The Importance of Celebrating Progress

Marla and Kerry

This month I’ve succeeded in an important goal and I want to invite you to celebrate with me. With my colleague, Marla Solomon, Director of Partnership Programs for Five Colleges, I am co-author of a chapter for the book, Managing in the Social Sector: Strategies for Advancing Human Dignity and Social Justice. The chapter shares the scholarship and research behind the Women’s Leadership Circle of Vermont model and the positive impact it is having on the women leaders who have participated. We have been researching the efficacy of the circles and analyzing since 2011 what makes them work so well. I also presented our findings at the Global Conference of the International Leadership Association this past fall, and it was a huge honor to contribute to the field of leadership on an international level. Marlboro College Center for New Leadership, my organizational partner in offering the WLC program around the state, hosted a book launch party for me in January, and I noticed how re-energized I am. It has me curious about the importance of celebration of milestones in one’s life.

I notice that as a person who works for herself, there aren’t any big company celebrations or regular work colleagues I see daily with whom I can share success. This book launch party was a reminder of how important it is to have people witness and celebrate achievements. For me, it was a chance to pause and reflect on how far I’ve come with the Women’s Leadership Circles program since the first circle in 2011. It helped change my mindset. I’ve never thought of myself as a researcher-type, yet here is my work in a graduate- level academic book. It has helped me to change how I see myself, and I now have a new touchstone for accomplishing something that I thought might not be possible for me. It felt good! My husband and daughters gave me flowers at the event, and it was great to have them recognize this achievement. (For all you armchair neuroscientists-that was the dopamine release). It fueled my energy. I feel recommitted to the importance and impact that the Women’s Leadership Circles are having on the state of Vermont, and I can feel myself wanting to double down and move to the next phase of work. I was also told it inspired them. Several people came up to me sharing how it got them energized and excited about going back to their circles. Celebrating success can reconnect us to purpose and meaning.

In my work as an executive coach, I frequently support clients in goal-setting. I always ask people, what they will do when they accomplish their goal? What are the milestones they want to mark along the way and how will they celebrate? I often receive the comment that “accomplishing the goal is reward enough.” But the research says differently. It really does matter for a number of reasons.

  1. It helps us self-reflect on where we have come from and where we are heading.
  2. It helps create a success mindset.
  3. It feels good.
  4. It energizes and builds motivation for future endeavors.
  5. It creates a positive environment that inspires others.

Taking the time to celebrate has been critically important to completing this cycle of work, from the inception of the idea to having the book chapter published. Off to have a glass of champagne now!

Book Review: Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Freedom from Fear” Speech (1990)

Having just returned from the B Corp* Champions Retreat in Philadelphia, I’m going to deviate from my typical book review format and instead offer a speech that was discussed at the Retreat. Each year the conference organizers select a speech designed to invite us to pause, deeply reflect and be inspired by courageous leaders in the world, and then discuss it in small groups. This year’s selection was

Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Freedom from Fear” Speech (1990)

Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win in Myanmar’s first open elections in 25 years in 2015. The win came five years to the day since she was released from 15 years of house arrest. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for or her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.. Suu Kyi asks us to look at at least one of the root causes of exclusion – fear, and invites us to consider what is required of each of us to rise about our most base emotions to live into our highest aspirations. The text is a short three pages and offers a different cultural lens with which to look at the human condition. I believe her message, written over 25 years ago from another context, is very relevant to understanding our current US political arena.

*My business, Watershed Coaching, LLC is a certified B Corp– a Benefit corporation committed to business being a force for good.

Curious vs. Convinced

I’m going to go out on a limb and talk about politics. This presidential election season has been hard for me. The name calling, rudeness, and divisiveness of this campaign has me disheartened, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. I just can’t wait for it to be over. The major media outlets including The Huffington Post, The Atlantic and even Fox News are writing about how to manage election stress. It feels like the negative election energy is seeping into our pores, and to try to prevent that, we armor up and get rigid in our views and stay in our camps of righteousness in order to not feel the fear, and the pain of not understanding one another. Yet I don’t want to harden myself against half the population. That feels like a very high cost to us as a nation, and I’m in the inquiry of how to hold my dignity and the dignity of others through this election period.

