of a shared planet. After all, we are more interconnected and interdependent than ever: the air we breathe, the products we consume and discard, the media we create and consume, the geopolitical and economic climate and systems we are part of.
Second, we must take responsibility for climbing up to the tree-tops and constantly renew and seek new perspectives that are wider and broader than we currently have. We can only do this if we seek to listen, learn and dialogue with people who have very different perspectives than us. This requires both a curiosity and a willingness to hold lightly our own convictions.
Third, we must dig deep into our own roots to discover the unique missions that matter to each of us, the most pressing issues of our time that inspire us to make our “ding in the universe” (quoting Steve Jobs). We realize we are just one of many who need to come together and join the people who have a similar mission. When we do this, we emerge as transformational leaders who are engaged, energized, inspired, and willing to be agile in service of a mission that is bigger than ourselves. We move toward our self-actualization as leaders.
So, whether you are at Davos or not, I urge you to follow the dialogues that most matter to you. To discover what those are, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Of the global dialogues, what are the topics that impact me or that I’m interested in learning more about?
Who are the people I want to learn from who inspire me?
What are the concerns of the stakeholders that are important to me? What can I learn from the dialogues at Davos that will help me better align with these stakeholders?
Based on what I’m learning, what is a way for me to contribute or a mission that inspires me?
What is one action or small step I’m inspired to take as a result of this learning and reflection?
I hope you will take the time to broaden your perspective, learn, and emerge more connected to a mission that is important to you to make our collective world better. Stay tuned and follow me as I reflect on what I’m learning at Davos as a first-timer.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.
The new year 2019 is here. Many of us are setting goals for 2019. Before you do that, take time to step back. Get a new perspective on 2018 so you can set more authentic and meaningful goals for 2019. Here are the self-reflection questions I am asking myself and sharing with my executive coaching clients.
The 10 Questions
If this year were a movie, what happened?
The idea of this question is to help you get yourself out of your usual perspective (the main character) and watch what happened as an observer. Describe the year as you would if you were sharing the story of a movie. Describe the characters in the movie (including yourself) and what happened from their perspective. You might even engage them in the exercise. It helps you get a meta view and notice things that you hadn’t seen before.
For example, as I wrote this movie narrative, I realized that life has been messy, challenging, and full of change this year. I come away with a greater appreciation for my resilience in dealing with change and challenge than I had before. I also have a better perspective on how important people in my life experienced this year.
What worked well that I’m grateful for?
As I asked this question of a friend, he realized that he hadn’t taken the step back to recognize all that had gone well, what he had created, and how he had grown. When you ask yourself what you feel grateful for, you discover more deeply what matters to you. This helps you set more authentic goals for the coming year. As you do this, take the time to actually savor what you feel grateful for.
What was challenging or disappointing?
This question helps you acknowledge what was hard and be in touch with any emotion associated with it. For example, when I asked an executive coaching client this question, she realized that one of the most challenging aspects of the year was negative feedback from her boss. She’s a top-performer and felt frustrated: “No matter how hard I try, I’m never good enough!” As she said this, tears welled up. She got in touch with her anger and hurt. This resentment she had felt toward her boss had eroded trust in their relationship.
After she processed the emotion, in our next session she was able to get a more balanced perspective: she has development opportunities, she also has strengths that help her be successful, and she had taken her boss’ feedback too personally. She realized that in 2019 she wants to work on growing her confidence in herself. If she had avoided getting in touch with emotion, she would have missed the opportunity for greater insight about herself. As you do this exercise be sure to be compassionate with yourself.
What were my most meaningful moments?
Getting in touch with what is meaningful and re-living the moments that mattered this year helps you bring into greater focus where you want to spend your time and energy in the coming year.
Where did I spend my time and energy?
As you review the year, take a look at where you spent your precious time and energy. Does this reflect what matters to you? Many of us spend our time in distraction. As you look to next year, what do you want to spend more energy on and what less?
Where did I fail? What did I learn?
Acknowledging our failures without letting them define who we are is a great act of courage. It helps us fully accept ourselves as we are, see ourselves more clearly, and be more open to feedback from others. It helps us learn and grow. My friend and colleague Whitney Johnson asks “Did I do my best?”. We often have lots of goals we want to pursue and simply asking ourselves did we do our best helps us acknowledge our failures with compassion.
Looking back overall, how do I rate my happiness on a scale of 1-10?
This is a question that my friend Dorie Clark asks every month. She recommends digging deeper to ask yourself what’s contributing to the rating, and continuing to dig so you understand what habits or choices (often unconscious) may be contributing. For example, when I asked myself this question, I gave myself a seven. As I dug deeper, I realized that I undermine my satisfaction when I over-commit myself, often thinking about what’s next, and don’t take the time to pause and appreciate what’s here. As I set goals for 2019, I am deliberately making a list of projects I will let go of.
As I look to next year, what will be the highest use of my talents?
This is a great question to take stock of your talents and take a step back to notice where they can be most useful. The question invites us to choose where we will spend our energies in the coming year that will serve the purposes that matter to us.
What is an area where I will exercise courage to stretch, grow and learn next year?
