Have you checked your blindspots lately?

Blindspot

Over the last weekend I was in Singapore with an amazing bunch of people “crewing” at a Tony Robbins event called Unleash the Power Within.

It was a four day marathon and very life-changing for most of the people in the room. In this particular room there were over 12,000 participants from 32 countries and I was part of the 450 crew. The whole thing was pretty mind blowing and watching this machine work is truly awe-inspiring.

I have been asked on numerous occasions why I go and crew, particularly because it is voluntary and normally at my own expense, but for me it is a no-brainer.

Growth!

I am always forced to grow. Yes, forced! Which is absolutely what I want. I know that the crew director can see far greater potential in me and very lovingly gives me roles that are outside of my comfort zone.

If I was left to choose what I wanted to do I would most probably pick a role where I already have certainty and some level of confidence with it. I want to do an outstanding job so a safe option is very attractive, however the safe option also has limited opportunity for growth.

I have learnt that I need to entrust myself to people who will push me much further than I would push myself. I am externally motivated. That means that I am more likely to perform better for a force outside of myself than just doing it for myself – so I have harnessed this.

One of the greatest gifts that comes from the crewing experience is the opportunity to identify and learn about my “blind spots”. This is growth on steroids!

According to the dictionary a “blind spot” is an area where a person’s view is obstructed. Blind spots can be very dangerous in life. On a road it is often the place where there are religious crosses marking the spot where people have died in a crash. In life it is an area that we cannot see clearly and we therefore behave with limited knowledge – sometimes to the detriment of ourselves or others.

The challenging thing is: we don’t even know that we can’t see what we can’t see!

What the…??

It’s like the boss who believes that they are direct and thorough in giving instructions to their team, yet the team’s experience of them is that they are rude, abrupt and unclear with their instructions. This is a blind spot for the boss.

It is the partner who continually corrects their other half’s language, yet uses words out of context and poor grammar themselves. This too, is a blind spot.

On the weekend, I was blessed to have two gorgeous men coach me in my role at the event in Singapore, and I was given the opportunity to identify a blind spot of my own. I would never have seen these things if I hadn’t been asked some great questions by my coaches, or if I hadn’t continuously asked them for feedback. Part of my role was to move crew into positions when we needed them in certain areas. It was about giving clear instructions and delivering them with a whole lot of certainty to the team. Considering there were so many participants at this event, communication was often already compromised due to the noise and amount of people in any one area.

I would receive an instruction about what needed to happen next and then I was off like a bull in a china shop! I was herding people and throwing out instructions before I had a clear plan and definitely not being certain in my verbal and non-verbal language!

Shaun, one of my coaches (an amazing hospitality coach who has 20+ years of experience in international hotels) stopped me on Day Three and said “Stop tap dancing Kato – you are jumping up and down with all this nervous energy; get yourself centred. Now tell me how you are going to execute this next instruction effectively?”.

“Umm, I am going to tell those people they need to go there, then I am going to go inside the venue and grab some others…I am not really sure” I replied.

“So stop!! Stop right now, ground yourself, have a minute to think this through and then tell me what you are going to do”.

So I stopped hopping around like a Mexican jumping bean and thought about it. How am I going to complete this task effectively and efficiently? It felt good to not let the pressure of the situation dictate my actions. It also felt good to slow right down and think about it.

Because I was doing a role that included aspects that I rarely use in my normal life, I was buying into the pressure. And because I was buying into the pressure I wanted to move quickly: I was reacting to my environment instead of responding to it.

Ahh, there is the blind spot!!

I had a blind spot around how I behave in high pressure situations with limited time. I become reactive (and therefore less effective) instead of being responsive and more influential. It really was one of those “Ah ha!” moments where everything became really clear and I could identify how ineffectual I had been at several other times during the event.

This example seems so small but it really isn’t!

I want to be the best leader I can be, therefore I need to constantly test myself in new environments to ensure that my leadership style is evolving. Fast forward into the future: if I had not realised how reactive I am when my stress levels are high and time is short, how could that have played out with other teams? How could that have held me back from realising my full potential as a leader?

I hear you ask “How do I find out what my blind spots are?”

YOU ASK FOR FEEDBACK!

Find someone who is further down the same path that you are on and ask them to observe you. Ask them to highlight any areas which you may have missed. Ask them to give honest and constructive feedback with the intention of highlighting your blind spots.

If this frightens you – good!! It should!

Growth is not about being comfortable. Growth is about expansion and your full potential being realised.

Get curious about your blind spots – they are the area of the most profound learning.

 

 

 

Powerful Teachers change lives

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Someone asked me the other day “Who are the top three teachers you have had in your life, Kate?”.

