“I keep thinking that what we need is a new language…a language of the heart….a new kind of poetry that tells us where the honey is….And I think that in order to create that language you’re going to have to learn out how to go through a looking glass into another kind of perception where you have that sense of being united to all things…. And suddenly you understand everything.”
– My Dinner With Andre, 1981
During my time as CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute I helped design a “way of being” curriculum. This was part of a teacher training for a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence program that we originally conceived and developed within Google.
Way of Being (WOB) refers to the quality of our caring, presence, and connection at work, at home, and in life. (In working with mindfulness teachers, coaches, and speakers I often find that WOB maybe THE most important competency in being able to make a difference in the lives we are touching.)
WOB can be difficult to define – what is it composed of, and more importantly, how can it be taught? The following WOB skills were my team’s attempt to answer that question.
These are the same skills I want for myself – as an executive coach, speaker, trainer, and most of all as a human being. I find it challenging and humbling to focus on these competencies and to aspire to bring them to all areas of my work, relationships, and all parts of my life. They may appear conflicting and paradoxical, and at the same time I believe they are practical and achievable:
Confidence & Humility – your WOB communicates a blend of presence, groundedness, connectedness, and curiosity. You step forward boldly and sensitively. You can be fierce and vulnerable.
Depth & Lightness – your presence and words communicate depth. You know your pain and the pain and suffering of others. At the same time, you find lightness and enjoyment in each moment, in meeting each person, in giving and receiving.
Rigor & Spontaneity – you communicate that your words matter. You are always learning, open to surprise and to new ideas. You show up fully, responding to each new situation – with both precision and spontaneity.
Spark & Stillness – your presence communicates warmth and aliveness. At the same time, you are grounded, connected to yourself and your surroundings.
Attainment & Non-attainment – your presence communicates your desire to offer your gifts, to develop yourself, and to develop others. You value success. Your presence communicates that learning, development, and success are often more about undoing than doing.
These practices offer ways to develop and increase your emotional range. They are also ways to cut through the myriad distractions in life so you can discover and act on what is most important.
Imagine being completely confident when it is time for confidence, and completely humble when humility is called for!
One confidence and humility exercise in the teacher training program involved asking participants to introduce themselves from 2 perspectives: first, from the perspective of confidence, and then with humility. Taking things further, we asked participants to introduce themselves with an emphasis on enthusiasm (spark), and once again while embodying stillness. These exercises were designed to stretch and help participants move beyond what felt easy and/or safe.
Try this: If humility comes easy to you, try being more confident next time you have to deliver an idea, concept, or presentation. If you are naturally animated, experiment with stillness.
Our “Way of Being” is what is communicated beyond our words.
I think of “John,” an executive I was coaching a few years ago. I learned that his five direct reports didn’t fully trust him. They often experienced him as reactionary and angry; that he was at times unaware of the anger he was communicating. This was very surprising to John.
He wanted to be a successful leader and was hurt and embarrassed by the feedback he was receiving from his team.
I arranged for a series of meetings with John and his team, where I either facilitated or observed. I was aware that John, through his body language and his presence (his WOB) expressed frustration, annoyance, and anger, even when his words did not, and that he was unaware of how his feelings were being perceived by others.
I worked with him over several months on developing his self-awareness and his WOB. We focused on making changes gradually (so they could “stick”), and in small increments (so as not to overwhelm John or his team), and over time we saw a significant improvement in his relationships, both at work and beyond the workplace.
While WOB is connected to your self-awareness, to how you connect to your pain and the pain of others, it’s also connected to something equally fundamental as well – the level and quality of your self-acceptance and love of yourself, and how deeply connected and caring you are about others.
Something to explore: Play with each of these sets of competencies, especially the ones that feel most challenging. For example, if spontaneity comes easily to you, try being more rigorous and precise. If rigor and precision come more easily, experiment with spontaneity.
Make a note of your results by journaling about each experiment, then repeat this exercise over time to see how you progress and what you notice. Some possible prompts to begin with are:
I feel most confident when…
I feel most humble when…
I experimented with being more [COMPETENCY NAME] and noticed…