Leadership and personal development can be most effectively integrated into corporate and entrepreneurial training programs when approached through the gateway of neuroscience and brain research. It is our amazing brain that allows us to engage conscious reasoning, choice and to imagine possibilities beyond what already exists. It allows us to access the field of infinite genius and creativity. I can say, what is apparent is that this new millennium ushered in a new awareness of the brain and mind.
We have learned more within this new millennium about our brain and nervous system than we have in recorded human history before this time – all within a 12-year period. I have been able to apply my training in neuroscience as an eye surgeon and business owner now to helping business leaders and their team better access their, “Mind’s Eye” and reach more of their true potential. This allows us to expand the vision for our life and eliminate more effectively our “blind spots”. Most people are not aware of this quiet revolution going on right in our midst.
Decades ago, even as a child, I had an insight that stood out for me that has been prophetic. Even as a child in Bible class, one of my favorite scriptures was from Romans 12:2. It goes like this:
“Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed, by the renewing of your mind”.
I find it so interesting that science is now substantiating ancient wisdom and proverbs. In order to rise above what is not working well in the world around us, we must renew our mind – another way of saying change our mind or “retrain our mind”. That verse has stuck with me over the years and apparently, my intuitive insight was indeed prophetic. Renewing my mind has allowed me to transcend much of the negative thinking that I grew up with and that is so ubiquitous in our world at large.
Transcending – ending the trance of negativity that many of us are under – is the most effective path to leadership development and personal growth. Limiting beliefs about our identity or what we can do, be or have can be changed at the level of our heart and mind – when we know how. Even when we “fake it”, we are not as effective as we would be if we muster up the courage to renew our mind.
I’ve noticed leadership and personal development being associated with Maslow Hierarchy of Needs as a framework in online and offline conversations these days. Maslow was obviously a thought leader, especially ahead of his time. I see an interesting twist however that deviates from the typical line of thinking.
As the hierarchical theory goes, as one has his or her food, shelter and basic physiologic needs met and can then grow through the levels of safety, social and esteem development, the person would then grow into “self-actualization” or more self-awareness and true potential. In theory, this would be nice, but if growth were really this linear, all of the wealthy millionaires and billionaires would be enlightened and self-actualized – hardly the case. I’m not picking on this group by any means, as lack of self-awareness is ubiquitous, in fact the vast majority of humanity is not very self-aware.
As neuroscience points out, 95% of what runs most people’s lives are out of their awareness – yes, 95%, that is not a typo. If having physical needs met and advanced educational degrees was all that is needed to develop security, social and esteem needs and go on to self-actualize, the United States in particular, should be the most enlightened, self-aware culture on the planet. Yet, Gallup and others show that 70-80% of employees are disengaged, half of all adults are obese which means, unhealthy, and depression and stress is seriously high.
Why is this occurring in the wealthiest country in history and what about the security, social and esteem challenges in spite of met survival needs? First, the theory of the importance of these areas of security, social and esteem needs are ancient, as they didn’t begin with Maslow. There is an ancient Eastern system, known as the “Chakra” system which points out that the first three levels of chakra development as being these three very things – security, social, esteem – not a new idea.
Leadership development when valued in the organizational culture can mean more business, more employee engagement and more fulfillment at work. Another word for leadership development is “personal development”. Leadership development done “on purpose” can lead to teams that have a sense of purpose. This is the heart of ownership and alignment – humanity’s search for meaning.
Many people are now looking for their own personal purpose and how to apply it at the office. They desire more autonomy and self-mastery. They want to be “seen” as more than a cog on a wheel that increases shareholder value. Organizations that wake up and realize that people can make or break “shareholder value” and that people are the real asset of the company have a much greater chance to thrive now and in the future.
In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped
to deal with a world that no longer exists.
When leaders realize that leadership development is really personal and professional development at work, the purpose of work itself can evolve. The workplace is the perfect place to grow and develop our unique gifts and talents. Growth is typically challenging. When we grow inside we bring meaning to work instead of trying to extract meaning from work all the while ignoring our need to evolve on a personal level. Haven’t you noticed that it is at the office that we spend the most productive hours of our life? We are surrounded by a variety of cultural perspectives and personalities that can reflect to us our blind spots that we need to deal with in order to empower our self.
