Do You “Run Toward the Roar”?

roar, face fearsWhen was the last time you got out of your “comfort zone”? Here’s a story, from storyteller Michael Meade, about the fact that seeking safety might be costing you something:

On the ancient savannas life pours forth in the form of teeming, feeding herds. Nearby, lions wait in anticipation of the hunt. They send the oldest and weakest member of the pride away from the hunting pack.

Having lost most of its teeth, ITS ROAR IS FAR GREATER THAN ITS ABILITY TO BITE.
The old one goes off and settles in the grass across from where the hungry lions wait.

As the herds enter the area between the hunting pack and the old lion, the old lion begins to roar mightily. Upon hearing the fearful roar most of the herd turn and flee from the source of the fear.

They run wildly in the opposite direction. Of course, they run right to where the strongest lions of the group wait in the tall grass for dinner to arrive.

“RUN TOWARDS THE ROAR,” the old people used to tell the young ones.

When faced with great danger run towards the roaring, for there you will find some safety and a way through.

Sometimes the greatest safety comes from going to where the fear seems to originate. Amidst the roaring of the threatened and troubled world, surprising ways to begin it all again may wait to be found.

Michael Meade, Excerpted from his book, The World Behind the World

What you can take away from this story:

1. Running towards what appears “safe” can be deceiving and lead to its own kind of trouble.
2. Run towards what scares you.

Look for those situations and circumstances that scare the crap out of you. You will never know your true talents and gifts if you don’t face what you fear to test yourself.

3. Things almost always seem worse in your head than they turn out to be.

Once you identify those fears, move beyond your comfort zone to face them. What you originally feared could end up being an elderly, toothless lion that can’t hurt you and is only a distraction.

4. By facing your fears, you find out what you can truly do and what’s possible.

And with each successive time you venture out toward a “scary” adventure, you’ll find that you are safe and capable. At the worst, you might fail but you’ll find out where you stand and what you have to learn. Then, at least you can figure out a way through to what you want.

And in all likelihood, you’ll live to venture out another day.

Which current “roar” are you avoiding? How might you test it to see if it really has teeth?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leaders they are meant to be while maximizing the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Learning from Challenges: Harvesting Lessons from the Underworld

underworld, initiation, self-awarenessInitiations are cycles of physical or psychological separation, ordeal, and return that we encounter throughout our lives. When we fully integrate the lessons from these experiences, we develop as people and leaders. (See a previous article on initiations) However, if during or upon returning from an initiation cycle, you fail to reflect on the ordeal, you are likely to repeat similar fact patterns with similar people. As a leader, it’s imperative that you learn from these initiatory cycles to become the best person/ leader you can be.

In the story of Persephone’s abduction into the Underworld, she starts the story as a young maiden, known as Kore/Persephone (Kore meaning “young girl”). During her time in the Underworld while separated from her mother Demeter, she knows that if she eats anything there, she will be stuck in the Underworld for eternity. She refused to eat anything while she’s there until Hermes brokers her release. It’s not until she knows she’s going back to her mother that she eats a few pomegranate seeds.

When she sets foot back on earth, the world bursts into bloom, and from there on, Persephone is known as the Queen of the Underworld (no longer Kore). Additionally, Homer wrote that Hecate, known for her wisdom, walked before and after her. This can be interpreted to mean that Persephone had wisdom upon her return that she hadn’t had before her abduction/descent.

Upon her return, Persephone admits to Demeter that she did indeed eat a few pomegranate seeds. This ties her to the Underworld for eternity. Thereafter, she must return for a few months each year.

Self-Awareness from Initiations

Like Persephone, when you return from an underworld initiation, you will have ingested and digested “seeds” of new learning and realization that tie you to the experience. With new insights and wisdom from the experience, you can incorporate that wisdom to become a renewed and better leader.

