Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Think Better - Presence IS Personal

A note from Suann Polverari, out of our New York office:

Moved as I am by images and words from powerful leaders, when we first started discussing presence as a team I turned to the regular suspects to inspire my introspection. After all, don't we all love stumbling on a great quote at a perfectly timed moment, or even better, sharing one with a friend just when they seem to mean it?

Greats like the unidentified protester in Tiannenmen Square, Rosa Parks or Mother Theresa are so iconographic it leaves the impression they were BORN for greatness with some special genetic coding to predispose them to rise with courage in the face of need or disaster. What about regular people like you and me - just getting through the day? Remembering that we are all born with such greatness of spirit and presence can be challenging with such examples to live up to.

Turning the question of presence to a more personal perspective is where the elements of presence come home. The following example of presence has nothing to do with changing the world or delighting celebrity news junkies. Ten years ago my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and on a very rapid decline. Her prognosis was to be immobilized within 6 months, a devastating change for my entire family, not to mention a catastrophy for her. No movie star, my mom is not someone you'd notice without reason, but what she did by focusing her intention is an act of being fully present to her situation.

What happened is this: as the first year went by all of us were in nervous anticipating the day when my mother would be unable to lift herself from her bed. After the second year, although slower in her movements she was still not in a wheel chair. To counter the natural depression, under her doctor's suggestion she began journaling, meditating and practicing yoga. After a couple of months, she was moving better, sleeping through the night.

The combination was miraculous: her positive thoughts resurfaced. My mother was back! A full ten years later, she has never succumbed to a wheel chair, and if you ask her how she'll tell you this, “I made a promise to myself to wake up every day and look in the mirror and say you will NOT be in a wheel chair permanently and you are a strong women who can conquer anything that comes your way.”

Many are the days when I need to remember my own strength and that I can conquer anything that comes my way. The practice below is one to remind yourself of exactly that:

1. Identify a challenge you are facing
2. Name all the reasons you MUST overcome it - these are the practical gains, the personal accomplishment, the evolution in your life, the hallmarks of success
3. List the QUALITIES you need within yourself to overcome it - courage, determination, compassion, communication, energy, etc.
4. Acknowledge you have all those qualities within yourself and remind yourself of that throughout every single day especially in moments where fear or limitation feels especially present.

Because while life has the propensity to knock us into auto-pilot, react react react, it is single-pointed attention that summons not only the greatness within us, but allows us to be present to that greatness and operate from it's ability rather than conditioned small thinking. If we're lucky, we'll never face a wheel chair at all. But because we're human, we do face self limiting possibilities every single day and need to cultivate the ability to confront them with determination and greatness.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Feel Better - Have You Hugged Lately?

The irony that this week is national hug week has an odd thematic happenstance. On a recent yoga retreat with Dana Flynn and Jasmine Tarkeshi at Kripalu in the Berkshires, the culmination of the retreat was for each person to make up a yoga posture.

Now, had we been given that mandate on the first day, everyone might have rolled eyes, crossed arms, and refused. But after a long weekend of hanging out together, eating healthy food and getting enough sleep, it's amazing how capable we feel of overcoming creative anxiety.

Aside from this creative endeavor itself being a metaphorical hug, a self hug of sorts, amazingly multiple participants in the retreat created self-affirming poses. With names like "Patience Warrior", "Peaceful Pigeon", "Infinity Eagle" and "Kindness Warrior", many of the shapes folks created were all about being gentler and kinder to ourselves. One woman even expressed that having recently moved to a city in the Northeast, she's been feeling so touch deprived that she signed up for salsa lessons just to feel human contact.

Studies of animal behavior show that primates respond directly to increases in the level of warmth and comfort they are given in their formative months with decreasing levels of anxiety and aggression. While it is true that many of us satisfy the need for warmth and kindness with our spouses or partners, just as often days and weeks pass without any loving touch whatsoever.

