ARE YOU THE HERO OF YOUR OWN LIFE?

When we think about our heroes it’s easy and natural to refer to our service men and women, humanitarian campaigners or even the classic comic book legends. The interesting thing about these reference points for heroes is that they are so often ‘external’ to ourselves – that is, we always think of somebody else!

However, we know that the hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, is a distinctly human experience that is achievable for everyone – but only if we have the courage to choose it.

What is the hero’s journey?

The hero’s journey sees us taking the road less travelled, where we say no to both the benign safety of the ‘expected’ life mapped out for us by society and culture, as well as denying the path of rebellion where we exist on the fringe of what is considered normal and appropriate in our community. One choice is safe, the other is usually destructive to ourselves and our loved ones – but neither allows us to live with vision, courage and service to others.

The third choice is the road less travelled, the hero’s journey, and we follow our hearts. We go our own way, adventure on our own unique path and face our fears head on in service to a goal that’s bigger than us. This is the path of all great leaders, entrepreneurs and pioneers in their fields. And it’s not for the faint-hearted.

It might look like choosing to leave a ‘safe’ job to start your own business, or to straighten out our life and maybe overcome unhelpful addictions so that we can contribute to others, or it might mean following creative, heart-based pursuits even if there’s no likelihood of earning a decent dollar by doing so.

What does it mean to be leaders in our lives?

When we choose to be leaders in our life, business or family – rather than simply allowing life to happen to us as passive receptacles of other’s expectations – we are choosing the experience of the hero’s journey.

It requires more personal growth than any other choice. It demands courage, insight, wisdom, resilience and contribution to something bigger than ourselves. It’s a journey of discovering who we really are, of massive internal transformation which changes us in such a way that we can never return to who we were before. Indeed, the very process of facing our fears transforms us to the ‘next level’ of living, working and being.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

 Joseph Campbell

I believe we all experience the whispers of the hero’s journey – callings if you like, to step up and follow our dream. It’s just that some of us can’t hear those messages because we allow them to be drowned out by the expectations of others, or we choose not to listen to them because we are afraid.

The thing that differentiates leaders from everyone else is the choice to listen to and follow those whispers because the rewards outweigh the numbing sense of safety in staying put where we are, even (and especially) when it seems risky and frightening.

Leaders choose to step forward into the unknown, to navigate uncertainty, face challenges and seek the right guidance along the way.

So, which path do you choose?

My question to you is: Will you choose to be the hero of your own life?

When will you decide to say ‘no’ to the expected, safe and predictable in favour of following your intuition, your heart and your dreams?

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

Steve Jobs

If you’ve already made these choices, you’ll know that the journey transforms you in undeniable and undoable ways. And if you’re hearing the whispers, but still haven’t decided to step forward into your leadership journey, then what or who are you waiting for?

If you’re thinking of taking the road less travelled, of being a leader in your life, my message to you is simple: you have the power to choose.

I’d love to hear your story.

GOAL SETTING: ARE WE DOING IT WRONG?

When I look back on my goals for last year, I realise something that would once have sent me into a spectacular tail-spin.

I didn’t achieve a single goal I set last January. Not one. Zilch. Zip. Nada. None.

Now, before you deem me a failure or send emergency remedies of wine and chocolate for my depressive state, I must tell you that I feel okay about this. In fact, I really couldn’t care less. It might even feel good.

You can still send wine and chocolate if you wish.

The thing is, last year I set goals I felt were expected of someone in my position, things that would be good for me to do. For example, lose 10kgs, achieve XYZ in business, meditate every day, blah blah blah, but in fact, they meant nothing to my heart and I now realise I have been doing this goal setting business all wrong.

 

You see, when our goals have no feeling or meaning connected to them, and they come from a place of fear rather than following our nose to what we love to do, then those goals are bound to fall into the refuse tip of broken dreams and discarded New Year’s resolutions. Or even worse, we might spend all year blindly slaving over pointless, empty stuff we don’t even care about.

So, why do we bother setting goals at the beginning of the year? Is it really because we want to do and achieve more? I think not.

I believe it’s because we want to take a fresh opportunity to feel more, be more and contribute more. With me on this? Then read on.

All the feels…

I’d argue we wish to start afresh each year because we desire to feel differently – about our work and ourselves. When we recall the relatively short-lived moments of success from last year, or as we’re ticking off our career to-do list, we might notice that it seems like a whole lot of striving in return for a few rather fleeting moments of accomplishment. Lots of “feel bad” and not enough “feel good”.