For each initiatory experience, you can choose to accept, ingest, and digest these “seeds” of insight and wisdom to further your return/reintegration from the circumstance by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What role did I play in that situation?
  • How did I contribute to the difficulty?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • What was that situation trying to tell me about myself?
  • What is the opportunity for me now?
  • What can I practice or do differently when similar situations happen?

There will be more challenges ahead, more initiations, as if each were designed to help you grow as a leader. But if you don’t take time to reflect on the “seeds” you can take away from each initiatory experience, you may stay stuck in the underworld, repeating the same unpleasant pattern.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Learning from Challenges: Initiation as a Leadership Tool

self-awareness, intitiationHave you worked for companies with similar undesirable corporate cultures? Have you tended to work with the same type of people who have characteristics that drive you crazy? It might be time to look at these patterns more closely to learn more about yourself. Timeless principles as highlighted in ancient mythologies can help put your experiences into a larger psychological and cosmological context. Doing so, allows you to make sense of your personal experiences and patterns and further your development as a leader.

The Abduction of Persephone

One timeless principle or idea is Underworld initiation. For the ancient Greeks, the Underworld was the domain of the god Hades, who ruled over the souls of the dead. In 6th grade, you probably heard the story of Hades abducting the youthful maiden, Persephone, causing her mother goddess Demeter to stop the plants from growing. Persephone remained with Hades in the Underworld until the god Hermes brokered a deal for her return. But before she left to go back to her mother, Persephone ate a few pomegranate seeds. This meant she had to return to the Underworld from then on for a few months of each year. This accounted for the reason for the seasons.

The psychological interpretation of Persephone’s experience in the Underworld by Carl Jung and others gives a broad framework to use as a leadership self-reflection tool: initiation.

You might think of initiation as a ceremony that marks entrance into a life stage or a group, like baptism or joining a sorority. However, you go through many initiations throughout your life, large and small, whether or not you celebrate them. In fact, you undergo psychological initiations throughout your life during challenging or difficult incidents and new life phases that test or stretch your limits.

Phases of Initiation

As with the ceremonial initiations you celebrate, these psychological “underworld” initiations have 3 main phases: departure, ordeal, and return/reintegration. During departure, you either willingly or unwillingly find yourself in a situation where you experience a change in yourself or your circumstances. Next, you go through an “ordeal” within this new situation that differs from what has been “normal” for you thus far. The ordeal can be anywhere from mildly irritating to downright awful. Eventually, things return to normal or get “better”, giving you the opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been, reintegrate yourself using lessons from the “ordeal”.

As an example, you may have worked with someone who was challenging. Your interactions with this challenging person represent a separation from what you usually experience (getting along with most people) and an entrance into a different “world” (of bad relationship). Next, with this challenging person, there is probably at least one aspect that makes the relationship hard, or an ordeal, so your usual ways of relating don’t work. You might feel frustrated or irritated or some other negative emotion while in the ordeal. At some point, the ordeal of this relationship ends, and you return to a more “normal” circumstance, whether or not that person remains part of your experience.

The beauty of these “underworld” initiations is that they offer you an opportunity for self-reflection. Through this opportunity, you can examine and learn more about yourself, and use that to decide who you really want to be as a leader.

What recent or notable “initiations” have you experienced? Read a related article for ways to gain insights from such experiences.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Leadership Development: Using Your Fate as a Clue to Your Destiny

impactYou encounter leadership problems or challenges all the time. Did you ever notice that they end up being the exact circumstances you need in order to evolve as a person and a leader? You may have issues with people who don’t respond to you as you’d like. You might experience frustrations with initiatives that don’t go as planned. Whenever there is a “rub” that bothers you, it often shows you something about yourself now and who you can become. It is as though these leadership challenges are put in your path as part of your fate.

Fate: Past and Present

In Ancient Greece, the well-known mythology of the Three Fates explained why life unfolded as it did. Lachesis was the Fate who drew the lots, giving each person certain characteristics and conditions along with a plot line for their life. Clotho spun the thread of each person’s life into the larger tapestry of time, giving each human a “twist of fate”. And Atropos decided how each human life would end and presided at the finish to cut the thread of life.

