Category Archives: psychology

Silence: The Innate Power of Sensing People

silencePhoto by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Silence makes us vulnerable

We all have had those moments in a conversation when suddenly the conversation stops. The awkward silence begins. You briefly make eye contact, smirk, then look away. Your physiology is triggered. You shift in your seat, scratch a sudden itch, or clear your throat. While trying to quickly think of something to break the silence you have a brain freeze. As long as you are speaking you are keeping your counterpart distracted. You keep them at bay. Consider it a shield of protection. For if you fall silent you become vulnerable. You open yourself up. Your counterpart is no longer distracted by questions. You are both on full display. This is when all senses become heightened. Your self-awareness and awareness of others increases. This is when our humanness comes to the forefront.

Silence is anything but silent

Silence is the absence of sound but not of information. It is amazing how humanly evoking it can be to sit with others and not say a word. An interesting ice-breaker to use with people unfamiliar with one another demonstrates the power of human perception in the absence of words. Create groups of three arranged in a triangle. Two participants through observation and sensing only describe the third person using adjectives and short sentences. This is done three times, each for several minutes, so everyone can be both the observer and the observee. You will be amazed at what people say about each other only by taking in their essence and projected aura.

The lost art of being silent

In the digital age if you are not regularly updating at least one social media account then you are not hip to the play. If you are not Instagramming, Facebooking, YouTubing, tweeting, podcasting, or blogging (guilty as charged), then you are not living in the times. Who doesn’t want to become an influencer? It is not only an actual job but a desirable one at that! Influencers don’t gain followers by remaining silent. Far from it. We are becoming less silent and more vocal and visible as technology and social media give us unprecedented access via a global network. This is not necessarily bad in the sense that we are becoming more transparent and giving public voices to everyone. The problem is with all the chatter, we are losing the ability to pick up important information when nothing is being said.

Accepting silence is to accept our social/emotional connectedness

Silence more often than not is associated with shyness, insecurity, social awkwardness, incompetence, or inattentiveness. Silence, however, allows us to reflect, relax, listen, be open, connect, and access our other senses as a means of taking in our environment and those around us. Recall the triad activity. By becoming less silent we are losing an important human trait that no computer or robot can do. And that is receiving and interpreting data when no verbal transmission exists. Many have watched Sophia–the AI robot–in awe, however, without any verbal precursor, she would just look blankly at you. Her AI is useless without some external stimulus. Even your dog has the social and emotional wherewithal to read your energy as you sit silently. It won’t be long before the silence is broken with a welcoming bark, a friendly nudge, or a sloppy kiss. If you are lucky you may receive all three.

Silence brings quality to our voice and respects others

We have the ability at any time to broadcast any message we want. What if this freedom we take for granted were not possible? What if you could only have one minute a day to say something? Which audience you would choose to address? What would you choose to tell them? What impact or outcome would you like to have? With that freedom comes responsibility. This is the point. Not all of what we say must be thought-provoking, philosophical, or awe-inspiring. However, one’s voice, one’s message is precious. And there are 7.8 billion precious human voices. If we are all speaking at once, who is listening? If everyone wants to be right, then who is wrong? I believe in the 80/20 rule. We have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. So 80% of the time we should be listening and observing and speaking only 20% of the time.

Silence brings you to the point

Silence in a conversation gives space for those involved to simply sit. Sit with what has been said. Sit with the thought of whether the conversation is on the right path, needs to shift, or simply needs to end. All results provide valuable feedback on what next step to take. Senior Forbes Contributor, Avery Blank’s article, “6 Ways Leaders Use Silence To Increase Their Power (And You Can, Too) provides additional insight into the value of harnessing the power of silence. So next time you find yourself in that awkward silence do not be so quick to break it. Relax, breathe, and embrace it. See it as a gift. In some cases, it can bring you to the point more quickly than a barrage of questions. Use it to take in other valuable nonverbal aspects of communication that are so vital to how we humanly connect and relate with others.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert specializing in conflict resolution,  intergenerational dialogue, and psychological safety. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!

