I was with a client recently who works for a large corporation. The dynamics of the organisation are complex and demanding and her experience of her role within it is understandably challenging and at times stressful.
In the session, she said "when I'm at peace with it all, I'm highly productive" and went on to describe how her entire experience of work changes when she's clear and calm. She flows, manages everything well and is able to clearly communicate to her bosses what she wants and where she wants to go.
This level of insight is so wonderful and powerful. When you recognise that the fundamental nature of the mind is clarity and peace you can tap into it at any time - and this is what she's doing, taking inspiration from Invisible Power and her own experience of meditation.
It's also great to see how when we relax and connect deeply with our own sense of calm that we can achieve so much more, make better decisions and reach goals almost effortlessly. This theme comes up a lot in my coaching and, for me at least, confirms the very beneficial relationship we can have with our quantitive (outer) goals and our qualitative (inner) goals - both of which are important.
Just grasping at outer goals is really not enough. It's often painful and feels somewhat meaningless. We may achieve more income, a bigger car or larger house, but still feel empty. We need to think about the kinds of experience that will leave us with a sense of fulfilment and that will help us develop our own wisdom about life. We need meaning and purpose.
Of course, we all need money and a comfortable home. But if the pursuit of those things comes at the expense of our quality of life then we perhaps need to ask ourselves where our happiness actually comes from?
Once you can gain an insight into the fact that happiness is an inside job, you can establish a better balance between your inner and outer goals. As a result, we begin to feel less anxious and more in control of our own psychological equilibrium.
When we have a peaceful experience - everything's ok. Doing a lot is ok. Doing little is ok. We can respond to the situation we are in much more effectively. It's easier and we, like my client, can become highly productive.
It's true to say that sometimes we go through periods of almost relentless busyness and it's hard to manage.
Time-management, goals around work-life balance and being good at prioritising are all very well (and undoubtedly useful) but when we're in the thick of it the only thing that makes a difference is our mental attitude.
The analogy I love for this is the downhill skier - because they show us two things that are incredibly useful for those times when we are really busy:
Surrendering to the forces of gravity is the only option when you're facing the slope. There's no time for resistance to the idea, nor listening to the stories our own internal dialogue may tell us about the reasons for not letting go. The forces are unstoppable, so we need to go with it.
As the skier surrenders to the slope (and the intense forces acting upon them) they gain the ability to stay in control of their own equilibrium and respond in real time to the experience. They're fully present, responsive and in command.
The key thing about these two things - surrender and control is that they only really work together. Without truly surrendering it's almost impossible to be present and respond - essentially, we'd land on our backside pretty quickly.
How This Helps Us When We Are Busy
When we know we have a lot to do, and there's no alternative, we need to get going and get things done. There's no Plan B. A lot of our stress (all of it, even) comes from our thinking that things need to be different and from our feeling of resistance and frustration. We need to surrender i.e. to let go of our unhelpful thinking and accept the predicament we are in. Once we do that we can experience more sense of flow and just be present with what is in front of us. Surrendering gives us more control. It enables our own internal equilibrium and we can feel more energy. We become more effective and alive.
The beauty of all of this is that it's all down to our own inner attitude - not changing externals. We create this change ourselves and experience the benefits straight away. It's a win-win.
Many leaders in the business and voluntary sector are visionaries. They have bright ideas, a plan to execute them and the personal qualities to get others on board.
Normally it seems like they’ve made it. Perhaps they’ve landed a senior management position, are directors of their own startups or are the powerhouses behind inspirational organisations that are doing great work.
The reality is, no-one can achieve anything on their own and “success’ can have a whole bunch of unwanted side-effects that were not planned for. This means that some leaders find it hard to function in the best way possible and may find it impossible to switch off.
It’s no surprise that after a few years in high flying positions, many leaders either move on or have to take time off due to ‘burn out’. The stats are very sobering.
“Stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health, 11.7 and 8.8 million days respectively.”
HSE stats for 2015/2016
Back in 2012, when I undertook a training entitled “Leadership in Times of Chaos” at the world-leading Schumacher College, the facilitator Margaret Wheatley mentioned that the leaders she worked with all had some kind of reflective or even spiritual discipline to help them survive the pressure. She intimated that without it, they wouldn’t cope.
Any kind of psychological resourcing seems so essential, and after teaching thousands of people Tai Chi (and hearing their reasons for trying it) I completely agree with what she said. It’s also one of the reasons leaders hire Coaches - because it helps them reflect and bring order to their chaotic minds. As a Coach, that’s my main job - or more accurately, it’s to help my clients allow their reflective, deeper qualities to come to the surface. Problems then seem to solve themselves.
Life's Tough, Get On With It
Whilst a certain amount of stoicism might be appealing, the reality is that psychological forces are at work within us, so can’t be ignored or swept under the carpet. We’d like to think that everything’s ok, but tricky feelings and situations keep on coming up and you know that cliché about using the same thinking to try and solve problems as you used to create them...well it’s true.
Our Mind is The Creator
In many fields, the role of the mind in performance is well established. In most professional sports, for example, it’s an essential component of how performance is developed, maintained and improved upon. In other disciplines such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation it’s inseparable from how leading teachers work. Many Coaches are taking this kind of approach on-board too - especially those influenced by the Three Principles of Sydney Banks (read “Invisible Power” - it’s a cracking read). For me, this kind of thing is a basic principle of the Buddhist psychology I’ve studied for the last 16 years - so it’s really heartening to see these ideas, which take personal responsibility to a new level, catching on within the business world.
It’s interesting also to see how neuroscience is really ‘catching up’ with the spiritual systems have been saying this kind of thing for a couple of thousand years at least. This video featuring the neuroscientist David Eagleman pretty much nails it (thanks, Martin Palethorpe for this). It’s all a user-generated experience.
So What Can Leaders Learn From This?
Well, if there’s one thing leaders need to know and understand deeply - it’s how their minds work and how their minds are creating their reality, the quality of their interactions with others and how they feel about themselves. If you feel good as a leader and can connect with the power of your own mind, then nothing will be a problem (although it may well remain a challenge).
When you gain an insight into how your mind works, and that your essential nature is peace, wisdom, compassion and clarity then you’ll be actualising your potential and be more able to actualise the potential of your organisation, project or team.
So Why Do Leaders Need a Coach?
Having an Executive Coach that understands the role of the mind in dealing with the demands of modern life means one thing: Having a powerful ally.
That’s kind of it. The training they would have had, the experience they have and the skills they possess means they’re able to see things with a degree of detachment, clarity and strength that amplifies your own inner wisdom.
Plus, they’re able to really listen, hold you to account (in a compassionate way), challenge and keep you focused on the goals that really matter to you.
Running an organisation, managing a team, or keeping a project on track is never going to be easy. Having a Coach means you’ll have more inner resources to deal with it all and a structure that supports success and fulfilment.
Want to Find Out More?
If you'd like to find out more about me and my approach to Coaching, then just click below.