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. 

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. 

Authenticity: No crock

Authenticity: No crock


I listened to a podcast recently featuring Seth Godin and his latest book, The Practice, where he proclaimed, “authenticity is a crock. Authenticity is overrated. Authenticity is a trap. No one wants you to be authentic.”

I’m a huge Seth Godin fan – I love his work and principles, but I completely disagree with him on this position. He professes that his position on authenticity is controversial, and I couldn’t agree more!

According to Godin, the only time in our lives when we’re truly authentic is when we’re an infant. When something doesn’t go our way, we spiral into a tantrum. Post toddler, we lose that raw, unabashed authenticity because our decisions and actions become calculated, carried out with intent and purpose (even if subconscious).

For example, you may not like something your boss does, but you’re not likely to go run screaming into their office, as that’s not likely to get you your desired result. What you do instead is weigh actions and consequences, navigate the political landscape, and moderate your behaviors. Godin considers this inauthentic – what you deep down most want to do is not what you end up doing in your actions.

“If you go see a concert,” he says “you don’t want the authentic musician. You want that musician (despite exhaustion from a 20-city road tour) to give you the best performance of their day, their week, their month. If you need surgery, you want the surgeon to ignore that they had an argument with their spouse and instead bring the best version of themselves. That’s what we want in every interaction.”

Godin continues, offering that people don’t want authenticity. What people want from you is consistency, humanity, and empathy…for you to deliver the best, most talented, skilled version of yourself. And the best way to deliver this is to do what comes naturally to you.

I read this. I hear this. And my response is, this IS authenticity – at least my definition of it.

For two weeks now, I’ve churned on Godin’s viewpoint that “authenticity is a crock.” I’ve wrangled with it internally and debated it with colleagues. Where I’ve landed is this:

  • I have a deeply held belief about what authenticity is.
  • To me, consistently delivering who you are IS being authentic. If humanity and empathy is core to who you are and you show up and deliver that, then you’re being authentic.
  • Authenticity is being true to who you are, aligning with and living your values, and delivering on your personal brand promise day in and day out, regardless of whether or not people are watching.
  • Being authentic is being the truest, realest me…the me-ist me I can be.

No, I’m not going to run into my boss’ office and throw a tantrum because something didn’t go as I had hoped. I refrain from doing this, not because I’m being inauthentic, but because my authentic self functions in a world where I’m keenly aware of rules, protocols, and the political landscape.

With this example and many more, I’ve learned about cause and effect, actions and consequences, and the culture of “this is the way we do things around here.” These lessons have saved my life, my career, and relationships. No, I won’t necessarily live out my unadulterated, unfiltered, raw self out on the street, in the boardroom, or even at my kitchen table necessarily, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not being congruent and authentic.

My clients know my skill, talent, values, and qualities. They know that when they work with me, they’re going to get these things fully and consistently. And I’m human, I can have a bad day, I can get overwhelmed and exhausted, and when these things happen, the impact can show up in my work. When it’s likely to, I name it, we adjust and adapt, change or reschedule…whatever the situation calls for. This is authenticity.

 


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. 

Horses, Dirt Bikes, & Slingshots: shaped by my childhood adventures

Horses, Dirt Bikes, & Slingshots: shaped by my childhood adventures

Growing up on a farm, my big brother, Lee, and I filled our days playing with cows and horses, riding our dirt bike, fishing tadpoles out of the creek, and making forts from hay bales that filled our big red barn…the structures soon to became territory for our slingshot battle. The fact that neither of us is blind today truly is a miracle.

As thrilling as all these activities were, they paled in comparison to the work we did in the treetops. If we were to account for our total childhood handy work, we’d have a considerable tree house village! We could make an entire lumber pile and 500 nails disappear in a day or two. In the summers, we practically lived in our rickety tree dwellings, carving our names in the thick branches and telling stories, all with our Daisy BB guns never far from our sides.

When I think about what matters most to me today – things like nature, adventure, creativity, and freedom – it takes me back to my childhood and how much those experiences have shaped who I’ve become. I’m thankful for parents who gave us this beautiful space and so much freedom to explore and play. When I consider all the risky things we did, it gives me proof that kids are surrounded by a pack of angels! I mean, in this photo, we’re about to jump a stack of concrete cinder blocks with a ramp built of plywood and 2X4s and I’m riding that dirt bike in shorts and am barefoot!

I feel these values alive in me today – mostly in my spirit and essence in how I show up in life and work, and in the particulars of my behaviors and decisions. For example, even though I live in the city now, I’m never too far from the woods, a stream, or a trail. My windows are open to feel the breeze and hear all the sounds of nature. Although my “farm” animals now are Hendrix and Fred, my Labrador and Beagle, I love a horseback ride whenever I get the chance. And three years ago, I bought a Triumph motorcycle. I love my riding and camping adventures. It’s through these experiences that I’m most fulfilled.

How have your roots shaped who you are today?

 

 


 

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, and coach, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Limit Yourself to the Essential – In Life and Work

Limit Yourself to the Essential – In Life and Work

It topped 50 degrees last Sunday…almost enough to give me some early spring fever in January. I decided to curl up in my window seat, enjoy the warm sunshine, and savor a thought provoking read, “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta. In keeping with his mantra, the book is brief enough to finish in an afternoon. Bonus!

