ownership leadership self-awareness purpose

Moving with a purpose

Here’s a review I wrote for Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.

Extreme Ownership is a good look in the mirror to live and lead at the highest level. It contains war stories with leadership lessons and I have newfound respect for U.S. Navy SEALs. It checks off on what I count as a good book: vivid imagery, some humor, raises goosebumps, brings tears, and practical for livelihood. On the final analysis, it’s not written by a Hemingway but it does come from the heat of experience. It works because it’s real.

The book harps the tune “it’s all about the mission”. You got to know why you’re in it to begin with, believe in it fully, and continually execute on it. That’s what a leader does. There are many books that stress this point of “moving with a purpose” and Extreme Ownership just does it in a raw fashion within the context of war. On the battle field, making the right decision moment by moment is highly crucial. One is constantly flirting with defeat and running the risk of losing life or limb. Time is of the essence. Navy SEALs blend a deep brotherhood with creative and methodical action which enabled them to accomplish their intense missions in Iraq.

“Effective leaders lead successful teams that accomplish their mission and win. Ineffective leaders do not.” A leader is the true believer of the team’s mission while trusting the troops to deliver on their parts. Micromanaging takes focus way from the bigger picture, which the leader is trusted to keep and communicate. The book presses the leader to simply maintain the strategic vision which enables others to take ownership of their parts and swiftly act on what is immediate. In short, ownership is the absence of blame. When everyone in a team practices it, trust forms and speed quickens. With markets in flux, jobs at risk, and competitions near, trust is paramount to stay nimble and efficient.

This book is written with a sense of urgency, applying the principles of combat to organizational issues. The process invites us to lay it all on the table and examine what is mission critical and what is not. The ensuing plan may change but the purpose remains constant.

Podcast: Waking up to what is with Eric Kaufmann

Seeing Potential Podcast aims to form dialogue with creatives and entrepreneurs at the crossroads of change, exploring the concepts of mindfulness, creativity, and leadership.

In this episode I sat down with Eric Kaufmann to discuss what it means to be awake and the skills to develop as a leader.

Eric Kaufmann is the president and founder of Sagatica, where he guides leaders to make better decisions and achieve better results. His book The Four Virtues of a Leader, shares practical ideas and tools that deepen a leader’s ability to be efficient, effective and deliberate; a leader whom people are drawn to follow. The crucible of Eric’s journey contains 16 years of leadership consulting, management at Fortune 100 firms, degrees in business and psychology a quarter century of Zen practice, living in Israel and South Africa, teaching as a Master Scuba Diving instructor, and working as a certified hypnotherapist. Learn more about Sagatica at www.sagatica.com.

The foundation of self-awareness

Self-awareness means appreciating what you have. It’s the foundation. Life gives endlessly and with a strong base, your gift joyfully overflows to give to other. Complaining and being ungrateful is like a cup with no base, it takes and takes with nothing to offer.

What are you grateful for?

You got $10 on your pump

I’m driving and realize I’m super low on gas. I pull up to the nearest gas station and see that my wallet is at my house and no cash in my car. After clawing at my self worth and incompetence, I remembered that my card info is in my laptop. So I bring it over to the clerk and tell him the story. The dude listened and says he can’t enter it manually. He then says, “go ahead, you got $10 at your pump.” At the edge of disbelief and in deep appreciation, we chatted a bit and I learned his story and his work schedule. I figure returning later with $20 is the least I can do.

music of mindfulness

How to do nothing and create change

Deferring action is equally important as deliberate action. This is the essence of Zen and Tao teachings which suggest the value of non-action: to simply allow the natural order of things to take shape. It’s not apathy or avoidance, nor is it acting prematurely. It’s a balance of attention, trusting the process, and having awareness of the dynamic range and greater flow of life. In music, when and how one hits the strings is what produces the emotional connection and sense of rhythm. Timing is everything and empty spaces in between notes support the musical experience.

1. Look at the big picture

In Gestalt Psychology, it is said that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. It’s the classic example of the vase and two faces present side-by-side, and focusing on one tends to block the other from view.

Fixating on one event in isolation doesn’t bring value nor the full truth. It’s like having a big beautiful garden and focusing on one small area to pluck weeds. Every day going back to that same area just out of habit or some irrational fear. The practice of mindfulness is about letting go and shifting our attention to the larger context of “a garden,” acknowledging its ecosystem and nurturing its growth.

2. Slow down to reflect

In a loving relationship, it’s the ongoing ebb and flow, giving and receiving, the conversation unfolding naturally and unforced. And at some point maybe you’re asked to watch a movie or join an activity that you may not want to do. Would you argue or just go with it? The latter tends to be more appreciated.

If the reflex is to argue, you can take a moment to quietly examine and ask yourself, “is it worth it?” and consider deferring the argument, a simple advice from Marshall Goldsmith, world renown executive coach. It’s not far from the wisdom of Lao Zi, “By letting go all gets done.”

3. Bet on your strengths

Being a professional means fully inhabiting your passion and strength with a blend of self-awareness and raw hustle.

Being a professional means inhabiting your passion and strength with a blend of self-awareness and raw hustle. It’s not muscling your way to the spotlight with clever gimmicks or fines. It’s devotion to a craft and fully embracing the many rhythms of change.

Self-awareness is not a goal. It’s the capacity to observe and discern what comes natural to you. Not all of us is a Michael Phelps. We all have different talents and flow zones. Billionaire Warren Buffet calls it our circle of competence, where the majority of our time and energy should be spent.

Being self-aware means knowing your flow zone inside and out and the kind of people it attracts. It’s knowing how to stretch one’s limits and turn flaws into strengths.

Acting on what we’re good at is equally valuable as not acting on our shortcomings. Some call this the 80-20 rule, where 80% of your time is spent on things you actually care about, and 20% on things you’re willing to accept. It’s a conscious choice.

4. Let talent speak for itself

Phil Jackson, the acclaimed Zen master of basketball, is known to mold star players into championship teams, winning Eleven NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. He is known for his focus on fundamentals and using unconventional techniques like meditation and practice drills in pitch dark to foster one breathe on mind. Jackson’s story inspires responsive over reactive leadership.

In Jackson’s book Eleven Rings, Rick Fox, Lakers’ forward, reflects on Jackson’s approach to coaching as a three step act:

“During the first twenty or thirty games of each season he’d sit back and let the characters reveal themselves. Most coaches come into a season with an idea of what they’re going to do and impose that on the players.” he explains. “But I always felt Phil came to the table with an open mind. ‘Let’s see how each individual expresses himself. Let’s see how the group responds under fire and whether it’s capable of solving problems.’ He never appeared too concerned about the team at that point. Never any panic. Never overanalyzing anything because that would be premature.

Act 2 would take place during the twenty or thirty games of the middle of the season. That’s when he would nurture the team, when guys were starting to get bored, Phil would spend more time with each of us then. He’d give us books. I always felt that he drove me the hardest during that time.”

Then during the last twenty or thirty games leading up to the playoffs, act 3 would begin and, according to Fox, Phil’s whole demeanor would change – the way he looks, talks, and moves his body – as if he was saying “this is my time.” He’d restrict media access to the team and let them focus on their game. Fox continues:

“Phil gave us new confidence and an identity we didn’t have before. But he would also take the pressure off of us and put it on himself. He would turn the whole city against him. And everyone would get upset at him and wouldn’t be thinking about us.”

Jackson’s job as a coach was to provide a safe sanctuary for players to take refuge amidst the many possible distractions, keeping their minds sharp and in the zone.

By letting go all gets done.

In portraying Kobe Bryant’s path to greatness, Jackson writes, “I admired Kobe’s intense desire to win, but he still had a lot to learn about teamwork and self-sacrifice. Though he was a brilliant passer, his first instinct was to penetrate off the dribble and drunk over whoever was in his way. Like many young players, he forced the action rather than letting the game come to him.”

5. Learn to accept

While I feel confident to present a case on non-action, I have to admit my own perfectionism while writing this. I hate being too wordy, explicit, or overly polished. They are the weeds in my garden and sometimes I pay too much attention to them. Flow is a delicate balance that confronts the nuances of language and my flaw is clear as day. Nonetheless, the whole process is contained like tending to a garden.

Self-restraint and seeing the big picture are central to emotional intelligence. Essentially, to be conscious of our inner happenings without judgment or the need to react, which promotes choice and learning. In the words of neurologist Peter Levine, simply “tracking sensations” and just noticing what arises. It is this foundational awareness that allows one to readily adapt and take the right action in the right time. Timing is everything and in the sweet and simple words of my girlfriend, “Good timing is happy time.”

 

Adding meaning and self-awareness

What’s your life goal? What’s your favorite daily routine? Does it match up?