Mindful leadership is an idea whose time is here…now. Now is the present moment and unless you can be self-aware enough to listen to what is present to you, here, now – you are not showing up as a mindful leader. Mindfulness takes practice, particularly in our hyperactive culture, which is full of fear, distraction and “never enougheness”. Granted, it is highly unlikely that you live every moment of your life mindfully, but for most people even if they could do it for a few moments or minutes at a time, they are ahead of the game. Actually, this is serious business.
Collaborative leadership – which is not consensus in my book, by the way – requires a leader that can “see” people as individuals instead of prejudging them based on their social group. That by the way includes gender, both male and female. No two people are identical so when we buy into social stereotypes, we are not practicing mindful leadership.
Mindful leaders can be more empathetic because they are present enough to notice the state of mind of others. It should be noted here, that this is tough to do if you are not even in touch with your own state of mind. What I mean by this is that many if not most – probably the vast majority – people are so out to touch with their feelings and unwilling to deal with their own “blind spots” that they at best struggle with seeing others where they truly are. If you don’t deal with your stuck areas, you will not have clarity of “vision in your mind’s eye”. This leads to all sorts of “projections” and assumptions, which only hinder team relationships.
You see, leadership development is really “personal growth at work” – can you see the double meaning here? To be an artful, inspiring leader, you must first walk your talk and to do this, you must grow your self mentally, spiritually and emotionally – first. This takes courage. I know from experience that it is easier to hide behind arrogance and “power over others”, than to be vulnerable. Vulnerability requires fearlessness…less fear. By the way, vulnerability is more about admitting that you are human as we all are so there is always a need to learn and it is a willingness to be your “authentic self” and not a blind copy of “traditional leadership”. This takes strength of character.
Growth does not mean that you are defective at all, there’s nothing to “fix”. A willingness to embrace growth just shows that you are wise and confident enough to realize that regardless of your IQ, background or education – you don’t know everything and have not reached your “true potential”. How can I say this?
Happiness will be elusive as long as a man or a woman builds their self-image or their worth based on what they do and how much money they make. I read an article this weekend in The New York Times Magazine, September 2, 2012, bemoaning the fact that many men are losing their self-worth because their, “macho” jobs are going away and their wives are making more money than they are. Mind you, it’s not that they can’t find work; they just don’t want to do service jobs that they consider, “women’s work” – such as teaching. Here’s a quote from the article which is based upon a soon to be released book, “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women” (OMG, is this what really matters to us?):
“A man needs a strong macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop (slam on male barbers) queen. He’s got to be a man”.
Heaven help us if being a man is truly defined by a job title. How fragile. How sad.
Now here’s the big picture – evolution is striking once again. It’s interesting how we can read about how past civilizations had to evolve and go through growth pains to get to their next level. Now, in present time the current civilizations are being called to raise their consciousness and individuals are being called to use more of our true potential – to empower ourselves. To stop gauging our worth, our value as human beings based upon one gender dominating the other or one race needing to devalue another to feel good about themselves. Here’s the subtitle to the NY Times article:
“Welcome to the New Middle-class Matriarchy”
Seriously? Really? So money still defines who is in “power”? Matriarchy? Why does there need to be any kind of “archy”? I’m not for either patriarchy or matriarchy. My gender should not be what determines my level of contribution to the world. It should not determine my level of choice.
Your true potential is an existing possibility that needs to be cultivated and nurtured. We all have a purpose for being born. You are not a random accident. Yet, many people do not realize that how we see our self is a huge determinant of whether or not we pursue a higher vision for our life. One of the greatest impediments to reaching your true potential is lack of self-compassion.
I say this is a little known secret because I noticed a long time ago that people take pride in saying they are compassionate regarding others, but they almost invariably leave themselves out of the equation! What about you? Aren’t you a person? Why don’t you deserve respect and consideration? Many people allow their inner critic to berate them and in fact, there is this tacit belief running through our culture that humility equals self-deprecation.
In fact, often people assume self-love means narcissism. It does not; narcissism is based in fear, not love. Actually one can be totally insecure and self-loathing and act narcissistic and selfish. Also, narcissists are delusional. Some really may delude themselves into believing that God/Spirit/The Creator made them better than others. That’s their opinion let them have it and move on – just don’t buy into it and you’ll be OK.