Mental Health: Reframing Employee Well-Being

Mental Health
Empty recreation room due to COVID and increased use of remote work

A New Mental Health Reality

Anne was a second-year apprentice when the Coronavirus outbreak occurred. Prior to that, she had a controllable washing compulsion. She started showing up late as showers now took an hour. Colleagues noticed she wasn’t as attentive. Anne required meetings to address her slipping performance. She started feeling stressed and shunned. She requested a reduction in hours. That request was denied. Anne was at risk of losing her apprenticeship.

COVID Bringing Mental Health to the Brink

Even pre-COVID, of 1,900 remote workers polled, 21% reported loneliness as the biggest struggle of working remotely. Now with lockdowns, family concerns, social distancing, homeschooling, remote working, layoffs, and financial struggles–all during the holiday season and cold winter months–people, like Anne, have reached or exceeded their ability to cope. “Depression, alcohol, other substance misuses, and anxiety have all skyrocketed because of COVID. It’s having an impact on the business bottom line because sick employees mean decreased productivity and increased accidents at work.”, Sagar Parikh, M.D., University of Michigan. Growing mental health issues extend beyond the US. The Mental Health Foundation reports the leading cause of absenteeism in the UK is mental health. An article titled, “Mental health in the workplace”, states 70 million workdays in the UK are lost yearly to mental health problems, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.

Working Remotely: Mediating Loneliness & Isolation

A recent Mental Health America study found that among people who screened with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, 70% reported that one of the top three factors contributing to their mental health concerns was loneliness or isolation. According to Dr. Adam Hickman’s GALLUP article, “How to Manage the Loneliness and Isolation of Remote Workers”, employees can feel as lonely at work too. Physical presence alone does not remedy feelings of loneliness. It is a question of emotional, psychological, and purposeful connectedness. Hickman differentiates loneliness from isolation. Both, he writes, can be remedied with targeted interventions.  Interestingly, causes of burnout in a study conducted by GALLUP were related to feelings of disconnectedness whether in regards to job expectations, role, relationships, culture, or sense of purpose. Whether working remotely or in offices, rising mental health issues are the next major HR challenge to reckon with a digital age.

Addressing Loneliness to Improve Mental Health and Productivity

In the Mental Health Foundation article, “How to support mental health at work”, 10 mental health improvement tips are provided. Four tips–keeping active, eating well, taking breaks, drinking sensiblyin theory only require self-discipline. Three tips–talking about your feelings, keeping in touch, and caring for othersare only fulfilled in relation to others. The remaining three–asking for help, doing something you are good at, and accepting who you are–not only require others, they also require a connection to a greater purpose, other than your ego. Six of the ten tips presume that which is usually lacking in cases where loneliness exists–the existence of relationships and purpose. So how does one implement a tip requiring a key ingredient that is already lacking?

Mental Health Initiatives Strengthen Personnel

Building rapport during scheduled Zoom meetings only goes so far. Calling someone with a question is different than spinning your chair around. “Organic interaction in a virtual world is difficult.” Michael is one of the thousands of pandemic graduates whose first job out of university was in one state while his office was back home in another. Employed since August he has had no personal team contact. Michael also has a history of light depression. The remote COVID reality has him seeking counseling to help cope. Michael is happy overall with how his supervisor tends to his mental wellness. He has a mentor, but this onboarding initiative feels more like a policy than a mentoring relationship. Mentors require time and proper supervision to deal with the multitude of onboarding issues that can arise. Michael stated there really is no forum to discuss psychological health. This, he said, would be valuable.

Mitigating Mental Health Requires a Clear Shared Goal

“An essential building block for workplace mental health is the ability to have open, authentic conversations about mental health in the workplace, both individually and on a strategic level. This is more important than ever as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.”
– Mental Health Foundation

Loneliness is not simply being disconnected from people. The remedy is simply not gathering around a billiard table or organizing a team-building workshop. It usually also entails a lack of role clarity and meaning.  Anne, Michael, and their respective teams would be better able to implement all ten tips with clear roles and expectations, all focused on a shared goal greater than any one member. Indirectly teams mitigate feelings of loneliness and purposelessness while achieving the goal. Inter- and intrapersonal inquiries are naturally addressed when this common goal stands in the center–holding the space and focus. This approach fosters a solution-focused, resilient, inclusive, and innovative work culture all in real-time.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert specializing in conflict resolution,  intergenerational dialogue, and psychological safety. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!