I loved this question because I have never really thought about it! I have lots of people that I have learnt from in all sorts of areas over the years, so to actually narrow it down to the top three really got me thinking.

One of my favourite sayings is “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”, and that has certainly been true throughout my life. I count some of the kindest, most loving people in my world as phenomenal teachers, yet I also consider some of the most trying and toxic people as brilliant teachers too. I asked for some time to think about this question because I felt it deserved some closer examination and I wanted to give the right people the credit.

I would have to say that by far the most profound teacher I have had in my life has been my dad. My dad is a man who lives by principles. His world is quite black and white and he knows what he thinks with total certainty. Dad taught me SO many of the skills I utilise in my day to day life, and I often hear myself passing on some of his wisdom.

He took raising my sister and I into responsible adults very seriously and as much he was our friend, he always was the parent first (until we become adults). My sister and I delved into a brief life of crime when we got caught shoplifting in Kmart when I was 10. Dad made sure that the punishment would ensure that we never did it again and we spent the next six months weeding the garden every weekend (not to mention no TV for several months). We lived on 20 acres and had a massive garden so it was a very large job – giving us lots of time to reflect. Dad was so committed to teaching us that he was okay with being the “bad guy”, which is a great lesson to be taught!

And yes, I do like gardening so there was no permanent damage done there J

Dad started giving me books about life skills and personal development when I was a teenager. Honestly, I didn’t really enjoy reading them at the time, yet there were seeds being planted that ultimately brought me to the place of becoming a life coach and serving others. I have re-read so many of those books as an adult and am so grateful that I was exposed to them at such a young and impressionable age.

My Dad loves his family. He instilled strong family values in my sister and I and I feel very blessed to have a close and connected relationship with every member of my family. Dad set a strong example of being a leader – not only of self – but in the areas of business, family and community too and I have also carried this trait into my life.

The next teacher that I have to credit is Tony Robbins or “T-Robb” as I like to call him. I am sure some of you would know Tony as that “big American dude with the huge teeth”. He used to have infomercials that were on in the middle of the night so many insomniacs are familiar with his work.

Tony Robbins understands and reads the world with outstanding ease and grace. He absolutely loves humans and has spent his life studying them, understanding them and helping them. His great ability is to distil all of his gathered human behavioural knowledge into laymans terms. He then teaches it in a fun and energetic way so that we can apply it to our lives with ease.

He is incredibly generous and has an amazing ability to transform peoples’ lives – sometimes in a matter of minutes. As a coach there is no better role model or teacher on the planet for me to learn from.

His work has helped me profoundly both as a woman and as a coach and I am often teaching my clients his work or using his stories to explain different topics. One of the greatest gifts that I have received from Tony is a peer group that is truly outstanding. The people I have met in the “Tony Robbins world” are pure quality and teach me to be an even better version of myself. It is often said that “we become who we hang out with” so hanging out with people who are the version of who I want to be is so important.

My third favourite teacher would have to be Dr Wayne Dyer. I consider Wayne to be one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time and I have been studying his work for years. He is like my “go to man” when I am in need of some spiritual guidance. Sadly, Wayne left the planet two years ago but I am certain he is still having an impact on the world from above!

Wayne Dyer spent the second half of his life growing his relationship to the spirit and dedicating his life to spiritual growth. He was one of the first teachers I had who gave me the belief that I always have a choice in how I feel and how I show up in the world. He also firmly cemented that this life is one of many and taught me to take a much bigger view of everything. He has read many of the spiritual texts from different belief systems and has an amazing way of weaving it all in together. He believes in peace, unconditional love and kindness.

I remember listening to Wayne speaking about soul mates once. I had a very romantic notion of soul mates and “The One” and Wayne well and truly blew that out of the water for me. He explained that a soul mate is someone who is committed to helping us grow. They are not necessarily the person who we hear harps playing and see love hearts floating above their head when we meet them!

Because our soul mate is committed to helping us grow, that often means that they bring great challenge with them. He tells a story about one of his daughters who has always given him a run for his money. He absolutely adores her but also recognises that she is a true soul mate for all the learning opportunities she has provided him as a father and man.

So there are my top three teachers. I must say that I could continue with at least another six or seven people who have been phenomenal teachers to me but that was not the question.

Remember, everyone we come across has the opportunity to be a teacher to us – if we are willing to be the student.

Something to think about…..

“But I will look like a plonker!!”

I deeply believe that feedback is the “breakfast of champions”.

