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THE MAGIC OF WONDER

An Overlooked Secret to Leading in Uncertain Times

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Photo by Susan Inouye
Photo by Susan Inouye

As I took my Sunday morning hike along the beach at El Porto, I was in awe of the beauty surrounding me. In the distance, the sun glistened its light through a thin layer of fog, creating a reflection of rainbow colors at the foot of the mountain where the land met the ocean waves. It was so indescribably magnificent I could feel myself open to the wonderment of it all – nature’s beauty that can open a person’s heart and fill their spirit and soul.

A sense of wonder is an overlooked quality, so important in leadership today. It’s a portal to leading in uncertain times. It goes beyond curiosity, to ask questions which open our imagination to make possible that which seems impossible. Being in wonderment, is being in a state of not knowing. Our minds are free and open to envision things we never thought possible. In a rapidly changing world where we need the capacity to innovate the next best thing to stay ahead of the curve, leaders who embody the quality of wonder will flourish. 

The challenge we face however, is growing up. With age comes responsibilities to be mature adults. Going to the other extreme, we put aside our childlike ability to dream and wonder about the world around us. As one of my clients expressed, “I’m so busy that I’ve become practical to just get things done. I don’t take time to dream and wonder what it would be like to do the impossible!” She recalled how adventurous she was in college. “I used to dream big dreams.” It led her to creating a business that disrupted an entire industry and made her a successful leader in her field. Now looking to move on, she was worn down. She wanted to rediscover the joy and wonder so she could hear what the world was calling her to do in the next chapter of her life.

Busyness, just getting things done and being practical are enemies to wonder, especially if they become the only way we live our lives. However, when we stop and reflect, notice the journey along the way and let ourselves feel the wonder and excitement of the world around us, we find that to grow up and act more adultlike is not always a good thing especially for leaders today. As Wayne Dyer, renowned self-development author and speaker said,

To be more childlike, you don’t have to give up being an adult. The fully integrated person is capable of being both an adult and a child simultaneously. Recapture the childlike feelings of wide-eyed excitement, spontaneous appreciation, cutting loose, and being full of awe and wonder at this magnificent universe.

In my book, Leadership’s Perfect Storm, I talk about the five Leadership Capabilities that are vital to lead in complex times where nothing is predictable: Big-picture thinking, Vision and Foresight, Intuitive Knowing, Innovation, Risk-taking. Each of these capabilities have an ingredient so necessary for leaders to embody –  being comfortable with “uncertainty.” And one of the most overlooked secret pathways to being comfortable with uncertainty is “wonder.”  

Here are ways to reignite wonder so it’s a larger part of your work and life.

Photo by Sergei Akulich from Pexels

“WALK IN BEAUTY”

Powerful yet simple, this practice has helped my clients to positively transform their companies and lives. It’s the simple act of walking slowly in nature, noticing something of beauty that draws you in; then receiving and appreciating the beauty of nature in your heart. This walking meditation quiets the mind, develops the intelligence of the heart (emotional intelligence), and opens the mind, heart and body to the state of wonder. Scientific studies done on the healing power of nature prove that spending time in nature lower levels of stress, puts us in a state of relaxation and makes us healthier, more resilient, happier and smarter. Exposure to nature can increase awe and wonder and bring a number of health benefits. In a 2015 study, researcher, Paul Piff of the University of California, Irvine said, “Experiences of awe attune people to things larger than themselves. They cause individuals to feel less entitled, less selfish, and to behave in more generous and helping ways.”

Photo by Tsuyuko Inouye

OPEN TO A BROADER VIEW

A big picture orientation allows us to get out of the details that can weigh us down so we can access the wonder that surround us. With busyness, though, stressful to-do lists often seem unmanageable. Our bodies get tight and tense and our muscles contract. Neuroscience has proven that in this contracted state, we emit cortisol. This hormone prevents us from accessing big-picture thinking, innovation and risk-taking – leadership capabilities needed to thrive in the 21st century. However, when we adjust our bodies from a contracted to an expanded state, we emit testosterone. This hormone allows us to access the leadership capabilities that cortisol shuts down. These simple yet powerful adjustments to our bodies allow us to access the leadership capabilities we need so we open to a broader view and more easily brings a sense of wonder into our work and our lives.  

Photo by Samantha Garrote from Pexels

LET GO AND BE OPEN TO RECEIVING

We like to be in control, to be certain of our destiny. It’s part of our basic human need for safety, love and belonging and self-esteem. As we grow into adulthood, we become less adventurous and willing to take chances. Yet, risk-taking is one of the leadership capabilities needed to lead in an uncertain world. Learning to let go in small ways can reap unexpected benefits. For example, on the other end of letting go is receiving, another overlooked leadership quality. When we openly receive whether it is people’s thoughts, ideas, help, praise or criticism, we let go of controlling it all. We give others the opportunity to share themselves with us in ways that express our trust in what they offer. Letting go and receiving is key for when we try to control it all, it’s hard to open up to the wonders of the world.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

GO WITH THE FLOW AND HAVE FUN

Going with the flow, we’re more open and present. It’s easier to embody wonder in the present moment.  We can see openings where opportunities await. Have you ever been detoured on your drive to work? Unfamiliar, you go with the flow. You notice things you’ve never seen before. In fact, a quaint store with the kind of beautiful rugs you’ve been looking for is right there, a block from your home!

When we go with the flow, it’s also easier to have fun. Research is proving that creating a culture of fun significantly increases trust, creativity and communication which leads to lower turnover, higher morale and a stronger bottom line. Flow and fun have many unexpected benefits. When we step out of our routines and explore different ways of meeting our outcomes, whether it be driving different routes to work or creatively brainstorming with our team in fun ways that ignite our hearts and bodies along with our minds, we spark wonder and more. Finding ways to bring them into our lives is essential to thrive as a leader in today’s world.

Photo by Nicolas Cool on Unsplash

DREAM WHAT’S “IMPOSSIBLE” FOR YOUR LIFE

Leaders have to have big dreams, big visions. You can’t expect people to believe in your dreams if you don’t believe that what you’re doing is bigger than yourself.”

Tony LoRe, CEO & Founder of Youth Mentoring Connection

When we go beyond simply setting goals, to dreaming big, we open to the state of wonderment. Goals tend to be practical, especially if they’re SMART. But dreaming what’s impossible for our lives is not being practical. It’s opening up to the wonders of the world, to our most hidden desires and passions.

Ask yourself:

  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  • What would I do if I didn’t care what others thought of me?

The answers to these questions can change your life. But don’t be too quick to answer. Instead, stay with the question. Be okay to not know. Do some of the suggested practices. Break old routines; replace them with new ones. Then see what unfolds.

Like skydiving, when you jump out of the plane, you’re never quite certain of what will unfold. Then something opens up – a parachute – an idea that can change your life and others forever. 

When we integrate the magic of wonder into our work and lives, we’re more comfortable with uncertainty, the ingredient needed to embody the five Leadership Capabilities to thrive as leaders in this century.

In being more comfortable with uncertainty, it becomes easier to welcome instead of fear what lies ahead and to be excited to see the wonder of our lives as if we’re seeing it for the first time.  

Sawubona!

Susan  Inouye

* Sawubona: A Zulu greeting meaning “I see you.”

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