VUCA: From A System And Problem Focus To A Person And Solution Orientation

VUCA

VUCA needs a new meaning and focus

By now VUCA is as familiar of an acronym as ADHD, AWOL, and of course COVID.  Acronyms are useful in labeling and giving importance to complex themes. Labeling a problem soothes the mind by identifying something hard to understand. The hope is then to find a solution. What if the solution were in the acronym? What if the problem-focused and system-oriented VUCA acronym became solution-focused and people-oriented? The angst derived by the former would diminish and the optimism derived by the latter would flourish. People solve problems and influence systems. So wouldn’t it be wise to promote solution-orientated attitudes and behaviors?

VUCA people transform VUCA situations

What do adolescents, first-time parents, adults in a mid-life crisis, or anyone facing a life-altering event tell you? Life is VUCA. Digitalization and globalization may be intensifying VUCA, but it isn’t anything new. What if instead of associating VUCA as a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world to dread, it was linked to Virtuousness, Understanding, Compassion, and Adaptability? Instead of being at the whim of a VUCA world, these essential human skills foster life-long learning. What effect would this reframing of VUCA and consequent skill acquisition have on our human development?

Virtuousness contains volatility

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines virtuous as “having good moral qualities and behaviors.” Fears have a tendency to rise in volatile situations. Drastic fluctuations, therefore, influence people to act impulsively with short-term results and immediate gains. A selfish mentality can develop. “Take what you can now before it is too late!” This perturbed mindset can lead to rash and immoral reactions. The accumulation of unethical decision making on a large scale in times of volatility ironically increases and compounds the volatility one wishes to diminish. A strong moral compass helps contain volatility. Virtuous people are stabilizers in times of instability.

Understanding reduces uncertainty

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines understanding as “knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works.” How should one deal with uncertainty? Be mindful of what is in your control/what is known. Seek guidance to understand that which is uncertain or not completely known. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Conduct your own research. Simply put, be curious and learn. There is nothing more conducive to festering uncertainty than a fixed mindset, or solely relying on hearsay or one source of information. Fear of the unknown is best dealt with by keeping an open mind and understanding other realities.

Compassion humanizes complexity

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”  With nearly 8 billion people navigating complexity each day no one is exempt and no one goes unscathed. Unchecked complexity can lead to victimization and potential harm. Therefore, we need to show our compassion. Compassion humanizes the negative consequences of unresolved complexity by fostering inclusivity, a helping attitude, and raising social awareness at all levels. The pervasive, inclusive, and multi-leveled effort of the current Black Lives Matter movement is a case in point. Compassion ensures that we acknowledge how complexity impacts us all. And as importantly, it illustrates the vital role we all play in dealing with it.

Adaptability neutralizes ambiguity

The online Oxford Dictionary defines adaptability as the “quality of being able to change or be changed in order to deal successfully with new situations.” As creatures of habit, we adopt routines to creatively deal with ambiguity. Being too reliant on a fixed routine or way of living, however, can have limitations when an unforeseen significant event occurs. COVID-19 has been disrupting the routines and habits of millions of people. The further our fixed mindsets stray away from an ever-changing world reality the more we are confronted with this widening gap. This is illustrated in the digital paradox.  Unfortunately, it takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to remind us that we are not masters of the universe. Rather, we are a part of it. And as such, we, like all other living organisms, must either adapt to changing circumstances or face unnecessary hardship.

VUCA people need to be nurtured and engaged

It is high time we better deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Fortunately, with a change of perspective and focus, the answer may be hidden in the same acronym. With virtuousness, understanding, compassion, and adaptability one is better able to cope with VUCA situations. All humans have the capacity to develop and practice these life-long skills. Doing so feeds a growth mindset and cultivates a collective consciousness focused on posterity. Younger generations see the value and need of being VUCA. We are seeing more VUCA people organizing in greater numbers across continents and for causes affecting all humans everywhere. Progressive companies also reap the benefit of developing human edge cultures. In sum, VUCA people are essential for a VUCA world.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Change Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Effective Leadership – A Changing Of The Guards

Effective Leadership

What is effective leadership anyway?