So often, people shy away from giving genuine feedback because they are worried about offending someone or not being liked. I get it. I still fall into that trap too sometimes. When I was younger, I very rarely gave feedback if I thought it could be offensive to someone. The well-developed people-pleaser in me couldn’t think of anything worse than hurting someone’s feelings!

The thing about feedback, though, is it gives us the space to grow and expand in a very effective and resourceful way. If we don’t know that we are doing something, or we are unable to identify how we could do something better – would we like to know? I know I would (not that I would have answered that way 10 years ago!).

When I started my coaching journey six years ago, I didn’t appreciate the value of feedback. I also didn’t appreciate the value of stuffing up, getting it wrong, and sometimes looking like a complete dick. That sort of stuff was to be avoided at all costs!

I was so scared of being vulnerable!

I was so scared of getting it wrong!

My school years had conditioned me to not want to try something if I didn’t have the certainty that I could do it. In Years 2 and 3 I had started to fall behind in class. I didn’t learn the way my teachers taught me and I struggled with the pace at which the class moved. At the end of Year 3 my parents thought that I should repeat the year but the school said no, and I carried on into Year 4 with my classmates.

In Year 4 I was put in the special program – the only child in the class to be on the program – and was rewarded in front of the class when I completed each section of the program.

This was horrific for me!

My personality is all about connection, sameness, the tribe, fitting in, and I felt like such an outcast because of this. I started to make decisions about myself, about what I could and couldn’t do: getting it wrong was now associated with great pain.

One day later on in that year, I had come home and was telling Mum about a new activity that was being offered to the Year 4s. She asked me if I was going to join in and I said “No, I won’t be able to do it, I am not good enough”. It was after that experience that my parents made the decision to move me to another school.

I moved to a beautiful little local school and by mid-Year 5, I was completely back up to speed and on my way. The thing is, though, I had already made unconscious decisions about myself and my abilities and I had an real fear of getting things wrong. Feedback was a very scary thing for me – I didn’t view it as a growth opportunity but instead saw it as me not being good enough.

Just the other day I was with my very dear friend Songy Knox and we were talking about my blog. Songy is a woman with a huge amount of talent and I explicitly trust her wisdom, knowledge and opinions. Because of this, I asked her for some feedback on my blog.

Songy praised me for my consistency in writing each week and said that there is a lot of great information in my blogs. Then she asked me if she could be honest.

“Of course, I want to know how I can improve and do things better”.

“Your blogs are bland. I can’t see you in them. You drop a small line about yourself then dash on to talk about the next point. I want to know who you are!” Songy said.

“But if I talk about myself I will look like a plonker!” I replied.

“No you won’t, you’re just playing it safe. That’s what I mean by bland. I know you have strong opinions and some of them may cause offence but who cares?! Isn’t it better to be authentic and let people see who you are (and maybe offend some people) than to play it safe and miss the ones you want to reach?”.

Boom! There it was!

I didn’t want to get in to trouble. I didn’t want to offend someone and I certainly didn’t want to get it wrong.

This feedback was so POWERFUL for me for several reasons.

Firstly, I didn’t even realise that my old pattern was playing out here in this blog. I have done tonnes of work on myself over the course of my life and I didn’t even identify that the old pattern had popped up here. This is actually not surprising as this is a new venture for me: I don’t yet understand the lay of the blogging land, and I am still operating with limited knowledge.

Secondly, I am writing this blog every week because I am building a coaching business and I want people to experience me, yet I am so busy “playing it safe” that the true me has not yet shone bright. Duh!!!

Thirdly, I know how much Songy loves and cares for me to speak honestly and frankly with my very best interests at heart. I am beyond blessed to have her in my life and on my team.

So: Feedback – Go get some! I entreat you!

Pick an area of your life where you want to experience more success or growth and then go and ask someone some great questions. Ask your boss, your friends, or your partner and ask them to be honest. It’s easy to give “nice” feedback, but that’s not where growth and excellence reside.

Remember, feedback is the breakfast of champions!

 

 

Your Greatest Strength

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We are all born with a set of strengths.

These strengths sometimes come to us so naturally that we don’t recognise them as strengths, or perhaps we don’t credit them as strengths.

Some people are naturally good at communicating – they have no particular education or training around communication yet they have a real talent when speaking and influencing others. Some people are naturally good at being assertive, speaking up, and creating change. Some people are naturally gifted at resolving or minimising conflict.

These strengths often become the cornerstone of our lives. We choose careers where we are able to utilise them fully and they become defining characteristics of who we are. What is so fascinating, though, is that our greatest strength can become our greatest weakness when it is overused.

Imagine every personality trait or strength is a volume knob on a radio. When the knob is in that sweet spot, the noise coming out of the radio is perfect. You are able to hear the music clearly, it’s loud enough and it’s pleasant to be around.

