Honoring the Seasons of Your Life

The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red, the temperatures are dropping (well, sort of), and pumpkins are appearing on porches. It’s a time for change and reinvention, to start anew or perhaps start over.

These seasonal changes are predictable, they happen with ease, and they require no effort on our part for them to take place. Fall will go into winter, whether we like it or not. Sure, they may result in sleepless nights gluing together the last-minute Halloween costume or stress-induced hives when you can’t get the Christmas lights untangled. I’ll save that for a future article!

What are life seasons?

In addition to seasonal changes we also experience life changes – often many times throughout the year. I call these “life seasons.” We have different life seasons in our personal and professional lives. Sometimes they are short, sometimes long.

Some life seasons are predictable, such as the start of a new school year or budgeting for the next quarter. At Diamond6, for example, we have learned that our busy professional season is spring through early fall. That has evolved over time and we have learned to expand how we work to accommodate that growth.

Other seasons come as a surprise, such as suddenly caring for an aging parent or getting a promotion. These unpredictable seasons can catch us off guard and require extra time and energy to feel comfortable and confident – no matter if they are positive or negative.

Change is a constant

Just as with the start of a new season, the one constant in life seasons is change. Now, that’s not to say that change is a negative thing. Change is what helps us grow and evolve, embrace new experiences, and live fully. Change can also make us feel unsteady, unsure, and afraid.

A promotion is a great example of this. Being promoted is exciting! Others have recognized your hard work and you are considered a valuable asset to the organization. But, it can also be stressful taking on extra responsibilities and learning new things. This change is an opportunity for growth AND be a time of some uncertainty.

The ripple effect of change

One of the hardest things to accept during a new life season is that things will not remain the same. In short, something’s gotta give.

And, while your new life season may be one you’re welcoming, such as a promotion or a new job, chances are other parts of your life will be affected. Late nights at work mean more frozen pizzas or skipping the gym a few times.

This is where we struggle the most. Where we feel guilt, shame, and maybe even have the occasional internal temper tantrum. We might want one thing to change but not all the others that come with it.

However, if we give ourselves permission to let other areas of our lives change too, chances are it will all go more smoothly.

Seasons change

During the dead of winter, when it feels like it’s been cold, snowy, and miserable for an eternity I try and remind myself – spring WILL come! Thanks goodness for that!

Guess what? Life seasons change too! They can be bumpy at first but eventually the road smooths out. We get accustomed to our new routine. We get back to the gym and maybe even start cooking dinner again. We get comfortable with our new role and confident in our abilities.

We’re cruising and all is well.

Just in time for the next life season to drive up and surprise us.

What life season are you in right now? What else has changed in this season? Did you welcome the change or did you struggle?


Tanya McCausland is the COO at Diamond6 Leadership and a Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She is board certified by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals and teaches executive wellness to leaders at all levels. 

Resilience 101

“Resilience” is a new buzzword I’m seeing these days in a many different contexts.  We need to develop “systems resilience” to deal with potential cyber attacks. We need more “resilient communities” to prepare for tragedy and the unexpected. The government is creating programs to help develop “family resilience” to better cope with the stresses of military life. And the military seeks to develop “resilient soldiers,” less susceptible to traumatic stress disorder, better prepared to positively respond to stress and change.

Resilience is clearly a good thing. So what exactly is it, and how do we get some?

Like many things, resilience is both simple and complex. In essence, it seems to come down to an ability to cope and to respond well to adversity and stress. The opposite of resilient  might be ‘fragile’, ‘rigid’, ‘delicate’, or even ‘sensitive’. Persistence is usually, but not always, associated with resilience.

When we talk about people being resilient, we really have to define the context, since resilience manifests itself differently in different contexts. Different contexts may demand physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or other types of resilience – or some of each –  to respond to different types of adversity. Being resilient in one context does not assume resilience in another. We’ve all seen people who may be mentally and physically very resilient in combat or high-stress environments (physical/mental resilience), but who emotionally over-react or are unbending with their families and friends (emotional/social resilience).   My graduate students are very successful in their personal and professional lives, but sometimes have views of the world that are quite rigid. Graduate school seeks to develop ‘intellectual resilience’ by forcing students out of comfortable mental models, to try on different viewpoints and different ways of thinking.