The Online Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. Additionally, it defines effective as successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Simply put: Effective leadership is the capacity to successfully guide the intended or desired action(s) of a person or group. According to this amoral definition, any person or group of people versed in rhetoric and/or subversive tactics can display effective leadership. But we know this not to be true. Ethical intention and the means by which outcomes are achieved are paramount. 

Essential components of effective leadership

Organizations seeking effective leadership must look beyond outcome achievement. As the current global reality demonstrates, the ends no longer justify the means. Personal integrity, social competencies, economic equity, conflict transformation, transparency, environmental stewardship, posterity, ethical conduct, and inclusivity (age, gender, race) need to be at the core of effective leadership requirements and competencies. First, companies must clarify the intention of effective leadership. Second, this raison d’être should elicit an authentic response in every individual inspired to heed the call. Lastly, leadership needs to have the capacity to skillfully and creatively orchestrate the collection, the aggregate of these diverse individual entities in order to bring the intention to fruition. How should leadership ethically and equitably influence your organization? What sustainable methods should leadership use to reach objectives? How inclusive should processes be? How should leadership ensure that all stakeholders benefit from the outcome?

Effective leadership ensures economic equity 

According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth. Adults with less than $10,000 in wealth make up 56.6 percent of the world’s population, but hold less than 2 percent of global wealth. Effective leadership needs to become financially transparent, sustainable, and equitable for posterity’s sake. Universal economic opportunity needs to be at the forefront of all policies. Leadership needs to ensure that all humans have fair and equal access to both natural and artificial resources necessary to sustain a proper standard for living (access mental and physical healthcare included) and provide for a family when desired without jeopardizing career development.

Effective leadership is inclusive

The most translated document in the world is the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To date, it has been translated in 370 languages. Why? In addition to preserving the environment, without which humans could not exist, there is nothing more fundamental than ensuring the basic rights of all human beings. For example, which traits allowed women-led nations to cope well with COVID-19? Likewise, how can improving racial/ethnic balance in leadership better ensure basic human rights? Leadership is appropriately and ethically represented across gender and race when the ratio of those in leading roles are proportionate to those being led.

Bright Spots in closing gender and racial gaps

In 2018, Glassdoor partnered with JUST Capital to look at major corporations committed to equal pay. Remarkably, only 16 out of 920 publicly traded companies, the likes of Microsoft, VMWare, and Salesforce–just to name a few–were ensuring pay equity across gender and racial and ethnic lines. As companies close gender and racial/ethnic gaps and governments ensure human rights for all citizens, effective leadership promotes values that are transparent, ethical, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive.

Effective leadership entails environmental stewardship

The Internet of things (IoT) entails everything connected to the internet. So too are we interconnected with all living things (IoLT). When nature is out of balance so are we. We are an integral part of nature. We cannot survive without a healthy and diverse environment. As such, it is our human responsibility to care for our use of it. Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Aldo Leopold (1887–1949) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic “dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.” (source: Wikipedia)

Effective leadership is intergenerational

Leadership roles in traditional organizations are often held by those who are one, two, or even three generations older than those being led. This alone is not a problem. Actually, there is a wealth of potential here. It can become an issue, however, when senior leadership is unable to incorporate the values and intentions of the younger generations of those they lead. Intergenerational learning is paramount in mutually acknowledging and integrating old and new forms of leadership. Companies who can do so will become more resilient and have an easier time ensuring an organization’s vitality. How can organizations with older forms of leadership give space for newer forms of leadership?