This is a great question my friend Kathy Caprino encourages us all to ask. She is passionate about helping us all “find brave”, and set goals that will inspire us to move beyond our comfort zone.
What does success look like to me next year?
As you review meaningful domains in your life (e.g. professional, personal relationships, health & well-being etc.) create a clear vision of what success is in each domain. Prioritize what’s important. And (mostly a reminder to myself), don’t bite off more than you can chew!
Whether you start with one question or attempt all ten, I recommend you take the time to jot down your own answers so 2019 can be a year of greater purpose and fulfillment for you.
“Sure, I can self-promote but that just doesn’t feel authentic.” I heard this from a female leader during one of my speaking engagements. This and other mindsets often hold women leaders back.
As we work to drive gender balance in workplaces we must work with organizations to remove barriers for women’s advancement. We must equally work within ourselves as women leaders to become aware of and remove the glass ceilings in our own heads – habits and mindsets that lead to self-sabotage, and make it exhausting for so many of us to move our careers forward.
How Women Rise, a book co-authored by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, is a great resource to discover the 12 habits that hold women back and how to overcome them. Marshall Goldsmith is a bestselling author, preeminent executive coach, and No. 1 leadership thinker. Sally Helgesen is a leading authority in women’s leadership and author of multiple books on the topic. I recently sat down with Helgesen to talk about their new book.
Henna Inam: What have you learned about how men and women define success differently?
Sally Helgesen: A study I ran a few years ago with Harris Interactive about differences in how men and women define satisfaction at work showed many similarities but a few clear differences. The most important is that men tend to take chief satisfaction in financial reward and position, whereas women also want to enjoy the quality of their days — not every day, but in general.
Quality in this case means they need to maintain some control over their schedule, have time able to build strong relationships with colleagues, clients and customers, and feel as if their work is making a difference in the world. Don’t get me wrong: salary and position matter to women—if they feel underpaid or under-recognized they will not be happy. But salary and position alone are less likely to make a job seem “worth it” to women who have other choices. I believe this is one reason certain organizations still struggle to retain talented women: they ignore quality of life issues, expecting that if they simply pay people enough, those people will sacrifice any ability to take satisfaction in their experience of work.
Inam: What are the beliefs that hold women back?
Helgesen: I would say two primary things. First, that ambition is a bad thing, and that you can’t be a wonderful and caring person if you are also ambitious. This is true even at senior levels. I recently interviewed a senior female equity partner in one of the top ten law firms in the US and she opened by informing me that she was not ambitious!
Secondly, women still often believe that if they don’t do a great job on everything, they have seriously fallen short. This sets them up for self-recrimination—Why did I do that? Will I never learn? We have a wonderful chapter on Rumination full of ideas for letting this kind of self-defeating internal dialogue go.
Inam: What are the most prevalent habits that prevent women from advancing?
Helgesen: Expecting others to spontaneously notice and value their contributions. Overvaluing expertise. Building relationships but not leveraging them. Putting their job before their career. Trying to please everyone in every circumstance. Falling into the perfection trap. We have 12 behaviors, but these are really common.
Inam: So many of us know what we should do (e.g. self-promote) yet don’t do it. How do successful women overcome the gap between knowing what’s the right thing to do and actually doing it?
Helgesen: They find a way to do it that they are comfortable with. That is, they avoid the opposing poles of routinely diverting or disclaiming credit or simply mimicking the behavior of someone who sucks up all the air. They are gracious and generous but make clear their contribution. For example, “Thank you so much for noticing that we placed first in client satisfaction on that job. Our team worked very hard on it, and I had terrific support. But I’m glad that I reached out to our senior client in the initial phase of the project so we could better understand how to meet her needs.”
Inam: So often change is temporary until we return to old habits. What can you share about making these new habits stick?
Helgesen: Enlisting help, enlisting support. To me, this is the most important point we make in How Women Rise. Bring other people on board in your attempt to change. Ask them to hold you accountable. Check in with them to see how you are doing. It’s also really important to work on one habit, or even one part of a habit, at a time. If you’re engaging others, you want them to have a very clear idea of what to look for as they find ways to help and give you feedback and support.
Inam: As you rightly suggest in the book, many of these habits are based on unconscious biases that exist in our workplace cultures, and our expectations of the role of women in society in general. As women do the work of breaking the habits that hold them back, is there work their bosses (and organizations in general) can do to support them by challenging the cultural expectations?
Helgesen: Definitely! We strongly urge men to read the book. Knowing what habits the women who work with and for them can fall prey to will help them be better advocates, allies and mentors for women. Men signing on as allies is key to changing organizational cultures and making them comfortable places for women and for diverse people as well.
Inam: What do you hope male mentors and sponsors will learn from this book?
Helgesen: A much better understanding of some of the factors that hold women back and concrete steps they can take to help them. This book is very practical and full of tips, not just in terms of making changes in your own behavior but also helping other people to make positive behavioral change. Again, this is the most powerful way I know of to change a culture.
So if you happen to be a woman leader or have one on your team, this book is for you! It is full of great insight, on-point advice, and I found myself chuckling more than once as I recognized myself in many of the stories that the book shares. I hope this helps you or a teammate you care about in their journey to rise toward their potential.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.