Leading Wholeheartedly

Leading Wholeheartedly

A few weeks ago, I watched Biden and Harris take office and was especially struck by a comment in Biden’s inaugural address, “Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably within the guardrails of our republic is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.”

“Take a measure of me and my heart.”

His words stunned me. First because it feels so good to have leadership again. And second, because it feels so good to have leadership with heart. I believe we do.

Our world needs more leadership with heart. It’s what I’ve come to call “wholehearted leadership,” to borrow one of Brene Brown’s coined phrases. It was in reading her book, “Gifts of Imperfection,” that I first heard that phrase ten years ago. I strive to live it in my work and life. And I look for it in others. It’s so deeply satisfying and fulfilling to see it in action…

  • Cultivate authenticity and let go of what other people think
  • Cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism
  • Cultivate our resilient spirit and let go of numbing and powerlessness
  • Cultivate gratitude and joy and let go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  • Cultivate intuition and faith and let go of the need for certainty
  • Cultivate creativity and let go of comparison
  • Cultivate play and rest and let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  • Cultivate calm and stillness and let go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  • Cultivate meaningful work and let go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
  • Cultivate laughter, song, and dance and let go of “cool” and always in control

– Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living

These affirmations hang in my office as a reminder of how I want to love, live, and lead in the world. It’s about showing up with vulnerability – owning who you are and letting others see you. It only took me a few decades to learn this…and it’s a forever journey. It requires great intentionality, practice, and loads of courage…Every. Single. Day.

I remember the first time I learned about vulnerability as a leader. I was 30 years old and in a leadership development program where I had been paired with an executive coach. Part of her guidance encouraged me to become more vulnerable as a leader. I had an instant, visceral reaction to her words. I cringed, remembering my mom and what she taught me as a young girl. I told my coach, “My mama did NOT teach me to be vulnerable!”

I imagined sitting across from my mom and sharing with her what I learned at leadership school. I could see her plain as day…sitting across from me, arms tightly crossed, and giving me a furrowed, disapproving stare. Growing up in my home, any thoughts of vulnerability were considered weak, and I was taught to show anything but that:

Be strong!

Never let ‘em see you sweat (or cry)

Hold your cards close to the vest

I don’t think either of my parents intended this, but what they taught me around vulnerability – to guard against it – caused me to show up as a leader rigid, aloof, and less approachable. It took me nearly two decades to undo.

I see this same resolve in leaders I coach today, especially female leaders. To get ahead, we develop armor…a shell to protect us, we put forth an image of steel, as in “I have this under control” and “I’ve got it all together.” Inside we may be quaking, but the external world will never know it. We take it own, carry the load, and ‘grin and bear it.’  Years and decades pass. We become someone we don’t know anymore….or worse, someone we don’t even like.

“Take a measure of me and my heart,” Biden says.

This is a reminder to us all to put down our armor, come out from behind our shields, open our hearts and let others see our humanity.

 


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Welcome to the Neutral Zone

Welcome to the Neutral Zone

We’ve been waiting. Waiting for 2020 to end and 2021 to finally arrive. But the turn of the calendar didn’t solve our problems – in fact, not much feels different at all. If anything, it feels like a continued or even an increased sense of unknown, uncertainty, and chaos.

Since March 2020, I’ve often felt like I’m in the middle of a dense forest with no obvious way out. My “way” has become one of putting one foot in front of the other, literally taking the next step, and then the next. Most days, this helps me feel like I’m making progress, albeit slow.

My consulting and executive coaching work focuses on helping leaders and their organizations navigate change and transition. These days, I lean on my own practices…a lot. One of my favorite sources is the work of William Bridges and the Bridges Transition Model. In his book, “Managing Transitions,” he presents the stages of transition: Letting Go, the Neutral Zone, and the New Beginning. Let’s take a look at the Neutral Zone he describes.

The Neutral Zone

“It’s a time when all the old clarities break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore, and anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different.”

Sound familiar?

This Neutral Zone is a huge chasm of discomfort between an ending and a new beginning. We’re waiting – for a new president to take office, for spring to come, for a vaccine to be widely available, to return to school and work, to hug our friends and family, and to travel. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Telling yourself it’ll be worth the wait, but also feeling exhausted, isolated, and worried because time can feel like a finite resource.