Regardless if you’re clear about the answers, I’ve found the following exercise to be fun and effective.

Marshall Goldsmith, a renown author and thought leader on executive coaching, offers a simple advice: track your behaviors.

In an excel sheet list essential habits that add meaning to the day. Things like “did I exercise?” “Did I read?” “Did I say thank you?” “how happy was I today?” “day’s highlight?” “day’s lesson?”

For 30 days spend 1 minute each day to mark ‘yes’ or ‘no’, a number, or a short comment for each item. Every 10 days you can include a column to summarize your scores. After 30 days graph the data and take a look. The mirror does not lie. Adjust your behavior as needed, and the mirror always smiles back.

Hone a signature routine that most represents the person you want to be. Dial it consistently, without expectations and enrich the day with meaning.

After 30 days, if you’re noticing any kind of positive change you can say “thank you” to a friend or mentor who you consider an influence in the process. Build relationships while building momentum.

This is an exercise that takes less than a minute a day and provides honest insight into where you are and who you want to become. And yes, it may require a dash of courage.

Creating flow and connection

When you regularly apply your passion without expectations, good things happen. It’s that simple.

Here are four ways to focus, adapt, and drive positive change.

1. Make it an adventure
Living an adventure means accepting life in its fullness. It means going with the flow, constantly learning and unlearning to make way for new. Seeking novelty is a psychological state that fevers the adventurous spirit. Whether though travel, hobby, honing a new skill, a career or lifestyle transition. Whatever your goal is at the moment, be eager to re-discover your potential, without clingy expectations. Find yourself constantly transforming by letting go of stories that no longer serve growth. Choose the story you want tell yourself. Make it epic.

2. be present
There’s the old proverb: necessity is the mother of invention. Similarly: presence is the mother of confidence. Your talent, strength, passion, ‘ahh’ and ‘aha’ moments live in this moment, not in some arbitrary fantasy in your head. Having a clear purpose begins with self-awareness, of the body and mind. Contemplative practices like mindfulness and meditation are effective ways to quiet the hindbrain (aka lizard brain), which is on survival alert and when hyperactive can cause over-production of the stress hormone cortisol, shown to shrink parts of the brain. A good book that dives into the physiology of mindfulness is Buddha’s Brain.

Regular calming routines help ease stress and balance the immune system. Studies even show that a mundane task like washing the dishes, when done with a mindful presence, reduces stress and anxiety. Check in with what the body is picking up and bear witness to thoughts and sensations rather than trying to control them. By quieting the mind, the body naturally follows and calms itself. Take a minute to simply breath throughout the day and observe what it feels like to have a body that breathes. The psychological term for this process is interoception, which means perceiving within.

3. Build empathy
Empathy is the foundation of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to read feeling states and adapt, in yourself and others. Now there are numerous definitions out there but the important thing is the capacity to connect. And like a muscle it can be strengthened by quieting the mind and being curious.

If you’re ordering food at a restaurant, you can tell if the employee is just going through the motions, or just following the script. You can also tell if she is tapped into the moment and having fun with real time conversations. When I notice people riding the script, I look for moments of pause, or surprise spaces that draw my attention, and it’s amazing how a gentle silence can dissolve the script for a smile or interesting conversation to emerge.

4. Tell your own story
Be true to your own story. Let experience speak for itself. When I was in China, my brain was racing to figure out what it means to live there. So much is different, from the language and history to the rules of the road. Chinese culture is fascinating, especially in areas that have preserved some historic roots like in Chengdu where I was staying.

I would hear friends share their own intellectual narratives about China. Out of desperation to find meaning in the new environment, I would fish for other people’s opinions to adopt as my own, which didn’t feel quite real. Everyone offered a piece of truth but the whole I had to discover on my own. I remember one night I was walking home when I realized to just sit with the experience without forcing a meaning and let the impressions land in their own terms. This way it becomes my story and not somebody else’s. And the experience unfolded beautifully, meeting some amazing people and seeing some incredible places.

Dropping expectations is the key. Not always easy but a worthy practice.

Spiritual inquiry

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of separation.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Spirituality is the process of becoming whole, the underlying why to what we do. It is purpose, it is culture, it is now. In the depths of spiritual inquiry, one might ask, “what if you are everyone you’ve ever known?” Your friends, parents, monsters, colleagues, customers – all reflections that you get to co-create. This is what I call a worthy inquiry.

And on your final breath you might ask yourself a simple question, “how deeply did I love?”