How Hiking Supports Strategic Thinking and Reflection

This post is written by guest Damian Taylor as a companion to interview with Ken Wylie, Outdoor Adventures, A School for Leadership and Discovery his interview, on the Voice America Radio Show, “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on July 24, 2018.

As leaders, many of us struggle to find time to refresh our bodies, minds and spirits. I have been a hiker now for decades. Some of my most interesting vacations involved what were for me epic hiking trips such as climbing Kilimanjaro and hiking the Incan Trail. My next target is hiking a portion of the Camino.

As a leader, someone who is generally over committed with tasks and who values taking time to reflect, I find that waking daily and periodic hikes really support my overall success. I have engaged in walking meetings for years and on occasion actually do more hiking that walking meetings. These are with people I want to have indepth interactions with, often of a strategic nature.

This article talks about the benefit of hiking to address anxiety and depression along with building resilience. I want to point out that a significant percentage of our workforce struggles with these issues and we know that being out in the natural world can help address some of the symptoms. Whether you are attending to anxiety or taking time for reflection and strategic thinking, or doing both, hiking is a great option!

Anxiety and depression are incredibly common ailments of 21st Century humans. But while there are a number of different treatments for these illnesses (and you should always discuss your symptoms with your doctor and seek the treatment he or she recommends), too many people overlook one of the best: hiking.

Hiking is often very effective for easing anxiety and depression, and it is a treatment option that is accessible to the vast majority of people. In fact, there are a number of reasons hiking is such an excellent way to feel better, which we’ll outline below.

Exercise Promotes Brain Health

Hiking is a fantastic form of exercise that provides a variety of benefits for your body. It’ll help you lose weight while simultaneously strengthening your muscles. And if you keep at it for long enough, it’ll likely help lower your blood pressure and reduce your chances of suffering from strokes, diabetes or heart disease.

But while these benefits are all clearly valuable, exercise also helps to promote a healthy brain too. If your hikes are strenuous enough to elevate your heart rate and cause you to sweat a bit, they’ll likely help increase the size of your hippocampus – the portion of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning.

Exercise also causes the body to release growth factors – chemicals that help encourage blood vessel development in the brain and support the production of healthy brain cells. And don’t worry, you needn’t hike for very long to start enjoying improved brain health; research shows that even a 20-minute hike can improve the way your brain processes information.

Hiking Is Easy to Do and Affordable

Unlike so many other treatments for anxiety and depression, hiking is available to just about everyone, regardless of your location or tax bracket.

Most Americans probably live within a short drive of at least one hiking trail, even if it is nothing more than a 1-mile loop around the local park. You may have to do a bit of digging to find longer, more challenging or more scenic trails, but you’ll still likely find multiple options within driving distance.

Additionally, hiking rarely costs much – if anything – at all. Some trails require you to pay for parking or for entry to the park, but even these typically offer “frequent use” passes, which will allow you to enjoy the park or trails for very little money. You may also have to purchase a water bottle and pair of hiking boots, but with a bit of effort, you can likely find these things at very affordable prices.

Hiking Helps You to Disconnect from Day-to-Day Life

Chances are, you are constantly barraged by stimuli from the moment you wake up until the moment your head hits the pillow. Your phone, TV and radio constantly buzz with messages, information and entertainment, and you probably don’t have much time to quietly reflect on your thoughts.

But to get away from all of this, all you need to do is strap on your hiking boots and hit the trail. In contrast to our neighborhoods, homes and offices, wilderness areas are generally quiet and peaceful. This helps you to shed some of the stress caused by daily life. Disconnecting from your day-to-day life in this way can be very restorative and help reduce your anxiety and depression.

Obviously, you should still bring your phone along with you for safety’s sake, but maybe you should turn off the ringer for a while – at least until you get back to your car.

Hiking Provides Perspective

Often, anxiety and depression cause people to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of enjoying life, people struggling with depression or anxiety become stuck focusing on the small challenges, failures and disappointments that happen on a daily basis. But hiking in natural settings can help you bust out of this rut and gain a bit of perspective.

If, for example, you find yourself overwhelmed by a big work project coming up, you may find that a hike through your local mountains will help you remember that the project is just a tiny part of your life, and that there is a big beautiful world out there waiting for you to enjoy it.

Hiking Helps You to Build Resilience and Self-Confidence

If you hike for long enough, you’ll surely experience a tough day on the trail. Your feet may blister, you may get lost, or you may find that the trail you chose was a bit too strenuous. But chances are, you’ll find some way to tough out the hike, and overcome these challenges.

This will help build resilience and boost your self-confidence in profound ways. In truth, any challenge you face and overcome will help in both of these respects, but doing so in the natural world often provides the most profound results.

Just be sure that you don’t take this concept too far. It’s always good to challenge yourself and set increasingly difficult goals as you progress, but you must keep safety in mind. Always keep a cell phone on you so you can contact help if you need it and let someone know when you’ll be returning.

You Only Compete Against Yourself: There’s No Pressure to Perform

Many people understand the health benefits that exercise provides, but they aren’t interested in engaging in an implicitly or explicitly competitive pursuit, such as joining the local softball league or gym. This is certainly understandable – especially when you are already feeling depressed or anxious.

But hiking is a fantastic exercise, that lacks the competitive aspects that many of these other types of exercise feature. You are only competing against yourself and – to a lesser extent – Mother Nature. You get to celebrate those times you hike a bit further or complete a loop a bit faster; and yet your tough days, when you don’t perform quite as well, will remain your secret.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter if you go out and hike 1 mile a week or 50 miles a week – the only person you have to impress while you’re hiking is yourself.

Hiking Relieves Stress

Stress is often a contributing factor to anxiety and depression, so anything you can do to help relieve stress should help you feel a bit better. Hiking definitely fits this bill, as it not only provides great exercise (which helps to relieve stress too), but it takes place in gorgeous natural settings.

Scientists have even found that spending time in nature – even simply looking at nature – helps relieve stress and recharge your mind, body and soul. In fact, looking at a natural setting helps reduce pain and accelerate the healing process. And if you hike with a friend or loved one, you’ll often find this helps alleviate your stress even more thoroughly.

As you can see, hiking provides myriad benefits to those battling with anxiety or depression. So, find your closest trail and start trekking. Don’t forget to discuss your anxiety and depression with your doctor (and make sure you are healthy enough to begin hiking if you aren’t normally active), but you’ll likely find that regular hikes are exactly what the doctor ordered.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Who is really in Control: Neuroscience and Reimagining Leadership

This blog is a guest post from Gary Weber, Author of Happiness Beyond Thought: Brain’s Software. It is the companion to the interview between Maureen Metcalf and Gary Weber on Voice America Radio, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations, Who is really in Control: Neuroscience and Reimagining Leadership that aired July 10, 2018.

Recent blogposts “Can we survive w/our outdated OS and buggy programs?…” and “Aleppo, Trump, Berlin, Orlandos, Nice…what can you do?“, discussed the evolving global dystopian situation, largely due to our 75,000 yr old ego/I Operating System (OS) and its programs that developed in very different times. 

New information will help us “right size” the weighting assigned to the “I”, and understand confirmation bias from an experiential and scientific standpoint.


What is our “conscious” I’s OS’s operating capability vis-a-vis the brain’s “off-line” processor?

The focus of this work is on deconstructing or at least de-energizing the “ego/I-based OS”.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could take a global ego/I dimmer switch, and dial them down about 30%?


In looking at different ways to illustrate the problems with the ego/I-based OS, a useful metaphor is that of an elephant and a rider. 

The “rider” is the ego/I, and our “conscious” processor that generates the problematic, self-referential internal narrative (SRIN) “blah, blah” about everything and nothing.

The “elephant” is the massively-interconnected, “off line” brain of 800 billion neurons which does all of the “heavy lifting” and most of everything else.

Some powerful comparisons have emerged from neuroscience to define the capabilities of the “rider” and the “elephant”. 

The “rider” can handle 7 +/- 2 pieces of data at a time and solve one problem at a time.  Its processor runs at 40 to 60 bits/second.

The “elephant” has something like 100 trillionsynaptic interconnections (latest research) for handling and storing information and operates at about 25,000,000 bits/second, depending on applications and assumptions.

The total computing power of the brain is determined by how many discrete areas are operating at the same time.   

Obviously, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching can go on with talking, texting (not so much), walking, driving, digesting food, breathing and pumping of blood, hauling away waste and sending energy-bearing glucose and oxygen to working areas, problem solving,etc. 

