Sunday, December 6, 2015

Power Your Team!

Is your team running at full power?

You mostly know what it feels like when things are going well. But how do you measure this - are things really as good as they seem, or is there room for improvement with your team? Based on a comprehensive data set of interviews with over 15,000 leaders, it's now possible to show what every leader can do immediately to improve their team's performance. The results might surprise you!

It starts with asking yourself and your team the question, "are we running at full power?" What were the times in your career when things just clicked and what were the times when things felt clunky and hard?

The research undertaken by Geoff Smart, Randy Street and Alan Foster (2015) found just three distinct groupings of strengths and competencies. Ask yourself these questions:

Priorities
  • Do we have the right priorities?
  • Are they connected to the mission in a compelling way?
  • Are they correct and likely to produce the right results?
  • Are they clear so that everybody understands the critical few?

Who
  • Do we have the right "who"?
  • What's the bench-strength of the people on our team - how many "A-players" (people who can achieve the priorities in the right way) do we have? 
  • Have team members been "diagnosed" with a clear plan to address gaps?
  • Have we deployed the right people in the right jobs?
  • Do we have a recruitment process in place to select A-players to the team?
  • Do we ensure the team can play to their strengths while building new skills for the future?
Relationships
  • Do we have the right relationships?
  • Are we coordinated - do the right people talk to one another at the right times, share key information, and review metrics?
  • Are we committed - does the team buy in to the mission, trust the leader, and supports one another on the journey?
  • Are we sufficiently challenged - is each member of the team highly motivated and so they push each other to be their best selves, giving one another feedback, and practicing mutual accountability?

Give your team a rating from 1 (low) to 10 (high) for each of these three dimensions, then multiply your three numbers together to get your team's Power Score.

P x W x R = Power Score!

Your PWR Score helps you understand what you need to do. It's like your weight. If you don't like it, you can exercise or go on a diet, or maybe both. In the case of your PWR Score, you want to improve your number to 729 or better.

Because 729 means you have rated each of your P, W, and R at a 9. That's where you want to be with your team, and it means things are going well in every dimension.

What do you need to focus on to get your team up to full power?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Leadership Mindset!

Leaders like to use their strengths to achieve quick, dramatic results; they like to believe they are as good as everyone says they are, and not take their weaknesses too seriously; they believe that some people are superior and some are inferior; they put their faith in talent; and they see themselves as "the smartest guys in the room".

Sound familiar?

Evidence from the Global Financial Crisis shows that when people work in an environment that esteems them for their innate talent, they have difficulty when their image is threatened; they won't admit they're wrong to peers and stakeholders, and they won't take remedial action. Ultimately a company that can't self-correct can't thrive. And the rest, as they say, is history!

What's the alternative?

The alternative is leaders with a 'growth mindset'. They believe in human development; they're not constantly trying to prove they're better than others; they don't highlight being at the top of the hierarchy; they don't claim credit for others' contributions; and they don't undermine others to feel powerful.

Instead they are constantly trying to improve. They surround themselves with the most capable people they can find, they honestly look at their own mistakes and deficiencies, and they question what skills they and the company will need in the future. And because of this, they lead their companies with confidence based in the facts, not built on fantasies about their own talent.

Leaders with a growth mindset think it's nice to have talent, but that's just the beginning of creating an environment in which people can thrive.

Here are 7 things you can do:
  1. Demonstrate more commitment to your team member's development; give more developmental coaching.
  2. Go out of your way to notice and acknowledge improvement in your team member's performance.
  3. Welcome critiques from your team members.
  4. Present skills as learnable.
  5. Convey ways in which the organisation values learning and perseverance, not just ready-made genius or talent.
  6. Give feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success.
  7. Create ways to foster a diversity of views and constructive criticism; assign people to play the devil's advocate so you can see the holes in your position.
This comes from the book by world-renowned Stanford University psychology professor, Carol Dweck: "Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential" (2012). If you've got time, check out her TED talk here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Best Leadership Book!

I've been working in and around leadership development for over 30 years and I was recently asked, "what's the best book on leadership?" I had to come up with an answer on the spot. I ran through corridors of books in my mind. But there are thousands of books on leadership, and thousands more published every year! Most fall into the category of "the [x] steps to success", or "I did it my way". A few are based on empirical research.

