Category Archives: health

COVID-19: The outer and inner leadership test

COVID-19
Image by Vektor Kunst from Pixabay

COVID-19 knows no socio-economic boundaries and is not intimidated by legal action, social media, political antics, economic sanctions, and military force

COVID-19 has no regard for titles or authority as officials, Hollywood actors, and sports stars test positive. You cannot take legal action against it.  Stonewalling will not make COVID-19 disappear. Name-calling will not shame it. Social media smear campaigns only increase its ability to mislead potential victims. Neither bribery, blackmail, nor hush money will make COVID-19 go away. You cannot levy a tax against it or block it by building a wall. So what is left in the bag of tricks of so-called leaders faced with a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions? COVID-19 can not even be eradicated with the combined use of all the world’s military might ($2 Trillion dollars global yearly spending). Imagine how $2,000,000,000,000 could help R&D find a cure. Imagine how this unfathomable amount of money could help SMEs, vulnerable populations, and families all over the world affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is the World’s Mid-Life Crisis

It usually takes a significant medical issue or some personal crisis for a person to stop and reflect on life. Your health and well-being is number one as is that of Earth. What price do you put on your health and environmental well-being? COVID-19 is shining a bright spotlight on our collective welfare. It calls into question the equality of current global economic systems. It makes evident the gaps in social welfare systems. COVID-19 makes us ask questions like what is it all for? What is really important in life? Who truly benefits from my time, talents, and energy?

COVID-19 calls into question our human existence

This is a rapidly changing situation requiring millions of people to continuously adapt, refocus, and remain calm, while not forgetting about the simple human kindness and consideration that will help us all get through this. Millions more are sacrificing their safety to ensure others remain healthy. Are we doing all this just to get back to business as usual as we did after the 2008 financial crisis? What did we learn from that economic collapse? Do you remember who was responsible for creating a volatile and fragile system? As you hunker down in your abode with family and loved ones, there is no shortage of time to reflect on what really is important in your life.  What realizations have you since come to recognize? What changes have you already made to your lifestyle that you would like to keep going forward even after the impact of COVID-19 diminishes?

COVID-19 calls upon true leadership

COVID-19’s greatest ally is leadership incompetency. It has an uncanny ability to show a leader’s true ability to lead in a time of crisis. COVID-19 separates leaders who pretend they know how to lead from those who actually can. COVID-19 relentlessly spreads each time a leader fails to transmit the social gravity of isolation for the sake of personal, political, or economic gain. Taiwan has been a beacon of the leadership needed in such a crisis due to an educated vice-president. Those responsibly leading nations, however, do not need to be epidemiologists as is the case with Chen Chien-jen. They do need to consult closely with experts in the field who know how best to respond to such situations. Leaders in times of crisis know how to deliver clear and concise directives. They know how to instinctively inspire people to act calmly, rationally, and collectively.

COVID-19 ultimately demands inner leadership

COVID-19 is a top priority for all country, state, and local leaders. The real leader, however, in combating the spread of COVID-19 is you! COVID-19 is a serious example of why competent inner leadership is as crucial in such times as outer leadership. It is the epitome of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity). The #staythefuckhome movement is a prime example for the emphatic call to lead from within. We all have the wherewithal to choose our part in either spreading or containing the virus. A simple individual decision like self-isolating and reducing social contact taken by masses of people helps reduce the risk of furthering the spread of this contagious and life-threatening virus. As the world becomes more complex individual decisions and actions–inner leadership–will become more necessary in overcoming global challenges to achieve shared human goals that impact us all.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Facilitator, Executive Coach, Youth Expert, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

For more information on how companies can better cope with VUCA by encouraging employee empowerment read my blog on Human Edge Cultures

Running Barefoot: Life & Leadership Philosophy in Motion

Barefoot running

10k Herbstlauf 2019

Running Barefoot: Life & leadership philosophy in motion

In addition to the physical and mental benefits of running barefoot, running barefoot has evolved into a life and leadership philosophy. Here are many lessons I am still learning!