Bridges continues, “One of the most difficult aspects of the Neutral Zone is that most people don’t understand it. They expect to be able to move straight from the old to the new. But this isn’t a trip from one side of the street to the other. It’s a journey from one identity to another, and that kind of journey takes some time. The attitudes, outlook, values, self-images, and ways of thinking that were functional in the past have to ‘die’ before people can be ready for life in the present.”

So, what do we do in this neutral zone? What do we do while we wait? How are you in this zone? Probably like you, one day I’m up, the next I’m down. Some days I’m optimistic, others, I can’t find that optimism no matter what I do or how hard I try.

But hang on…there’s hope!

As we’ve sustained in this abyss now for nearly 12 months, I’m learning to be with it and also recognize it for its gifts and opportunity. Somehow, it helps to know we’re all in it together…it literally feels like there’s not one person on the planet with a “ticket” to escape this time of pandemic, social and racial injustice and unrest, and political turmoil. We’re faced with doing our work and living our life the best we can. What feels most right to me is openness, kindness, compassion, flexibility.

“This is not the wasted time of meaningless waiting and confusion that it sometimes seems to be,” offers Bridges. “It’s a time when reorientation and redefinition must take place, and people need to understand that.”

Yes, it’s a time of anxiety and even chaos, but also it is a time when we’re more open to new ideas and opportunity. I remind myself daily that there’s power in this place. For me:

  • Priorities have become clearer, and I realize what’s most important in my life.
  • I can do with less. A lot less, in fact: money, material things, activities, work hustle…all the busyness
  • Losing what “was” is teaching me to exercise my creativity and look for new opportunities to cultivate and apply myself – my interests, skills, talent, and experience. Coupling this with new insight around my priorities is giving way to a new and more aligned path.
  • I’m reminded to celebrate the highs and the wins, even the smallest wins (especially those!)
  • I look for the lessons in the lows and greatest challenges.
  • I realize that my happiness and power come from within. I’m developing my spirituality practice to help me tap into that.

Since March, I’ve discovered that not only does my old way not work now, but I no longer even wish for that way. There are many things I quite like about this middle place and how the present is informing what I’m building. I’m learning to trust myself and my intuition and inner voice much more every day.

How are you finding ways to maximize and leverage your neutral zone?


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Bearing Witness to Truth

Bearing Witness to Truth

When I began writing my book, I decided it would be informed not only by my own life experiences, but also those of many others. I put together a plan and timeline, began writing, and started the interviews.

Nice, neat, and tidy, right? As soon as I got started, I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be the orderly, paced project I had designed. My strategic, linear mind was clearly not going to have her way. Truth work is anything but a straight line…both the processing of my own and the witnessing and interpreting of others’.

Being with someone who’s sharing their personal story of knowing and living their truth is sacred. It’s mind blowing and heart wakening – a bearing witness to one’s humanity and soul. It’s not an “interview;” it’s a sacred conversation.

When planning out this work, I had no idea the gift I would receive in bearing witness to others in their openness, struggle, loss, joy, and deepest vulnerability. I hold it in the utmost trust. I get to do this work.

And about that plan and timeline of mine…I’m doing my best to stay on course and meet the necessary deadlines. I’m also learning to be open and allow the beautiful connection with others to be my guide. Whenever the battle brews between my heart and head – as it often does – may my heart prevail.

 


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Setting a Place at the Table

Setting a Place at the Table

I got married a few weeks ago on October 10. As I fell asleep the night before, I meditated on an intention to be fully present on our wedding day. You know how weddings go – they’re chock full of endless tasks and details and a flurry of activity. I knew this was the reality and I wanted to let go and be fully present with Lyn, my wife-to-be, and our beautiful, precious ceremony.

As I drifted off, I wondered what it would feel like tomorrow when the day I had longed for finally arrived. I had imagined it a thousand times, playing the scenes over and over in my mind.

As I awoke that morning, what I hadn’t considered was this feeling that now washed over me – the deepest sense of gratitude. “I get to do this,” I thought. Just six years ago it wouldn’t have been possible to marry Lyn, to bond our love and commitment in the formal union of marriage.