Comparing the speed of silicon switching in computers (lightning fast) to our brain’s synaptic switching speed (not so fast), and how much information is stored in the computer’s silicon (none) compared to the information stored in existing synaptic networks (a lot) is complex. Estimates for this parallel processing put the entire brain’s capacity as high as 320 Gigabits (billion bits)/second for the entire brain, > 99.9999+ % of which we are, thankfully, unable to perceive.

There is also a great difference in how parallel processing “assignments” are done in computers vs how the brain likely does it. 

However, the bottom line, for our purposes, is that the “rider” is Uber-microscopic, (get it, “Uber” and “rider”?) both in size and capability, compared to the “elephant” is roughly 500,000 to 1. 

Why do we listen to it?  It’s just a confused press-secretary, disconnected CEO, apologist, critic, etc. contributing little beyond endless “blah, blah”, like many “talking heads” debating a tweet.

As Wei Wu Wei says:

             “Why are you so unhappy?

              Because ninety-nine percent of what you think,

              And everything you do,

              Is for your self,

             And there isn’t one.”


Confirmation bias – What it feels like  

Confirmation bias is simply the tendency to search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs.  Rather than theorize about it, it is important to get a sense of just how strong our bias is.  It is how “fake news” works, as no matter how bizarre or false the story is, we will select the parts that confirm how we already feel.

Reading this, how does this make you feel?   Take a minute or two and just get in touch with how/what you feel about the first President of the United States having wooden teeth…good, bad or indifferent.
This exercise is about George Washington, the first President of the United States, who had wooden teeth, as he lost most of his teeth in his twenties.

Write down a few descriptive words about it.

OK, what do you feel if i tell you that it isn’t true

Write/type a few descriptive words. 


A 2016 fMRI study published in Nature, a top-tier journal, “Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counter evidence”, showed politically-active participants some contradictory and irrational statements by their candidate. Scientists 
@ the National Museum of Dentistry found that George Washington’s wooden teeth were replaced with gold, lead, hippopotamus or elephant ivory, horse and donkey teeth.  Another source included cow teeth, and silver and copper alloys.

Take a minute or two. 

Now how do you feel about George Washington?

Write/type a few descriptive words.


Finally, it was revealed from third and fourth sources that George Washington also had many teeth in his dentures from the slaves on his plantation.

Take a minute. 

Now how do you feel about George Washington? 

Write down some descriptive words.

These stories are all true, but did you see how different your feelings were toward George Washington as the different scenarios were considered?

This confirmation bias exercise is from a “the Oatmeal” cartoon which also uses Napoleon, Thomas Crapper, house flies, Jesus, and Roe v Wade, etc. and is strongly recommended.  The link came from Saima Yousuf.

Confirmation bias – research


The scanner showed that to create separation from the information, the Default Mode Network was activated  to create isolation from the external world and increase internal focus. To actively reduce the emotional conflict, the emotional center, the amygdala, was deactivated.

Other studies have found similar problems with shifting any beliefs that are “directly challenged, especially when these beliefs are central to their identity.  In some cases, exposure to counter-evidence may even increase a person’s confidence that his or her cherished beliefs are true.”  (many references).  

A new Harvard study pointed out just how strong the major media bias in the US and Europe is against the world’s most famous tweeter, reflecting their own confirmation bias. 

Confirmation bias is a real world problem, particularly in an era of  “fake news” and social media with little/no source credentialing, validation or “fact checking”.  IME, this is acute in spiritual/religious arenas.

As the authors point out “the inability to change another person’s mind through evidence and argument, or to have one’s own mind changed in turn, stands out as a problem of great societal importance”.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Author bio:

Gary is a Subject/collaborator in neuroscience studies at Yale, Institute Of Noetic Sciences, Baumann Institute, Center for Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness, Johns Hopkins, Penn State.

From 2000 – 2004 he was Associate VP of research for Penn State responsible for all technology transfer operations of University including angel investing, venture capital, licensing, patenting and start-up support. Responsible for external industrial R&D contracts and interfaces with the University.

In the late 90’s Gary was SVP Science and Technology for PPG responsible for all corporate R&D w/four research laboratories, approx. 1000 engineers, scientists and technical folk, and $260MM budget. Member of Executive Committee.  Since then he has been researching and writing about happiness beyond thought. He is applying his extensive research skills to helping leaders.

Stress And Sleep – How To Master Stress And Recharge

This guest blog is a guest post provided by Nestmaven, a blog focused on helping people sleep. We selected this specific blog because it ties rest to stress and effectiveness. If you are not sleeping well, your resilience will be lower and it will, over time, impact your ability to lead. It is a companion to the Voice America Interview with MaryAnna Klatt, PhD, Mindfulness: Manage Stress to Improve Performance on Voice America, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.

The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that approximately 40 million Americans have some kind of sleep disorder. This encompasses a wide range of illnesses and conditions that include insomniasleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep-related disorders are on the rise and many illnesses that people are suffering from during the day, may be connected to poor sleep, at night.

Depression, weight gain and high blood pressure are just a few of the health issues that can be related to insufficient sleep and the connection between poor sleep and stress can be a cyclical one.

Too much stress can cause you to have a bad sleep, leading to mental and physical health issues which can, in turn, cause stress in daily life, leading to poor sleep at night.

Understanding how stress and sleep are connected is the path to getting a handle on the problem and learning how to manage stress during the day can only help improve your overall health and wellness and, hopefully, lead to better sleep, too.

Your Body On Stress – What Exactly Is Stress And How Does Your Body Handle It?

Stress is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”

In short, it is the way by which your body experiences and manages external pressures, whether they are mental or physical.

A normal level of stress can actually be good for the body and can motivate you to work harder, focus and even improve performance.

But, this is only the case when the cause of the stress is short term. Too much stress can have the opposite effect and lead to chronic health problems. To understand why, it is important to know how exactly your body responds to stress on a physiological level.

Normally, when faced with a situation of stress, your nervous system causes your body to release stress hormones, particularly cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

This is part of what is known as the “fight or flight” response in the body and it’s the system that gets you ready to fight or flee your challenge or dangerous situation. These hormones subside once the external threat is removed and the body begins to relax again.

But, when you are under stress continuously, this aggravation to the nervous system doesn’t subside and it can have a devastating effect on your overall health.

Incessant stress causes your blood pressure to be continuously raised, putting a strain on your heart and circulatory system. Breathing is affected, heartbeat becomes rapid and you might be in a near constant state of holding your breath or hyperventilation.

With long term stress, muscles are continuously tense, which might cause headaches and neck strain and continued, heightened levels of cortisol can cause weight gain and inflammation in the body, leading to a suppressed immune system.

Digestion is also affected, as raised cortisol levels cause you to crave and eat more fatty foods, as it helps your body prepare for a dangerous and threatening situation and you might start to suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, as your stomach produces more acid during times of stress.

Your endocrine system, regulated by the brain, is also affected. This can have an effect on everything from mood and tissue health to blood sugar metabolism and reproduction.

It’s no wonder you can’t sleep when your stress levels are raised, as your body is in an ever-ready fight mode on a physiological level, ready to tackle whatever danger is coming your way.

5 Ways In Which Stress Affects Your Body

  • Endocrine system – Stress causes the adrenal gland to release epinephrine, or adrenaline and norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, into the body, which helps your body respond to danger by increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels and converting fat to energy. Your body also releases cortisol during stress, which has many damaging effects on the body when unregulated. The increase in hormones causes the liver to produce more glucose and strains the body’s ability to reabsorb the sugar, causing diabetes. Even more frightening, an Australian study showed that chronic stress increases the rate and volume at which lymphatic vessels drain cancerous tumours, helping them to spread throughout the body.
  • Respiratory system – Stress can cause increased and shallow breathing or holding of your breath, meaning that cells don’t get enough oxygen. This can lead to dizziness, lack of concentration and you could even temporarily lose consciousness.
  • Circulatory system – When you are under stress, your heart beats faster, working to pump blood quickly around your body to get it ready for action. Blood pressure is raised and when under stress and it can be raised for too long, causing long-term problems for the body.
  • Digestive system – Heartburn, acid reflux, ulcers and esophageal spasms are all health issues that can be tied to stress in the body, as your body produces more acid and controls what nutrients you absorb during times of high stress. This can also cause constipation and diarrhoea.
  • Musculoskeletal system – During times of high stress, muscles are constantly tightened, leading to pain, injury and chronic issues like migraines and tension headaches.

5 Top Causes Of Stress

The American Psychological Association conducts an annual “Stress in America” survey, in which they determine how stressed Americans feel and what exactly keeps them up at night.

Released in November 2017, the most recent poll shows the most common sources of stress are as seen in this infographic.

While this report showed that American’s stress levels in 2017 were at levels consistent to those in 2016, nearly half (46 percent) of Americans polled reported that lying awake at night in the past night was one outcome of their stress levels.

This is a marked increase from 2016, when 40 percent of Americans reported sleeplessness due to their stress levels.

Further to this, 34 percent of people polled reported that they felt fatigue due to their stress.

How Stress Keeps You Awake At Night – The Vicious Cycle Of Bad Sleep And Stress

There are many ways in which the above mentioned physiological changes can make for a poor sleep. Heightened adrenaline levels and increased heart rate can cause tossing and turning and a feeling of restlessness.

When your body is experiencing chronic stress, it thinks it’s in a state of perpetual danger and that it shouldn’t be sleeping! You might be able to fall asleep but not stay asleep and you might wake up frequently in the night.

You might find it hard to calm your thoughts and lay awake at night, worrying about your finances, relationship, work or whatever else is bothering you.

Overwork or being too busy during the day can also lead to stress and leave yourself with not enough time to get a good sleep. If you find yourself with not enough hours to sleep, you might not fall asleep easily when you finally do go, because you are overstimulated and overworked.

With no time to wind down at the end of your day, your body forgets which is rest time and which is time for action.

Not enough time and too much stress in your day might also mean that you don’t have enough time to exercise, make time for friends and family or do otherwise relaxing and healthy activities that relieve stress, leading to a poor sleep at night.

After a bad sleep, you might need more caffeine to stay awake, causing a vicious cycle in which you can’t get to sleep at night, because you’ve had too much caffeine. These are just a few of the ways in which stress can keep you up or ruin the quality of your sleep.

How To Lower Stress Levels To Improve Sleep

While there are a few chronic sleep conditions that may require medical intervention, like sleep apnoea and insomnia, if your sleep loss is due to stress, there are some things you can do to help yourself. Check out some of these tips and tricks to relieving stress and incorporate a few of them into your daily life, to see if you notice any difference in sleep quality.

Increase Your Exposure To Daylight

If you work inside a dark office during the day or live in the northern hemisphere, you might not be getting enough daylight and your sleep might be affected.

Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight or bright indoor lights during the morning hours helps people sleep better at night.Adequate daylight is also shown to decrease depression and stress.

Help calibrate your circadian rhythm by making sure you get lots of daylight and if you can’t, consider investing in a light therapy device to keep near you, during the day.

Exercise

Make sure you are giving yourself time to exercise during the day. Exercise is considered by health professionals as one of the best ways to maintain mental health and reduce stress.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that “when stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact, as well.

So, it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind.” Exercise releases endorphins into the body that not only make you happy but help reduces stress and improve sleep.

Try Some Natural Relaxation And Wellness Techniques

Meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques have all proved effective for stress and sleep disorders. There are plenty of guided meditations and yoga routines geared specifically to those with problems sleeping.

Take some time out of your busy day to wind down at the end of it.Even if you have only 10 minutes for a short meditation before you go to bed, you may see a positive result.

You don’t need any special skills or to follow any religious dogma, so give it a try. No time? Fall asleep to music or nature sounds geared especially for deep sleep. Here are a few of our favourites:

Try Aromatherapy

You might find that incorporating some aromatherapy into your life can help you sleep. One 2017 study showed that patients in intensive care that could not sleep well had an increased quality of sleep and reduced level of anxiety by using lavender oil.

There are many different ways to use essential oils to help you relax and sleep, including air diffusers and pillow sprays. Lavender and camomile are two popular essential oils with relaxing properties.

Have a bath before bed with a few drops of lavender or sleep with an air diffuser on near the bed, to both moisturize the air and infuse it with a relaxing aroma.

Make Your Room A Den Of Zen

Give yourself a chance to relax and calm down before bed. Never bring your work to bed and invest in a good bed with linens in calming colours, like white and grey. Keep your room clear of clutter and other stressors and keep your tablets and other devices out of the bedroom. Establish a relaxing night time routine that starts at least an hour before you try to hit the pillow.

Try Journaling

You might be able to relieve some stress by journaling before bed. The University of Rochester Medical Center says that journaling can help you manage overwhelming emotion and anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression.

It does this by helping you prioritize your problems, fears and concerns as you work out the issues that are causing you stress and can also be used as a tool to track your day to day stressors and triggers, so you can learn better ways to control them.

Sort Out Your Finances

65 percent of Americans lie awake due to money issues. Sometimes easier said than done, sorting out your finances can be a good way to reducing your stress and helping you to get a good night’s sleep.

While it might not always be easy to reduce financial stress, you might be having trouble sleeping because you havebeen avoiding your financial problems and, because they don’t just “disappear”, they will haunt you, at night.

By looking at your finances honestly, consolidating debt and coming up with an actionable plan, you can slowly work to make positive changes and reduce your financial stress. (5 strategies to Deal with Financial Stress) .

Look To Supplements

Before turning to sleeping pills, consider supplements and herbal remedies to help you sleep. While all supplements should be taken under the guidance of a physician, melatonin, tryptophan, B12 and magnesium are some of the useful ones that might help you, as well as herbal teas that contain valerian, passionflower and camomile.

Adjust Your Diet

Apart from making sure you get enough exercise, a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of the stress/sleep equation. Lower your caffeine consumption by the afternoon, so that you aren’t keeping yourself awake.

Don’t eat too close to bedtime and make sure your diet isn’t too heavy in sugar and carbohydrates, which can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and energy levels. Give your body a chance to fast in the evening and cut out late night snacking.

Seek Professional Help

If nothing seems to work and you’ve tried all of the above, you might do well with the help of a sleep specialist. If you have eliminated the possibility of a medical condition, such as apnoea, a sleep specialist can try to determine why you aren’t sleeping and what to do about it.

Sleep clinics can monitor your breathing and heart rate when you are sleeping, to make sure that you don’t have a medical problem and to determine if it is stress related, or something else.

Take charge of your wellness and look into how stress might be affecting your sleep and how lack of sleep is affecting your stress levels! A serious matter, high levels of stress can have lasting consequences on your health and wellness and lead to life threatening diseases and bigger problems than just being tired.

By learning about what is happening inside your body during times of stress, you can better understand how to change or modify your environment and routines and gain some control of your body, inside and out. And, by employing just one or two of the above techniques to manage stress, you might notice a big change in your mental and physical health and sleep quality.

Please check out the interview with Belinda Gore and Mark Palmer giving more in-depth information about building resilience.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Stress Reduction: Relax Like a Boss

This guest blog is a guest post provided by John Parrott who runs Relax Like A Boss, a blog that teaches people how to reduce stress and relax in a busy world. It is a companion to the Voice America Interview with Belinda Gore and Mark Palmer, Building Resilience, A Key Foundation for Change on Voice America, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations. 

Why Use Relaxation Techniques?

We all feel stressed from time to time…

But did you know that this can be incredibly harmful?

The Journal of the American Medical Associationdiscovered that stress can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and even obesity.

But that’s how relaxation techniques can help. According to the American Psychological Association, relaxation techniques can dramatically improve your health long-term, as we’ll discuss below…

The Benefits Of Relaxation Techniques.

Here’s a few of the benefits of relaxation techniques…

– Reducing Depression And Anxiety.

Relaxation techniques can be effective in regulating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses.

When stressed, the volume of ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin are reduced.

These are partly responsible for the feelings of sorrow and helplessness commonly associated with depression.

It has even been claimed that ‘meditation works just as well as antidepressants’, which seek to alter serotonin receptors and boost levels in the brain.

Simply practicing relaxation techniques for just half an hour a day can produce effects similar to those of antidepressants, without any side effects.

– Lowers Blood Pressure.

Although researchers aren’t certain of the exact mechanisms involved, chronic stress has been shown to raise blood pressure and worsen heart function.

High blood pressure can create a number of health problems, from insomnia to strokes and cardiac address.

Regulating stress levels with relaxation techniques can significantly reduce this risk.

In one study, patients that underwent just 10 minutes of slow breathing exercises saw a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure.

It is thought that the daily practicing of similar techniques can help to keep stress-related hypertension under control, improving overall health and wellbeing.

– Boosts Immune System.

Prolonged stress has been proven time and again to hamper the function of the immune system.

This is, in part, because the body is less able to fight inflammation when under high-anxiety conditions due to chemical changes in the body.

Simply by reducing overall stress levels, inflammation can be regulated and many diseases, from the common cold to rheumatoid arthritis, avoided.

Physical Relaxation Techniques.

1. Breathing Exercises.

Breathing exercises have been recognised for centuries as a powerful tool for relaxation.

From the towering mountains of Tibet to the humble office of a psychological therapist, breathing is an incredibly versatile, easily-accessible way to reach a state of calmness and serenity.

Breathing exercises, also known as diaphragmatic breathing exercises, involve taking long, deep breaths into the stomach rather than the chest.

  1. Find a comfortable position, seated or lying down.
  2. Breathe slowly into your stomach through the nose, keeping your chest still. It may help to place one hand over your abdomen and the other over your chest, ensuring that only your moves as you inhale.
  3. Exhale through pursed lips, your mouth relaxed. Release tension from all parts of your body as you breathe out.
  4. Continue for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times daily.

This exercise isn’t limited to the yoga mat, the quietness of your bedroom or a social situation. It can be practiced anywhere, at any time.

Whenever you begin to feel stressed, simply turn your focus to your breathing and continue until calmness is restored.

2. Progress Muscle Relaxation.

Based upon the premise that muscle tension is the body’s response to poor mental health, progressive muscle relaxation has been known to significantly improve symptoms of stress and anxiety.

This technique involves identifying tension in individual muscles by contracting them. This tension is then released slowly and under control.

Practicing muscle relaxation can provide a wealth of psychological benefits, from improving mental health to boosting physical performance.

It is also suggested to lead to increased blood flow, boosting local metabolism and, in turn, reducing pain and muscle spasms.

Progressive muscle relaxation should be practiced whilst lying down. Choose somewhere free from distractions and where you can lie and stretch out comfortably.

  1. Breathe in slowly, tensing the first muscle group you choose – but not to the point of pain. Hold this contraction for 5-10 seconds.
  2. Exhale, relaxing your muscles fully and quickly.
  3. Relax for a further 10-15 seconds before moving onto other muscles. Notice any changes in your state of mind and body as your practice deepns.
  4. Continue to work through the rest of your body, paying attention to every sensation.
  5. Finish by counting to 10, in complete stillness, and bring your awareness back to the present moment.

3. Humming.

The concept of humming for relaxation brings to mind pictures of monks perched atop tall hills, monotonous notes being held for several seconds at a time in a state of total serenity.

In reality, the practice of humming isn’t quite as mystical or spiritual as it is stigmatized to be. It’s an incredibly simple and effective relaxation technique.

Humming can:

  • Dissolve worries by calming the mind.
  • Give time for reflection.
  • Stimulate creativity.
  • Help bring about feelings of peace.
  • Relieve stress and anxiety.

Simply find a quiet place to sit, relax the body, inhale and let out a long ‘hmm’ sound as you exhale.

When you run out of breath, breathe in and repeat. Continue this exercise for 10-15 minutes.

4. Yoga.

Yoga is not only a powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety, but also an excellent form of exercise for the body.

It’s a practice that’s been used for millennia, its roots set in schools of thought like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

Yoga is an incredibly relaxing practice. As is written in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ‘Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind.’

Many studies have even recognised yoga as an effective intervention for illnesses such as asthma, schizophrenia and heart disease.

Here’s an outline of a basic yoga practice. Be sure to explore the varying branches of yoga, constructing a plan the best suits your physical capabilities and preferences.

  • Begin with a short meditation or humming exercise to calm the mind.
  • Move from warming up with sun salutations to a mixture of standing poses, backbends and forward bends. Be sure to focus on all muscles of the body, from the neck to the feet.
  • End your practice with shavasana, lying still on the floor.
  • Take these final minutes of your practice to relax fully, letting the business of your mind settle with body.

5. T’ai Chi.

The Chinese martial art of t’ai chi is known not only for its value in defense training, but also its numerous health benefits.

T’ai chi has been reported as being beneficial in treating a number of ailments, including Parkinson’s and diabetes. Furthermore, the art of of t’ai chi has been proven to have beneficial effects against a range of mental disorders.

T’ai chi has also been measured to reduce levels of cortisol in the blood, increase endorphins and reduce levels of inflammatory markers in the body.

The practice of t’ai chi is centered around improving the flow of ‘chi’, the Chinese concept of intangible energy. It is an incredibly effective way to calm the mind, practice mindfulness, and reconnect with the here and now.

6. Exercise.

Physical exercise is known to stimulate the release of endorphins – hormones that interact with the brain and trigger positive bodily feelings, similar to those associated with morphine.

For this reason, exercise is known for its ability to alleviate the symptoms of depression, chronic stress, and other mental illnesses.

‘There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people’, says James Blumenthal, PhD of Duke University.

Based on a number of studies, Blumenthal concludes that physical exercise is comparable to antidepressants for patients with major stress and depressive disorders.

Exercise doesn’t have to be grueling and painful. Even light, steady walks can have significant effects in reducing stress and anxiety.

Relaxation Techniques for the Mind.

7. Meditation.

Meditation has been proven time and again to have significant value in boosting not only mental health, but also the function of the immune system.

This is, in part, due to telomere lengthening.

Short caps at the end of DNA called telomeres work to shield our genes from damage. Without telomeres, DNA is exposed to harm from our external environment, wreaking havoc on our bodies and, in many cases, causing cancer and other diseases.

It has been proven in several controlled studiesthat meditation can actually lengthen telomeres in the cells of our immune system.

The result? A body that is not only mentally well, but incredibly resilient to disease, too.

Not only this, but meditation is also incredibly effective in reducing stress and promoting feelings of relaxation.

In one study conducted by Harvard, just an average of 27 minutes of daily meditation over 8 weeks produced profound changes in the brain.

The amygdala, an area of the brain linked with anxiety and stress, was shown to reduce in size. Participants also reported significant improvements in their overall wellbeing.

Here is a brief overview of the practice:

  1. Take a comfortable seat somewhere quiet and free from distraction.
  2. Begin to breathe deeply into the base of the stomach.
  3. Allow your mind to quieten, holding your focus on the breath.
  4. When you find yourself lost in thought, gently return to your breathing.
  5. Continue for 10+ minutes daily.

8. Listen To Nature Sounds.

‘Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind,’ – Amit Ray.

No method of relaxation is quite as overlooked as the simple practice of listening to nature; the sounds of birds singing, rain pattering on the tops of trees, wind whistling, waterfalls…

When you find your mind overrun with anxiety or by stress, simply reconnect with nature.

Step outside, take a deep breath, and embrace the modest beauty of the world around you.

9. Get Into A Routine.

Stress, anxiety, and many forms of emotional turmoil can arise from a lack of order in our day-to-day lives.

Whether it’s being frequently late for meetings or having an untidy bedroom, seemingly harmless areas of our lives can mount up and cause us a great deal of discomfort if left unchecked.

Simply establishing a daily or weekly routine, built to maximise productivity and wellbeing, can have tremendous effects on overall wellbeing.

Take some time out of your day to assess your daily habits.

Ask questions. Do you do enough of the things you love? Does your everyday life lack productivity? Are you acting in accordance with your goals?

When you have considered the areas of your daily routine that could benefit from a little TLC, put together a plan of action to eradicate unnecessary stressors from your life.

10. Listen To Music.

Music has long been recognised for its powerful impact on mood and wellbeing.

However, for the purposes of entertainment, music has become incredibly commonplace in society. It’s everywhere, from the car radio to television to the supermarket.

Rarely do we give music our complete, undivided attention.

Simply sitting and listening to a piece of music in full, free from all other distractions, can be an incredibly relaxing and therapeutic technique.

Choose a peaceful, soothing track or album to enjoy. Perhaps light some candles and enjoy the melody with a hot mug of tea in hand.

Then spend as many seconds, minutes or hours as you please tuning into the sounds you hear, and nothing else.

11. Practice Mindfulness.

Many forms of emotional turmoil result from a lack of mindfulness.

Mindfulness, at its core, is the simple act of focusing our awareness on the present moment, allowing the busy mind to relax into the here and now.

Many causes of day-to-day stress are chained to events of the past or future. Worrying about deadlines, the safety of loved ones, and any event that lies outside of this very moment can be the cause for a great detail of unrest.

By returning our focus to this moment, we free ourselves of unnecessary unhappiness and learn to appreciate every second of being alive.

When you find yourself becoming stressed or anxious, begin to expand your awareness to the this moment and all it contains.

Tune into the sensations inside your body, the sounds, sights and smells around you and the current situation you find yourself in.

12. Self-Hypnosis.

Self-hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, can be a highly successful way to reduce stress and clear the mind of unwanted thoughts.

The foundation of hypnosis is hinged upon the theories of world-renowned psychologist, Sigmund Freud.

Freud suggested that there are three components to consciousness; the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, and the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is the focus of hypnotherapy.

It is believed that the unconscious mind contains all thoughts, values and ideas that we cannot access willingly. Instead, it influences our behaviour and emotions without us knowing.

By tapping into the subconscious mind through hypnosis, individuals and therapists attempt to rewrite its contents and improve mental health by deleting negative thinking patterns.

Here’s how to practice self-hypnosis:

(Before you begin your practice, create 2-3 statements that you wish to revisit during your practice. Theoretically, these statements will be planted into your subconscious once a state of hypnosis is reached. Examples mind include ‘I am stress free’, ‘I am not my thoughts’, ‘I am relaxed at work’.)

  1. Begin by feeling physically relaxed and comfortable. Put on comfortable clothes, perhaps practice some yoga or take a warm bath, and enter your practice feeling relaxed and at ease.
  2. Identify an object to focus on. Ideally, choose an object that will require you to look slightly upwards or directly in front of you.
  3. Attempt to clear your mind of thoughts. Focus intently on your chosen object, allowing all other thoughts to gently fade away. This may take some time, and it isn’t easy. If your mind wanders, simply return it to the object.
  4. Expand your awareness to your eyes, feeling them become heavier and slowly closing.
  5. Relax your muscles further with every exhalation. Slow your breathing as you settle deeper with each out-breath.
  6. Visualise an object swaying slowly back and forth. This may be a pendulum swinging or a pocket watch moving from side to side – anything with a slow, regular pace.
  7. Begin to count slowly down from 10 in your head. Tell yourself that you are relaxing deeper and deeper after every number.
  8. Believe and remind yourself that, when your countdown is complete, you will have reached a hypnotic state.
  9. Once in a state of hypnosis, return to the statements you prepared before your practice. Focus on each, visualising it intently and repeating it over and over, maintaining a state of total relaxation.
  10. Slowly count back up to 10. As you progress, become more energetic and alert; reverse the process you used before to reach a state of hypnosis.
  11. When you reach 10, return to your day with a renewed sense of calm.

Social Relaxation Techniques.

13 Practice Gratitude.

Taking just a few moments out of our day to practice gratitude, cultivating appreciation for what we have, is an effective way to reduce stress and encourage feelings of contentment.

When you find yourself consumed in thought and emotion, simply turn your focus to that which you’re grateful for.

That may be family or friends, your job, health, freedom, or even just life itself. Often these modest blessings are overlooked. Reminding ourselves of all that we are fortunate to have can bring us happiness and peace of mind.

14. Reflect On What Makes You Happy.

Humans have a troublesome propensity to focus on the negative of every situation. And there’s a good reason for this.

Many years ago, pessimism served a handy survival mechanism. Our cave-dwelling ancestors developed a tendency to identify problems and hazards rather than contemplating that which made them happy.

As a result, they’d strive for more – more food, better shelter, larger families, and these desires would serve the purpose of helping our species to survive.

Those that sought more increased their chances of survival. Thus, they passed their character traits through many generations.

What was once an evolutionary blessing, however, now manifests itself as a scourge on our mental health.

It can be easy to focus on the negative aspects of our lives; to desire more than we currently have and become disheartened and stressed as a result.

Simply switching your focus to the things that make you happy, whether that be a delicious food, cherished memories or loving family members, can work wonders on our stress levels.

When plagued by pessimism, make a conscious effort to list off 5 things that make you happy. If your mind reverts back to negativity, recenter your awareness on that which fills you with joy.

15. Random Acts Of Kindness.

Executing random acts of kindness is a quick, easy and extremely powerful way to reduce stress and promote feelings of joy and contentment.

Here are some examples:

  • Complimenting a stranger.
  • Buying a meal for a homeless person.
  • Expressing your love to a friend.
  • Donating to charity.
  • Smiling at passersby in the street.

These small, seemingly trivial acts of kindness have the power to lift your own mood whilst brightening other people’s day.

How To Make The Most Out Of These Techniques.

Here’s a few ways to make the most out of these relaxation techniques…

– Be Persistent. 

While a one-off relaxation session won’t do you any harm, in order to feel the full benefits of your practice you should aim to engage in it as often as possible.

– Be Consistent. 

In order to be persistent, it helps to be consistent with your timings.

Whether it be yoga every weeknight, meditating at 7am every morning or writing in a journal before bed every evening, consistency will ensure that you stay committed to your practice and set aside enough time to engage in it.

– Find The Techniques That Work For You.  

T’ai chi may not be for you, and that’s okay. Finding relaxation techniques that you actually enjoy will increase the chances that you stay committed to your habits.

– Optimise Your Environment. 

Practicing these techniques in a quiet, peaceful setting with minimal distractions will ensure that you get the most out of the time you spend.

 

Please check out the interview with Belinda and Mark giving more in-depth information about building resilience.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

10 Disruptive Leadership Trends for 2018

This post is the companion to a Voice America interview with Tracy Wilen, researcher and speaker on the impact of technology on society, work, and careers on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” Digital Disruption: The future of Work, Skills and Leadership airing on April 17, 2018.

The world is in disruption! You are at the forefront of change. Increasingly, everything we do is impacted by technology from how we communicate with others, connect at work, learn at school, and live our lives. As technology continues to seep into our lives we become accustomed to it and dependent on it, putting pressure on workplace leaders, education systems, and even ourselves to rethink how we approach this divergent world of work, leadership, lifelong learning, skill development, and careers. The

continuing accelerated pace of technology and competitive forces is causing workplace environments to become more technical, diverse, and in need of leaders who understand how to deal with disruption.

This new landscape requires contemporary styles of leadership and new techniques for managing organizations. Today, there are unique pressures on company leaders, workers, and educators to change the ways they prepare and plan for modern-day jobs and careers. This interview and Tracey’s book, Digital Disruption: The Future of Work, Skills, Leadership, Education and Careers in a Digital World, offer educators, executives, and students a fresh approach for how to navigate the future to ensure success. They cover the key forces impacting the future of work, industries, leadership styles, skills, and education with a focus on how to remain relevant in an ever-increasingly complex digital world.

Here are the 10 disruptive predictions for 2018.

  1. Disrupted Society. Society is hyper‐connected, dependent and, in some cases, addicted to continuously being “connected.” And the expectation is that this will be increasingly the case. If you sleep with your phone, panic if it is missing, text numerous times a day, have numerous apps you use daily, frequently post selfies on social media, and buy most items on‐line, and are an Amazon prime member, it is a seamless part of your life. This is you.

 

  1. Disrupted Work. There are many shifts in the work place. One is extreme longevity, meaning many people will work 60 years to afford to retire. This also means a multi‐generational workforce. How we work together will need to change, in addition to how many years we work.

 

  1. Disrupted industry. We often hear about Uber, Air BNB and Amazon. Traditional industries are being disrupted at an accelerated rate. It is imperative that leaders pay attention to not only their industry but also those tangentially connected to monitor trends—and anticipate the impacts they will have on you.

 

  1. Disruptive Leadership. If work and industry are disrupted, do we need disruptive leaders? To compete, leadership needs to change because a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world requires new kinds of leaders.

 

  1. Women as disruptive leaders. Women are Corporate America’s killer app. Women are skilled, educated, have modern-day leadership skills, collaborate, trust, see the big picture, promote employee engagement, and have in-demand skills.

 

  1. Disruptive Diversity. Diversity is strategic for disruption. Innovation and diversity go hand-in- hand invest in 2018. Delivering products and services to a diverse customer base means having a diverse design team and workforce.

 

  1. Disrupted Careers. With all the changes to work and industry, jobs will most certainly change. It is important to keep current with technology, make lateral moves and continually build skills.

 

  1. Disruptive skills. Everyone will need additional and new skills, for some people, Social Intelligence will need to increase, in a digital world. Do you see how you are perceived as a leader or team mate? Can you read the room and get a feel for what people think of you? Others will need to increase their ability to make sense of the increasing volume of data and turn the insights into action.

 

  1. Disrupted Education. Education must supply the world with capable people who can work, think and be relevant in the digital world they will work in. Integrated work and learning strategies is a path many colleges are taking with employer Internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, and summer jobs.

 

  1. Disrupted selves. Are you taking time for a “career selfie”? Have you mapped out your career trajectory? Do you collect data and review your progress on a regular basis? If not, you are likely to be missing opportunities to make the series of small changes that will keep you current and relevant.

Disruption is on top of everyone’s mind. As technology rapidly accelerates, so does fear of the future. People are worrying about the impact of future technologies on our lives, how we lead firms in the digital era, our personal careers, and future jobs. Some people are tackling this head on and some are somewhat resistant or frozen in their track because the newness and pace of change. What are you doing in each of these areas to ensure you manage the disruption rather than being disrupted?

About the author

Dr. Tracey Wilen is a researcher and speaker on the impact of technology on society, work, leadership, education, and careers. A former visiting scholar at Stanford University, she has held leadership positions at Apple, HP, and Cisco Systems. She was an adjunct professor at several Bay Area colleges, teaching classes in business, technology, and women’s workforce topics. Dr. Wilen has authored or co-authored twelve books including Employed for Life (2014), Women Lead (2013) and Society 3.0 (2012). She has appeared on CNN, Fox, and CBS News and is a regular guest on radio and TV shows across the US as an expert contributor. Dr. Wilen was honored by the San Francisco Business Times as the Most Influential Woman in Bay Area Business.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Aging Consciously

This post is the companion to a Voice America interview with Karen Sands, Leading GeroFuturistSM, Amazon #1 Best-Seller Author, Fire Cracker Speaker, All-Around Game Changer and Thought Leader on the Longevity Economy aired on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” Navigating the Graying Demographic: Rock Your Age and Manage Intergenerationally. We will continue this conversation with both Karen Sands and Virginia Macali in future conversations.

 

I often talk about the changes in technology and how they will change our work lives. For readers who are around fifty years of age, if you make it to sixty-seven, you are likely to live into your mid-80s. This is particularly interesting because I am in my 50s and wonder for myself what my next twenty years will look like if I live another thirty years. In talking about personal choices, I also examine the trends regarding baby boomer retirement and levels of unemployment.

According to the Pew Research Center, “As the year 2011 began on Jan. 1, the oldest members of the Baby Boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday. In fact, on that day, today, and for every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. The aging of this huge cohort of Americans (26% of the total U.S. population are Baby Boomers) will dramatically change the composition of the country. Currently, just 13% of Americans are ages 65 and older. By 2030, when all members of the Baby Boom generation have reached that age, fully 18% of the nation will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections.”

Add to that, the unemployment rate for 2018 is expected to be 3.9 percent according to The Balance.

Artificial intelligence and technology will change the composition of jobs—in many cases requiring more tech savvy roles to manage the automation of prior manual jobs. In other cases, AI will eliminate jobs that focus on routine tasks.

With all the unknowns, the one certainty is the need to continually update skills. I spoke with the President of Junior Achievement of Central Ohio, Mike Davis, about this trend. According to Mike, his focus after reaching age fifty has been to continually update his skills to stay relevant and move his organization ahead and leveraging the changes in our ecosystem to make the greatest impact.

Given the data, I wanted to share what I am thinking about this information for myself and my clients. When contemplating what I would like my life to look like, I break the questions into four categories:

  1. What do I value and how do I find meaning in my life? Specifically, how do I continue to find meaning in my life and work? Personally, I find a great deal of fulfillment in my professional work both within my company, teaching in universities, and in board work. I hope to continue to participate in each of these roles over the next 20 years.
  2. What do I do with my time? If I value the work and my sense of purpose based on the work, I need to maintain my level of knowledge and continue to grow, especially since my personal brand is associated with innovating how we lead. To be true to what I say I do, I will need to continue to invest significant time in learning. I will also need to explore working alternatives, particularly when traveling, that match my energy level. This will mean leveraging technology to manage whenever possible.
  3. What do organizational cultures support? It seems that many organizations are open to older workers as long as they are able to keep up with younger workers. I plan to promote environments that build productive interactions across age groups. This could be co-mentoring or other structures that allow multiple age groups to support one another’s growth and development.
  4. What do organizational systems support? Organizations need to promote ongoing education to ensure their workers can continue to perform their roles at ever increasing levels over time. As workers plan to retire later, it is incumbent on both the employees and the organizations to update skills, so the work is performed to necessary standards. An opportunity for companies who can be creative is to promote flexible working arrangements for older workers who no longer want to work a standard 40+ hour schedule. This could include working remotely, job sharing, or working on a task-related basis like “gig” workers.

What stands out for me as I consider my own future, is that I must maintain my current level of impact in the world, which is where I find great meaning and value in my life. I need to continue to invest in my own skill development. I also need to stay healthy. While we haven’t discussed this element, it is imperative for me to attend to my health and manage my stress so I am able to continue working at a high level of performance.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

What is the Cost of Lost Integrity?

This blog is a is a guest post and companion to the interview with Ken Wylie, Founder of Mountains for Growth on  VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on January 2, 2018 Buried in an Avalanche, Finding Deeper Meaning in Failure.  

Last week I was instructing one of my rock climbing courses to a group of students on Quadra Island just east of Campbell River BC. The rain kept us undercover for the better part of a couple of days. When the students were done with learning technical systems we changed gears and challenged them with the classic “Spiders web” problem.  The task is to pass your entire group through the web without anyone touching and alerting the “spider” of your presence. The web in this case was a matrix of cords tied together to simulate a human sized web. With all of the safety rules in place, like. . .”no diving through the web,” my co instructor, Graeme White presented a final challenge to the students when he said, “Your job is to self police yourselves and monitor your own performance around touching the web.” The students enthusiastically accepted the task.

It was a difficult web and the students began to feel like the task was impossible to get everyone to the other side. At one point, with two thirds of the crew through the web, one of them touched and had to be sent back to the starting side to be passed through again. The challenge was that only one person saw the web being touched. Every other member of the group of 8 thought it was a clean pass. I could see the individual, who had called the team out, begin to squirm but he held fast to his truth. Then one of the participants said, “He is lying” in a desperate effort to have the group succeed. “But why would he lie about something like that? I queried.

I remember being a young climber and lying about a greater success on a climb than I had actually achieved. Wanting so badly to be a person who was perceived as being a success I fabricated a story. I carried that lie for years at great personal cost. What is it about getting through by any means possible that is so alluring? Why is our integrity so easily scrapped for false achievement?

Recently I was at the Volkswagon repair shop and I said to the mechanic something about the recent challenges the company was going through as “cheating”. He said, “I don’t see it that way.” I asked, “How do you see it?” He replied, “We send students to university where the culture is to do what is necessary to get the best grade possible. Then we put them to work where they need to solve problems and they do what is necessary to solve the challenge at hand. We have taught the members of our society to win and it is not seen as cheating.”  I nodded thinking that it is a cultural construct rather than ill will. But it is still dishonest if it is not something we can be transparent about.

The problem is that when we cash in our integrity for false achievement we exchange something profound. Self love. It is impossible to love ourselves if we are not honest because we are not in line with our best self. We all look in the mirror every morning and if we have been impeccably honest, we like who we see reflected back at us.

The dictionary’s first definition of integrity is about being honest and having strong moral principles. The second definition is the state of being whole and undivided. I think one leads to the other. If we are honest, we become whole. Being whole is the best success in such a fragmented world.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author:

Ken Wylie has been on faculty at the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University and Thompson Rivers University in Canada in adventure-based academic programs. Ken founded Mountains for Growth in 2013 to help individuals and groups gain personal insight and wisdom through their mountain adventures. Ken has developed the concept of “Adventure Literacy”® based on the idea that adventure is always presenting information to us, our job is to listen and harvest lessons.

Ken holds a bachelor of physical education (Outdoor Pursuits), is a member of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations, and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and is the author of “Buried” 2014, which is about his path navigating through tragedy.

 

At C-Level #15: Transformation Communications

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is an Executive Leadership Development Coach at the Innovative Leadership Institute, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

 

In At C-Level #10–18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model like the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below.

Communicate

 

It is unlikely that you will ever over communicate in a transformation effort, unless what you are communicating does not resonate with your audience—and, in that case, it isn’t a matter of over communicating, it’s more likely that you are miscommunicating. Communication is effective when your audience feels you are sharing your passion and that you are authentic, see the path forward, and feel their contribution is vital to making a transformation.

 

Simply setting the example, saying it once, posting it on every wall, and thinking that it will sink in by osmosis just isn’t enough. You must live, breathe, and give testament what you believe every day!