When that control knob gets turned up to the higher end, it becomes very loud. The music is unpleasant because it hurts your ears, the sound quality is distorted and tinny, and ultimately you want to move away from the radio.

On the other hand, when the control knob gets turned too far down the other way, the music becomes so soft you can’t hear it. You might catch a note or two but you can’t figure out the lyrics and you know that you are missing the majority of the song.

Our natural strengths are like this. When we are utilising them in healthy and resourceful ways we get great results and we feel good. When we turn them down, they stop being visible in our life and become very hard to see and hear and they are no longer of service. And sometimes when we are stressed or are out of our comfort zone, our strengths get turned up. They get bigger and louder and start to impact us in a negative way. They have now become a weakness.

One of the most easily identifiable examples of this is with assertiveness. Assertiveness is an amazing strength to have. There are many people on the planet who would love to feel more assertive than what they are and they often look admiringly at the assertive people around them.

The problem is that when assertiveness is overdone it becomes bullying. The assertive person has gone from the strength of clear direction and the ability to get things done, to pushing and shoving in a forceful way.

Another example is the strength of being able to minimise conflict. When done well, everyone has the opportunity to speak and be heard and the conversation is led in a way where the outcome is successfully and peacefully reached.

When overdone, though, the strength of minimising conflict becomes a weakness when the conflict is avoided but the parties involved have not spoken up and been heard effectively. Often in this situation the participants leave feeling frustrated or diminished in some way.

For me, one of my greatest strengths is my adaptability. As a coach I have worked with 13 year olds and 65 year olds, men and women, and people from many different cultural backgrounds. My adaptability has allowed me to meet each of my clients where they are and connect to them from that place. Where my adaptability has become a weakness, though, is in intimate relationships – where I have adapted too far away from myself in pursuit of sustaining a relationship.

It would be easy for me to say “Well, adaptability isn’t a good thing for me; it has created problems in my life so I am going to turn the volume of it right down”. This would be a tragedy because it is one of my greatest strengths! I just have it turned up too loudly in this particular area of my life and it has therefore become unresourceful.

The skill is learning to regularly examine each area of your life and working out exactly where the volume knob (the strength) needs to be set to get the greatest results and to utilise that strength to its very fullest potential. Again, like most things it comes down to some robust self-examination, all the while being kind and loving to oneself.

 

Five Strategies for making friends with FEAR

Fear

In last week’s blog I talked about fear and how it can really cripple us if we don’t learn how to have a healthy relationship with it. Fear is a part of life – we cannot avoid it – so the best way forward is to make friends with it and utilise it as a force for good.

The sort of fear that I am referring to is not the “walking in a dark alley at night” sort of fear but more the “I don’t think I can do it” fear, or the “If I speak up, I might get laughed at” fear. This type of fear is what keeps us small, not ever reaching our full potential, and ultimately changes the direction of our lives.

Some people spend their lives trying to avoid fear, in fact they are so fearful of fear that they live in a continuous and constant state of fear! Ironic really. Facing off with fear can be a truly liberating experience. It gives us the chance to create powerful evidence that we can act in spite of fear or worry, that yes, we can do it!

People who are successful in life, no matter what area that is, have come up with ways to engage with their fear and use it as vehicle to create change, innovate, be courageous or just make amazing things happen.

Like anything in life, having a plan or strategy of what you can do to help you move through an emotion is always extremely useful, particularly with fear. Because of the physiological response to fear, it can easily paralyse us if there is no plan in place.

Here are my top five personal strategies for facing off with my fear when it comes up:

  1. The Five Second Rule – The Five Second rule is the work of Mel Robbins and it is a truly powerful tool! It is a very simple technique where we are harnessing the fact that our brain will start talking us out of doing something within five seconds and if we don’t act within that time, more than likely the moment is lost. Robbins discovered this tool over ten years ago when she was in a highly unmotivated and fearful place. Everything was going wrong in her world and she literally couldn’t get herself to take action on the matters that were most important to her such as her family, her health, her finances, her career and her happiness.

The reason I love this rule is because it is SO simple! The way it works is like this: an idea pops into your head (for example putting your hand up in a meeting with your peers to share an idea; a new business idea to further expand your business; or getting out of bed and not hitting the snooze button) and you literally count down from five to one and then take action on it.

By counting down in this way, it activates your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that makes decisions, plans and works toward goals. When you count backwards, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – you take control of your prefrontal cortex instead of letting it control you.

