May 2019

Agile. Nimble. Flexible.

The opposite of rigid and fixed.

I think of a morning last October when my colleague Suzanne Daigle and I sat at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting to fly home to the US after a week in Belgrade. We had been guests at an Agile conference, submerged in the world of Agile project management and Scrum. Iterative project practices, smart technology, but my own association with the word agile is physical agility. It’s a swimmer’s view. The way I slice through water when I swim. The ease with which my body moves. The way I flow with the current.   

From the moment Suzanne and I had arrived at the airport, chaos. An overbooked flight. Mechanical failure. Delayed departure. Evasive public announcements. And the eventual cancellation of the flight.

I won’t bore you with a war story – but I found myself considering its essential ingredients as they enveloped me. Moment-by-moment changes. Increasing uncertainty. Bubbles of emotion. Eventual complete change of plans. More uncertainty. More emotion.

A classic narrative arc. I was in the midst of an agile situation.

The situation was relatively simple as far as agility goes. The bulk of the decisions were made for me. I can change my response to a sudden change in circumstances but I cannot change the circumstance itself. The circumstance is right in my face. Detailed observation or keen insight are not required.

I am responsible for my attitude about what unfolds – that’s the mental part – and my emotions. These two are intertwined.

There are many more situations where the need to adapt quickly isn’t so clear-cut. When things kinda sorta work but never excel, never become great. When mediocrity is the standard we have become used to, when complaining about the way we do things is the norm but nothing is bad enough to scream change now.

What does personal agility look like in the face of that? How do I stay agile when nobody demands that I be more agile? Here are a few personal guide-posts to help sharpen your own everyday agility:

  • I notice when something isn’t working. I stay present. I stay aware of the emotions that kick in. Instead of stuffing my emotions, I consider what may be causing them. Considering my emotions will lead me to indicators about my own thinking (internal clues) or relationships with collaborators (external clues) that may require adjustment.

  • I notice when pressure is mounting. I choose to stay calm under pressure. More importantly, I do not ignore pressure. I have a healthy pressure-meter that can distinguish between necessary pressure and debilitating pressure. I do not succumb to prolonged debilitating pressure. I know the difference between pushing through and changing a course of action because what I’m doing is not working.

  • I seek help. I do so quickly. I do not hide when the going gets tough. I approach professional challenges with a sense of healthy curiosity. Most importantly, I view seeking help as a sign of strength. I seek help freely and am mindful of whose insights may be most pertinent when an adjustment in process or strategy seems necessary.

  • I invite multiple viewpoints. I understand that multiple inputs will produce a better new course of action. I am not afraid of the complexity that may be invoked by multiple viewpoints. I know that embracing complexity will lead to more fully considered next steps. More fully considered steps accelerate the likeliness of success.

  • I act quickly. I understand that changing course and adapting quickly to changing circumstances is the only way to release forward-moving energy and create momentum. This may be the most crucial of these 5 points. I don’t get locked into the jail of this is what I had planned or this is how it should be. Taking swift action is my friend. I welcome this friendship.

There are many ways to define illuminated leadership. Mental and emotional agility hang at its very core. Great thing is, we get to use this agility every day. Each encounter at work, at the supermarket, at the airport, in our personal relationships is an opportunity to practice agility.

Yes, I have a swimmer’s mind. I love the sense of forward motion that I experience in water. It feels so very good. An agile mind helps me to experience this sensation in all other aspects of my life.

So, stay agile. Practice diligently, and practice with an open mind. Notice how wrong effort will start to disappear.

How liberating that is.

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Just relax.

How often have you muttered those words to yourself when you feel stressed, under pressure, tense and gnarled in your body, or worse yet, don’t feel like you’re in your body at all?

Just relax. If only it were that easy.

Before I begin a coaching engagement with a client, I invariably have two key conversations. One with the individual I am about to coach, another with that individual’s boss. These are the conversations where we articulate the goals for the coaching journey.

I had one such conversation last week. Steve is a boss, and our chat was reminiscent of similar conversations I’ve had. We spoke of Sheila, the individual I am about to support. After praising the many things Sheila does well, Steve recounted some of the scenarios where he felt Sheila’s behavior had gotten her into trouble. Then, after a bit of a pause, Steve ended with this statement: I think I just want her to relax.

I ponder Steve’s words as I sit in my car that evening, driving to Miami, tuning my radio to NPR. Joshua Johnson’s 1A radio program is on. I enjoy Johnson’s keen mind and his rich sonorous voice. And I have always been a little distracted by Johnson’s slight over-articulation of words. Clipped. Arch. Trying too hard. This evening, the archness in the voice is gone. Johnson sounds more conversational.

He has learned to relax, I think to myself.

It often is such a fine line, isn’t it, between relaxed and not? I don’t wish to review basics like taking a breath, meditating, slowing down. Yes, do those things. Here, however, are some other behaviors you may wish to consider when the stakes are high, time is tight, you have an agenda and want to get stuff done. When a relaxed way of showing up seems to fly out the window:

 

  • Stop forcing.

 

Notice when you’re pressing just a little too hard for an outcome, for consensus, a resolution. When it is not happening in your ideal time-frame. Notice when others may need a different pace, additional time to reflect, or a pause. Reality is not matching your ideal-outcome storyline. Notice how you’re suddenly driving conversations with an irritated edge, an annoyed tone, a slight petulance. Just a little too hard.