When we set our intentions, not for what we want to do, but for how we want to feel and be, everything changes for us. If we want to feel a sense of progress in our role or business, then we will focus on things that carry us forward. If we want to feel competent and capable in our leadership, we choose to take on challenges that lead us to learning and growth. If we want to feel connected with our purpose, then we must choose to shed the daily distractions and focus on the work that truly lights us up.

So, let me ask you: how do you want to “feel” this year? Start by identifying three to four key feelings you’d like to carry you through this year, and then map your planned goals and activities back to those feelings.

Insert meaning here…

At the start of the year, we can be prone to melancholy reflection and searching for the meaning in our work and careers. We might wonder what the point of our work actually is, what, or who, it’s all for (and do they actually care?), and perhaps to question whether we’re making an impact at all.

Be warned though, searching externally, in places outside of yourself, work, business or partnerships, for those answers is a trap and a complete waste of time.

Instead, when it comes to finding the purpose of our contributions this year, we must go inside ourselves. This means filtering out all the expectations of others, and quietly asking ourselves a simple question: what lights me up?

So, insert your own meaning into the contributions you choose to make -no searching required. By the way, if the way you spend your waking hours doesn’t light you up, well… you’ve got choices. Make them.

Plan from a place of love, not fear.

Finally, nothing brings better feels or meaning than working from a place of love. So, what does that mean, and how do we do it?

I always start by identifying the contrast – this means that sometimes it’s easier to know what makes us feel bad, fearful or heavy. From there, we can more easily determine that “if I don’t want more of this, then I do want more of that”. The things we want more of will be the things we love, that allow us to feel light, happy and as though our contribution is meaningful.

The funny thing is what you want, and what you don’t want, are the two opposite ends of the same stick.

Revisit your goals and let me know how they will help you be and feel everything you love this year.

TIME TO WALK? 5 REASONS TO QUIT YOUR JOB

Before you read this, it’s my duty to issue you with a stern warning.

If you read this article, you might decide to quit your job.

So… consider yourself warned, ok? Now read on, if you dare.

It’s the end of the year and a time of reflection. Some of us will feel lucky to have made it through the past 12 months intact, while others might be riding high on the buzz of achievement. Which one are you?

My question to you is: If you didn’t achieve what you wanted last year, well… just how long are you going to wait?

There are two problems to overcome when we know we’re not fulfilling our potential at work. The first is knowing when it’s time to make a break, and the second is gathering the confidence to do so.

Here are five signs that it’s time to move on.

  1. Our job is eating our soul.

To the sufferers, this one will barely require explanation. When our job is eating our soul, the feeling is both palpable and unmistakable. Instead of going to work to expand, live large and fulfil our potential, we feel a sensation of ‘shrinking’ back into ourselves. Perhaps we put walls up to repel the effects of a bad organisational culture, or maybe it’s that sensation of work reducing us to a shell of our former selves. In any case, when work is eating our soul it’s time to pack our bags.

  1. Our leadership is being squashed.

You know the feeling. Whenever we step up in leadership, we get squashed – put back in our box and knocked back down to our lowly rung on the corporate ladder. Our ideas fall on deaf ears, other leaders take credit for our work, nothing gets implemented because nobody can make decisions and we’re constantly told all the reasons why change can’t happen. If we’re ready to lead positive change but our organisational environment doesn’t allow it, then we owe it to ourselves to find one that does. It’s time to move forward and shine.

  1. It’s a psychologically unhealthy workplace.

When going to work makes us constantly sad, angry, depressed, anxious or stressed, it’s time to get out. Psychologically unhealthy workplaces are ones where we don’t feel safe to uphold our standards, speak our mind, offer our best contributions and make an impact. It could be a workplace bully who is not being managed, poor leadership behaviours allowed to run riot or a culture of putdowns being acceptable. Do we really need to hit rock bottom before we decide to make a change? We only live once. How many more days will we spend compromising our psychological health?

  1. It’s affecting our physical health.

When work is annihilating our physical health it’s time to seriously consider our options. A few years ago, it was ‘normal’ to see my physiotherapist at least once a week for a ‘frozen shoulder’. I thought it was from computer use – but now, I know it had nothing to do with keyboarding and everything to do with an unhealthy organisational culture impacting stress and manifesting pain in my body. These days, I regularly pull 16-hour days for the love of it without a single symptom – and I haven’t seen my physio for years. (She says she misses me.) For others, it might be weight gain or loss, headaches, migraines, stomach upsets, back pain or anything else. The question we must ask yourself is this: If we loved our job in a healthy environment, how would we feel? Now, go feel better.

  1. It’s time to back ourselves.

I hear grumbling that job availability in the region is poor, that jobs are to be cherished because they are hard to come by… blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I call BS on that whole defensive strategy. Argue and defend your right to stay miserable if you must, but hear this. For those of us running the self-defeating strategy of staying ‘comfortable’ in an organisational cesspit because ‘jobs are hard to come by’, it’s time to stop hiding from our potential and take back our power. Know that our skills are hugely valuable – to other employers, or maybe in our own business. And that kind of certainty doesn’t come from external sources like job market statistics. Nope, it’s an inside job. It’s our inside job.

So, how do we gather the confidence to make a bold change?

First, we must become present – that means not engaging in distractions which allow us to forget that we’re not living our highest purpose. We move away from pain quicker than we move toward pleasure – so if we’re ready to make a change, feeling the pain is the first step. Next, get clear on our success strategy which will be a combination of recognising what’s worked for us in the past and then leveraging those strengths. Finally, access your internal certainty. This is not a ‘doing’ thing – we can’t do more access certainty – instead, it’s a way of being.

If you need help with accessing the presence and certainty you need to make bold career choices, I can be found drinking cappuccinos with my laptop across the Fraser Coast’s coffee shops and beachside locations. Come and say hello!

WHAT THE MELBOURNE CUP TEACHES US ABOUT SLOWING DOWN

Once a year in November, we all wag work a Tuesday afternoon to watch 24 horses gallop at full speed for roughly 3 minutes. The race that quite literally stops a nation. We’re talking about the Melbourne Cup!

Whether it’s the thundering pace of the 3200m race itself, or the rate at which the emptying of champagne bottles contributes to the inevitable loss of our poise and decorum, or our frantically pounding hearts as we cheer our hot tip on for the win, the whole day is frenetic with the energy of speed.

There’s something about operating at speed that makes us feel ALIVE. Am I right?

In the modern world, with social media and work demands driving our schedules, working at speed has Read more

CARING CONVERSATIONS IN LEADERSHIP

It’s 5.30am on a Tuesday morning and I’m rather red-faced, having a quiet, semi-composed cry in the gym. And it wasn’t because I’d pumped out too many squats.

I was completely blown away by being on the receiving end of what I call a ‘caring conversation’, delivered so eloquently at this most unexpected hour of the day. Specifically, my trainer had taken a moment to notice how I was doing energetically and offered some kind, heartfelt advice about looking after myself.

Now, as a leadership expert I like to believe I have self-awareness and self-care sorted (who am I kidding, nobody is completely sorted, right?!), so his comments took me by surprise.

I was most touched by his courage to have a caring conversation with me. The kind where he unhurriedly asked questions without presuming any answers, simply being present while I responded and then being brave enough to gently but clearly shine a light on some behavioural patterns that are not serving me.

All of which hit me right between the eyes and made me rethink my self-care mojo from that moment forward.

And it also got me thinking about the value of caring conversations in leadership…

WHAT IS A CARING CONVERSATION?

Read more

7 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR NEW LEADERS

If you’ve ever been promoted from within your team, you’ll know that this life ‘gift’ can bring some tricky challenges. Interestingly though, the biggest battles are the ones you have with yourself, inside your own mind. Let’s chat about how to establish yourself in your new leadership role…

So, congratulations you’ve been promoted! This means more pay (yay!), more responsibility (you’re ready, right?) and quite possibly more hours (OK, you knew that already).

What you didn’t bargain for are the internal, mental struggles you’re now experiencing about how to lead a team that you were having Friday beers with last week. It can be a challenging time transitioning from being ‘one of the team’ to ‘leader’ of the team. They say it’s lonely at the top, and they weren’t kidding. Suddenly you’ve got to set standards, translate strategy and plans into work deployment for your team, build and maintain a constructive culture and address people’s behavioural slip-ups that you formerly might have laughed off. And by the way, your team now expect you to have all the answers, make fair and quick decisions and make sure you have their back when things go wrong.

Feeling your heart rate go through the roof? We get it. Read more

ARE YOU A LEADER OR A RESCUER?

This week, my horse Big Red has reminded me about what it takes to be a leader, not a rescuer… Let me explain.  

Right now I’m working towards a very challenging but worthy goal with Big Red – to learn a particularly important horsemanship skill which will help us to achieve our goal of becoming safer on our trail rides together. Anyone who’s ridden a horse through challenging terrain will know that having a steady horse can, quite literally and without exaggeration, be a matter of life and death. So, it’s rather important that we get this right.

Just like when we’re guiding our teams through rough, uncharted waters towards an important business goal, on Day 3 of Big Red’s learning journey, we’re experiencing some expected challenges. And let’s face it, as is so often the case with teams, it’s not the component skills I need to teach, as he already understands all the “bits” he needs to pull it together. Rather, as a leader I need to create the conditions for his own breakthrough insights to occur, so that he can integrate everything he’s learned to execute this unfamiliar and challenging move.

Now, I must admit that there have been various points in the process where it’s been tempting to rescue Big Red from the struggle and discomfort of learning.

As with leadership and teams, and even when raising kids, when the going gets tough it can be tempting to want to stop the discomfort and just create a quick fix – which we know won’t produce sustainable results in the long term. It’s at this moment we must ask ourselves: “Am I a leader or a rescuer, today?” Read more

ARE WE LOSING OUR HUMANITY IN LEADERSHIP?

Lately, I’ve been worried. As I work with clients and stand back to notice the overall trends in workload, expectations and engagement, I notice that we seem to be losing some of the care and concern for people.

I worry that we might be losing our humanity in leadership. The part where we remember that our people are collaborating for a common goal, where we leave our families daily to serve others and make something bigger and better than what we could achieve alone. And that we bring our whole selves to work – our spirit, minds, hands and hearts. Where kindness counts, and where we can and should expect to achieve a sense of growth and contribution through service.

I worry that the daily pressure leaders experience to deliver unprecedented results for their organisations can lead to the temptation to make decisions which, in big increments or small, continually prioritise profits over people.

I worry that this manifests in unsustainable workloads, cutting back on investments in people, less face-time with our teams in favour of other demands, and investing in system and structural solutions rather than the creativity of our people. The overall effect is employee perceptions that leaders don’t care about them as people, and that they aren’t valued for the unique gifts they bring.

In its latest survey of 32,000 employees in 26 countries including Australia, international professional services company Towers Watson found that only 44 per cent of Australian employees surveyed said their leaders were effective.

Let’s assume that we ourselves are not immune from those statistics – that means more than half of our team is likely to believe that our leadership could improve. Look around at your team – more than half. Sobering, right? Read more

NAVIGATING A CAREER CHANGE

It happens to the best of us – and as it turns out, it happens to the best of horses, too. I’m talking about a “career change”. That moment, expected or unexpected, that redefines our working identity; the sense of who we are as professionals and how we contribute.

To set the context… after extensive tests, months of ongoing treatment and consultations with our vet, this week I need to have a tough conversation with my beautiful 14-year-old Standardbred, Fez, that it’s time for a career change. Fezzy has already proven himself to be an extremely versatile contributor, having been an elite athlete and then my trusted trail horse for the past five years. Now, due to a lurking degenerative injury he’s about to “retire” from being a ridden horse, and shall be galloping towards a career in Equine Assisted Learning (EAL). This means that he’ll be working exclusively with leaders and kids, helping to develop the self-awareness they require to become outstanding leaders and contributors.

So, how shall I lead and guide my trusted partner through this challenging and defining moment? Read more

TURNING SELF-RELFECTION INTO SERVICE

As leaders our performance is continually under the spotlight – we get judged by others, for better or worse –  EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

We’re assessed by our boards, bosses, teams and peers and we also do our fair share of judging ourselves. Did I make the right decision? What were the impacts? Did I really consider all the factors?  This internal dialogue can be very tiring, especially when the pressure is on to be performing at a high standard every day.

Sometimes this kind of self-reflection can actually lead to more internal uncertainty, rather than the sense of certainty and learning we so desperately seek. Unfortunately, this can make us appear wobbly as a leader which in turn makes it difficult for our teams to trust us. And we all know how uninspiring it is to follow a leader who always appears uncertain!

So how do we self-reflect in a way that facilitates learning and improvement but also allows us to move forward with certainty? Read more