Maria‘s Top 10 Inspirations for 2015
I hear it all of the time. I am so busy. I’ve got more work, more stress — and far less resources at my disposal to deal with everything in my daily life. As the work piles higher, my heart starts racing and I often feel overwhelmed. I make too many personal sacrifices because of urgent demands. Unnecessary conflicts turn into emotionally draining experiences. I don’t have time for anything more right now. I am grasping for a feeling of peace.
What about taking time to reflect and look within? Oh, you don’t have time for that right now? Okay, all I ask is that you give me a few minutes to open your mind. I want you to take an honest look at the busyness that happens to you as a leader in today’s 24/7 interconnected world.
Why Does Nonstop Technology Wear You Out?
You have to text someone this instant. You have hundreds of emails to catch up on. You have videos to watch, tweets to post and content to curate. And the list goes on and on and on with plenty of variations. While multiple devices allow you to stay more connected to the people you care about, they also are a source of near constant irritation day and night, and can cause you to be less connected to yourself and what matters most.
The fact of the matter is you’re always plugged in. Consider the endless digital distractions, commitments and temptations that fill your over-connected days. There is too much information to process. You want to keep up with everything and make sure you don’t miss out on anything “important.” It’s hard to switch off so consequently your mind races constantly. It’s downright exhausting.
Unplug to Empty Your Mind
More and more research shows there is a solution. It is called mindfulness. “What the culture is craving is a sense of ease and reflection, of not needing to be stimulated or entertained or going after something constantly,” says Soren Gordhamer, founder of the Wisdom 2.0 conference.
It’s no wonder that mindfulness is starting to be used as a tool in the competitive business world. Major corporations are getting on board from the Silicon Valley to Wall Street — and even the NFL. Companies like Goldman Sachs are holding classes in mindfulness for employees, so there are those who are tapping into mindfulness for greater financial success. But mindfulness is not only about improved productivity and the promise of increased wealth, it is more about being able to be in the midst of any turmoil, whether on Wall Street, in your board room or with the people you care about most — and being able to see more clearly. Mindfulness helps you to cultivate your innate capabilities to focus on what is important. It’s about giving up preconceived notions and actively observing before making judgments. Mindfulness can help you behave like the leader you truly want to be.
What’s The Key to Adopting a Mindful Mindset?
Quite simply, it’s equanimity. Isn’t that a great word! Equanimity is the ability to act calmly no matter what is going on around you. Equanimity is the ability to respond thoughtfully, rather than react to what shows up (and you never know what will show up). Having equanimity allows you to be the kind of leader we all want you to be.
How to Become a More Mindful Leader
5 Tips To Go From Overwhelm to Calm
These are five things I make a point to do each day to cultivate a better presence of mind.
1. Practice mindfulness.
Start and maintain a mindfulness practice. This is the most important thing you can do. Whatever you choose, whether it is meditation, guided relaxation, yoga, martial arts, prayer, exercise or something else — create a regular practice — or enhance your existing routine with a more meaningful, regular or intentional experience.
2. Be present.
Remember there’s more to mindfulness than your daily practice. Practice being present throughout your day. Be fully in every moment. Enjoy more of your and your employees’ successes. And be present during the events that really get your heart racing. You’ll be better able to respond when you’re fully engaged.
Find that place within you that is you at your very core. Do you know where that is? Do you know what it feels like to be centered? Where no matter what happens, no matter what your boss says, nothing can take you off your game? Regularly practice the routines that will keep you centered to possess equanimity (evenness of mind especially under stress).
Take time for renewal. There’s a balance between stress and recovery. Between challenge and ease. If you know you’re stressed, or anticipating a stressful situation, breathe. If you’ve been running nonstop, take the time to pause. Schedule time into your calendar to do nothing. No one can keep going and going and going and serve our customers (clients, employees, bosses) well. Actually, customers can often benefit most from you taking the time to restore. Isn’t that a good enough reason to restore?
You have so much. You are a skilled leader. You have wisdom to share. Be generous with your gifts, express your praise, speak your mind with generosity and a giving spirit. I promise you that you will reap what you sow a thousand times over and you will feel better. Because you cannot control how much encouragement and wisdom you receive, you can only control how much you give.
Rethink The Power of Balancing Connectedness With Mindfulness
Technology has such a powerful hold on all of us. I was amazed to learn that when Steve Jobs was running Apple, he limited how much technology his kids used at home. And Chris Anderson, the Chief Executive of 3D Robotics, has set time limits and parental control on every device in his home. These tech C.E.O.’s recognize the addictive quality of technology and how much our wired culture is making us less grounded.