“I’m right, they’re idiots” is what it boils down to in our political dialogue, not only with the candidates but also how we look at our neighbors, colleagues and family members who disagree with us. Recently I’ve been thinking, “Where do I go from here? How do I get out of this righteous mindset?” Rather than convince myself more that my side is right, how might I open the door to curiosity instead? Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (click to his fascinating 19-minute TED Talk) offers a path of understanding. He explains that reasoning with others doesn’t work because our beliefs are based more deeply than that. He asserts that there are six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. Republicans and Democrats vote based on these moral interests, and how they weight each in importance tends to define their vote.

For me, this premise helps me to be a bit more curious and less judgmental. Fundamentally, I believe that fear is a prominent driver in our life, as our brains are hardwired to sense danger and to protect. And if we fear that our moral values are at stake we will fight to protect them. In this case, fighting is the rhetoric we hear in the election arena. But instead of fighting the Other, if I can understand the fear behind others’ view I can then find a place where I can connect with them– what do they fear losing? What are the values they hold dear? It doesn’t mean I’m negating my views, but for a few moments, it allows me to pause and connect with their humanity and mine. Haidt’s research helps make it more concrete for me.

This topic feels risky for me to put out here, and as I reread it, I know that I risk being misunderstood, or considered preachy, naïve or something else. But ultimately I want to share the value in upholding the dignity of all, which is sometimes lost in the Red versus Blue war. If it serves as one small drop in the well toward understanding and healing, then it will have been worth it.

Book Review: Everyday Bias

By: Howard Ross

Howard is a dear friend and colleague, and I am glad to have the opportunity to share this book with you as it delves into the neuroscience of our own bias and how to work with it in a work environment and our personal lives. This book is filled with powerful examples and research on unconscious bias that draws you in and gets you more curious about how our mind operates.

From sports, to healthcare, music, and power in our society, Howard navigates us through these charged topics without shaming anyone, and offers ways that we can individually and organizationally begin to explore and work with our bias. It’s an eye-opening book that leaves me hopeful in times when we need it. Sending a prayer for the victims of Orlando and the countless numbers of those before them. May we each contribute in some small way today toward creating a more caring and kind world.

Moving From Theory To Action: On Learning Communities

To support you in identifying and strengthening your own learning communities.

 Reflect on a time when you had a learning community. What contributed to its effectivness?

What are your current communities where there may be a possibility of creating more of an intention around learning together and supporting one another? (This could be a work team you’re on, a particular group of friends, a volunteer group you participate on).

Are there already existing learning groups you might be interested in joining? (These could include spiritual groups, leadership programs such as the WLC, book study clubs, formal classes, etc.)

What is one action you will take based on this reflection?

Community vs Individual Learning

The crocuses and daffodils peeking out of the brown earth remind me how I love spring, as it seems to burst with possibility and new opportunities. I was just invited to the teacher track for the Strozzi Institute, an internationally-recognized center for somatic coaching whose mission is “to produce leaders who embody pragmatic wisdom, skillful action and grounded compassion.” I will be traveling there four times this year to be with my cohort, and I am reminded of how impactful it is to be in a community of learners. The support, energy and learning is so much greater than going it alone, and I am grateful to be embarking on this journey with this amazing group of people who come from not only the United States, but also from Chile, Belize, Italy, the UK and Ethiopia. It is truly a gift, and I invite you into this reflection on your own learning communities.

There are a multitude of articles about the importance of professional learning communities. One of the biggest proponents is Peter Senge, who popularized the theory of the learning organization. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, he speaks about the importance of team learning and that this learning is done through dialogue, which allows one to go beyond any one individual’s understanding. This is the real benefit of learning with others; we get out of our own head and can question our own assumptions, and process and internalize the learning is a more powerful way than doing it on our own. As social beings, we learn through the interaction with others. When I was at Strozzi, I was curious and energized by others’ questions in the room. I found I could move my own understanding of a concept and better internalize it. When I was “stuck’ with a personal issue in my own development, having others witness me and offer perspective from the outside allowed me a way out of my automatic thinking to create a new way of seeing things. Finally, the support I feel is invaluable, knowing there is a group of people all on the same path of learning, holding one another accountable to our commitments to become great teachers of this work.