Acknowledging a changing of guards

Each generation has a new ideal of what effective leadership entails. Young people feel unheard and are quick to dismiss older mentalities as antiquated. Older people hold on to long-held beliefs are quick to dismiss newer realities as not being time-tested. A lack of mutual acknowledgment and respect prevents a seamless integration or transition of leadership styles. When all generations can honor the wisdom each brings, then there is an opportunity for dialogue, transformation, and growth. Newer companies and start-ups have an easier time implementing newer forms of leadership and organizational management since most employees belong to one or at most two generations. How can newer forms of leadership be given space in older and larger organizations where three or four generations are working together? As with all changing of the guards, the process must be honorable, on-going, and inclusive.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems & Group Dynamics Expert, Conflict Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals and teams wanting to fully integrate their human resource potential at all organizational levels. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Resilience: Overcoming Adversity To Further One’s Development

resilienceResilience: Raspberry plant growing out of isolation and darkness

Resilience in nature

Recently, I stepped into the backyard and noticed a raspberry seedling had grown through the drainage hole of an overturned pot. Occasionally, some plants manage to sprout outside the bed–seen in the background. This one had bad luck. It escaped alright, but into an enclosed container. No worries. This plant did more than escape. It did what most plants do when faced with inhospitable conditions.

Resilience according to Merriam Webster has two definitions. The latter one being, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” For the sake of this post, this definition will be used as it best fits how humans describe overcoming hardship.

We only need the basics

Similar to the unlucky rogue raspberry shoot, we too had no idea how quickly we would find ourselves trapped in our homes and apartments, alone and isolated. However, like the seedling, COVID-19 showed us that life continues to exist even when reduced to the basics. Nature constantly reminds us of what is needed to live. In spite of darkness and isolation, the plant had enough nourishment to continue on with its purpose. This is precisely what the world should be positively taking away from the pandemic. Namely, like plants, we truly do not need as much as we think to live a fulfilling life. Besides having sufficient food, light, and water, the plant showed three key elements of resilience in overcoming hardship and challenges.

Resilience is accepting the situation for what it is

Aside from humans, no plant or animal takes umbrage to misfortune. When did complaining ever change an undesirable situation? In the book, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”, Lawrence Gonzalez writes about the differences between someone dying or surviving in life or death situations. Along with Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, both authors discuss the importance of purpose. Both also learned of another survivor trait.  Well before Gonzalez and Frankl, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, born almost 2,000 years prior even observed:

“For good or for ill, life and nature are governed by laws that we can’t change. The quicker we accept this, the more tranquil we can be.”

Once the survivors accepted they could succumb in the next hours, an overwhelming feeling of relief came over them. Accepting their mortality released them from their own torment of death. Now, with a clear conscience, they were able to refocus their energy on making sure this outcome did not become their fate. And in most cases, they literally did it one step at a time.

Resilience requires going deep within to find purpose

Darkness can surround us in difficult times. Support systems may not be easily accessible. Like with the coronavirus,  reaching outward in times of need can be hampered by government measures and/or personal limitations. When such conditions exist to whom and where do you turn? You go within. Raspberry roots grow deep underground, seeking water and nutrients to sustain life. The basis of resilience lies also deep within humans too. What is deep within us? Purpose. The will to live. Resilience requires a “why.” What makes you want to dig down deep within yourself in times of hardship? Why should you persist when faced with insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming feelings of adversity? Purpose makes you want to endure. And that you find within you.

Resilience requires looking above to set a goal

Normally, the flower pot is a container that sustains and supports plant development. When inverted, however, it does the opposite. The little amount of sunshine entering through the tiny drainage hole not only provided enough nourishment, but it also provided a goal to reach. For plants the why is clear; it is the “how” that sometimes poses the challenge. In this case, the seedling overcame the hurdle. The hole whose sole purpose is normally to drain excess water now became the goal to reach. Talk about a paradigm shift! We go deep within to find our “why.” Purpose alone, however, is not enough. Purpose requires a goal to show the achievement of the mission. Otherwise, it only remains an unfulfilled dream.

Resilience is short-term survival in order to live again

Until the plant breached the confinement of the overturned pot it was surviving. Once it cleared the hole and grew new leaves outside it went back to living. Humans too can be resilient and survive in the short-term. However, the long-term goal is to live. Remaining in survival mode for too long can be hazardous. Gonzalez wrote a follow-up book, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Survivors survive with the hope of living again. Unfortunately for some, the trauma that may result from the ordeal of surviving makes it difficult for some to continue on living. They remain in survival mode with deleterious results.