If I had to come up with one book, which one would it be? No, I'm not going to sell you "my book". In fact, I'm not going to sell you anything at all. The one book that I recommend most to my executive coaching clients and to my wisdom in leadership program participants is...

..."The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz, first published in 1997. This amazing little book claims to derive from the wisdom of the pre-Aztec "Toltec" teachings of Mesoamerican culture dating back to 800-1000CE. It seems they gave us more than tacos! But what could they possibly tell us about leadership in the 21st Century?

Quite a lot as it turns out. Ruiz talks about our present reality as a dream, a shared dream. When we are young children we're taught about the dream, it's rules and codes of conduct. He calls this process the "domestication of humans". Yet, the dream is made up of a matrix of agreements. Most have been made for us. And many more we make with ourselves. I may agree that I'm "stupid", "not pretty", or that I'm "deserving" of good fortune or bad.

Leadership comes down to understanding the agreements that govern our own lives first. Outstanding leaders see through the dream. They release themselves from unproductive agreements and make new agreements that benefit their personal growth and the wellbeing of those around them. Ruiz says there are just four agreements that leaders need to practice:

1.  Be impeccable with your word

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. 

It seems blindingly obvious, yet it's  very difficult to do. Most of the leaders I've had the good fortune of working with over the years have been transformed by this little book. It has shaped their careers, their families, and their leadership legacy. It's the most powerful leadership book I know! 

See "The Four Agreements - Introduction" here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Leading Through Conflict!

Rather than be surprised by conflict we should be surprised when it isn't present. Conflict is everywhere. In fact, it's built into our commercial and civic institutions. "Democracy" and "free market" are based on conflict. But here's the catch, the skills for dealing with conflict are rarely taught. And our leaders mostly seem to promote conflict for their own ends.

We need a new kind of leadership that acknowledges dealing with conflict and difference as a central goal.

We need the leader as mediator to be able to:
  • Improve increasingly diverse workplaces that are under global pressures to perform.
  • Restore civility and collaboration in fractured communities and neighbourhoods.
  • Re-energise the respect and vitality of our schools.
  • Bring compassion back to the core of our health care systems.
  • Foster a more policy-based, less personality-based political discourse.
  • Generate a more open, curious and inclusive attitude toward difference more generally.
The choice to surface conflict and attempt to transform it involves considerable risk, and it requires commitment. We need to "wake up" and break the spell of vengeance and avoidance before it's too late. Hear Mark Gerzon, author of "Leading Through Conflct: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities" talk about 8 tools for the leader as mediator here.