In reality, the more self-compassionate you are, the more likely you will be compassionate toward others. Brain research shows that we are constantly assigning meaning to our lives. In other words, we are making the story of our life up as we go. “Reality” is very subjective. When we don’t feel loving about our self, we spend out time – our life – trying to please others or chasing “stuff” or staying busy to avoid our feelings. When we feel good about who we are, recognizing that we are growing human beings and drop the need to pretend that we have it all together, we can take off our mask and come more boldly from our authentic heart.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change” ~Carl Rogers
Compassion, including self-compassion is so powerful that it is being studied within the realm of neuroscience (Brain). Beating yourself up can cause:
Knowing your life purpose makes life more meaningful and fulfilling. It gives you the “Why” to look forward to in your day, in your work and in your life overall. Knowing your true values can point you in the direction of your purpose, they underpin meaning. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the nightmare of the “routine” – Wake up, go to work, come home, eat, take care of “stuff”, go to sleep…repeat. How dull. How painful! Life is meant to be an adventure of growth and learning, not clinging to a mediocre life and then you die. How sad. Thank goodness for the power of choice, the power to change. While change can feel scary and uncomfortable, it is what adds spice to life. Besides, that – it’s unavoidable!
So why do we so often fall into miserable ruts and get stuck, yet are afraid of “change”? A huge part of it is conditioning. Sure, there is the element of “danger” in the unknown, but Mother Nature has given us the tools to cope and innovate. Our brain is amazingly adaptable and it is leads us to “self-fulfilling prophecy”. This is part of the problem – we believe change is scary and hard, so “be it unto you as you believe”. We have trained our brain to focus on what we don’t want and fear…and we sometimes find get it.
Leadership is evolving and it needs to. A one-size-fits-all approach, a “cookie-cutter” approach is no longer working and for good reason. The immense change we are facing is requiring leaders to be authentic and vulnerable – which means “less-fear”, not weak – and in touch with their own individual strengths and gaps. This requires courage, something that I’ve also witnessed in the leadership of Olympic athletes currently in London.
It requires that we go in with eyes wide open to embrace and accept “who and where we are” if we are going to change and grow in a way that is resilient and adaptable. Resiliency and adaptability are principles that underlie true power. “Power over”, a form of intimidation related to “fear”, cannot engage the hearts and minds of team members. Leaders will have to evolve.
Many employees are just mentality checking out, sabotaging the company and the best and brightest will simply leave instead of aligning with a leader who is not centered, confident and clear – with empathy and effectiveness – about him or her self and the value that they bring to the table. In order to stay focused, especially with the noise and distraction that seems to only be increasing, feeling comfortable navigating the criticism and the “lack consciousness” of others is more important than ever. It’s time to learn how to stay on track and forget about the biases of small thinkers.
Leaders can learn some of the most powerful lessons in some of the most unlikely places. Take for example, the 16 year-old Gold Medal champion gymnasts Gabby Douglas and her extraordinary performance at the Olympic games this weekend. Raised by a single mother from Gary Indiana, she exemplifies power, wisdom and self-respect beyond many adults I encounter and read about.
I read a Chicago Sun-Times Sports page article today entitled, “Douglas’ Hairstyle in the Cross Hairs”. Yep, this young lady who had won two gold medals in three days and helped the U.S. women win the team event was being talked about in social media about her hair. Yikes! What a sad commentary on the state of people’s mindsets. Her response speaks to her resiliency, adaptability, confidence and clarity. I can see why, despite her background environmental challenges, she is such a champion and such a leader. In her words:
“I’m like, ‘I just made history, and people are focused on my hair?’ It can be bald or short; it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.”… “Nothing is going to change”, she says. “I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well just stop talking about it”. (You go girl!).
Now that’s the truth. Who cares about her hair? How irrelevant. Herein lies some of the most deadly problems in our culture and society; without a vision the people perish.
Productivity does not need to be “hard”. “Hard work” does not define “success” nor real productivity. Success as we tend to define it does not often equal “happiness” either. Perhaps if we stop implying that hard work and success is required before we can be happy, we can be happy as we work and become successful…and we can do it with more ease.