Just three days later, I can’t stop thinking about his core principles. I find them so meaningful and effective that I’d like to highlight a few. I’m especially enjoying the one “simple focus.” What a difference I’m experiencing with only a few days of intentional practice. I hope you’ll give them a try too!

focus-- birds flying around at the waterfront

Set Limits

We live in a world where we’re overwhelmed with ‘stuff.’ Our homes are filled with too many things. Our days are packed with an unending string of meetings and tasks. The inbox overflows with dozens of emails. We have too much – clutter, information, tasks, and choices. It simply won’t all fit.

With a ‘less is more’ framework, Babauta encourages a life with limits. “Setting limits simplifies things, focuses our energy, highlights the important, and makes us more effective.” It’s as if time and space expand.

This week, I’m paying more attention to when and where I feel the overload and need for cutting back. I’ve turned off the distracting visual email prompts, assessed meeting invitations with a new lens and declined more than typical, and reduced the number of blogs and listserves to which I subscribe. Already, it feels freeing.

Choose the Essential and Simplify

Choosing the essential is the key to simplifying – you have to choose the essential before you simplify, or you risk eliminating things without keeping the most important. “Simplifying isn’t meant to leave your life empty – it’s meant to leave space for what you really want to do.”

For me, getting to the essential starts with eliminating the non-essential – like the quote from sculptor Michelangelo, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

However you get there, once you know what’s essential, you reduce projects, tasks, commitments, and clutter. In my work with my executive coaching clients, an important part of the process is for a client to know his/her core values, set goals, and confirm what’s most important and brings you the greatest joy.

Simple Focus

FocusThe “Power of Less” presents focus as the most important and powerful tool – “focus on less to become more effective.” Intellectually, I get it, but practice it is far more difficult. Here’s what helps me most:

  • Identify the most important priorities (and tasks).
  • Keep these front and center. I do this by creating an annual plan, then breaking that down by quarter, month, week, and day.
  • Begin each day by focusing on the most important tasks, executing these one at a time until complete.
  • Resist checking email and exploring the internet first thing in the day, otherwise I become occupied by urgent or intriguing distractions.
  • Focus on the present instead of the past or future. This is so challenging! I compare it to attempting to quiet my mind during meditation. It helps to practice with the simple things in my day – eating, driving, sleeping – focusing only on that, and enjoying it. When I can do that, it feels like pure flow.

Start Small

Send your overachiever to time out! Starting small is simply a way to ensure the greatest likelihood of success for all the other changes.

Think of the fail rate with New Year’s resolutions: we start the year excited and rearing to go. Like a Thoroughbred out of the gate, we charge forward – make the first lap and maybe a second, and then start to lose steam or quit altogether. The value of setting realistic, achievable goals is important to have any chance of success.

This reminds me of when I began running. My son was in the 4th grade at the time and asked me to run with him to prepare for his school’s 1-mile event. For a week or two, we practiced together, and he accomplished his goal. Next, we decided to sign up for a local 5K. We completed it, and by then I began to enjoy running.

For the next year, I ran several community 5K events. I decided to step it up and run 10Ks the next year. Then, in year three, I trained for and ran my first half marathon. Now, eight years later, I’ve completed about ten half marathons. Starting small was key to my running success and sustainability.

Declutter

This principle begins with “A clean desk allows you to focus on the task at hand, which is key to being effective in whatever you’re trying to do.” So today, in honor of this idea, I cleaned up my office and desk. Maybe it’s just in my head, but afterward I swear I was able to think more clearly and accomplish more.

Another way I’ve practiced this principal recently is conducting a home inventory and identifying things we no longer use. We’ve made countless trips to our local Goodwill, learned how to “do eBay,” and have experienced good success in selling many items. It’s inspired us to set new goals geared toward decluttering and downsizing, like:

  • Set aside time to clean out.
  • Start simple – with one room, a closet, or a drawer
  • Handle paperwork only once, taking immediate action (like paying a bill), filing, or tossing it.
  • Have a home for everything and keep things in their place.
  • For every item you bring into your home, remove something of equal size and significance.

Slow Down

Years ago, I decided to take a sabbatical for a few months. One of the first things I experienced was a much slower pace. I stepped off the frantic work treadmill, engaged in some creative pursuits, and savored the foreign white space on my calendar. My friends worried that the change was so abrupt, I would need therapy. Not the case!

Before this “time out,” my life was jam-packed. I never completed a task list, rushed everywhere I went, and felt behind, late, and exhausted. I had enthusiastically signed up for this career and professional leadership role, but I didn’t want to live my life like this.

As Babauta states in his book, “We were not made to function this way…the stresses of constant overload and a constant hectic pace for every waking moment.” The paradox is to slow down to be happier, more effective, and productive.

During my time off, I consciously slowed down. I ate slower, walked slower, drove slower. Here’s a novel idea: when you eat, just eat. Enjoy it. Savor it. Truly taste it. Try the same for driving: appreciate the complete experience of driving and notice what’s around you. Do you ever arrive at a destination and have no recollection of how you got there? My goal then and still today is to shift away from that and be fully present with whatever I’m doing. I probably fail more than I succeed, but this book is a great reminder to re-focus.

 

about-leadershipAbout 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.