Here are 12 strategies to remember when conflict erupts:
  1. Make Time Your Ally - You often have more time than you think before you need to respond. Consider the possibility of reflection before action. If you calmly choose when to speak and act, it is far less likely that you will regret it later.
  2. Breathe and Protect Yourself - Pay attention to your breathing, making sure it is deep and slow. This oxygenates the brain and keeps adrenaline and blood pressure low. After 10 such breaths, you can trust yourself to speak your truth in a way that will serve your genuine purpose.
  3. Determine Your Goal and Focus on It - Ask yourself, "why am I in this conflict in the first place?" "Do I need to sustain this relationship, and if so, why?" Decide what your ultimate goal is to prevent yourself from getting lost in the heat of the moment.
  4. Speak to Who Is Present - Your adversary may be the one in front of you, but they may not be. If the person who needs to hear your frustration, anger, or other emotion is not there, triggering an avalanche of feelings upon whoever happens to be present at the time would be a serious mistake.
  5. Beware of Self-Righteousness - Arrogance is a characteristic of leaders who see only their own good qualities and only the bad qualities of their adversary. Good and evil are rarely so conveniently distributed. To be a successful leader, you need to do just the opposite: recognise the virtues of humility.
  6. Keep Your Shadow in Front of You - If you want your adversary to take responsibility for their part of the conflict, then you had better take responsibility for yours. Know the difference between your feelings being caused by the current conflict and those that have been hiding inside you for a long time. The latter is your shadow.
  7. Listen to Everything, but Respond Selectively - You need to listen to what others are saying, but you are free to address whatever you want. If you know your goal and you stay focused on it, you may choose to focus on the substance and not respond (for the moment) to the "under the belt" blows.
  8. First Inquire, Then Fire - You may think you (or your adversary) knows "the facts" of the situation. But it's worth a question or two to determine if that is so. Make sure that what you say is accurate. Once you make wild statements based on faulty information, you will have squandered at least some of your credibility.
  9. Take Stock Before You Take Sides - Before you takes sides, reflect on the richness of your own inner contradictions. You need to hold a paradox, not cut it in half. You are far more likely to heal conflict if you listen to your own doubts, attend to your own questions, and admit your own confusion.
  10. Listen More, Speak Less - When conflict breaks out, tempers flare and voices rise. If you listen more patiently and compassionately, you are less likely to regret saying something in haste. By listening, you will be wiser about when to speak, and your words will be more highly valued.
  11. Learn Your Adversary's "Language" - Don't presume that everybody - even within your own linguistic group - speaks your language. Learn to speak the language of the people you want to reach. This means being multilingual with your heart and mind, not just your tongue.
  12. Let Your Adversary Know You - In the heat of the moment, you may not be able to research your adversary on the spot. But you can, if you have the courage, let your adversary know more about you. If you hide who you are, your adversary may misjudge you. Just as you need to know your adversary, they need to know you. And that means both of you must reveal yourselves.
If you seek to "win" the conflict, you will ultimately lose. But if you seek to transform it, you will neither win nor lose, but will find opportunities in your differences that go far beyond your imagination. You will learn more about yourself, become more connected to others and, ultimately deepen your relationship to the mysterious power that created not only us but our conflicts as well.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Running the Human Race!

Winners are grinners. You're in it to win it. Go hard or go home. Eyes on the prize!

So what happens when you live life at this frenetic place? You will only gauge your success relative to those around you. And if you're a leader - a frenetic leader - you will only want to drive your team to achieve results, to beat the competition, to win. This is the accepted imperative of business. And it's killing us!

There is another way to run the human race. Not by being a frenetic leader, but by being a phronetic leader. Phonetic leaders embrace "phronesis" or practical wisdom, which is the virtuous habit of making decisions and taking actions that serve the common good. It is a capability to find the "right answer" in a particular context.

Phronesis, acquired from experience, enables leaders to make good judgements in a timely fashion and take actions guided by values and morals. When leaders distribute this kind of knowledge within their organisations, they can reach enlightened decisions.

The phronetic leader must still make judgements and take actions to sustain profitability. But he or she will do so while taking a higher point of view - what's good for society. According to Ijuro Nonaka, Director of the Research Centre for Practical Wisdom at Fujitsu Research Institute, there are six abilities required to be a phronetic leader:
  1. Wise leaders can judge goodness: Phronetic leaders practice moral discernment about what's good and act on it in every situation.
  2. Wise leaders can grasp the essence: Practical wisdom enables leaders to see the essence of the situation and intuitively assess the nature and meaning of people, things, and events. 
  3. Wise leaders create shared contexts: In Japan a ba (place, space, or field) refers to the context in which relationships are formed. Those participating in a ba share information, build short-term relationships, and try to create new meaning. 
  4. Wise leaders communicate the essence: Phronetic leaders communicate in a way that everyone can understand. They use stories, metaphors, and other figurative language that allows individuals with different experiences to grasp things intuitively.
  5. Wise leaders exercise political power: Phronetic leaders understand the viewpoints and emotions of others. They carefully consider timing - when to make a move or to discuss issues. They engage in dialectical thinking, which enables them to deal with contradictions, opposites, and paradoxes by moving to a higher level.
  6. Wise leaders foster practical wisdom in others: Practical wisdom must be distributed as much as possible throughout the organisation. Fostering distributed leadership is one of the wise leader's biggest responsibilities.
Running the human race is not about your track record. It's not a linear pathway to some wished-for future state. You can afford to make inductive jumps according to your ideals and dreams. If you aren't idealistic, you simply can't create new futures. But you must also be pragmatic - to see things as they really are, to grasp the essence of the situation, and to envision how it relates to the larger context. You can be phonetic, not frenetic, and judge what must be done in the moment to achieve the common good.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Secret to Multitasking!