This is my gentle nudge to encourage you to bring wise intention to how often you use technology and what you put your time and attention on. Adopting a mindful mindset means being open to possibility. When you are present, you’re there to take advantage of opportunities that you otherwise might miss. Plus, the payoffs are even bigger. Research also reminds us that a regular mindfulness practice boosts happiness, sharpens memory, increases creativity and bolsters confidence.
Are you ready to give it a shot? Turn all of your devices off once in a while. Let go of all the chatter about how overwhelmed you are and focus on the bigger impact you’re here to make. You’ll feel more alive, experience less stress and be more aware of what you’re really after. Hey, and I bet inspire others, too.
I love watching team sports. They are a living, breathing, inspiring leadership experience. That’s why I am glued to the World Cup for a month. This event delivers a remarkable education on talent, human nature, chemistry (or not!), coaching, strategy and results. Of course, my favorite part is the accountability. After each game is over, the metrics speak loud and clear.
Let me confess. I am not a soccer fan first. The Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA still hold my loyalty. But I’ve found myself caught up in the excitement and team spirit displayed on this international playing field. I have enjoyed following the underdog U.S. team as well as watching many other international teams go through their own process to win, lose, struggle and celebrate… not necessarily in that order. To me, that is the pure joy of it.
Watch the World Cup to enhance your leadership
I encourage you to take advantage of the World Cup while you can. Catch any of the teams. It doesn’t even matter what country. Use each game to start identifying leadership patterns. The more you watch, the more opportunity you will have to see how different situations play out. As you form your own conclusions from your direct observations, you can apply the principles in new ways to your own role. I think you will be surprised at the positive results.
Here’s what I make a point to pay close attention to see:
Players. Who is playing with mad heart? Who is encouraging their teammates? Who is having a difficult conversation on the field? Who is smiling? Who’s got a terrible attitude? In general, observe what team leaders in various roles are doing that contribute — or take away from — the team’s overall performance. Then, be sure to notice what you think is working best or failing miserably.
Coaches. What is the coach doing? How does the coach interact with players, staff and fans? How does the coach’s presence impact the overall game? What are they saying? Notice how everyone pays close attention to the coach’s messages, verbal and nonverbal, alike.
Fans. What kinds of fans are present? How are they supporting and impacting the game? What does home court advantage mean in a (mostly) neutral location like Brazil? What does loyalty and team spirit mean to the players? Do you say “we” when you’re talking about the U.S. team? Or any other country’s team that you support for that matter? How does that word collectively impact the productivity of the teams?
Refs. Sometimes the refs get the call right. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes it’s just not fair. What can you notice from the reactions of players, coaches and fans that help the team achieve — or fall short of — their goals?
Want an example of people who have stood out for me so far?
Take the U.S. team’s Clint Dempsey. His leadership is quiet and powerful. He models resilience. He beautifully demonstrates you don’t have to be an extroverted, charismatic leader to inspire others. His leadership allows others to speak up, where they otherwise might not. And what a leader he’s been, playing tough when seriously injured, and showing the will to win.
And then there is the U.S. men’s soccer coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. Despite being maligned in the media, he is actually an unusually positive, innovative coach who places a high value on performance over tactics.
I especially appreciate how Klinsmann has his player’s back. When U.S. team player, Michael Bradley lost possession of the ball and allowed a last second score by Portugal in game two, he drew a ton of criticism. Klinsmann defended him and praised Bradley’s influence on the field while he described how he is going to contribute even more going forward. This coach uses psychology well by combining heart with accountability.
5 Game changers you can take from the World Cup now.
1. Develop a true sense of team.
Encourage every player — stars, starters and bench players — even your fans. When your team goes to penalty kicks, everyone on the team and in the stands needs to be cheering for the win, not just the players on the pitch. Teams are interdependent. Someone has to pass the ball for someone to score. A defender has to deny a goal for their offense to get possession again. And when someone does score, look at peoples’ faces, see what follows. You can easily recognize if that team’s spirit is positive, or if you need to provide a critical lift.
2. Create some fandom.
Look for new ways to boost loyalty and team pride. Now’s the time to create the fan base your team needs for success. Figure out a way to make your game stand out to engage people throughout the organization even more – and get more spectators to be on your side. You’ll know you’ve scored big when people wholeheartedly start to applaud your team throughout the company and use the word “we.” That’s the true sign that everyone feels in it together.