Today, we often use the terms “fate” and “destiny” interchangeably, but these terms can be thought of as two different things. According to mythologist and storyteller, Michael Meade, “fate” is all of the limitations and challenges we encounter throughout our lives (conditions along the path); while “destiny” is our purpose or the ultimate contribution we make to the world (the destination).

Using Your Fate to Achieve Your Destiny

This distinction is key. Reflecting on your fate allows you to examine your past experience (your fate thus far) to maximize the impact you can have now while increasing your potential for achieving your destiny or potential.

So, if you find yourself repeatedly encountering the same frustrating situations, you could think of the irritation as your “fate” poking you to take a look at things more closely. Maybe there are characteristics you could change or evolve further. Maybe there are new ways of thinking that could emerge from those particular circumstances. Often in leadership, we are asked to reflect by looking inward to question our approach, to throw off old patterns, and to step into new learning that will better serve us and those around us.

When reflecting on your “fate” to date, look back on your experiences thus far and take notice of the following:

  • People who were hugely influential to you;
  • People who showed up randomly or “out of the blue” to provide guidance or assistance;
  • Odd or surprising twists that put you in certain places or positions;
  • Odd events that might not even make sense yet;
  • Themes that keep coming up (whether or not you’ve figured out what to do with them yet); and
  • Situations that, at the time, seemed negative, but that turned out best in the long run.

As you look backward, what sense can you make of any of it? What clues does this emerging story provide for where you might go next? What kind of support or new learning would benefit you as you forge ahead?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders who want to enhance their leadership abilities to drive bottom-line results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Leadership Development: What’s Your Destiny?

confidence, destinyAs you look at your own leadership development, have you ever had an inkling of where your life might take you? If so, you could say you had an insight to your destiny. It might sound far-fetched to some, but to others, there is an unexplainable “knowing” that helps us make sense of the world and to see where we might be heading in it.

Destiny in Mythology

In the Jewish mythological tradition, the Angel of Conception, Lailah, implanted each tiny soul in its mother’s womb. By the light of a candle, Lailah showed the incubating soul a preview of its unique role in life and what adventures awaited it in the world. Just before birth, Lailah blew out the candle. And as the newborn emerged from the womb, Lailah placed her finger on the baby’s lips. This caused the child to forget everything it learned of its life in the candle-lit womb, sealing the child’s lips shut. Thus, the story goes, your philtrum (the indentation running from the bottom of the nose to the middle of the upper lip) signifies the place where Lailah “shushed” you with her finger, causing you to forget the everything you had seen in utero as you came into the world.

Similarly in modern times, Carl Jung espoused the idea of the “collective unconscious”. This is a universal “soul” that includes inherited, pre-existing, unconscious instincts and archetypes that are shared by all humans. As with the myth about Lailah, Jung taught that we are all born with a forgotten knowing about our lives and the world at large.

The “fun” of all of this is to discover what we will become. After all, achieving your destiny wouldn’t be challenging if you knew exactly what it was. This is true of who you are becoming as a leader, too.

Fate Versus Destiny

Often the terms “fate” and “destiny” are used interchangeably, but you can think of them as two different aspects of your unfolding life. “Fate” defines the context and all of the constraints you operate under during your life. This include your family, your physical appearance and capabilities, the time period in which you live, where you live, the beliefs you acquire, your personality traits, etc. In contrast, “destiny” is the destination of your life. Think of it as your purpose or the ultimate contribution you are capable of making to the world. You have and will continue to experience the twists and turns of your fate along the way. But it remains to be seen whether you will achieve your ultimate destiny.

No matter where your destiny lies, the fateful experiences you have as a leader provide a fertile ground for learning what you need to know to achieve your destiny. The problem is, you must feel your way along, never really certain where everything will end up. As Michael Meade writes in his book, The Genius Myth, “Life must be lived forward but can only be understood by looking backward.” That is, every person, every encounter, every setback, and every success is part of your “becoming”. They point toward your destiny.