How often have you heard people brag about what great multi-taskers they are? You might even consider yourself a great multi-tasker, particularly if you're a Gen Y.

When we think we're multitasking we're actually multiswitching. That's what the brain is very good at doing - quickly diverting its attention from one place to the next. We think we're being productive. We are, indeed, being busy. But in reality we're simply giving ourselves extra work.

So, what's the secret to multitasking?


Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers also found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.


Further, researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

The secret to multitasking is - mindfulness: The practice of developing sustained, single-pointed concentration on one thing at a time. This is the 5th practice for living life wisely.


In reality, mindfulness is training the mind - your mind - to be more productive and more resilient. There are four kinds of mindfulness:

  1. Average mindfulness - the attention that springs naturally and spontaneously through our own interest in a particular person, situation, or phenomenon.
  2. Generated mindfulness - the type that we intentionally apply to particular objects of awareness in order to stabilise or deepen our understanding of them.
  3. Abiding mindfulness - when the well-trained mind is sufficiently tamed to rest naturally, without wavering, wherever it is focused.
  4. Innate mindfulness - where awareness itself remains undistracted from its own nature. In other words, there is no observer "I" noticing awareness within our consciousness.
"Anywhere, anytime" is the best approach to cultivating mindfulness - fully paying attention to the task at hand, and surrendering totally to simply doing what you are doing. This is the extraordinary power of "nowness".

Try the Sky Gazing Practice as a simple method to start training your mind:
  1. Begin by sitting in any way that's comfortable for you, somewhere where you can see the sky. Rest your body so that it can remain pleasantly motionless for a while, close your eyes, and take a couple of deep breaths to put yourself mentally and physically at ease. Then continue breathing in a natural manner, with full, relaxed breaths.
  2. With your eyes closed, let any thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations pass by like clouds in the sky, just observing their impermanent, dreamlike nature, and then coming back to rest in the present moment.When you find yourself mentally pursuing a particular thought, feeling or sensation, let go of it and gently return to an open awareness of simply sitting and breathing right now.
  3. When you feel settled in a calm alertness, open your eyes and, keeping them in a soft focus, gaze evenly into the space of the sky. Like the mind, this space is beginnings and endless, with no inside, outside, shape, or size. Each time you exhale, follow your out-breath into this emptiness until you become spacious awareness itself. Allow individual thoughts, feelings, and sensations to float freely away and dissolve, like clouds in the infinite sky.
  4. Continue breathing freely into space, letting everything go. Breathe the sky in and out. Keep the process flowing until you feel you are resting evenly in luminous, empty awareness, and dissolve into that!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Power of Heroic Effort!

Why is the getting of success such a struggle, when everywhere we look, others make it seem so easy? "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something", said the man in Black to his one true love Buttercup in the classic 1981 movie The Princess Bride.

No great success was ever achieved without pain. And to make the key changes in our lives - to shift from being worriers to warriors - takes effort, heroic effort. Just like the Native American story of the battle between the two wolves.

One wolf is slothful, cowardly, vain, arrogant, and full of self-pity, sorrow, regret, envy, and anger. The other wolf is diligent, courageous, humble, benevolent, and full of compassion, joy, empathy, an faith. Which wolf wins the battle?

The one you feed.

Whether you feed your good wolf, your source of diligence and courage, or your bad wolf, your source of sloth and fear, is a daily choice, and in many cases a heroic choice.

Here are five questions to consider whenever you need some extra motivation.
  1. What are your most important goals in life? What things do you truly believe are worthwhile? What is your greatest dream and highest aspiration?
  2. How does each goal relate to specific aspects of your life right now?
  3. What do you recall of past moments of heroic effort in achieving each of these goals? What were the circumstances or conditions that helped you make such an effort?
  4. What circumstances or conditions keep you from making a more heroic effort now to achieve your goals? How are your own thoughts, beliefs, and habits holding you back? How, specifically, can you remove, counteract, or overcome these obstacles?
  5. What steps can you take each day toward achieving each of your goals? Who could help? Whose example could you emulate?
Heroic effort doesn't necessarily mean doing big things. Even small actions, done faithfully and wholeheartedly day by day, can result in heroic progress. What makes the effort heroic is that is:
  • Insistent (you are committed to doing it),
  • Consistent (you stay focused on your goal),
  • Persistent (you don't give up), and
  • Wise (appropriate and dedicated to something beyond yourself). 
In fact, the only way true heroism manifests itself is through daily effort in the direction of your highest aspirations.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Patience, young grasshopper!