 

So, before you start, you need to work with your team on the messages you are sending to your various stakeholder groups—your owners, board (if you have one), employees, customers, suppliers, and the various communities in which you live and work. Your messages need to be

  • consistent with your vision, mission, and values,
  • directional,
  • important to your audience,
  • delivered with an appropriate sense of urgency,
  • clear and concise,
  • translated into the languages the people in your organization speak and understand best, and
  • communicated consistently and often by your transformation leadership team.

 

At first, writing the messaging, as well as potential questions and answers, with the transformation team may be helpful. After a brief time, it should become second nature to everyone if it is constantly and consistently reinforced by the team’s leader(s).

 

When was the last time you stood in front of the organization and discussed your vision, mission, and/or values? When was the last time, someone brought a major challenge to you and you said, “Well, our vision is ____, and we say that we value ____, so we should ____.”?

Here is how we communicated throughout the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

 

  • Large Manufacturing Company. In our transformation to upgrade basic financial reporting controllers into true financial business partners in a large and growing company (our vision), we communicated our vision, plans and progress:
    • at two to three regular or specially-convened controller conferences every year, where the controllers and their assistants traveled to our headquarters,
    • during trips we made to our various business units to keep up with our colleagues and talk about our vision and plans,
    • through conference calls and e-mail with the systems project team,
    • calls, e-mail, and visits I made to our business units, and
    • generally, not enough.

 

Yes, “not enough.” We communicated a lot on how we were getting the new system implemented and how our controllers were getting better training on the business and the new system. And, while we spent some time communicating our vision of the controllers becoming better business partners, we did not spend enough time communicating more precisely how they would do that with their new systems and training!

 

That’s not to say that we did not make significant progress. We made a lot of progress that had been needed for some time. But, did we communicate enough about our vision and the progress we had achieved towards it? In “At C-Level #16: Transformation Implementation and Measures of Success” I write more about this transformation.

Are there clear links between what everyone is doing in your organization today and, if you have them, your vision, mission, and values? What about your goals?

 

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. Leading a transformation “to be the best in the world at what we do,” with our mission to improve the lives of all our five stakeholder groups, left a lot of room for interpretation. There was a lot we did not know yet.

 

However, we did know that we had a basic command and control environment with a very high-revenue growth rate in low-to-no margin integration work. The combination was driving a high-pressure and negative working environment, inefficient and costly operations, unacceptable quality, poor on-time shipping performance, and low and inconsistent earnings. The good news was that we had revenue. We just had to figure out how to solve many of these other challenges before that revenue went away.

 

We started out doing what most companies do with their vision, mission, and values. We had posters made and hung them on the walls. We had wallet cards made and gave them to all employees. We had a couple of kick-off meetings. And that’s where we’ve seen a lot of companies stop.

 

But we continued. We had daily 15-minute order review meetings, daily and weekly Lean Manufacturing implementation meetings, weekly leadership team meetings, bi-weekly company update meetings, and company quarterly results meetings. In almost every meeting, we would ask people to take out their cards, read something from them, and/or talk about some examples where they were used or applicable, always pointing to the card and quoting from it. Our vision, mission and values were always front and center and a part of our daily lives.

 

More important and impactful than our meetings, was that we consistently communicated our vision, mission, and values through our actions. We simply walked the talk.

 

You know you have the right vision, mission, and values when you and your team are passionate about them, can talk about them, and live them out almost effortlessly every day.

 

Do you have posters of your organization’s vision, mission, and values hung up around your place of work? How often do you talk about those? When was the last time you discussed a particular challenge with your team and it was pointed out that the solution was already in your vision, mission, or values statement?

 

  • Global Internet Payments Company. In our transformation journey to turn around the culture, and, in turn, the operational and financial performance of this 10-year-old company now hampered with a start-up mentality that was very difficult to scale, group communications were vital. However, individual communications with the leadership team around the almost daily challenges that came up were even more important.

 

Structured functional and cross-functional Agile meetings with top leadership involvement and support keeping the mission and values fully integrated into how those meetings were conducted, started breaking down the silo walls that had been built.

 

However, there were still competing priorities at the functional leadership level that needed to be re-prioritized for what the company was trying to achieve. That meant a lot of impromptu discussions with individuals and small leadership team groups caught-up in the siloed culture that had developed in recent years. It meant a lot of repetition talking about what the company was all about, how we could move forward more successfully together, and how the practical day-to-day application of our mission and stated values would help us accomplish that. Eventually, the repetition metamorphosed into muscle memory and the leadership team members felt empowered to communicate in and between the functional teams without any facilitation.

 

How much of your time do you spend facilitating discussions and/or making decisions for functional team leaders with competing priorities? Does or could your organization’s vision, mission, and values reduce the need for your personal facilitation time and free up that time up for higher-level strategic interactions, discussions, planning, and execution (with internal and external partners)?

 

Key takeaways from these transformations

 

You cannot communicate enough. Pull people in early and keep them engaged.

 

Take the time to craft messaging around your organization’s driving vision, mission, and values that can be clearly understood at all levels inside and outside your organization. You don’t want to have to adjust your messaging around your high-level purpose and operating guidelines for different groups. You want them all to be disciples. Communications must be easily understood and easy to repeat, so they can be ingrained in the organization and people can easily rally around them over the longer term.

 

Having said that, getting the various stakeholder groups on board requires that they know what’s in it for them and what they have to do to help make it happen. Those communications must be more tailored to the audience within the context of the broader overall messaging.

 

Communicate and gain support at all levels of the organization, starting with your board, your boss, and your team, before going broader across the organization. They should all be part of developing the desired future state and crafting the messaging that helps them buy in.

 

In “At C-Level #16: Implementing Transformations and Measuring Success,” we’ll look at how the transformations of these same three organizations were implemented, how people were further motivated and their success measured along the way, and what the key takeaways are that you may need to think about in preparing for your own organization’s transformative journey.

 

Thanks for following us! For more information or help, please visit us at www.Metcalf-Associates.com.

Preparing Aspiring C-Level Leaders for Key Roles

This post is a companion to the interview with Mike Sayre, President and Chief Operating Officer of Metcalf & Associates on  VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on May 16, 2017: Seven Characteristics of Leadership 2020: A CEO Story. An abbreviated version of this post appeared in Columbus CEO on January 25, Preparing Aspiring Leaders for Key Roles. 

Transformation is in demand. Building leaders and organizations of the future is now a requirement! A key responsibility of all leaders is to train successors. It promotes business continuity and key employee engagement, and helps manage business risk. While many organizations understand the importance, many have not found suitable programs to address this important activity, especially at higher levels in the organization.

The Columbus CIO Forum recently initiated the creation of a program to train CIO successors across the Central Ohio Region. Business and community sponsors joined to ensure the training and development had sufficient direction and resources to succeed, and that it addresses the CIO succession opportunities and challenges facing the community as a whole. This initiative is not a one off, it is part of how Columbus identifies challenges and creates cross sector solutions. According to a Harvard Business School case study focusing on the Columbus Partnership in May of 2015, “Cooperation and collaboration is the Columbus way,”

This community approach to succession planning for a particular profession is a novel approach to building a cadre of well-prepared business and technology successors for the community and deepen the leadership talent pool available across all sectors. This development is imperative for our organizations to thrive and for our leaders to continue to be successful. It also illustrates progressive thinking towards economic development and sustainability in our region and is attractive to organizations evaluating relocation of headquarters and/or business units to Central Ohio.

This program is designed as a year long program with six leadership development classes, four round tables with key business leaders and two social events to support network building. The in-person program sessions held at the Ohio University campus in Dublin include a forward-leaning leadership development curriculum augmented with a robust online offering of assessments, text and video study materials, and interviews with global and local thought leaders and faculty to illustrate the effectiveness of these concepts in action. The academic level of rigor equates to an MBA leadership class.