This is a key reason for me founding the Women’s Leadership Circles program—to provide others with the opportunity to learn leadership in a close community of peers. Being a leader can be isolating, and we need someone to learn from. A colleague and I have been conducting research on the impact of these Circles over time. In fact, all of the Circles have continued on their own after the initial six-month program, the first Circle now in it’s fifth year. Here are a few comments on the importance of the Circles both as a place of learning as well as strength through connection: “Meeting with them has offered me a way to consider, create, act and reflect on various experiences and learnings in my life in a way different than one-on-one friendships.” “ I feel calmer in the face of challenges knowing there are others there who care and support me.” What about you, where can you leverage the power of community in your learning?

Moving From Theory To Action: On Unplugging During Vacation

To support you in cultivating your creativity by going on vacation, I invite you to consider how you will really take a break and unplug from your devices.

  1. Who will manage your different responsibilities while you’re away? (It can be more than one person) How can you make expectations clear so everyone is on the same page? Under what (if any) work circumstances can you be contacted and by whom?
  2. To what extent can you really honor your own Out-Of-Office message? That means that you aren’t secretly monitoring your emails.
  3. How will you limit your screen time? How would it feel to go cold turkey on your social media? Could you declare for yourself a full break from your regular sites? Technology-free vacations can be really beneficial.
  4. What “fences” can you put in place to help you with this? Some examples include traveling where there is no internet, bringing a paperback instead of a Kindle, leave the phone in the car for emergencies only, etc.

At the end of your vacation, journal on: How did it feel to unplug fully? What did you learn about yourself? What practices do you want to bring back to your day once back at work?

Vacation Cultivates Creativity

Since my last newsletter when I wrote about our trip backpacking in Arizona, I’ve been updating my gear. And while I’m not typically a person who advocates for stuff to buy- I want to share with you my latest purchase- Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy. (They’re not paying me anything to mention it). It has blown me out of the water- they went totally out of the box and changed the design of a sleeping bag, giving it some amazing features. After decades of everyone thinking about sleeping bags the same way, somebody came up with radical thoughts—arm openings, and a zipper at the bottom so you can walk in it! I get cold easily, so I love staying in my bag. Not only is it warm and light, but I can read in it, in the morning I can crawl out of the tent with it and have a cup of coffee –and, as you can see, it makes me look like a supermodel! J So it’s got me thinking about how we get ourselves to think out of the box. The good news is that vacation and new environments are GOOD for our creativity. Time to get out of the office!

You might be wondering how you could create something innovative like the Mobile Mummy sleeping bag. If so, the answer might be as easy as taking a vacation. This was the case for entrepreneur, Kevin Systrom, the founder of Instagram, one of the most popular social media networks. He came up with the idea while on vacation on a beach in California. According to a survey of 1000 small business owners in the UK, one in five startup ideas come to entrepreneurs while on vacation. Yet in the United States, there is a cultural belief that taking time away may be an indicator of lack of work commitment. In fact, the United States averages only 10 days of paid vacation annually, while Europe averages 20 days. And to top it off, 40% of American workers will leave paid vacation days unused. There’s even a new name for it: “Work Martyr Complex”.

Yet the data shows that taking time off is good for us. A 2006 internal study by Ernst and Young showed that for every additional 10 hours of vacation an employee took, his or her performance ratings went up by 8 percent — nearly 1 percent per day of vacation. This means that all that unused vacation time is a lost opportunity in productivity. The study also found that employees who took regular vacations were less likely to leave the company. In addition, there is a huge bonus on health– stress and anxiety levels go down, sleep goes up, heart function and blood pressure begin to go back to normal, and moods improve. Not bad for hanging out by the pool or seeing some new sites.