So how does one become more ‘resilient’?

Aristotle said that if you want to become courageous, you need to do things that require courage. He would say the same thing about resilience. One must be willing to get out of one’s comfort-zone and stretch one’s ability to adapt to a different environment, if one wants to develop greater resilience under stress or adversity. In other words, one must subject oneself to the stress of not being comfortable. In today’s culture, there is a temptation to find a comfortable niche, settle into a ‘comfort-zone’ and fight never to leave it. We commit to career, marriage, family, community, mortgage – what one young friend of mine called  ‘the whole catastrophe’. We seek stability, predictability, and… we get comfortable.

To stay nimble and resilient, we must occassionally force ourselves into endeavors and environments where we are not in complete control – and force ourselves to adapt. We must be willing to at least consider, and accept with some equanimity,  the possibility that the things we count on can be taken away – our job, our money, lifestyle, health, friends, loved ones, our title, and our reputation. And we must be willing to ask ourselves that ‘existential’ question:  What is left, and who are we without those things?

To step out of our comfort-zone, we risk failure. Only by trying and failing, and trying again, do we develop the resilience to deal with things happening in a way that does not suit us. Without learning to deal with failure, there can be no resilience. Not getting what we want means to suffer, and, as the Greeks believed, wisdom only comes through suffering.

In dealing with difficulties and discomfort, we frequently use something called ‘self talk’ as a psychological tool to help ourselves deal with  difficult circumstances. Self-talk has been shown to actually change the way we think, behave, and perceive our environment. “I can do this.”  “This too shall pass.”  “This is my opportunity.” “This is God’s will (or this is my fate).  I must deal with this as best I can.” “I am strong.”   “I am confident.” Prayer is a form of self talk. A wise person once warned against asking God to give us the result we want, recommending instead that we pray for the strength (resilience) to deal with what He gives us.

My old friend Master Chief Will Guild suggested two essentials to resilience:  a sense of humor and love.  A sense of humor gets us outside of ourselves and our own ego-driven self absorption. It can deflate the pressures of fear, anger, panic, and resentment. Love likewise gets us outside of the immediacy of our personal anxiety– loving others, in spite of their failings, and loving ourselves, in spite of our failings. Indeed, Aristotle saw self-love, or ‘proper pride’ as a fundamental virtue.   Maintaining our self-respect and personal sense of dignity, when all is going wrong, is essential to a resilient response to challenge and adversity. Without self respect and ‘proper pride,’ collapse in the face of adversity is predictable.

SEAL training is very much about developing physical and mental resilience to respond to adversity in battle or special operations.  SEAL basic training creates a somewhat artificial adversity in a controlled training environment that serves as a crucible to develop the resilience needed to respond well to the real fear and adversity of combat.  Master Chief Guild used to teach SEAL trainees four key techniques for developing the resilience necessary to succeed at their baic training, and by extension, in combat. These are variations on what sports psychologists teach to professional athletes to help them perform their best under stress and pressure.

Maintain a positive attitude

Believe in yourself, keep your sense of humor, and use self-talk to stay positive.

Learn positive visualization

Visualize and believe in your own success, whatever that looks like. Positive visualization prepares us mentally for the challenge at hand, and for what it feels like to succeed.

Practice segmentation

Break the challenge you are facing into bite-size goals -– this event, this day. Set simple, achievable, short term goals. Don’t look beyond getting through the challenge of the moment, the event, or the day.

Learn arousal control

Learn techniques to calm yourself when fear, panic, and anxiety seem ready to overwhelm you.  These techniques include meditation, deep breathing, heart-rate management.  And again, self talk.

The best literature I’ve read on resilience is from the Roman Stoics and from Viktor Frankl in his classic short book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Vadm Stockdale wrote extensively about how Stoicism helped him survive seven years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Stoicism divides the world into two spheres – things we can control, and things we can’t.  The Stoic believes that we develop psychic resilience (and serenity) by learning to accept fate’s dictates, assuming full responsibility for our actions and attitudes, and developing the “wisdom to know the difference” between what we have to accept and what we can affect. Viktor Frankl’s book is about the resilience that comes from having a purpose for living – a goal for one’s life. This greater sense of purpose provides the strength and motivation to overcome life’s challenges.  Man’s Search for Meaning is about how Frankl found meaning in his suffering in a German concentration camp and how his belief in his own life’s purpose was key to his survival. Both Stockdale and Frankl would argue that a strong will to adapt, survive, and prevail is essential.

In conclusion, there is much that can be said and written about resilience. It is key to success and survival in dynamic, stressful, and rapidly changing environments.  As with leadership and character, resilience seems to be at least partly innate – some people are naturally more resilient and adaptable than others, and some people seem to be born with a stronger will to succeed. But as with character and leadership, resilience and strength of will can be improved through experience, training, and education. We can intentionally develop more flexible mental models, a broader perspective, and we can learn to imagine things as different than they are. It can help a lot to have a resilient and inspiring teacher, leader, or mentor who believes in us.

It is useful to remember that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection put a very high premium on resilience.

 


Bob Schoultz is currently CEO of Fifth Factor Leadership, which applies a Navy SEAL and Special Operations perspective to dilemmas faced by leaders in business and other public and private sector enterprises. Bob graduated from Stanford University in 1974, and completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado California in the summer of 1975. He then served as Naval Special Warfare officer for 30 years, with numerous extended tours overseas in a wide variety of commands.

During his career he served all over the world, and commanded SEALS and Special Boat personnel at all levels up to Commanding Naval Special Warfare Group Two in Little Creek, Va. His last assignment in the Navy was as the Director of Leader and Character Development at the US Naval Academy, from which he retired as a Captain on 1 July, 2005. From Oct 2005 until Nov 2011 he served as the Director of the Master of Science in Global Leadership in the School of Business Administration at the University of San Diego. 


Leadership is all about interaction: an interview with Dr. Jeff McCausland

Are people “born leaders” or can they be developed?

I definitely believe that leaders can and must be developed. Still there are certain personality characteristics that may help someone become an effective leader. People who are extreme introverts and find it uncomfortable around groups can become leaders, but it takes a greater effort. This is not unlike high performing athletes who may have better eyesight, height, strength, etc. as part of their physical makeup giving them an edge. Still, in both cases the individual has to devote both study and effort to continue to capitalize on those inherent advantages.

What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

I have learned that most people want to do well and be part of a high performing team. I do not believe people go to work each day seeking to fail. But leadership is an art and not a science. Consequently, relationships are key. Leadership is all about the interaction between human beings. A leader has many jobs, but let me discuss three.

First, define a vision for the organization and then seek to convince the members of his team to follow that vision. This often requires work.

Second, the difference between leaders and everyone else is “the leader decides and he or she decides when they are going to decide. Consequently, the leader must manage the organizations time. How much time do we have? When do I have to make a decision so that my team has enough time to explain to those working for them what their goals or objectives are? How much time do I have to seek consensus before deciding which direction we are going to take?

Third, the leader must seek to invest in his or her people and develop a high performing team. The ultimate goal of the leader is to make him/herself irrelevant. The true test of any leader is how well the organization performs once the leader departs. Did he or she develop a team so even if they were missing the organization continued to climb?

How has your leadership style evolved?

I continue to be amazed by how little I know. I have learned an effective leader must continue to develop in two ways. First, an effective leader must continue to develop his or her competence in his or her profession or occupation. Second, they must continue to think and develop themselves as a leader. Furthermore, I have learned that building organization consensus and cohesion is key. The leader cannot simply announce the vision for the organization and then expect everyone to immediately buy in and move out in the direction defined.

Chris Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Corporation, once observed that when he took charge of Hilton he spent nearly two years traveling throughout the corporation which has 150,000 employees worldwide. He said he was convinced that everyone was “pulling hard on the oars” but they were often pulling the oars in different directions

Finally, I have found in my work with many, many organizations that most are willing to invest millions in new technology or capital investments. But they are only willing to invest pennies in their most important resource — their people.

What leadership concepts do you consider during your day-to-day?

I try to think hard on what I need to invest my time in and what is best done by others. Empowerment is key to the success of any organization. So I frequently ask myself, “Am I getting in the way of one of my employees who is anxious to take responsibility for something?”. I seek to spend time thinking about the future of my organization and not get buried in day-to-day decisions, which can be handled by others. Finally, am I learning something new today that will make me either more competent or a better leader?

What are the most important ideas a burgeoning leader ought to consider?

What makes you happy and what do you enjoy? I cannot imagine you could do well leading an organization if you are not enjoying the experience, either in terms of its intrinsic rewards or the position working for you and your family.

Next, what is the vision I have for the organization? Can I galvanize the resources and build the consensus right now to move the organization in that direction? Finally, what is my assessment of my team? Are they ready for the vision? Do I need to do more teambuilding or do I need to add new team members and perhaps remove existing team members?

What leadership skills or competencies do you look for when hiring?

You want to ensure that the person is intelligent and has passion for the organization and its aims. It will not work to hire someone who is very intelligent but cannot work effectively with others—that can be a disaster for any team. Finally, do they have a desire to learn, improve themselves, and a desire to be innovative and “make things happen”?

I often use the example of Coach Dean Smith, University of North Carolina. He was at one point the winningest coach in NCAA basketball. A sportswriter once asked Smith what he looked for in basketball prospects. Smith replied, “I look for players who are fast. I can teach someone how to shoot, rebound, read plays, pass, etc. I do not know how to teach them to be fast….” In similar form I believe I can teach anyone who wishes to learn how to be successful in the organizations I have led. I just don’t know how to make them innovative or “make it happen” when they do not receive specific directions.


Dr. Jeffrey McCausland, Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership & Strategy, LLC is a retired Army Colonel with over 30 years of unique and challenging leadership experiences. As a retired military officer and veteran, Jeff’s work has taken him all over the world serving in a variety of command and staff positions in places such as the on National Security Council Staff, U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the Pentagon.

The Mileage of Failure– Why Leaders Shouldn’t Fear to Fail

There is great “mileage” in failure as it from the moments where we experience setbacks that we may learn the most.  Most people have been taught that failure is a bad thing, but in reality it can also be incredibly instructive. While it is essential to remember philosopher George Santayana’s adage, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” it is okay to make the error yourself sometimes — especially if you choose to learn from it.

I am a great baseball fan and so often use metaphors from my favorite sport.  Assume you were a major league baseball player who got a base hit every third time at bat BUT struck out the other two appearances at the plate.  What happens to you five years after you retire from the game?  You would go to the Hall of Fame even though you failed two out of three times…. Strong leaders know that they will fail at times but still acknowledge the “mileage” such setbacks offer.  Failure makes you humble, aware, and should fill you with determination for the next “time at the plate”.

With that in mind, here are three reasons why a leader should never fear failure.

It Humbles You

While failure can be bad for your ego, it can also help you reevaluate your current situation. Chances are you aren’t the greatest leader to grace the earth, so it’s good to remain modest. It will make you a better listener, a greater teammate and a more empathetic figure. Leadership is largely about communication, and those who do it best understand that — while confidence is great — an inflated ego can be the biggest roadblock to success.

It Shows You Your Weaknesses

A leader worth following is one who understands his or her own faults. That allows you to entrust people to pick you up where your own natural talents might be lacking. It’s okay to be bad at something, but you still need to be aware of those gaps. How else will you fill them in? By doing this, it also allows you to be more considerate toward others. It will make you more aware and provide new possibilities. After all, most mistakes are teachable moments and opportunities for coaching and mentorship.

It Emboldens You

Failure is a useful tool because a series of rejections or mishaps can help push you forward to the next opportunity. It’s likely that your ideas will be shot down — a lot — throughout your life, but it’s the strong leader who dusts him or herself off and pushes forward. Always carry that misstep, mistake or rejection with you because it’ll make success feel better earned. It’s understandable to feel an emotional low, but never wallow. Find the determination to fight another battle, and another battle after that.

 


Dr. Jeffrey McCausland, Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership & Strategy, LLC is a retired Army Colonel with over 30 years of unique and challenging leadership experiences. As a retired military officer and veteran, Jeff’s work has taken him all over the world serving in a variety of command and staff positions in places such as the on National Security Council Staff, U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the Pentagon.

Leading During a Crisis: Overcoming Obstacles and Keeping Calm

OB-DE821_billge_D_20090224183025It seems like we are surrounded by crises. Sometimes they are private troubles and other times we worry about a problem we aren’t directly connected to. In mental health terms, a crisis refers not necessarily to a traumatic situation or event, but to a person’s reaction to an event. One person might be deeply affected by an event, while another individual suffers little or no ill effects. As we consider crises it may be useful to remember that the Chinese word for crisis summarizes its components. The word crisis in Chinese is formed with the combination of two characters — danger and opportunity. A crisis presents an obstacle, trauma, or threat, but it also presents leaders an opportunity for either growth or decline.

We often think of a crisis as a sudden unexpected disaster, such as a car accident, natural disaster, or other cataclysmic event. However, crises can range substantially in type and severity. Sometimes a crisis is a predictable part of the life cycle.  Situational crises are sudden and unexpected, such as accidents and natural disasters. Existential crises are inner conflicts related to things such as life purpose, direction, and spirituality.

All leaders know that their organization will undergo crises. They must prepare plans and processes that “inoculate” as much as possible their organization from its worst effects. This includes plans for immediate crisis action, leader succession, communications, etc. Next, good leaders must realize that all members of the organization will look to them for both direction and encouragement. Finally, leaders must realize that their organization will not be the same after the crisis. They must demonstrate caring and set a new course for the future. A critical part of this is to take the time to confront a difficult question: “What can we learn from this experience no matter how difficult that will make us a better organization in future?”

Finally, it may be helpful to consider an old phrase from World War II — “Keep calm and carry on”. This was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War. It was intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. Oddly, the poster had only limited distribution with no public display, and thus was little known. The poster was rediscovered in 2000, and since then has been widely used throughout the United Kingdom. During the preparation for the Olympic Games it was reissued — “Keep calm and carry on…it’s only the Olympics!

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Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.
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Leading During a Crisis

OB-DE821_billge_D_20090224183025It seems like we are surrounded by crises – the bombing at the Boston Marathon, shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut, gas explosion in Texas, and destructive tornadoes that struck Oklahoma.  In mental health terms, a crisis refers not necessarily to a traumatic situation or event, but to a person’s reaction to an event. One person might be deeply affected by an event, while another individual suffers little or no ill effects. As we consider crises it may be useful to remember that the Chinese word for crisis summarizes its components. The word crisis in Chinese is formed with the combination of two characters — danger and opportunity. A crisis presents an obstacle, trauma, or threat, but it also presents leaders an opportunity for either growth or decline.

We often think of a crisis as a sudden unexpected disaster, such as a car accident, natural disaster, or other cataclysmic event. However, crises can range substantially in type and severity. Sometimes a crisis is a predictable part of the life cycle.  Situational crises are sudden and unexpected, such as accidents and natural disasters. Existential crises are inner conflicts related to things such as life purpose, direction, and spirituality.

All leaders know that their organization will undergo crises.  They must prepare plans and processes that “inoculate” as much as possible their organization from its worst effects.  This includes plans for immediate crisis action, leader succession, communications, etc.  Next, good leaders must realize that all members of the organization will look to them for both direction and encouragement.  Finally, leaders must realize that their organization will not be the same after the crisis.  They must demonstrate caring and set a new course for the future.  A critical part of this is to take the time to confront a difficult question – “What can we learn from this experience no matter how difficult that will make us a better organization in future?”

Finally, it may be helpful to consider an old phrase from World War II — “Keep calm and carry on”.    This was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War.  It was intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. Oddly, the poster had only limited distribution with no public display, and thus was little known. The poster was rediscovered in 2000, and since then has been widely used throughout the United Kingdom.  During the preparation for the Olympic Games it was reissued – “Keep calm and carry on…it’s only the Olympics!

Image from HERE.

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Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.
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