A vaccine is needed but insufficient

Too many humans were surviving and showing resiliency prior to the outbreak. I would like to have history portray the COVID-19 pandemic as having saved more lives than it had taken by having us–like the raspberry plant–see the light. In our case, this means seeing the bigger picture for humanity. We cannot change COVID-19. We can, however, rethink our attitude, alter our behaviors, revise our policies, and update our structures. Like the raspberry plant, we will break through the hole and come out. Humankind must benefit from the multitude of awe-inspiring acts of human resiliency now on display worldwide. Let us not allow this global resiliency to be in vain. Worse than the current impact of the pandemic would be to squander this opportunity to achieve an equitable standard of living for all. This is fully in our control. Now is our chance to strive for that ray of light!

About the author

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

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, Conflict Resolution Specialist, 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.

Siddhartha: a model for leaders

leaders
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Leaders live an examined life

Those who lead for the sake of serving others embrace continuous learning and reflection as fundamentals in improving themselves and their leadership abilities. As Socrates stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I prefer the statement, “The examined life is worth living.”

Classic literature on leadership

My wife recently came across a 2015 Business Insider article titled 8 classic novels that will make you a better leader. She then asked me, “Didn’t you use Siddhartha as a model for leadership for a course you took?” I responded, “Yes, but that was long ago.” The Business Insider article by Rachel Sugar highlights literature identified by Scotty McLennan, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Stanford Business, as fictional sources for learning about leadership. According to McLennan, classical literature allows one to see the moral development of protagonists, thus gaining an understanding and appreciation of transformation processes leaders undergo.

Siddhartha on leadership

In 2003, I was in my second year of managing a 25-bed group home for delinquent youth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seeking to gain knowledge on leadership I enrolled in a Master’s of Public Administration program at Clark University and eagerly signed up for a class on Organizational Behavior and Leadership. I was ready for enlightenment! We had to present a historical person who in our opinion embodied leadership. The go-to figures like Martin Luther King, Georg Washington, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were at the top of most people’s list. Having recently read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I immediately knew who I would pick.

The search for Siddhartha

After seeing Siddhartha second on McLennan’s list, I fervently scurraged through old computer files. To my surprise, I discovered the leadership PowerPoint presentation on Siddhartha Gautama from 2003. After having had reviewed the file I had realized that I had broken every rule there is on PowerPoint presentations! Nonetheless, I was happy to have found it. I present in this article my key takeaways on leadership from Hesse’s classic, Siddhartha.  I encourage anyone in a leadership role or aspiring to someday be in one to read this story more than once.

Part I: The Brahmin’s Son

Leaders must at times choose a path not desired by supporters but still should have their support through the trust they have gained.

With the Samanas

Regardless of their avoidant practices, leaders cannot dodge the self in reality and must appropriately learn to cope with themselves.

Gotama

Leaders radiate distinctive energy and have a presence that can be felt by others.

A leader’s wisdom cannot be learned by others, nor is one’s acquired wisdom better or worse than another’s; it is only different due to one’s individual experiences.

Awakening

Leaders at some point act independently of what they have learned and of what others think; this can be a lonely but necessary process.

Part II: Kamala

Leaders must not only rely on logic; they must learn to use their senses as well.

Leaders do not make decisions hastily; they listen to their inner voice.

Leaders are drawn to their goal; they do not allow anything to enter their mind which opposes their goal.

Amongst the People

Leaders accept all people and treat them all the same.

Leaders can still be successful if they know a little about business as long as they are calm, can listen, and make good impressions on people.

Samsara

Leaders becoming too engrossed and consumed by their material rewards can lose their effectiveness and original purpose.

By the River

Leaders need both knowledge and experience.

Leaders are not defined by titles, clothing, or possessions since these are all transitory; they are defined by their character and beliefs.

Leaders are human and therefore fallible; they learn from their mistakes.

The Ferryman

Leaders do not see nature as a hindrance or something to be conquered; they gain knowledge by learning from nature.

Leaders listen with an open soul, without desire, judgment, or opinions.

Leaders do not quantify their success in relation to time nor are they bound by it; they exist for the moment.

The Son

Leaders need to show compassion towards those they lead.

Om

Leaders have nothing to fear, conquer, or be saddened by since they are aware, understand, respect, and except all that consists of life.

Govinda

Leaders find rather than seek; the former allows you to be free and receptive. 