3. Become a notorious optimist.
Create a sense of relentless possibilities that inspire excellent performance in spite of infrastructure, roadblocks and calls that aren’t fair. Have your players’ backs even when they aren’t at their best. And prod them a little to do even more, but not because they haven’t, because you believe they can.
4. Hold people accountable for performance.
Accountability is the magical equalizer. Yes, history and past performance matter. Still, hold your star players accountable like you do everyone else. That sends a message to the entire team that you are creating a level playing field. Who is going to perform at top levels when they know the star can get away with doing whatever they want? Not too many of us are willing to make the move Jurgen Klinsmann did to cut player, Landon Donovan, for not being quite as good as he once was. But what message did it send to the rest of the team? Clearly, no one is arguing the decision now, are they?
5. Be smart about rewards.
Everyone wants three things — respect, recognition and to make a meaningful contribution. Think about what you want? What recognition means the most to you? That’s a good measure for how your team most likely feels. Decide how you can reward individuals and the entire group for performance. This ensures everyone knows their role is not only important and valued but you appreciate their efforts.
Take these practices to heart. And use them where it matters most to you. Meanwhile, join me in watching the remainder of the World Cup and let’s glean as many new ideas as we can. I welcome hearing from you. Please share with me the most significant leadership in action that made an impression on you.
Wow, it’s December already. This month has a way of turning into a series of commitments to go and do and give. It is so easy to get caught up in this gift giving season and lose sight of what truly matters.
I am the first to admit that being surprised with a special wish list item is wonderful. Yet our greatest gifts don’t come in packages with beautiful wrapping. The finest present you can give others is your presence.
Be fully present. Be there for someone who needs an encouraging word. Reach out to a colleague who could use your support. Be available for the people who challenge you most. And remember to give your time to those who need the greatest help.
Yes, if you’re present, you have to let go of everything else churning in your mind, silence your phone and set aside your own agenda.
Here’s how to get “present” focused:
- Be in this moment
- Listen closely
- Offer your undivided attention
- Give generously of your time
Show everyone the fullness of who you are. Do it often. Share it with as many as you can. Model your leadership presence to build connection, to inspire performance and to promote positive results.
This holiday, my wish for you is to develop your presence and let that be your lasting gift to yourself and others for the coming year.
To the real spirit of giving,
– Maria van Hekken
I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to sports. I have my favorite college and professional teams that I religiously support. It’s hard to pull me away to anything else when my teams are playing.
Last month, a good friend called to ask me if I was following Diana Nyad’s fifth attempt to swim 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
My first reaction was why would anyone want to perform such an epic feat–especially at 64 freakin’ years old! But I politely nixed it because my attention was already focused on the weekend’s football schedule.
My friend was emphatic that I should keep my eye on Diana’s progress, reminding me that everything I appreciate in team sports would be provided in this solo swim: athleticism, determination and a fighting spirit. Plus she was convinced that Diana was going to pull it off this time so it would be history in the making.
I hung up and set a reminder to check Diana’s results on my ESPN app for later that day. Then something made me do a Google search and suddenly an extraordinary story caught my attention.
Diana Nyad had dreamed of swimming from Cuba to Florida for three-and-a-half decades. She first attempted the swim at age 28 with three subsequent failures to complete the swim. With each failed swim she began to question everything and even wonder about the meaning of her life.
What was her turning point? It happened when her mother passed away in 2007. That was exactly when everything just didn’t add up anymore. At some point in her internal questioning she decided: “It wasn’t so much what did I want to do, it was who do I want to be?”
Her Mantra: Find A Way
During her fifth swim, after veering off course and a series of stops and starts that revealed her confusion, she looked up at a white glow and asked if that was the sun coming up. “No,” a team member said, “that’s Key West.” At that point, she had hope. She knew she could find a way to make it through this time because in her other four failed attempts she had never gotten this far.
After completing her swim on September 2nd, Nyad offered three messages to those who greeted her on shore. I see them as valuable leadership lessons that serve us all well.
Nyad’s Leadership Lessons
1. Never, ever give up.
2. You’re never too old – or too young – to chase your dreams.
3. Swimming looks like a solitary sport but it’s a team.
I think in the process of failure and introspection she did decide who she wanted to be. She is living her life as a positive leader who inspires others to achieve their dreams, live their passions and realize the beauty of successful teamwork.