"Patience, young grasshopper" is a quote from the 1970's Kung Fu TV series starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang
Cain. His teacher, Master Po called him "grasshopper" as a child, emphasising patience as the ultimate martial arts skill.

But we live in an era of high-speed, same-day, cutting-edge, first-to-market, fast-food, get-it-now, snap-judgement. If we're told we have to wait, we get irritated. If we can't come up with the right answer right away, we get upset. if someone or something gets in our way, we get angry.

Why is patience considered one of the most powerful martial arts practices?

Because patience is the antidote to anger, and anger represents the most terrible and destructive manifestation of self-driven desire. When we're angry with someone, we're estranged form them and from the true core of our being. We end up losing the very thing we believe we're fighting for.

Patience is a discipline. It takes practice to overcome the knee-jerk reactions to external circumstances, to recognise anger as a danger signal and to subdue it before you wind up hurting others. With patience you have choice about how to respond. If you can do something to change external circumstances, then take action. But if there is clearly no way of influencing what's happening to you (being stuck in traffic is a good example!), then choosing tolerance, forbearance, or patience can be an intelligent, energy-efficient, calming (and often courageous) response.

Whenever we're impatient with someone who matters to us in our lives, we need to recognise that the fundamental problem is our own. It is we who are deciding, consciously or not, to react to the other person with impatience. We make ourselves impatient through our expectations and demands, through our fixations, fantasies and stuckiness.

Here is a step-by-step patience activity to practice with someone in your life who triggers your impatience:

1. Accept it as a given that your impatience is the problem and that you need to take at least one step toward being more patient.
2. Ask: "Who is this person? How can I identify with him or her? Why is he or she so deserving of my patience?"
3. Decide on - and commit to - at least one specific step you can take toward this person to demonstrate your active patience.

Of course this is easier said than done, grasshopper!

You know there are people who just press your hot buttons, and you know it seems so unfair to just let them get away with whatever they're doing that so offends you. How do you broaden the gap between stimulus and response so that you can make a wiser choice?

This takes clarity, commitment, and practice. But the Six Steps of Anger Management might help you:

1. Recognize: Note the familiar stimulus - like particular words or phrases - that push your hot buttons.
2. Recollect: Remember the disadvantages of returning anger with anger, and the advantages of practicing patience, forbearance, tolerance, and acceptance.
3. Reframe: Try to see things from alternative viewpoints; consider how this person presents you with a perfect opportunity to develop patience.
4. Relinquish: Let go of your habitual reactivity and impulsive urges.
5. Recondition: Remind yourself of how far you've come in your understanding, and how you've substituted a healthier response for your old knee-jerk conditioning.
6. Respond: Now face the person or the situation patiently, appropriately, intelligently, and proactively.

Patience is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength which arises from a deep ability to remain steadfast and firm. The gift of patience is truly the gift of yourself. You share your strength with someone and become stronger yourself in the process.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Virtue of Ethical Self-Discipline!

Groucho Marx famously said, "the secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made!"

It's easy enough to acknowledge the benefits of ethical behaviour - in principle. But the practice of business, government, and community affairs is often at odds with what seems "right". The number 1 reason for ethical violations in business is the pressure to meet expectations, sometimes unrealistic expectations.

So how do you develop and sustain the ethical self-discipline to stand firm when all about you are bending?