Leaders do not consider themselves greater or less than anyone else; they find and learn from all experiences in living things and through this process acquire both knowledge and wisdom.

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.

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.

 

Edge Computing Inspires Human Edge Cultures

edge computing
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Edge computing acquires accurate data quickly

Edge computing consists of IoT devices gathering data closer to the edge of the network. The advantage here is two-fold. First, the accuracy and quality of the data improve the closer it is collected to the source. Second, data is processed more quickly as it need not be transmitted to a central hub for processing. According to an edge computing article by Brandon Butler, doing computing closer to the edge of the network streamlines the flow of traffic from IoT devices, allowing organizations to analyze important data in near real-time.

Scientia Potentia est!

Knowledge is power. Edge computing like digitalization is about increasing the speed of data attainment and processing, i.e.,  knowledge acquisition. The strategy is quite simple. Gather relevant information as quickly as possible to expedite the response to fluctuating markets and shifting customer needs. Efficiently responding to changing market and client needs is valuable. The ability to foresee changes and already have systems, services, and products at the ready is priceless. Market prediction is the difference between industry leaders and followers.

The human obsession with speed

I attended an inspiring impulse talk on edge computing by Igor Grdic, Country Manager, Central Southern Europe, Vertiv. In his presentation, Grdic mentioned the basic physics equation: Time = Distance / Speed.  In the physical world, distance cannot be shortened. Physics proves that if you want to decrease time, increase speed. In western culture, speed is often praised and rewarded. “Time is money!” “Can’t waste time!” Humans know this formula solution all too well.  Late for a meeting? Drive more quickly. Need a coffee fix? Go through the drive-through instead of parking and going inside. I am guilty too. Even as a barefoot runner, I too want to reduce my time by becoming faster.

Human efficiency = Shortening the human distance

Need something from another department and don’t know anybody who works there? After filling out a few forms and sending multiple emails, you may get what you need in a few days or weeks. Know someone who works in that department? Within a day or even hours, you will have what you need. Efficiency between humans is not about increasing speed. It is about shortening the human distance. Digitalization is revolutionizing the way we conceptualize the equation: Time = Distance / Speed. And it is about time! Edge computing shows us that by shortening the distance at which data has to travel, more information can be acquired, processed, and utilized. More importantly, information gathered at the edge is more reliable and relevant. Edge computing decentralizes processes.

What can leaders learn from edge computing?

Companies outfitted with the latest in technology and utilizing edge technology will become more efficient to a certain extent. As the access to technology becomes more accessible, processes used to improve human relationships between co-workers and customers or players in your supply chain will become the game-changer in competitive markets. Trust and relationships improve the quality and transfer of knowledge and goods. The closer information is to the source, the more reliable and valid it is. Vital information is usually known by those at the edge of your organization and by those within your supply chain. Employees and partners at the edge are close to the pulse of how your materials, products and/or services are utilized and valued. They are most knowledgable about what works and what doesn’t. How valuable is their knowledge?

The human/time paradox

Increasing the speed at which people work together results when the social and psychological distance between them is shortened and not by extending work hours and shortening deadlines. Using the right processes can shorten this time. All things digital being equal, the socially and psychologically connected team/supply chain will outperform those that are not. The former is more flexible, adaptable, resilient, engaged, and innovative.  Highly bureaucratic and rigid hierarchical organizational structures and “one-up” work environments harbor jealousy, deceit, and undermining behaviors such as the withholding of information and dehumanizing rumors. All negatively impact efficiency. To increase speed, how much time and money do companies invest in technology in comparison to shortening the distance between employees and partners?

Leaders need to go within in order to go to the edge

Competitive companies and industry forerunners create and foster workplace cultures that trust and rely on those employees and partners living at the edge. What does it take for an organization to capitalize on the wealth of information at the edge? Creating a human edge funnel requires a culture of trust, transparency, collaboration, empowerment, and freedom just to name a few. Leaders best able to let their companies thrive and innovate at the edge require a solid sense of self and a clear and realizable vision that all employees, regardless of position or seniority can manifest and evolve. Hence another paradox. Leaders with the most inner security and certainty can more easily allow and foster a culture that thrives and grows on the outer edges.

About the Author

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