So take care of that hug jones, whether you are conscious of it or not. Don't have any hug-friendly friends or family in your circle? Give yourself a hug or even hand massage. Rest your face on the heels of your hands and slowly rub the muscles over your forehead, jaw and cheekbones. Pause in the tub to rub your sweet feet or give your own neck some kindness. This body of yours is indeed a chemical reaction chamber and stirring the pot has the capacity to release powerful stored up energy. Why not make the most of yours?

Lead Better: Align With The Divine

Much of generating executive presence within yourself has to do with aligning with what is great within you and the greatness around you.

Think about it: when you move through the day putting out fires, responding to issues, and migrating endlessly from meeting to meeting, there can often be a sense of "handling things" or "getting through". But presence requires a groundedness in the form of a cultivated sense of purpose and intention. What's more, it requires we cultivate an ability to return to that sense of purpose and intention in the midst of unbridled chaos.

You want people to feel your leadership and respect your words? Begin to feel your own leadership and respect your own words with reverence and attention. This doesn't just happen by reading these words - although reminders definitely can help. If you actually DO the steps below you'll find an inroad to access your own sense of presence more consistently no matter how crazy this lazy summer gets:

  1. Think about the last time you felt yourself completely powerful, at ease, or in a state you might call "flow", "the zone" or "optimal". What qualities were you experiencing? What characteristics were you feeling within yourself and that situation? Write down as many words as you can to describe the situation and how it felt.

  2. Think about the last time you felt REALLY OUT of your power, struggling, or at odds with? What quality did the situation lack?

  3. Consider what might be three or four words to describe your team/function/company/group at it's essence. At it's very best, what makes that group exciting or effective? What thrills you about it's function or it's contribution?

  4. Look at the list of words you created for all three categories - thriving moments, qualities lacking in not so great moments, and what brings alive your organization- what are recurring themes? Can you nail down the essence of all three lists in two or three words?

When you identify the essential qualities that make you thrive and those that best express the thriving of your immediate environment, you create an anchor to remember yourself at your very best and your surrounding at it's most optimal. Repeat these words to yourself throughout your day, not just for the sounds but summoning within yourself an experience of what they really mean. Being vigilant in operating from that position, you begin to raise the level of your own presence and invite the organization to function at it's very best. Summoning these divine or performance and experience enhancing qualities at will is nothing short of leadership in it's essence and this simple act of alignment will invite others around you to do the same.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Presence & Being Present

How do you define presence? Magnetism, IT, X-factor, star-quality or je ne sais quois. Brazilian Portuguese offers a special slang for it - jeito which as a personal characteristic means "having a certain way". Whatever word you use to name it, you know it when you see it or even feel it from others. What's more, you know first-hand the contrast between feeling powerfully present when interacting with others and feeling somehow small, lost or distracted.

If you reflect back on greats in any field of endeavor, presence is generally the characteristic commented upon most frequently. In a mere glance at a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King or Gandhi this powerful presence can be felt. Even looking at a picture of the young Lindsay Lohan, there is an energetic quality that those in the performing arts call stickiness and is something they train themselves to emanate. Clearly, presence isn't just for movie stars but is valuable in any pursuit.

Among the ancients and more recently in management circles the question of presence has become increasingly explored both as a quality that is emanated by one person and felt by others, as well as in the capacity to be present or to make oneself fully present. These two aspects of presence are not unrelated. Think back on the greats in your life - perhaps a family member, teacher, colleague or friend. When you consider the sense of presence you experience with them, give some thought to their level of awareness of themselves in relationship to the world around them.

Thanks to a professional services client in Chicago who urged us to reflect earnestly on the various angles of this quality, this month has been a moving meditation on presence, feeling it from others, within ourselves, and noticing ways to cultivate it actively. Check out the next few posts from our team - we're hopeful you find some new ways to heighten your presence and welcome your suggestions on how to do the same.