This is important because viewing your leadership trajectory in light of your history, helps make sense of who you are becoming as a leader. And knowing this, you can step more fully into the leader you’re meant to become.
Where does your destiny lie? Is your destiny directly related to your career? Or does it lie in another aspect of your life? Is your leadership role simply a twist of fate on the way to something else? Or is it your destiny?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders who want to enhance their leadership abilities to drive bottom-line results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Scale Your Own Leadership “Dawn Walls”

I don’t know if it’s possible; I’m just going to keep working on it. — Tommy Caldwell,  El Capitan Dawn Wall Climber

In recent weeks, I marveled at the tenacity and audacity of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they free-climbed the Dawn Wall of El Capitan, following their 3-week, 3000-foot climb up the mountain’s sheer granite face.  What we didn’t see was the behind the scenes hard work that made the end result possible: the 7 years of planning, the obstacles identified and analyzed, the attempts to climb daunting patches of the wall over and over again. Imagine the focus and attention Caldwell and Jorgeson had to use each second of the climb!

To me, this Dawn Wall climb serves as a larger than life reminder of the approach to take when confronting personal and professional challenges – small and large.

Most of us go to work each day, subconsciously replicating the same experiences for ourselves and our employees without really being present and using the conscious attention and focus that could take things to another level.  The Caldwell/Jorgeson climb serves as a reminder of the conscious reflection, planning and attention required to become great at anything, including leadership.

Here’s how we can scale the Dawn Wall of our own leadership, using experiences to evolve ourselves with each challenge that presents itself to us:

  • Reflect on where you’ve been and how far you’ve come along as a leader.  No matter where you are as a leader, if you look back on your development, are you making progress toward a better version of your leader-self? As with Caldwell and Jorgeson, how well have you planned and executed your development? What obstacles, challenges, and setbacks have you run into? What did you do to overcome or adjust in response? Did you have to back-track and find a new way to get where you are now? In what ways have you become clearer about your leadership style and capacities? How has your perspective changed regarding what leadership is for you?
  • Identify your next challenge (aka “Dawn Wall”).  There is always a challenge to overcome, whether it’s a new market to explore, a new alliance to form, a new way of interfacing with direct reports, or a new definition of your work as you enter a different phase of your career or life.  These challenges provide the impetus for making changes in the way you lead and relate to others. What’s the challenge in front of you now that you will commit to take on?
  • Identify new capacities you need to be able to scale this newest challenge. Often, we are more concerned with the new capacities employees need for business endeavors to be successful, and we forget that each new challenge will require us as leaders to raise our competencies as well. Failing to grow along with a challenge is usually an invitation to be passed up and passed over as change occurs around us.  Constantly evolving into a better and better version of you not only keeps you relevant and competitive, but it makes you personally more adaptable and capable and more valuable because of that.  Think of the challenges that come your way as tailor-made growth opportunities. 

These growth opportunities may come in the form of eliminating behaviors and/or beliefs that are no longer serving you, capitalizing on an existing strength and taking it to a new level, or developing a new skill, like the ability influence others who don’t report to you. Whatever your current challenge is asking of you, whatever your potential areas for growth are, be open to them. You’ll evolve while serving as a role model for the importance of on-going personal and professional growth.

  • Create your professional development plan. Yes, you need a professional development plan, too. And as with other employees, it’s really effective if it’s strategically tied in some way to your organization’s strategic goals and those current challenges.  What new experiences do you need to grow? What existing strengths can you build on? What knowledge and skills do you need to gain? What attitudes do you need to change or let go of?  And what’s the action plan to accomplish the areas for growth you’ve identified?

Whichever challenge comes your way, working on it can pay off big for your business and evolve your leadership capacity.  You’ll be better than you were before and ready for the next challenge.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the advisor for senior leaders who seek to evolve their leadership capacity by solving current business challenges for better productivity and profitability. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: bethstrathman.com.