The second practice for living life wisely is the virtue of ethical self-discipline. There are three kinds of ethical discipline:

1. The moral discipline of restraint from non-virtue, in particular:
    • Do not kill - instead, support life in all its forms as much as possible.
    • Do not steal - which means to not knowingly gain from another's misfortune or ignorance.
    • Do not deceive - which means to be honest and truthful in all things, with oneself as well as others, while not intending to hurt or undermine anyone (which can sometimes be a bit tricky!).
    • Do not engage in sexual misconduct - avoid sexual relations that do harm to each other or to people outside the relationship.
    • Do not engage in intoxication - which means to limit or avoid the addictions of modern life, from shopping, gambling, gaming, television, to alcohol and drugs. Anything which may dull the senses and avoid experiencing life with mindfulness and clarity.
This might seem like a set of "commandments", but they form a pretty useful set of guidelines for leading an ethical life. In all the wisdom of our collected human experience things are not likely to fare well if you make any one of these non-virtues a habit!

2. The virtue of accumulating positive qualitiesVirtue is it's own reward. Simply being ethical, intelligent, and respectable leads to a positive reputation and an honourable legacy. It might be rare, but we look up to those exemplars of moral conduct in our business, political, and community organisations. 

3. The discipline of selfless service: Just like generosity, nurturing the desire to benefit everyone (with sufficient regard for oneself). This is, perhaps an aspiration - to wish to be of greatest service for whomever one might come into contact with. At one level this is a kind of philanthropy, to bring about the most amount of good with one's financial resources. But at a deeper level, it is the practice of giving of oneself without expecting reward.

Whenever you find yourself struggling with a moral dilemma, put yourself through the Four Gates. Whatever action you are about to take, ask yourself these four questions:
  1. Is it truthful?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it kind?
  4. What is my motivation, my genuine intention?
If you can say yes to each question - if you can pass through each gate - then go ahead. If not, stop and go no further.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Gift of Generosity!

To live in the first quarter of the Twenty-First Century in any global city is to be plugged-in, relevant, and responsive. To be out-of-the-loop even on holidays can feel intolerable. How can you expect to lead a wise life when there's so much noise and disruption?

There are 5 practices for living life wisely. The first of these is the gift of generosity. True generosity is giving everything you have to every moment without expecting any sort of return. But how can you seriously do that in a competitive, materialistic, narcissistic, me-first culture? Here's how:

Getting Started

Once you overcome an inbuilt protectiveness about your own survival and material wealth it's relatively easy to be generous. You can begin right now, where you are, to be more compassionate and giving to others in your thoughts, words, and deeds. If you continue this process, it quickly becomes apparent how good it feels and how valuable it is.

The Remedy of Generosity

When you look at it much of our life is dominated by desire for what we don't have, aversion to what we don't want, and attachment to what is "mine". This can mean we are never truly satisfied. Even when we get that promotion, buy that new house, accumulate that wealth, there's always the anxiety of not having as much as our contemporaries, or the risk of losing it all. By giving up your own private agenda and possessions to help others, you can break free of your dependence on transitory things to define who you are. Only then can you realise the true wealth and value that comes from your deepest identity and the wellspring of your happiness and fulfilment.

The Paradox of Generosity

Through the cultivation of generosity - an open-handed and open-hearted giving of ourselves - we can realise the virtue and freedom of letting go of our attachments. Relax your grip, and instead of losing control, you will feel a new power, flow of energy, and flexibility. This is the paradox of generosity. The more you give away, the more you receive.

How to be Generous

There are three kinds of generosity:
  1. The giving of material things like food, clothing, medicine, money.
  2. Gifts of the spirit such as giving someone encouragement, inspiration, reassurance, love, protection, fearlessness, or hope.
  3. The gift of timeless truths that help recipients to help themselves. Like the old Chinese saying: "If you give a man a fish, he has lunch and maybe dinner today. But if you teach him how to fish, he has meals for himself, his family, and his village forever".
True generosity means giving the best of what you have, graciously and unstintingly, without reservations, hesitation, or regret. Does this mean you deliberately short-change yourself? And is your gift worthless if you feel uneasy about giving it? Of course, we must be responsible for our own welfare as well as looking out for the good of others. There is a need to combine compassion with wisdom, to know the best thing to do for the right reasons in the present circumstances. Learning to exercise generosity is a growth process.