That simple act of consciously taking control of your decision-making process creates “activation energy”. The energy it takes to get something started is much greater than the amount of energy it takes to keep something going. It’s that first step that’s the doozy. That’s where the Five Second Rule comes in to help you retrain your responses. Replace that initial “negative” or “unproductive” instinct with a positive one and you’ll develop new neural pathways that result in lasting behaviour change. You’ll become a doer, instead of a thinker, and when fear is involved that is crucial!

  1.  Appreciation  and Gratitude – In his book, What Happy People Know, Dan Baker explains that it is impossible for us to experience fear or anxiety and appreciation simultaneously. This is a great little brain trick to help us manage fear in the moment and move out of it so we are able to take action.

“During active appreciation,” Baker writes, “the threatening messages from your amygdala (the fear centre of the brain) and the anxious instincts of your brainstem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex, where they can fester, replicate themselves, and turn your stream of thoughts into a cold river of dread. It is a fact of neurology that the brain cannot be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. The two states may alternate, but are mutually exclusive.”.

What this means is that when we experience fear or anxiety and we are able to consciously move ourselves to a state of appreciation and gratitude, the fear must diminish. Pretty exciting hey! I love this strategy as it is again super simple and also conditions us to become even more appreciative of our lives.

  1. Future Pacing – Future pacing is a Neuro-Linguistic Programmingtechnique that utilises the fact that the mind cannot tell the difference between imagination and current reality. By imagining something so fully and deeply as if it were real, the mind then acts as if the change has already taken place. It accepts the imagined situation and then goes forward to create it.

In practice, future pacing techniques include having a person first imagine a new and improved change further out in time. By using your modalities – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic – you simply imagine what you would see, what you would hear as well as feeling the feelings that would occur if the event was successful. By turning these up and really connecting with them, we create a strong image in our minds which our unconscious mind accepts.

Future pacing is a great strategy to use when we have an event coming up that we feel nervous or fearful about. We can literally practice the event in our minds eye and train our unconscious mind to create that event for us.

  1. There is no failure, only feedback – Create a list of success principles that support you taking action in the face of fear. One of my most favourite success principles is –

There is no failure, only feedback

This reframes our fear of getting it wrong or stuffing it up into a learning opportunity. If it doesn’t go how you want it to or it fails, then you have received feedback, powerful feedback because you can now do it differently. This is where innovation lives – the innovators are the ones that live by this rule.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the incandescent light bulb, said “I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work”. He absolutely had the philosophy that there is no failure, only feedback. There are so many successful people that live by this principle including Michael Jordon, Oprah Winfrey, J K Rowling, John Grisham and Eminem.

  1. Challenge it – So often we accept what our mind tells us. Whatever the little voice of fear is saying, it’s most probably not true. Yet we don’t naturally challenge these thoughts. We buy into them and then let them dictate our behaviour.

The fearful part of us is irrational and overprotective. Its intention is pure but it doesn’t see us in all of our greatness, it just wants to keep us safe.

It might be saying you are likely to fall flat on your face if you take a risk, or that no one will like your ideas, it’s far better to stay quiet. It might be saying that moving to a new city could hurt your children and you don’t want to screw them up! Or what about leaving your safe and secure, yet horribly boring job? Imagine all the bad things that would happen if the new job is worse?

Unless we challenge these thoughts, we will accept them and behave in alignment with them. Sure, we may stay safe but, gee, we also stay pretty small!

This strategy is around questioning and examining those fear-based thoughts. Ask yourself, “Is what this voice is saying true?”, “What could be another alternative to the one I am currently thinking about?”.

Byron Katie, the author of Loving What Is and the creator of The Work, uses this question “Can I be absolutely sure that this thought is true?” as her primary question and it is a really powerful one! So often, once we have challenged these thoughts, the answer to these questions, especially the latter one, is most often “no.”

 

I trust that one or more of these strategies are useful for you in growing your relationship with fear. Remember that fear has a great intention – it is just trying to keep us safe. So often though, safety and greatness live in different places.

 

The Paradoxical Commandments

 

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Being a lover of the arts, music, theatre, literature and poetry, I am always on the lookout for pieces that move me – that stir up my soul. In my experience, when artists express themselves through these different mediums (and when they do it well) they become powerful storytellers and inspiring leaders. In fact, there are songs, poems, books and stage shows that have profoundly impacted the world and have changed the way we think.

Whether is an emotive code of life such as The Desiderata or the lyrics to the Robbie Williams song “Angels”, we get to experience an emotion that moves us into deeper feelings. It gets us thinking and feeling and seeing the world through different eyes.

This is a gift. This is empathy.