  1. You always have a choice. No matter how difficult the terrain looks ahead while running or in life, there is always a next step you can make, even if it isn’t the direction you expected to go in.
  2. Trust your instincts in a difficult situation. Running barefoot is instinctive running. Humans have been running much longer without shoes than with shoes. When in doubt, trust your gut.
  3. Listen to your body. Valuable information is not always transmitted through words, nor through your shoes.
  4. You can handle more than you think. I run barefoot on gravel, snow and in temperatures just below freezing. Overcome your fears through practice.
  5. Be mindful. Barefoot running requires your full attention most of the time. Be present. Act with intention. Be mindful of your form and your conduct.
  6. Silence is golden. When running bare I am silent and can listen to the environment. I have startled shod runners and animals alike. Learn to listen with all of your senses.
  7. Take responsibility for your actions. If I step on a stone I cannot blame it. We choose how we respond to life. No one or no thing makes us do anything or react in a certain way. 
  8. Transform hurtful energy. When I step on an object I allow the unpleasant energy to run through my body and transfer it to briefly run faster. Convert as much energy into self-improvement.
  9. You need less than you think. Rid yourself of clutter. Become a minimalist with how you conceptualize and interact with the world. The less you have the more you can take in.
  10. Be light in temperament. You are physically lighter barefoot. Holding grudges leaves no space to hold something that gives you power and energy. Forgive. Let go and move on.
  11. Be non-judgmental. I received looks and was made fun of when I started. Now people are curious and ask questions. Be open to new possibilities. Ask questions if you don’t understand.
  12. Use both body and mind simultaneously. Running barefoot incorporates both. We tend to use one at a time. A more holistic experience results when engaging both simultaneously. 
  13. Have fun. There is a playful quality to running barefoot. Try something new. Laugh with others and at yourself! Life is too short to take yourself too seriously!
  14. Be adaptable. Running barefoot requires you to adapt your approach and movement according to changing conditions. Train your mind and body to be flexible. 
  15. Live in the moment. Running barefoot demands that you be present in the here and now. Scan ahead but know your next step.
  16. Stay alert. Running barefoot doesn’t allow you to be inattentive for too long. Stay on your toes and don’t get caught flat-footed!
  17. Connect with nature and discharge negative energy. When running barefoot I reap the health benefits of grounding. You benefit when interacting and connecting with nature.
  18. Be true to yourself. No matter what you do, say, or if you wear shoes or not, there will always be critics. Do what is in your best interest as long as it doesn’t prevent others from doing so as well.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Facilitator, Executive Coach, and Youth Expert. He optimizes HR and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics, team interdependence, and individual performance. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

How to effectively navigate difficult conversations at work

difficult conversation
Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

What are difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.

Address difficult conversations as soon as possible

Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.

Document, document, document

Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.

Have a policy on staff conduct

Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.

Be fair

There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.

Bring in a 3rd party

Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.

It isn’t personal, it’s about the company

Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.

More tips on handling difficult conversations

For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

 

996 Work Culture: A Pseudo-Scientific Misrepresentation

996 Work Culture

996 Work Culture

Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group (a Chinese multinational conglomerate) recently defended the 996 Work Culture at Alibaba. What is it? A 996 Work Culture means working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, or a 72-hour workweek! He says working a 996 is a huge blessing. Talking about success, Ma asked his employees, “If you don’t put out more time and energy than others, how can you achieve the success you want?” Does success only have a linear relationship with time and energy?

Pythagoras – The Person and Legend

Most of us learned about Pythagoras in Geometry class. In addition to Pythagorean Theory,  this ancient Greek philosopher (c. 570 BC to c. 495 BC) is credited with mathematical and scientific discoveries. He was also an astrologer, musician, and spiritual Guru. By all accounts, Pythagoras’ life teeters on fact and fiction, along with the claim that he is the father of Western Numerology.

Numerology Can Provide Insight

Our reliance on figures, data, valuations, quantities, statistics, and percentages grows daily. Our interpretation of numbers can be misleading. Is success only possible by expending more time and energy? This blog uses numerology as a pseudo-scientific attempt to draw contradictory numerical inferences about the 996 Work Culture.  It is meant to have fun while addressing important organizational issues such as abuse of workers, work-life imbalance, burnout, and in extreme cases self-harm due to work-related stress.