There are 7 motivations for giving:
  1. Giving out of fear ("Will I be disliked or suffer negative consequences if I don't give?").
  2. Giving mechanically in accordance with tradition ("I have to get them something for Christmas!").
  3. Giving with expectation ("If I help her in this way, then she will feel obligated to help me when I need it").
  4. Giving to secure our reputation ("I'll donate because they'll put my name on a plaque on the wall").
  5. Giving out of guilt ("I guess I owe this person a favour").
  6. Giving to get rid of stuff ("I can't use it anyway so I might as well give it away").
  7. Giving for the sheer joy it creates for everyone involved, without much concern for what we might receive in return.
The Consequences of Generosity

"What goes around comes around". Just like the laws of thermodynamics which state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the energy involved in the exchange is constant: it can be neither created nor destroyed. Similarly, our thoughts, words and actions sets in motion a related chain of events that ripple out from our lives and affects the lives of others. 

If we fail to be generous, kind, and giving, we not only diminish the potential for these qualities to exist in the world but also create a life for ourselves that is in many ways impoverished. As the Thirteenth Century Tibetan Buddhist scholar, Sakya Pandit wrote: "The result of generosity is always richness. The result of miserliness is always poverty. This principle is constant".

Friday, January 16, 2015

We Need to Cultivate Wisdom!

In these times when innocent people are slaughtered for "causing offence" we don't hear much about wisdom. When was the last time you heard a political leader stress the social importance of wisdom or speak about the need for more of it?

Yet across time and cultures, wisdom has been viewed as our most reliable guide to action, a key to the advancement and integration of knowledge, and a principle human virtue linked to long-term fulfilment and wellbeing.

For me, wisdom is the balanced use of reason, intuition and compassion to make and encourage good decisions that promote human flourishing. How can we cultivate wisdom? Here are six qualities you can practice to become wise.

1. Richness of Knowledge

A wise person tends to have what Paul Baltes and colleagues call "an extensive database about life matters". He or she is also likely to have "rich procedural knowledge" - many different ways of thinking about problems and their possible solutions. Intelligence is important, but not sufficient. How many different frameworks of thinking can you draw on when considering a problem in your life?

2. Empathy

Self-centred people are far less likely to be wise. Wisdom is consistently associated with compassion and the ability to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Everyone one of us seeks to have more happiness and to avoid suffering. Ask yourself, "what it would feel like to be experiencing life from the other person's perspective?"

3. Equanimity

The wise person can regulate his or her emotions to meet joy and suffering equally - to treat setbacks as problems to learn from and puzzles to solve. Do events in life "make" you happy or sad? Are the triggers mostly "out there"? It turns out your emotional state is, by and large, a choice. And you can practice maintaining an equilibrium in your emotional state no matter what adversity you may face.

4. Perspective

The wise person's point of view is broad and disinterested, not partisan. Yet paradoxically, they are able to see through complexities  and grasp the foundation and essence of an issue - "the nub" of the topic. Try to "picture" the issue, to see it as a metaphor. Think about the short-tern and the long-term. You can practice "zooming in" to the details and "zooming out" to see the big picture, just as you might do on Google Earth!

5. Recognition of Values

Some values are so essential that they should be binding for all of us. But the wise person realises that such values are few and are often subject to interpretation. He or she recognises that "truth" is not a unity in which all the pieces fit together harmoniously - that there is no single grand narrative that explains everything. You might try acknowledging that the conflicts you see - in society, and in yourself - are not so much about good versus evil, but about two legitimate goods in tension with each other.

6. Acceptance of Uncertainty

The wise person views doubts and ambiguity not as enemies to be resisted, but as acquaintances to be accommodated. Much of wisdom appears to be the capacity to accept realistically what's not known and what's not knowable. Recognise the exquisite randomness of events. Nothing is truly certain. What you choose to do right now might turn out to be the wisest thing you could possibly have done - or the most foolish!

Surely our politics, our media and our public conversation today could use a little more empathy, perspective and conciliation, and a little less certitude, aggression and intransigence. Wisdom is uncommon in human affairs. But it needs to be cultivated, both individually and socially, if we are to prevent the collapse of our social systems and our biosphere.

The first step is wanting to do so.