Of course, our current definitions for success are often not rooted in what really makes us happy, like honoring our true values….but then, that’s another conversation for another time. We have many words in our culture that carry a connotation that limits our true potential and ultimately our “productive” productivity. Here are some other examples:
1. Disappointment - does not need to be experienced as “shame” or experienced as “painful”. Einstein is to have said that he learned more from his “mistakes” then his successes. Edison is supposed to have “failed” thousands of times before he found what we was looking for…what if he had quit for “fear of failure” or “looking bad”? We may have never heard of him and he would have faded into the abyss of time.
2. Failure – As in number one, how about seeing it as realizing what doesn’t work and just reflect on what you can learn and attempt it again. You will make life easier for yourself by not wasting your energy agonizing over negative feelings.
3. Mistake – How about seeing the situation as “(A) Miss Take” as in a movie director needing to re-do a scene… “Take One, Take Two”…just rethink it and try again differently.
Get the point? It’s all in the perception, the meaning that culture has assigned to the word. It’s more of a connotation than the denotation that is the problem. We could flip it on the side of “growth” and learning, instead of fear, shame and limitation and we’d all be better off. How?
We’d be more adventurous with a growth and learning mindset instead of a fear-based “stay in the box” mindset that encourages people to avoid “mistakes, failure and disappointment”. So what, you made a mistake or have some disappointments. Disappointment hasn’t killed me, neither has mistakes or failure. In fact, they just made me dig in more, build my mind muscle and develop more perseverance and persistence. These two traits have made the difference in my life, along with courage, more than anything else in terms of personality traits when it comes to achieving “success”.
I choose to learn from my experiences, not worry about “looking good”. Leadership requires courage. How else will we learn if we don’t even make an attempt? If we don’t try again? If we don’t slow down and reflect and figure out where we are going and what does not work? When we learn how to retrain our brain regarding how we perceive “negative” words and how they stop us in our productivity and innovation tracks, we can really begin to tap more of our true potential.
Sometimes to be more productive with less effort will require us to do new and different things, to leave our comfort zone. There are a couple of other ingredients I will mention that you can do starting today even before rewiring the “connotation” of your perceptions.
When it comes to “productivity with greater ease”, try these ideas on for size:
Optimism and happiness are interconnected. With the world around us changing as rapidly as it is in our business environment these days, being optimistic can make a very significant difference. Yet, I sometimes hear online and offline, comments that being optimistic is not “realistic” or even “bad”. Somehow, people think that “realism” means we need to keep focusing on and talking about “what is”, the exiting problem. Well, I agree with Einstein regarding the objectivity of “reality”.
“Reality is an illusion; albeit a very persistent one”
It is persistent because we keep focusing on, “What is”. While I trust my informal learning and experience over “science”, science surely can help us with finding a common ground rooted in some objectivity. Since our life is a series of subjective experiences, meaning, research can show how we assign the meaning to the events in our lives, it is getting more difficult to simply say, “that’s just the way life is”.
The question is, for whom?
Your conclusions about what is “real” can differ from mine. An important issue to consider is this: Since our brain creates our experiences according to the focus of our attention, why would we continuously focus on what is currently wrong or what we “don’t want”? Healthy optimism is about assessing where you are, reflecting on viable solutions that feel meaningful and purposeful and directs you toward your desired outcome.
The key is to keep your attention on the results you desire. Just angrily complaining and talking about “what is” actually distracts you from viable solutions. Also, it just plain feels bad and is also bad for your health.
Yes, your health.
If we get clear about what we want, why it is meaningful for us and where we want to go, we can fuel our actions and intentions with passion instead of anger. We will be more pleasant, healthier and start to enjoy life. We must take responsibility for our choices and stop playing the victim role. If things don’t turn out well, learn from them instead of fearing “disappointment or failure”. Nothing is truly predictable.
Yet, we are more likely to reach our goals and to effect change the more self-aware we are regarding “how” our brain and mind operate. We currently direct our brain and attention in such as way that it keeps us stuck. When are operate with more self-mastery, we can clarify the current situation, gain insightful solutions, and deal with issues in the present moment as they arise, and get on with life, moving persistently in the direction of our goal.
As research shows, our brain has an “Optimism Bias” for a good reason. If nothing else, optimism helps you to avoid being chronically angry, depressed and spreading negativity all over everyone around you. In summary, here is how optimism that is grounded, plays out: