Aikido and What Leadership Means to Me (Republished)

Annie Willens Sensei- curiosity extended out through her fingertips

Annie Willens Sensei- curiosity extended out through her fingertips

performing the move through redirecting the attack

Redirecting the attack – leading without force, maintaining the connection.

The attacker is given a way forward, non-violent resolution to a conflict

The attacker is given a way out. A conflict has been peacefully transformed.

 

This was a guest article I wrote for PreciousSuccess. I was honoured to have been featured in their series on leadership, in which a range of change management thinkers, business owners, experts, women and men from a range of industries are asked ‘What Does Leadership Mean to You?’ Here is my response.

Leadership, is more than a theory to me, it is a practice. An example of leadership that I have experienced is in aikido, a Japanese Martial Art that I have practiced for 5 years.

From my first class I entered a unique and intense leadership training ground in which this martial art (and practice of peace) is integrated with values that the Isshinkai School of Aikido stands for: Curiosity, Honesty, Generosity, Respect and Gratitude.

In aikido, you practice the infinite subtlety of leading and following in every single move. If you cannot do a move, there is no faking it. Whenever you get overwhelmed, or cannot find a way forward, the enemy that you meet is within yourself.
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Evolution Lounge, Shared Mindfulness and Co-Presencing — a poetically geeky description

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Photo by Jimmy Davao

There is a beautiful moment that I always experience in Evolution Lounge. It happens quite subtly but it always does happen. It’s the realisation that not despite, but *because* of the chaos in which we are situated, and what we are doing,  the group have connected in a very deep way together. You can sense the one-ness as a visceral experience. It is as though you are all breathing together.

There is a certain point, it’s as if a gateway opens – like a “glitch “ in the matrix and you know that other dimensions of perception are now accessible.  It is difficult to describe this with words, as it is experienced with the whole body but at that point you can feel it.

This part is the “Inner journey” module of the Evolution Lounge, which is composed of several other modules. The whole experience lasts one hour. The inner journey last about ten minutes.

What the group actually does to get to this point?

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Springtime in my heart — A return to life

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I picked the right day for this. A grey rainy day on a  Monday morning. But I am inspired. From my window I see intense red blossom against the dreary backdrop. The intensity is so strong you might be distracted from what is framing the picture.

I have a confession to make. I am a perfectionist. The benefit of perfectionism is that you will likely go the extra mile for outstanding results. The Dark Side to Perfectionism (or any ISM) is tragic levels of underachievement because deep down you are afraid that you are not as perfect as you think you should be. [Most ISMs are in place because we are playing against ourselves on some level.]

As a short term strategy, perfectionism paid off.  My last project rocked, it changed people’s lives. Achievements that are meaningful – better than sex.  But in the long term, I burnt out. There came a certain day in June 2012, when I had a pain in my chest and found it difficult to walk home. One of my participants emailed me later that day that she really thought I should cross the road more quickly as my pace was dangerously slow.

I realised I had reached the end of a road.

I decided to grab the bull by the horns: get underneath the burnout, the perfectionism, the self-sabotage, the low-level depression, the subtle martyrdom (especially financial) and the overwhelm… oh the overwhelm.  I was fed up of being a social entrepreneur that was yet again broke, exhausted and with no social life. Yes, ecstatic about my contribution to the world. But miserable about my personal situation. Really, underneath it all – miserable.  I finally admitted it to myself.

It’s the good part of the story! I made the decision right there and right then, that I would never again do something that did not come from a whole place. But first I had to recover on a personal level.

Sitting Duck

But with much less to do… without the comfort of “the answers” yet and my physical, mental and emotional spiritual defences down,  I was a sitting duck for all the remaining internal baggage.  Quite soon, depression set in. I have a way of thinking about depression. For all intents and purposes, for anyone that has been in this situation (identified as depressed), you have an enemy. The problem is that this enemy is on the inside, you don’t quite realise its there, and it is difficult to realise the extent of its presence. It goes everywhere you go. It is vicious, extremely subtle and will take you out.  Unless you are quite aware of the insidious nature of depression, you are F****D. The fantastic news is that as you become aware, you can gradually return to normal living in which you are not your own worst enemy.

Something was not right in my foundations. I decided to go hunting for the missing pieces of my life.

18 tough months of work followed which included: Continue reading

We can do better!

Picture taken at Grameen HQ in Dhaka

A friend of mine, said this today:

“Is someone trying to bury this story? The biggest single repossessor amongst all is the nationalised Northern Rock. Remarkably a lender, owned by the tax payer, finds it cheaper to evict people from their homes and offload the cost onto, guess who, the taxpayer. Repossession is a deeply unpleasant business. It starts with increasingly demanding letters and phone calls from the bank, then visits, the court”

Let me emphasize: we have an inefficient solution, extreme social distress and the tax payer footing this bill without being aware of it.

We can do better!

Without delving too deeply, and before you say “but what could a solution be?”,  how about a mediation business to mediate between the bank and the customers? This would surely be a first step. Mediation is based on win-win.

Your turn! What could be a better way of arranging this?

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It is this kind of question that is at the heart of London Creative Labs. It is a new organization that I am founding that tackles societal challenges through Social Business and disruptive social innovation.

The initial details are on the site. You can track the progress at the London Creative Labs Blog.

Quick health check for your project

Reflecting on what is helping me to keep the momentum on my new idea… here is a quick health check I thought I would share :-)

What are you doing?
something inspiring? With enough frequency of action and good cycle for reflection on it?
 
Who are you learning from?
at least peers to bounce ideas off and get feedback from? And possibly mentors/coaches, those who are further down the line and those that are experts in the change process?

What is feeding your mind?
Garbage in, garbage out! Stay aware of what you are allowing to input into your system. It has a pretty direct impact on your state of mind.

If you have affirmative answers to the above questions, it's likely you are onto something good! and if not, then do something about it!

Magic Combinations at TEDlive streaming via Nokia and Wieden & Kennedy

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It was due apparently to a flash of inspiration of Alex from Wieden & Kennedy who together with Nokia, managed to offer a live streaming of TED talks to 60 people over three days. I found out though Lloyd Davis who extended the offer to the tuttle community and tweeted about it. I was lucky to see that tweet.

The experience was rather amazing. In this day and age the culture that we have access to is mind-boggling.

CIMG3047What really made the days though, aside from ongoing streams of ground-breaking thinking and being that TED talks almost always bring, was the magic combination of the following:

  • like-minded people gathering
  • a physical setting conducive to relaxing, working and meeting others
  • a possibility to select the attendance time based on topic of interest, (further clustering people around their interests)
  • good food and drink
  • free wireless internet
  • plenty of plug points
  • friendly hosts always at hand

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In short, Wieden & Kennedy and Nokia did this very right.

I went along on the Wednesday 22nd July and chatted for the first time in earnest to Andy Broomfield who is concerned with the user experience of interaction with technology Andy does fascinating art/technology installations which explore the human relationship with gadgets. I encountered a vibrant group of people at the gathering including some young people there with lots of energy.

Here are some tweets from that day to give you a flavour of the topics

@MarcSchmoeger: RT @evangineer Plants think of CO2 as a building block, like coral. There’s a US firm using the same technique to make cement #TEDLive

@Evangineer: Ambushed by cheescake!

@Casablanca: “90% of the feature requests for Microsoft Word are already in Microsoft Word. The interface doesn’t scale” – @azaaza #TEDLive

After the event, I ended up exploring tentatively with Alex from W&K about further possibilities. What could be done after a day like this? What could harness the inspiration that comes from such an event?

Reflecting afterwards, you could look at this as a scale of engagement action, ranging from minimal effort (1) on behalf of the organisers to maximal effort (4):

  1. At least, allowing existing individuals to connect: sharing of contacts: of course this depends on the organiser and they may have reasons for not doing this
  2. Allowing longer conversations to continue: offering one or more times where people can gather to follow-up conversations. Have ready-prepared venue/time suggestions that people can easily sign up to. This can also work
  3. Deliberate deepening of the connections: Offering a series of World Cafes, allowing generative conversation.
  4. Offering more deliberate interventions. E.g. channelling creativity into action streams, incubating new project ideas.

How to do this? There are so many ways the methods are evolving. In fact this topic is huge. I am very glad Alex mentioned it and I look forward to being in conversation with more people on this very soon. It will be a core element to London Creative Labs. (So if this is your domain or you would like to explore more with me, please do get in touch!)

A big thanks meanwhile to the hosts and the organisers for their very fresh initiative. I hope that this event repeats or morphs into the next exciting iteration.

The Courage Files: Today Is For Quitters

This is an article that I wrote a year ago but which I have pulled out to re-post. May you enjoy it!

We all know the bursting sensation of a new commitment; often euphoric, adrenelin-filled and fueled with the images of new life, new us, new created world in that “future reality” that somehow we connect with at the time the commitment was born. The buzz that accompanies these instances can be addictive.

And we all know what it is like to break that commitment. Unless an ‘act of God’ occurs and we can, without a shadow of a doubt know that we cannot be held responsible, what usually happens is what I would label as ’some kind of fuzziness’.

I’m also not referring to a moment of revelation where you realize that the committment you made was inappropriate in some way and you have the sense or humility to pull out on time.

What I am writing about is the hundreds or thousands of grey-tone moments where you simply quit and then regardless of what you tell yourself, deep down you know the deal.

In reading the book Lance Armstrong’s book “It’s not about the bike”, this is a strong theme. Here is a man who builds an identity on not quitting. This theme reads through the book like a iron grip of conviction; at the most critical points during his races he proves to himself again and again, and to the people that he has to, that he is no quitter.

Right now in my own life, if some of the intentions I have set for the next few months are going to come together, if i am ever going to take certain ideas forward in a way that I believe i could, i am going to need to know a little more strongly that I am not a quitter. My wish is to develop a practice to rise at 4am, to meditate in this magical part of the day, and to start the day filled with the kind of thoughts and energy that I most want to cultivate. But so far I have not managed to do it with any kind of consistency.

One of the methods that Lance Armstrong uses at his most difficult moments is to do something that, if he carries it to completion will give him the faith to “know he is still in the race”… and in this case it is the race against cancer. His action is simply to move.

If I can move, I am not sick

And, regardless of the situation each time he gives his everything to move. As a feeble cancer patient he refused a wheelchair one time and took an hour to walk to know for himself that he was not sick. When he is in remission he gets on his bike and moves. At the hospital he walked around, often against the advice of the nurses and doctors. It is one of his ways of building the psychological strength so he can ’stay in the race’.

I decided to do something a little less arduous than the 4am rise, to give me the conviction in myself that I am seeking to build. To know that I am still in the race. If I achieve this lesser challenge, I may be ready to commit to the 4am rise. That’s why I made the 30-days inspiration-burst commitment two days ago, and so far so good. Each day – write one inspiring thing.

Yet writing today was a challenge. I didn’t manage to get up early and I don’t mean 4 am, I mean even 8am slipped by. I was out dancing last night and when a couple of challenging things happened, I found myself at the end of the day, devoid of inspiration.

But somehow by showing up to this page, just appearing in front of it, staring at this blank canvass, just on day 2, the day of failing to rise early, I feel already a rise in confidence. I have experienced incredible will-power as a young child, and after a long 20-year period of learning the difference between soul-infused will and ego-based will, I am currently working very strongly with this theme. I realise that discipline and will go together. I realise how important small psychological wins can be for people who are in tough circumstances, to build their will and thereby find their inner discipline.

I assume that it is different for each person. When your psychology is threatening to fail you, what are the small ‘low hanging fruit’? Things that you can do that build up the muscle of conviction in your life? What are the practices which energize, by giving yourself a fast reminder of who you are and what you are capable of?

I am left thinking of Lance Armstrong. He discovered that to be a fast cyclist didn’t necessarily imply winning the race. He learnt that winning a race needed more than speed or force alone. It needed a level of mastery in his field. It is this hard-earned understanding that led him to not only beat cancer but to rise afterwards as a better cyclist than before. Only 16 months after being diagnosed cancer-free he rose to win the Tour de France, in the fastest ever time.

What heartens me, is the tough character-building that was needed for him to get there. He does not pretend it has been a fairy tale. He tells it like it is. Through his story, we can re-experience the raw beauty of being faced with choices – in the very dirt-reality-deciding moments. He is a reminder of the anti-dote to cynicism: to believe. But we are not stupid. So to give ourselves small quick wins in terms of proof to ourselves is I think dignifying as we are giving ourselves reason to believe. The faith in our capacity is then not blind. We can experience that ultimate immuniser against tough moments in life-Unshakeable conviction. And not in others or luck but in our own self to stay in the race, whichever that race is for us.

The Courage Files: Ode to Piglet

(Reposting an old article)

Who would have thought that little Piglet in Winne the Pooh would be a symbol of courage?

Benjamin Hoff wrote two beautiful books about the A.A. Milne characters. The first was called “The Tao of Pooh”. It takes Winne the Pooh and compares him to the “uncarved block” in Taoist philisophy. Pooh just is. He meets life with simplicity and a straightforward attitude. As a result he is able to be sponteneous and is essentially happy. A teacher for all of us!

‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’ ‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully.’It’s the same thing,’ he said.

In the story of Winne the Pooh, we get to know Piglet as a jittery, ‘Very Small Animal’. He seems quite insignificant compared to the other characters — an endearing frightened little thing. In his second book, “The Te of Piglet” Benjamin Hoff shows us how Piglet is actually the one who manages to go beyond his fears and limitations. Instead of regretting his smallness, he manages to apply it for others. He thus becomes a very different ‘Very Small Animal’.

“Poem from Pooh to Piglet”

Animal so shy and small, dreaming you were bold and tall. You hesitate, all sensitive, waiting for a chance to live.

Time is swift, it races by. Opportunities are born and die. Still you wait and will not try; a bird with wings who dares not rise and fly.

But that ‘you’ you want to be, is not You and will never be. No one else will ever do the special things that wait inside of you.

You can be a guiding star, if you make the most of who you are. And the sensitivity, that you are now ashamed to see, can be developed even more, so you can find the key to hidden doors to places no ones been before.

And the pride you’ll feel inside, is not the kind that makes you fall. It’s the kind of pride that recognises, the biggness found in being small.

I first read this poem in 1993. It touched my heart and has lived inside me ever since.

The poem has a profound message in it. In Benjamin Hoff’s words: “ ‘Te’ means virtue and in the way of Piglet, the first thing we need to do is to recognize and trust our own inner nature, and not lose sight of it. In each of us there is something “Special” and that we need to keep!”

Courage is loud, bold and boisterous. It is also silent, shaky, and hyper-sensitive.

Many people do not quite realise what it is that they bring to the world and spend years trying to be something that doesnt touch on what they really are. It is as though they are blind to what everyone else can see about them. We must make sure that we recognise and own our core gifts that we are born with. This must be prioritised in our life.

The poem also describes a courage that often comes disguised by shaky knees and a lot of dithering. When you are wondering whether to make a brave move, absorb the wise words of Pooh and let your spirit be moved. Find in yourself the Te of Piglet.

The Courage Files: Warriors of Light Keep The Spark In Their Eyes

(Reposting an old article)

The notion of the “Warrior of Light” has guided me through many darker moments when traditional definitions of leadership left me cold.

I now use the expression “Warrior of Light” as part of my “extended bio” on the internet because it expresses what I believe I am. The term comes from Paolo Coelho; an international bestseller — most famous for his book “The Alchemist”.

Below is an inspirational article on a more human definition of leadership in which Paolo Coelho introduces the notion of the “Warrior of Light”. To honour it, I thought I would portray his own human side by showing a video of him in an informal setting where he is singing (to his wife, Cristina) at a party. The song he sings is a classic Brazillian song “Manhã de Carnaval”… it is a sad song about the day after carnival. When he sings it I feel a connection to something very real and beautiful.

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“In search of the perfect leader” — an inspirational article by Paolo Coelho

A reader sends me a questionnaire in which he presents the profile of three world leaders who lived in the same period of history, and asks if it is possible to choose the best one using the following data:

  • Candidate A was associated with witchdoctors and often consulted astrologists. He had two mistresses. His wife was a Lesbian. He smoked a lot. He drank eight to ten martinis a day.
  • Candidate B never managed to hold down a job because of his arrogance. He slept the whole morning. He used opium at school, and was always considered a bad student. He drank a glass of brandy every morning.
  • Candidate C was decorated a hero. A vegetarian, he did not smoke. His discipline was exemplary. He occasionally drank a beer. He stayed with the same woman during his moments of glory and defeat.

And what was the answer?

A] Franklin Delano Roosevelt. B] Winston Churchill. C] Adolf Hitler.

So what then is leadership? The encyclopedia defines it as an individual’s capacity to motivate others to seek the same objective. The bookstores are full of texts on this theme, and the leaders are normally portrayed in brilliant colors, with enviable qualities and supreme ideals. The leader is to society as the “master” is to spirituality. This, however, is not absolutely true (in either case).

Our big problem, especially in a world that is growing more and more fundamentalist, is not allowing people in prominent positions to commit human mistakes. We are always in search of the perfect ruler. We are always looking for a pastor to guide and help us find our way. The truth is that the great revolutions and the progress made by humanity were brought about by people just like us – the only difference being that they had the courage to make a key decision at a crucial moment.

A long time ago, in my unconscious, I changed the word “leader” for the expression “warrior of light”. What is a warrior of light?

Warriors of light keep the spark in their eyes.

They are in the world, are part of other people’s lives, and began their journey without a rucksack and sandals. They are often cowards. They don’t always act right.

Warriors of light suffer over useless things, have some petty attitudes, and at times feel they are incapable of growing. They frequently believe they are unworthy of any blessing or miracle.

Warriors of light are not always sure what they are doing here. Often they stay up all night thinking that their lives have no meaning.

Every warrior of light has felt the fear of joining in battle. Every warrior of light has once lost faith in the future.

Every warrior of light has once trodden a path that was not his. Every warrior of light has once felt that he was not a warrior of light. Every warrior of light has once failed in his spiritual obligations.

That is what makes him a warrior of light; because he has been through all this and has not lost the hope of becoming better than he was.

That is why they are warriors of light. Because they make mistakes. Because they wonder. Because they look for a reason – and they will certainly find one.

Boldness And Poetry

BoldnessIsn’t it interesting how, when all hope seems to be lost, the mythic, the poetic and the romantic take over. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. In Iran, the drive to keep hope alive turned poetic when the collective peaceful protest seemed crushed. You can sense the change in tone the moment hope raises its head. Today, as renewed protests erupted, the famous Goethe quote appeared in relation to the convulsive situation in Iran.

Poetry accesses the “river beneath river” “rio bajo rio” as Clarissa Pinkola Estess says — the deep knowing of the soul.  A brilliant peer of mine says that he thinks that what he does only contributes at the subconscious level to strategic processes. But you see, the poetry, the myth is what sets the frame of our conscious perception. So it is vital we have the right kind of poetry in our hearts. It becomes the connecting thread to a logic that is right for us but that that we do not yet understand. It is paramount therefore that at the subconscious level, we have the right programs running in our minds :-) It influences our capacity to access strength when there is no strength, courage when we are feeble and insight when all is confusion. It enables us to “see in the dark.”

After visiting Bangladesh, I have come back with a deep drive, to stimulate the emergence of more Social Business to address our societal problems. Wow. Its a big mission! I better have the right poetry in my head right now. What would that be, I wonder?

I think that for myself, the right poetry in this case would be the stories of what is possible when people who are attempting to change society do not accept failure. They might fail along the way but they get up again and again. Their approach is disruptive. They look for the systemic assumptions in society that are not working to the betterment of society. They turn them upside down. As they succeed, the stories they leave in their trail are poetic to me. By keeping them in mind, they will set the frame for what I am doing. They become the incentive for staying in the game. Stories of dignity, holistic solutions. This is the kind of poetry I want to hold in my head.

Where can we apply ideas of Social Business such as those in Bangladesh, in London? I am so eager to discover! What are the limits of Social Business? What is its potential? I can’t wait to begin and am full of the spirit of new beginnings. I feel as though a new age is dawning and success is tentative. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to watch what happens in Iran. I hope to celebrate with the Iranians. I often heard people talk about what a fascinating city Tehran is. I had heard about the changes bubbling within Iranian society for several years now. Let us hope that people hold the vision strongly enough for the poetry that ultimately liberates the society.