I sat reflecting on those who came before me – those who advocated for this right of equality and were persecuted, prosecuted, and even gave their lives for it. The very freedoms and rights they fought for; many never were able to live it themselves. And here I sit, in my den, cozy under a blanket, sipping my coffee on my wedding day…I get to do this.

Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Billie Jean King, Harvey Milk, Jack Baker, Michael McConnell, Edith Windsor, Jim Obergefell, Mary Bonauto, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Evan Wolfson, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr., and so many, many more.

I carried their spirit, perseverance, and legacy with me through the day, sustained in gratitude, committing to do far more than simply hold this feeling – to persist as they did, take action to ensure common humanity, freedoms, and rights for LGBTQ people. There is so much work that remains to be done.

Today, heading into Thanksgiving week 2020, where our pandemic world is turned upside down and inside out, Lyn and I have decided how we’ll celebrate the holiday this year. In the absence of not being able to gather with family and friends as we traditionally do, we’re preparing our dining table with place settings reserved for those whom we want to honor, celebrate, and give thanks. The seats will be taken, not only by champions who fought for LGBTQ freedoms and rights, but also by those who led the way for women’s rights, civil rights, and for democracy, equality, and inclusion.

It will be a Thanksgiving like none other…maybe one that’s here to stay.

 


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Managing Your Energy

Managing Your Energy

 

 

Battery charging

I had the privilege this week of facilitating a program for leaders in eastern NC working to improve the overall health and wellness in their communities. These folks are so inspiring. The challenges they face are deep and complex and remind me of the importance of ensuring that our leaders are equipped with skills and resources to do their impactful work.

One of the exercises we completed together was around managing your energy, based on a Harvard Business Review article by the same title. The premise is to manage your energy, not your time. Our lives are so full and demanding, with work, family, and community obligations. Self care – if we think of it at all, often gets minimal if any priority at all. It can stretch us to our breaking point.

My favorite take aways from the article are:

  • Work smarter, not harder. Resist the seductive allure of putting in more  hours to get ahead. This can be a short term strategy on occasion but becomes unhealthy if sustained over time.
  • Time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story. Energy comes from four main wellsprings within us: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be expanded and renewed by establishing and practicing specific rituals.
  • Organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them, so they are motivated – and able – to bring more of themselves to work every day.
  • Recognize the costs of your energy depleting behaviors and take personal responsibility for changing them. All it takes is beginning to implement simple practices one step at a time.

My group of participants came up with a few best practices in each area. The list was so good, I wanted to share it with you. I hope you find some good ideas for yourself and add more of your own!

Spiritual:

  • Be in nature
  • Pray
  • Play music
  • Keep things in perspective
  • Let your light shine
  • Express gratitude…often
  • Enjoy the moment(s)
  • Laugh (especially at yourself)
  • Stay away from negative people.
  • Follow your passion
  • Journal
  • Forgive and move on
  • Avoid toxic situations

Emotional:

  • Play music
  • Journal
  • Practice yoga
  • Meditate
  • Exercise
  • Call friends, family, confidants
  • Eat ice cream
  • Drink vino…especially with a good friend
  • Discern which battles are worth fighting
  • Take a long, relaxing drive
  • Walk, run
  • Listen to inspirational words, messages
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Use essential oils
  • Cry
  • Hold a baby / pet
  • Watch TV that inspires and relaxes you (Oprah, Undercover Boss, etc)

Mental:

  • Do relaxation exercises
  • Close your eyes and imagine your favorite place (take a brief mental vacation)
  • At work, close your door and relax for 15-20 mins
  • Take a mental health day
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Stop the cycle – interrupt the process
  • Retail therapy
  • Pedicure – spa day
  • Breathe
  • Do something for someone else
  • Spend time w/ people who cheer you
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Practice yoga

Physical:

  • Work out regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Take on a project that excites you
  • Eat well
  • Connect with a hobby
  • Get outside
  • Spend time with family
  • Enjoy an adult beverage…especially with a friend
  • Drink H2O
  • Limit sugar intake
  • Socialize
  • Garden
  • Train for something, like a triathlon
  • Get active! Run, bike, sail, surf, wake board
  • Walk daily
  • Yoga
  • Cooking
  • “Break the fast” – start your day with a healthy meal to fuel you
  • Read for enjoyment
  • Spend time with pets

 

_MLH7017About Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.