I discovered the poem “The Paradoxical Commandments” several years ago and after a conversation I had this week with a friend, I went looking for it. I find it thought-provoking, moving, courageous and – most importantly – centred around love and being the very best version of ourselves that we can be.

Even in the face of it all going wrong.

Kent M. Keith wrote this poem in 1968. At the time, he was a 19 year old who was studying at Harvard. He clearly had a great understanding of what being a good human being meant.

I am hypothesising as I really don’t know much about Mr Keith, yet his words lead me to wonder if he endured some challenges to have this level of commitment to greatness at just 19 years old. It makes me curious to know whether he had a challenging relationship with his family, or maybe he came from a very loving family who taught him these values? Perhaps he was the kid who got bullied in the schoolyard and no matter how hard he tried to blend in and not be seen, he was still tormented every day.

The key message in this beautiful poem is to persevere. Continue to do good for humanity, continue to act with integrity, continue to be the best version of you EVEN when you are getting nothing back and even losing it all. And that’s the paradox of the commandments.

Why should we keep giving when we get nothing back? Why should we keep building our empire if we are going to lose it all? Why do good for others when they accuse you of having other motives?

Well, from an energetic point of view, it is about “vibrating high”: vibrating at a frequency that creates abundance, health, and even more happiness. Mr Keith is clearly all about vibrating high.

From a spiritual point of view, if we are here to live a life of cleaning up old karma or creating new karma credits for the future, then it makes sense to live this way.

From a humanitarian point of view, if we all behaved according to the lines in this poem, there would be no need for a poem like this.

Please read it because I would love to know your thoughts – and just remember: there is always a choice.

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

 

 

The Power of Philanthropy

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How much of your time, energy or resources do you give to others purely to help the world around you be a better place?

Last night I watched an excellent TED talk with Bill and Melinda Gates. It was about their Foundation – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – and what it is currently achieving and what it hopes to achieve over the coming decades.

It was truly inspiring and has given me so much more hope for our planet.

So let’s start with philanthropy: What exactly is it? It is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes. Generally, very wealthy people set up philanthropic causes around something they are passionate about. For some it is the arts whilst for others it’s education or health.  It doesn’t really matter what the cause is, and I am sure each of the causes across many different areas are abundantly happy to receive the help.

I have always wanted to be a philanthropist ever since I found out what it meant when I was 16. I am sure that on some level I loved the idea of being super rich, but I loved the idea of giving it away even more. I think that is why I am so inspired and fascinated with what the Gates are doing.

The idea of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was born in the 1990s. They had been on a trip to Africa to see the animals but it was the people that really caught their attention. They found them to be so open and wonderful and were deeply saddened by their challenging lives. They were walking along a beach in Zanzibar at the end of their holiday discussing why it was like it was and what could be done about it.

Bill and Melinda had already decided that their post-Microsoft years would be about charity and giving back, but this trip to Africa prompted their philanthropic journey to start much earlier than planned, and their Foundation was born in 2000.

The philosophy of the Foundation is to tackle just a few big problems very well. They choose extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system. They have a global approach which is highly commendable! When we are happy to take the resources from developing countries, I believe we have an obligation to take care of their people as well.

On the Foundation’s website there is a letter from the Gates explaining who they are and what they stand for. In the letter they share some advice that Warren Buffett gave them around philanthropy: “Don’t just go for safe projects,” he said, “take on the really tough problems”.

They have and they are making a massive impact in the world!

The other thing that I love about the Foundation is who they have got to join them. Being as affluent as they are, they swim in circles where there is a lot of money and a lot of influence. And really, these are the people who will be changing the world, not our governments.

Bill and Melinda Gates have currently given 80% of their wealth to the Foundation. By the time they leave the planet they will have given 95% to the Foundation. In 2007, Warren Buffett called his friends Bill and Melinda and asked to donate 80% of his wealth to their Foundation. Between these two alone, we are talking billion and billions, if not trillions of dollars! Trillions of dollars that is being spent with intention, research, testing to ensure they are doing the best thing, and simply changing the world to be a far better places for millions of people.

Now that blows my heart up!

Aside from Warren Buffet, there are now over 150 other super rich people who have committed over 50% of their wealth to the Foundation. The influence that the Gates’ actions have had on leading their peers has been so powerful and the philanthropic spirit has been ignited in a way that the world has not seen before.

I am nowhere near being in a philanthropic position but the Gates inspire me to continue to give where I can. Whether that is a small donation to a charity, giving away things that I could sell to someone who needs them more than me, or simply coaching people who want to make a change and are not yet in a position to pay for the help. It really doesn’t matter if you are the Gates or me – it is about the spirit of giving and taking care of others who need the help.