The model for creating this succession planning program:

  1. Define what success looks like – define a high-level model of the knowledge, skills, abilities and mindsets required to succeed in top level leadership roles now and well into the future. The Strategist leadership model developed by Metcalf & Associates was selected for the program. The CIO community also identified key development areas that they see as a priority for the program to focus on.
  2. Create a leadership program that builds leadership skills based on proven frameworks – offer class room training and self-study modules to build knowledge, skills and abilities, and provide opportunities to practice and integrate those into ongoing work. The program is drawn from an MBA leadership development program and leverages the Innovative Leadership program and book series by Maureen Metcalf that has earned international recognition. Metcalf takes an active role in the International Leadership Association, allowing her to bring world-leading frameworks to local programs.
  3. Balance skill building with tools and activities to build self-awareness and integrate skills into practice – in addition to developing skills required for leadership, creative tools, exercises and reflection activities help each leader build the self-awareness and leadership presence required in senior level roles. Practice exercises are provided in both the in-person and online portions of the program, and immediately applicable in the work environment. The program also makes extensive use of polling software to give the session facilitators feedback about session effectiveness and areas for additional focus.
  4. Learn from thought leaders and experts – provide a library of resources that support aspiring executives in building skills and learning from the perspective of a broad range of leadership experts and thought leaders across multiple fields, ranging from senior executives and government officials to leading academics. The online modules offer participants the opportunity to customize their learning experience to help them develop in areas they find most valuable. The Metcalf interview library covers key topics ranging from implementing analytics programs to major organizational transformations to building resilience in global organizations.
  5. Learn from successful executives – create opportunities for the participants to engage with senior leaders, leadership experts and thought leaders through round tables and discussions after the round tables to help participants translate what others do into what they will do when they return to work. The panel discussions allow leaders to engage with local thought leaders from the local community in robust discussion.
  6. Build a strong network of support within the field – create opportunities for participants to engage with one another during the learning process as thought partners and accountability partners. Additionally, offer networking opportunities for this peer group of aspiring CIOs within the CIO community. A key element of this program is building the senior IT community in central Ohio. The networking component gives leaders an opportunity to build those networks in a manner that is curated to accelerate relationship development and community building.

During times of significant change, leaders and organizations that continue to thrive will be those that perpetually innovate and evolve both the organization and the leaders responsible for running the organization. This level of innovation and evolution requires leaders to continually train successors as part of the ongoing effort to ensure organizations are prepared for the ongoing challenges they face. This program offers a model within Central Ohio that recognizes the need for a strong leadership advancement program across the IT profession and provides a robust solution.

The CIO Forum identified the need for this group and initiated the program by identifying business partners and sponsors to successfully deliver it. Metcalf & Associates and Expedient are key partners in creating and delivering this program. Check the link to learn more about the IT Leaders program.

About the Author: Maureen Metcalf is founder, CEO, and board chair of Metcalf & Associates; and is an executive advisor, consultant, speaker and author.

 

At C-Level #13: Pre-Transformation Analyses

 

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is an Executive Leadership Development Coach at the Innovative Leadership Institute, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

 

In At C-Level #10-18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model like the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below.

 

Analyze Situation & Strengths

 

To plan your transformation journey, you really need to know where the organization is at the start. In planning a family trip from Atlanta to San Francisco, isn’t it important to know how much time you have for the trip, what your vacation budget is, if you can afford to go by plane, train, or automobile, and if all your family members can withstand the rigors of the transportation you choose?

 

I’ve always found that great SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), if done thoroughly, candidly, and by a knowledgeable team, are a good place to start to understand where your organization is today. Further, SWOTs of individuals in your organization (including yourself), competitors, and just about any other entity that could have a significant impact on your business round out that understanding even more. I’ve performed SWOTs on each of these entities at one time or another in transformation processes for the following reasons:

  • to help in idea generation and decision-making;
  • as a baseline to understand where the transformation is starting and what the priorities are coming out of the gate;
  • to help decide if the right people are in the right seats on the bus for our journey, and
  • for developing competitive strategies, both short and long term.

 

What is your vision? What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities could be most impactful for your organization? What are the threats?

Here is how we analyzed our situation and strengths in the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

 

  • Large Manufacturing Company. Leading a transformation to upgrade basic financial reporting controllers into true financial business partners began with a lot of analysis during my discussions with the plant controllers, general managers, and corporate people as well. The vision was a result of those informal interviews, discussions, research and analyses.

 

Early members of the transformation team then did a SWOT analysis on the company’s controllership function to help put the interview results into more of a framework and to help justify the project. Improving the skills and utilization of our controllers to reach our vision included the need to expand their training and upgrade their tools with a new integrated financial system. To properly evaluate software platforms, we needed an in-depth understanding of what we were getting out of the then current systems to understand the minimum functionality we needed the new platform to be able to provide, plus what new functionality we wanted. We used a standard template from a Big 4 accounting firm to do that evaluation.

 

With our vision clearly in mind, we also needed to take a forward look at our need for controllers in several large new steel processing facilities planned over the next several years (investments of $100M to over $200M in size). Evaluating our current controllers and up-and-comers and the development they needed for this transformation, as well as what we should be looking for in potential new controllers, was required as well.

 

These analyses of situation and strengths took around nine months to complete while still performing our regular jobs.

 

If you lead an organization within an organization, what are your internal customers telling you about your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities? Is your vision aligned with your internal customers’ needs and the company’s best interests?

 

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. As a new CEO in this $75M electronics manufacturing company, leading a transformation “to be the best in the world at what we do” required evaluating literally everything we were doing, starting with a deep dive SWOT analysis on what we did as a business! Our engineering talent and capabilities were our biggest strength. Our good margin OEM electronics repair business having only one location, our recent focus on the growth of our low-to-no margin integration business, and our overall negative morale were weaknesses. The opportunities for international expansion of our OEM repair business and building high-value engineered products with higher margins were exceptional. But low-funding and our timing in the economic cycle for these kinds of changes were threats to our transformation journey.

 

On the other side of the equation, we also did a SWOT on our operations. Our strength was the desire for new leadership and change throughout the organization. Our weakness was our lack of structure, discipline, and processes for continuous improvement. Becoming our customers’ most trusted partner was a huge opportunity. Our biggest threat was turning all this around in a reasonable time frame before we started losing our much larger and more demanding customers.

 

Having this knowledge in a well-rounded framework, gave us the ability to develop new strategies and new priorities, and really get creative about how we were going to move into the future to become “the best in the world at what we do.”

 

Think about your vision for the organization and the transformation required to get it there. How long could it take? Will you have the needed resources and funding for this transformation? Look at your competition. Does your vision propel you ahead of the competition? What do you think they are working on?

 

  • Global Internet Payments Company. Our mission was providing the highest value to our clients (the sellers using our payment services), growing the company’s financial value, and getting everyone working in harmony and enjoying their jobs working toward those two goals.

 

This team of very talented individuals who had grown up with the company from its start-up roots were now encountering growing pains and industry changes they just didn’t have the background to effectively work with. The business model that the company was founded on was becoming outdated and less profitable, and significant changes in the model were required to remain competitive and increase profitability again. In addition, the global payment industry’s rules and its application of them were also changing rapidly. The company’s whole operating environment was in a constant state of change and what used to be strengths were now becoming weaknesses.

 

So, we did some, but a lot of group analysis on situation and strengths up front was a challenge. We had to prioritize and improve our capacity to collaborate, innovate, and change so we could start to figure out and do what we needed to do to keep the organization moving forward on its mission. Planning for the unknown was a little unsettling at first, but also exciting at the same time!

 

Is your business and industry in a constant state of flux? Welcome to the future! Is your organization prepared for perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth? If not, where will you start?

 

Key takeaways from these transformations

 

You need to know where you are to plan how to get to where you are going. That’s a very logical and structured approach to transformation (current state versus future state) that has worked very well in the past and is still relevant in larger, more complex, slower evolving and/or more mature environments today. I’ve used it many times and it has worked.

 

However, in cases where the organization is extremely challenged, the pace of change in the operating environment is extremely rapid, resources are scarce, and time is of the essence, there may not be enough time for long protracted analyses and planning before action.

 

In the case of the Global Internet Payments Company above, the pace of change in technology, global e-commerce, and the payment industry was so fast that we could not pin down the current situation and strengths fast enough to go into a traditional planning process. We had an idea of where we wanted to be, but we were running out of time! In many industries, more and more, we see strong high level missions and visions, more on-going analyses of situation and strengths, and more agile planning and execution becoming the norms.

 

To better understand how much of the world has gotten to this point and what it will take to lead in this kind of fast-paced environment going forward, please refer to At “C-Level #9 – Evolving Leadership for an Evolving World.” And I hope you’ll keep up with the rest of the At C-Level #10 through #18 series on transformation to see how these three very different transformation journeys played out.

 

What is the pace of change like in your organization and its environment today? What does that mean for its ability to assess its situation and strengths, as well as its capacity for perpetual innovation, evolution, and change going forward?

 

In “At C-Level #14: Transformation Planning,” we’ll look at how planning for the transformations of these same three organizations was approached and what the key takeaways are that you may need to think about in preparing for your own organization’s transformative journey.

 

Thanks for following us! For more information or help, please visit us at www.Metcalf-Associates.com.