We’re human beings, not machines, and we go through cycles of being productive and recharging. So go ahead and recharge. New ideas are better cultivated when we’re not stressed and our minds are free to wander. I’m getting my bags packed now (actually for Turkey and Lithuania) and throwing in a notepad for some creative inspiration.

Moving From Theory to Action: On Trying New Ways of Doing Things

To support you in identifying better processes, this is a supportive exercise designed to help you loosen attachment that there’s one right way to do it adapted from the Kamana Naturalist Training Program. In doing so you may see patterns that no longer serve you in their original purpose, and gets you accustomed to trying new ways of doing things.

For the next seven days try to do things differently in service of finding perhaps better ways. It’s possible to practice trying new things so that when the opportunity arises, you can be more nimble and open to finding more appropriate solutions.  Some suggestions include:

In your home: How can you shift your daily patterns? Get ready before you eat breakfast or vice versa? Sleep on the other side of the bed or even in the guest bed if you have one? Peel a banana from the other end (see Great Link above). This can be fun! -My kids love it when we have breakfast for dinner J

At work: Where can you mix it up a little? What is your morning routine- checking emails? If so, what if you opened the day with a big project instead? What does lunch look like? How could you try something new? Are there conversations you could have with people you don’t regularly interact with?

Take a new way home– is there a different street you can take home? A different door entrance? (front door versus back door?) Let go of the Mister Rogers routine of doing things exactly the same when you come home?

Throughout this process reflect on:

  • Do I need to update my routines?
  • What might I do differently and perhaps more effectively if I did not feel bound to the way I “have always done it”?
  • What action would I like to take based on this exercise?

Letting go of what you “know” to respond to what is needed

In April, my husband, Jon and I went backpacking in the Superstition Mountains of the Arizona desert for six nights. It was the hardest trip we’ve taken since having kids and I loved every minute of it-from coordinating the food, to making the important backpacker decisions that involve comfort versus weight (do I need to pack the extra layer or not?) What I found really interesting was that this was my first desert terrain trip and the rules are different out there (for example, we had to carry 4-6 liters of water each with us each day). And with that, I needed to let go of how I do things in more northern, forested climates (where I never typically carry more than 1-2 liters). It seems obvious, yet we often go through our days on automatic pilot not considering why we do things and whether it’s serving us in the present moment at work or at home.

Here’s a story. A young woman prepares a pot roast while her friend watches. She cuts off both ends of the roast, adds the spices and puts it in the pan. The friend asks, “Why do you cut off the ends?”. The woman replies, “I don’t know, my mother always did it that way and I learned to cook it from her.” Later the young woman gets curious about her pot roast preparation and calls her mother and asks, “Why do you cut off the ends?” Perplexed, the mother responds, “I don’t know, my mother always did it that way and I learned it from her.” The next week at her weekly visit, the mother asks her mother why she cuts off the ends of the pot roast. The grandmother’s eyes lit up as she remembered. “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot we had back then, so I had to cut off the ends to fit in the pot that I owned.”.

How often do we do things and don’t even ask why we do it or whether it make sense given the situation. I was reminded me of this while backpacking. For example, in the desert it’s all about the water, and we had to orient our hikes around where we know there “should be” water. We learned the hard way that you don’t hike in the hottest part of the day- and adjusted our schedule to wake up early, hike a couple of hours before breakfast and then take a siesta during the day. One afternoon when we did this, we looked at the map and had about 10 hours of hiking until the next guaranteed spot for water. My typical rhythm would be to go a few more hours, then set up camp, have dinner, and then relax. But there was no water in the next stretch. It felt like an adaptive leadership moment when I suggested to Jon that instead of leaving at 4:00 p.m. as we had planned, we eat dinner here (using the spring water), guzzle down as much water as we can, then hike a few hours, set up a new camp and go to sleep, without having to use our water reserve so that the next morning we could leave camp with full water bottles. It was an out-of-the-box moment, and felt a little weird, but it served us well.

What about you? Are there any habits or ways of doing things that might not serve you anymore? See below for ways to think about it.

water-shed (watr'shed') Noun: a critical point that marks a division or change of course; a turning point — © 2014 WatershedCoaching. All rights reserved.