If you get a chance to check out the TED talk, do so! It is full of hope and is a great opportunity to see what two people who are committed to a more equal planet can achieve.

If plan A doesn’t work there are still twenty five letters left in the alphabet

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I was with my nieces on the weekend and we were talking about “The Plan”. We are off on holidays soon and were brainstorming ideas about what to do and how to get around. I was questioning one of the plans because of time and location and my niece said to me:

“If Plan A doesn’t work, Auntie Kate, there are still twenty five letters left in the alphabet”.

I smiled from the bottom of my soul when I heard this! I thought not only is it very cute, it shows that the girls are adaptable and flexible and willing to go with the flow. These are such important “soft” skills for kids to learn.

All of these traits I would put under the one umbrella of “behavioural flexibility”. Behavioural flexibility is one of the most important skills we can teach our children. If they understand it and can demonstrate it, then they are on the road to a successful adulthood.

Behavioural flexibility is the skill of being able to change our behaviour to meet the person or situation in front of us. The opposite of that is a person expecting the world to always come to them. If it doesn’t come to them they tend to show their unhappiness is a variety of ways – everything from not speaking and sulking, right through to a complete emotional hijacking or tantrum.

One of my favourite sayings in the world is: “The person with the most behavioural flexibility controls the room”. That means that whoever is the most adaptable and can engage with each person (even though each person is different) becomes the most powerful. By powerful, I mean influential.

The same can be said for situations: the person who is able to adapt quickly and graciously and remain in a resourceful state is going to be the person who gets promoted and moves up the chain of command. They have demonstrated that they can handle uncertainty and are willing to come up with Plan B through to Plan Z if need be. In a non-working environment they are the person who is able to move through life with minimal stress and far more pleasure. They roll with the punches!

Behavioural flexibility is really about uncertainty. It’s about how much uncertainty you can handle whilst still remaining in control. For some people, if Plan A doesn’t work the wheels fall off and the whole thing becomes pointless – a total disaster! For others, if Plan A doesn’t work they see it as a chance to get creative and think outside the square. The major distinction here is that one person hates uncertainty and fights it, whereas the other person sees it as an opportunity for growth and development.

One of the great disservices we are doing our children at the moment is not allowing them to experience high levels of uncertainty. We are therefore limiting the development of their behavioural flexibility. Everyone getting a ribbon at the sports carnival, or every layer of “pass the parcel” having a gift in it is actually way more damaging than we realise (in my opinion). These types of situations are the practice ground for real life disappointment and uncertainty, and when we take away their chance to practice in a safe and secure environment we are setting them up for a big fall.

I work with young adults (18, 19 and 20 year olds) and it astounds me that when Plan A doesn’t work they immediately look to someone else for guidance or become so overwhelmed that they’re actually a bit useless. They have not yet developed the ability to think outside the square and their behavioural flexibility is SO limited. This is not because they can’t do it but because their opportunities to practice these soft skills during their childhood and adolescence were so limited. Everything was taken care of and they have not experienced or had to self-manage some of those emotional states that feel yuk.

This is not their fault. We need to be looking to ourselves as adults and question how we can develop more behavioural flexibility – not only within us but in our children too.

Behavioural flexibility really is one of life’s greatest skills to acquire.

 

 

 

Perseverance, where are you my Friend?

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Why do some people give up while others just keep on pushing through? Is perseverance a learnt behaviour or is there an innate predisposition to it?

I recently returned to yoga after a couple of years off.  Yoga for me has always been more about the mental exercise rather than the physical exercise.  I do hot yoga so as well as my body being stretched to its limit, I also have the heat to contend with and heat – I have learnt over the years – brings a whole other set of mental challenges.

What I noticed over my first few weeks back was that I was very quick to give up on a posture once it hurt too much or was too uncomfortable.  The mind chatter would start and totally let me off the hook: “Kato, you don’t want to hurt yourself, maybe you should just have a little sit down” or “Kato, your heart is beating particularly fast, I think you should rest for a minute”.

The first month or so I gently eased myself back into yoga, not even considering for a moment that I could have been working much harder. I mean, I was just loving myself for finally getting back in the room. That was my “Get Out Of Jail Free” card: I was there so I don’t have to push myself too hard!

It wasn’t until I was in a class being taught by the studio owner, Hannah, about five or six weeks in.  Hannah is an old friend of mine and funnily enough we did our very first yoga class together back in 2008.

Hannah is an excellent teacher and I noticed that as I participated in her class I dug deeper, tried harder, gritted my teeth through the pain more, and turned a corner. I left that class feeling amazing – I knew that I had given it everything I had and I was basking in the glow of tired muscles and a detoxed body.