Jack Ma on Education

Human development arises from both reason and creative expression. Even Jack Ma agrees. In his 2018 video on education, Ma says that workplaces should have a good environment to make employees more positive. And education should teach us things that make us different from machines, amongst other things: art, sports, music, painting, and caring for others.

Ma’s Discrepancy Between Education and 996

When does one living a 996 find the time and energy to be successful in developing the “human” skills he deems imperative for the future? Aren’t machines designed to work 996 and longer so humans can spend more time and energy on being human? Coincidentally, 996 in numerology refers to material attachment. It advises to detach oneself from possessions needed to boost one’s self-esteem and/or ego. The result will be an improvement in your spiritual health as well as your devotion to your loved ones. Altruism, kindheartedness, and light work are also associated with 996. How ironic!

Number 9 – Worldly Sophistication

What do the individual numbers have to say? The number 9 in 996 has a double influence since it is repeated. Number 9 represents humanity and global consciousness, offering sympathy and compassion to everyone. Does a 996 Work Culture show compassion?

Number 6 – Loving and Caring

Properly nicknamed the motherhood number, the number 6 is associated with sacrificing, healing, caring, protecting, and teaching others. 6 is the glue that keeps families and communities together by living a balanced and harmonious life. How are families living in balance when a parent works 72 hours a week? The 996 Work Culture threatens the basic social fabric of society: families and communities. So what’s the numerical solution?

A Solution: The 954 Work Culture

A 954 Work Culture means working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 4 days a week. A 32-hour workweek makes a clear distinction between work and family/social life. This balanced separation results in improved time management and energy efficiency. Some companies, like one in New Zealand, are experimenting with a 32-hour workweek. A recent blog by David Heinemeier Hansson titled “Work harder or the communists will win” also discusses the absurdity of working employees to exhaustion.

954 Makes Numerological & Rational Sense

A 32-hour workweek truly shows compassion. 9 = 5 + 4. The number 5 represents adventure-seeking and risk-taking. 5 also represents flexibility and adaptability. These qualities are needed in today’s VUCA world. 4 represents dependability and productivity, two highly sought after qualities in prospective hires. 9 + 5 + 4 = 18. The numerology meaning of 18  is keen on building something of lasting benefit. It is future-oriented. 18 turns vision into reality.

The Pseudo-Scientific Skinny on 966 Work Cultures

The 996 Work Culture numerologically and logically do not add up even when promoted by a reliable source. Numbers can be misleading. Have a closer look at what they really mean. Have some fun with numbers. It may help you find creative solutions to complex organizational problems!

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Facilitator and Executive Coach. He optimizes HR and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics, team interdependence, and individual performance. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

The numerous benefits of barefoot running

Barefoot running
Half Marathon Barefoot run

Barefoot running background

Barefoot running occurs naturally as a child. As an adult, it usually begins once you have read “Born to Run”, by Christopher McDougall. At least it did for me. One late summer day in 2010, while reading McDougall’s book about the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon in Mexico, I decided to do something I had yet to even consider. 

Overcoming the anxiety of what the neighbors would think, I jogged about 100 meters barefoot up the road and quickly went inside. The sensation I felt connecting with the pavement was amazing. I was no longer running. Every step was one of sensation. Like electricity running through my body, what I felt with every step–through the over 200,000 nerve endings in the soles of my feet–was instantaneously felt throughout my body to the ends of the hairs on my head.

After this unforgettable experience, there was no turning back to running shoes. Barefoot running gave the movement a whole new meaning. It became fun and not a chore. It became a want and not a must. Running became explorative and not exercise. For the next several months I slowly and impatiently transitioned from shod to bare, using my running shoes as hand weights when not in use.

Can you get injured from barefoot running?

Running injuries occur with or without shoes. Other factors to consider are previous injury history, overtraining, fatigue, and technique. Most of my injuries resulted from simply overdoing it. I enjoyed it too much. Eventually, my body forced me to listen. Blood blisters, calf strains, and the worst was a hairline fracture in my left fibula sustained during a 10K race. I still managed to hobble across the finish line.