Notice, and pull back.

 

  • Muscle-memorize your most relaxed self.

 

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Athletes know. Even on a day when our mind may not feel as sharp as we’d like, our body performs. It remembers. Muscle memory kicks in. So, go and begin to remember what your body feels like when you’re at your most relaxed. For me, that’s when I step out of the pool after I have just had a robust lap-swim, when I lounge on my daybed and read, sit on the stool at my kitchen counter and conduct business from there. My job is to show up that relaxed, as often and whenever I can.

Remember, and drop into it.

 

  • Allow for silence.

 

Some folks go quiet when they’re not relaxed. Most folks go hyper. They talk more. Talk faster. Their talk is wont to become repetitive. It becomes noise. Allow for silence. Don’t fill every second with chatter. In the silence new wisdom appears. In the silence we better observe what’s really going on. In the silence we hear, and reconnect with, our heartbeat – and the energy that emanates from our hearts.

Shut up for a moment, and settle into silence.

 

  • Make it about them.

 

An I, I, I storyline undercuts relaxation faster than anything else. I have to get this done right. I need to finish these 5 items before 3 o’clock. I know more about these matters than the rest of the team. I would rather work on something else. I, I, I. Me, me, me. Whenever possible, direct your attention to the person or persons in front of you, what they are saying, what they may need, and how you can be of service. Shift your focus from you to them. Every moment instantly gets simpler. Suddenly, we’re engaged with what is actually real, in front of us, in this moment, not our random storylines. Exhale.

Focus on others, and feel your body unwind.

 

  • Have faith.

 

It is difficult to relax when I believe that every outcome is dependent on my behavior, my actions, my efforts. Whew, what pressure. I don’t advocate for a fatalistic mindset, mind you. I believe in my ability to affect outcomes. I equally believe that if something doesn’t work out just as I wished, that outcome is the outcome that was meant to happen, in that moment. The one that will lead us to the next right outcome. That sort of faith allows me to relax. And this, of course, is the paradox: When I relax, I am able to more potently affect the outcomes I envision and desire. Go figure.

We’re talking relaxation consciousness here, and we’re talking relaxation practices. They’re intertwined. In case of doubt, allow your muscles to remember your most relaxed self. It may require a mental prompt.

Yes, connected. Consciousness and action. Such great fun to play with. Enjoy.

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Aetna has Andy Lee, a Chief Mindfulness Officer. Corporate Consultants are rebranding themselves as Chief Inspiration Officers. Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, champions the notion of a Chief Energy Officer.

Yes, these job descriptors can sound a little trendy. Creative job titles such as these, however, speak to what, deep down, we all long for. Less drudgery at work. More inspiration. An energized and energizing ride.

If you’re fortunate, you work in a Silicon Valley work culture like Zappos where every aspect of the organizational design is intended to motivate and energize you. Free lunches. Freedom to decorate your meeting spaces. Free life-coaching. An explicit work culture that does much of the energizing for you.

Chances are, you’re not employed at Zappos, and you will not suddenly be anointed Chief Energy Officer where you currently work. Don’t let that hold you back. Here are 5 habits that will help you to immediately become the inspirational Chief Energy Officer you long to be – and the person your colleagues long to engage with:

 

  1. Notes of Appreciation

 

Show that you noticed. Saying it, especially when the saying reveals the specifics you observed, is terrific. But when you write it down, not in an email, no, in an old-school note-appreciation-card – wow, then it carries the weight and impact of a well-considered gesture.

Write 1 note of appreciation a week. It takes less than 5 minutes to do so. It will be an exhilarating energy catalyst.

  1. Happy Endings

Have great meetings. Disagree vigorously. Challenge each other. And at the end, affirm the fire and spirit of the discourse that occurred. The Happy-Ending-Affirmation may come from you. Or invite every meeting participant to affirm each other, out loud, before you leave the room.

No meeting ends without a vigorous affirmation of the positive that occurred.

  1. Passionate Curiosity

Even when you’re sure of a course of action, even when you feel like you do not wish to be derailed by a tangential comment, stay curious. Yes. DON’T BE RIGHT, BE CURIOUS. Your curiosity will energize everyone around you.

Talk less, ask more. In every situation. Even when you think you have all the answers.

  1. Conscious Optimism

While you’re caught in a crappy day, as you have grave doubts about a course of action, face your reality, in that moment. Face it – but refrain from unloading every detail of your anxiety on those around you. Speak your truth, but infuse it with optimism.

Consciously stated faith and optimism will energize those around you. It will energize you. Constant worrying will not. 

  1. “Speak Energy:”

Make energy not just something you experience – use energy language to describe how you feel in a moment or receive the communication by another person. “I was energized by the conversation we just had.”  “I’m always energized after meeting with you.” “Your energy is infectious.”

When we begin to explicitly describe a human encounter in terms of energy, we help the other person to more consciously experience the energy of a moment, as well. And energy is the deepest level of connection between two individuals. Powerful.

The beauty of these 5 simple habits: While we energize others with these behaviors, we also energize ourselves. We become, in fact, our very own Chief Energy Officer. How very cool is that!

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