It was after this class that I really got thinking: “How come I was willing to work so much harder in today’s class? How come my perseverance really showed up today?”.

I realised that I wanted to do my best for Hannah.  I am externally motivated and because I care about her, I wanted to give it 100% to show her I appreciate her teaching.

This bought up a new question: had the perseverance always been inside me or did I just develop it today?

The intuitive answer that came to me is that it was always there – I just hadn’t tapped into it in a really long time.  It had been dormant or I had totally ignored it.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend of mine, Lee.  She has just returned home from Mount Kilimanjaro and I was fascinated to hear about her trip and more specifically the walk up the mountain. I thought she would be able to offer more insight into perseverance.

Lee’s journey sounded tough! It took five days to get up the mountain and on the fourth night, they slept for just a few hours before getting up at 2am and then hiking for 11 hours to the summit. She said it was so cold and her bones were aching with fatigue. It was minus 20 degrees at the peak so the exhilaration of getting there was heavily balanced with staying warm.

I asked Lee what it took to get up that last section of the mountain and she looked me in the eye and said “Everything. It took everything.” and she smiled that wistful smile of a person who has conquered the world. She said: “I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it – it was literally a step-by-step process.  Everything hurt and I was just so cold and tired. I used up every last resource I had in my body”.

How easy would it have been to quit? Very!!

Except she couldn’t quit: she had flown across an ocean to get there, taken time away from her family and friends, used leave time from work, spent the money, and gotten nine tenths up the mountain. She was therefore totally invested.

And her perseverance showed up when she asked it to.

I truly believe that we are capable of so much more than what we expect from ourselves. Maybe it’s our beliefs around not being good enough or the task being too hard. Maybe it’s us worrying about what people think or don’t think, and maybe for each of us the reasons are different, but I feel certain that perseverance lives happily and well within all of us.

We just have to call on it more often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme Ownership

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Have you ever been in a situation where things go wrong – really wrong – and nobody is prepared to step up and take total ownership of the situation?  Sometimes the leader will deflect on to their subordinates, blame the equipment or the systems, or even just deny that they have had any part in the situation because they weren’t there on the day.

Sometimes the people involved in the situation blame the leader for inadequate training, unclear instructions or improper supervision.  It comes down to everyone passing the buck and a whole lot of finger pointing.

The concept of Extreme Ownership was developed by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in their book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.

Willink and Babin were both officers in Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser. These guys fought through the worst days of the battle of Ramadi in Iraq. The knowledge they acquired on the ground has now become part of the training for incoming SEALs.

Willink starts the book with a powerful, yet bleak story – an incident that went disastrously wrong. When it was all over, a SEAL was injured, an Iraqi ally was dead, and many others were placed in serious danger.

The thing about this story is the whole thing could have been avoided.

Multiple breakdowns in systems and protocols added up to one big disaster. In aviation we call that the “Swiss Cheese Effect”. It’s when all the holes line up which allows the accident or incident to happen.

Straight after the event the Navy wanted an investigation. Willink, who was in charge, collected all the relevant information. He found mistakes at all levels, but he didn’t feel right about submitting the list without adding one crucial detail.

“I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong”, says Willink. “That’s what a leader does, even if it means getting fired”.

This is what Willink and Babin call Extreme Ownership.

Regardless of whether Willink had a part in each of the breakdowns along the way, he was the leader and was therefore prepared to allow the buck to stop with him.

It was not only the right thing to do, it also paid off. By taking the blame, Willink kept the trust of his team and was able to identify ways of improving operations. A different level of communication was possible because of his leadership.

It also preserved trust with his commanders. He says “Looking back, it’s clear that despite what happened, the full ownership I took of the situation actually increased the trust my commanding officer and master chief had in me.”

If he had thrown someone under the bus he would have lost the trust of his team, making it impossible to lead them. He also would have told his commanders that he couldn’t manage his team. That is a lose-lose situation.

So how come most of us don’t follow the principle of Extreme Ownership?

It seems like such a positive way forward: it builds trust, promotes open communication, and creates the space for very powerful learnings.  Step up, own it, be the leader, and set the example.

When I thought about why we don’t embrace Extreme Ownership I came to the conclusion that people don’t like having arrows shot at them and unfortunately our society has gravitated towards a “blame someone else” culture.

We are more litigious than ever with the number of lawsuits skyrocketing this century.  I have noticed common language patterns around shifting blame and deflecting ownership. Taking responsibility for whatever is under our care now seems to have options.

True leaders own everything that happens on their watch and the results of that are phenomenal.