The most frequently asked questions are ‘Doesn’t it hurt?’ and ’Don’t your feet get cold?’ The answer to both is rarely. Occasionally I step on something sharp. However, after seven years and 2,000 miles of barefoot running, only three small objects penetrated my skin and all were removed with tweezers–a must have. Unlike shoes whose soles wear down over time, the soles of your feet thicken with use, making objects more difficult to penetrate.

Regarding cold weather, as long as my feet are warm from the start, they usually stay warm. It can become a game of mind over matter and where I focus my mental energy. I use my “heat to feet” mantra and actively think about transferring the heat from my upper torso to my lower extremities when running in cold weather. Your body also adapts over time.

Physical benefits of barefoot running

Toenail fungus and runner’s toe are not an issue for me. There are more sweat glands in your feet per square inch than in any other part of your body: 250,000 glands per foot! Barefooting naturally allows your feet to breathe, sweat, and air dry while running. It helps get rid of sock tan lines! Splashing in puddles is also great for cooling off and having fun too.

Barefoot running has built-in anti-injury mechanisms. First, I run shorter distances as it is more physically and mentally demanding. The longest races I have run are half marathons. Second, my pads generally need a day to repair, so I rarely run back to back days. Third, the more I listen to my body, the more I am able to slow down and stop before an injury happens. Fourth, is the benefit of earthing, also known as grounding.

Finally, barefoot running lessens the impact on your knees and hips. Leg stride is shorter and your feet naturally fall underneath your body. Cadence is quicker making foot impact lighter. The entire foot and lower leg are engaged like a shock absorber (Photos 1 & 2). The toes act as stabilizers ensuring balance (Photo 3). A heel strike impact goes directly from your heel bone to your knee and hip joints (Photo 4).

Barefoot running
Photo 1: Foot muscles, ligaments, and tendons fully engaged, absorbing shock upon impact.

barefoot running
Photo 2: Lower leg muscles, ligaments, and tendons fully engaged, absorbing shock upon impact.

Barefoot running
Photo 3: Toes splayed for balance and grip

Barefoot running
Photo 4: Heel bone directly impacting the surface. No use of foot or lower leg. Ouch!

For more information on running economy and technique, watch the short video from Dr. Mark Cucuzzella on Principles of Natural Running

Heel versus forefoot impact experiment

Heel strike: Stand barefoot on a hard surface.  Strike one foot on the floor with just your heel 10 times with some force. How did it feel? Where did you feel the impact?

Forefoot strike: Using your other foot and with the same force, strike the ball of your foot 10 times. Have your heel gently touch the floor and bounce up again. How did it feel? Where did you feel the impact?

Body and Mind Transformation

Before barefoot running, my feet had little to no arch. I have now developed an arch as my feet flex and strengthen with every step. This realignment naturally autocorrects the body from the ground up–remember the hairline fracture–impacting how I stand and walk. I even welcomed the slight gain in height due to a few millimeters with new footpad growth!

Barefoot running involves body and mind. I never run with headphones. Most of my attention goes towards running form and scanning the ground for potential hazards. It is like playing a video game. Look away for too long and…Gotcha! A 30-minute run averaging 180 steps a minute translates to about 5,400 decisions of where to place your feet. That requires some attention.

I had to learn how to run before I could walk

Watch an infant walk without shoes. What do you notice? The child is on her toes. The gait looks more like a cross between walking and running. The child leans slightly forward and she is off! In essence that is running. Watch a toddler with shoes learning to walk. What do you notice? Little Frankenstein. Stiff, awkward, and clumsy movement.  The thousands of foot nerve endings are no longer sending her brain the feedback needed for coordination. Her feet are in boxes, making it unnecessarily more complicated to learn how to maintain balance.

After four years of barefoot running, it dawned on me that I might be walking incorrectly! So one day I tried walking with a midfoot/forefoot strike. I was hooked. I call it “active walking” in comparison to “passive walking” or heel striking. With active walking, all foot and lower leg muscles, ligaments, and tendons are activated. A 40-year habit is hard to break. I still catch myself heel striking, especially when I’m in a hurry or wearing shoes with a heel.

Go ahead. Take off your shoes. Let your feet breathe and reconnect with the Earth! Your mind, body, and soles will thank you!

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Facilitator, Execute Coach, and Youth Expert. He optimizes HR and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics, team interdependence, and individual performance. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.