Now to Your Story
All of us suffer difficulties in our lives, face heartache and wonder if we can ever get around the obstacles to live our best life. Diana found her story, one that we can admire and learn from her success. But now I want to turn to your story.
- Who do YOU want to be?
- What sign would give you the hope that you could complete the one race that means the most to you?
- When you finally achieve that big swim, what lessons will you most want to share with others?
Take some time today to think about your story and the answers to those questions. Through Diana and others, you’ve seen what happens when you have the will to believe in yourself. Don’t give up.
Don’t ever give up.
I was excited recently when a client challenged me by asking: “Who do you think best epitomizes the kind of leader that we all would like to emulate?”
That’s a wonderful question to think about. The person who stands out unequivocally for me is Nelson Mandela. He has brought so much light to this world when he had plenty of reasons to choose darkness. All of his actions speak clearly to leadership by showing courage, fortitude, resilience, humility and humor. And most of all, I love the positive legacy he has created. Nelson Mandela is a real inspiration for us all.
After I was asked this question, I decided to read some of his writings. That’s when I discovered how aligned Mandela is with the leading with Y.E.S. principles that I advocate. I want to share with you some of his words and the lessons that I discovered.
Six Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
1. Focus on your goals. Mandela showed us how to carry on in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems. You have important things to accomplish now! Please don’t tell me you can’t get anything done because your boss (coworker, business partner) creates obstacles for you. Stop make excuses and start doing.
“I am fundamentally an optimist…Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”
2. Smile and be positive. Mandela has a smile that lights up this world. And it’s so much more than an expression on his face. It emanates from a deep and undying spirit of hope. Share your smile with your closest allies and those you fear. You’ll be all the more powerful for it.
“One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”
3. Have an open mind. Mandela showed us that peace is only achieved when we are willing to ask, hear and truly listen to another’s story. Don’t sit back and complain about how wrong someone else is, find your peace within. Listen to their story. Be willing to change your own story. You’ll be amazed at the results.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
4. Dream big and act on it. Mandela didn’t let fear drown out his unrelenting hope that all people in South Africa could be free. Set your fears aside except to those closest to you and dare to be grand and fabulous. Inspire others to do the same. Everyone is watching your moves too. Make them all believe your vision will happen.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
5. Nurture positive relationships in unlikely places.Mandela tried to understand the Afrikaner, those that had been against him. He learned how to speak Afrikaans. He learned the nuances of Rugby, the Afrikaner’s favorite sport. Don’t put distance between yourself and those who aren’t on your side–learn about them-and from them. Try to understand how they see the world. It can make all the difference in creating a more productive and enjoyable working environment.
“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.”
6. Create a meaningful legacy. Mandela took a stand for a singular change and kept at it over decades against all odds. He rose above criticism and defeat with grace, determination and integrity. He united a nation and inspired the world. What is your legacy? And the style with which you will achieve it?
Positive Vision…Positive Action…Positive Results
As amazing as his life has been, what is more remarkable to me is how Mandela accomplished what he did. He has been a model of true leadership every step of the way. I get goose bumps thinking about how his philosophy reinforces my own story, values and optimism.
I encourage you to use Mandela’s nuggets of wisdom to enhance your life and to enliven your leadership.
Here’s to Nelson Mandela in his 95th year!
It was so tough to watch the NBA finals this year. As you may know, I’m a diehard Los Angeles Lakers fan (and much to my dismay they were hurriedly ousted early on). The upside was that I could watch more dispassionately and observe both sides equally because I didn’t have a horse in the game.
And whether you’re a faithful NBA fan like me, or just a casual observer tuning in for the championship playoffs, this series was a perfect example of why basketball has so much to teach us about leadership.
Basketball Is Exactly Like The Office Sports You Play Each Day
Think about it. The team is comprised of the owner, the general manager, the coach, superstars, bench players, role players and poor performers. Then there’s always the occasional odd guy out. And oh, yeah, the fans (a.k.a. your paying customers).
Talent, attitude, and work ethic are the basic keys to success. Add good knowledge about the game, strong execution and a passion for playing a position to strengthen the starting lineup. And above all else, the intangibles like chemistry, respect, and trust in each other create a stronger team.
And with office sports, just like in the NBA, there are “finals” each year. There are performance reviews, and success year-to-year is based on winning with your stats. Wins and losses are likely reported via sales — or whatever your company’s benchmark may be.
7 Games…7 Leadership Lessons
Watching the seven games as they were played between San Antonio and Miami delivered the best of what basketball offers with some defining moments. I want to share seven leadership lessons I learned from watching the 2013 NBA Championship.
1. Don’t ever give up. The Spur’s Tony Parker beat the buzzer in game one with a broken play. Dribbling out of control and losing the ball multiple times, he still managed to get the ball to drop in the basket to deliver the needed points. It pays to be persistent even when the odds don’t look favorable.
2. Don’t let up when you’re ahead. When momentum is yours, take advantage of it to keep running up the score. The Miami Heat did so in game two and were virtually unstoppable. They sealed the victory and brought the team confidence after a disappointing loss at home in game one.
3. Make the easy ones. Sure the epic dunk posterizing the opponent looks amazing. And it is only worth two points. Same as two free throws. Take advantage of them. They can pad your score without much effort. And down the stretch, should you miss them, they can cost you the game. Missed foul shots cost the Spurs the Championship in game six. That is not a good replay for them. Don’t look back and get caught up in “coulda, woulda, shoulda” when you see the easy shots missed.
4. Embrace diversity. Chris “Birdman” Anderson, a midseason pickup for Miami, sticks out in a crowd. With his spiked hair and colorful tattoos, it would be easy to dismiss him. But he fires up the crowd and brings a unique energy and enthusiasm to the game. Make sure you aren’t overlooking someone who might be different from the group who can make a big difference for your team.
5. Bench players rule. Sure it’s your top performers you count on that often bring the trophy home. Still, it’s the bench players that make for huge impact and give the stars a chance to rest. Give a bench player a chance in an important game and see if they rise to the occasion. And watch them thrive under the spotlight so you can add some strength to your bench.
6. Age doesn’t matter. Spurs coach Greg “Pop” Popavich has been coaching there for 17 years, the longest of any NBA coach, and is elderly compared to Erik “Spo” Spoelstra, with Miami for only 5 years and is among the youngest coaches in the league. These coaches are surely two of the finest in the game and the difference in their ages is merely a fact, not a factor. Coaching is too important of a role to judge on age. It’s the experience and wisdom about the game that counts.
7. It’s the long haul. Don’t let one game affect you. Sure there are huge wins and demoralizing losses. That’s all part of the game. Learn from both and keep your eye on the long term. Concentrate on your goals. Manage the disappointments and appreciate all the victories along the way, small and large. You might not get to lift that trophy high like LeBron and his Miami Heat team did. But you’re making a difference to your team and your raving fans, your customers. Remember why you’re here and what you need to do.
The Bottom Line Is This: Basketball is ALL About Leadership.
Whether it is the coach or individual players on the court, leadership is instrumental to win every game. It’s exactly the same way for you to achieve success in your business. The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat demonstrated some impressive pointers on the court to take back to the office. I hope you find inspiration and motivation to make your own team a winner every day.
Feel Like You Are Faking It as a Leader?
Stop selling yourself short and playing small
Accept my challenge now to tell a bolder story
- Reflect on who you are as a leader and a person
- Think about the strengths you have to contribute
- Determine the mark you want to make
- when to say yes
- when to say no
- and what to consider that you’ve never even thought of before
Peace is such a beautiful word. Just the thought of it at this time of year conjures up magical moments around a season of joy and harmony. As we hear the glorious refrains about peace on earth, it inspires us to pause and breathe while renewing our hope about humankind.
As you celebrate this season of love and good will to all, you may get so caught up in the festive spirit that you forget to think about your own individual peace. Know it can always be found within you.
You see, peace is a simple, powerful choice. Peace inside is something you can freely choose — especially in the middle of all this holiday hustle-bustle when we often take on far too much and perhaps needlessly stress ourselves out.
This peace within is something well worth aiming for. Because peace inside is not just individual. It’s not only for you. Internal peace is a gift to everyone around you — even when peace is the last thing you’re naturally wired for. Peace of mind is yours for the taking every moment of every day.
Strung together, moments make up your life. And each moment is a priceless opportunity. Choose a moment of peace when it serves you best. So that you can serve others best…in the midst of chaos…when you’re searching for an idea…when you’re stuck…when you’re mad…when you’re hurt…or when you’re scared. Tap into the moment of peace when you want to ensure the best result. And inspire the finest performances.
Finding that moment of peace, my friend, is my wish for you this holiday season. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin within each of us.