Jonathan's Blog

Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


Leadership 7 Habits Negativity Bias Positivity Bias Mindfulness

Mindfulness, Leadership, and Business - 7 Lessons from the First Year of Using My Brain Differently

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I've been meditating and using focused attention training techniques for all of 2017 and a little more than 1 year in total. So, I decided to reflect back on how that year has gone, what I've got out of the practice, and what I've learned so far.

I describe my journey in the steps below. I hope it will be valuable to others who might be considering meditation. While I'm focused on business leadership in particular, I hope my list will be useful to anyone in terms of what you can get out of meditation. In particular I'm talking about the question: How can meditation help you? It's a personal activity, but here, described in detail, is how it helped it me.

Why does that matter? Well it matters because I often see 'improved focus' or 'stress reduction' as benefits. So, then how - exactly how - does that work? My answers are below.

As a leader I feel it's important for me to frame this in one more way. As a leader you deal with stressful situations at work. Most of us can handle these types of situations, if you couldn't handle them you wouldn't be a leader or manager very long. But after 10 years in management in several different organizations, I was unhappy with my stress management techniques and wanted something better.

So I decided to try mindfulness and it has had a big impact on me in one year. I recommend it.

Without further ado, here are the ways in which I feel meditation has helped me this year. These go in roughly chronological order as they happened during the year:

  1. Almost immediately I began to be able to see an emotional reaction coming and to distance myself from it, if only slightly. This was imperfect (it didn't work all the time) but it was consistent enough to be noticable, and it has improved in consistency over time.
  2. By being aware of my reaction I began to see that I was making a situation more about me than was really necessary. Is this person upset? Well, yes, but they're really just looking for help and I know how to help them. By focusing my thinking in this way I could get even more distance and be more effective in high-stress situations by focusing clearly on the problem.
  3. Understanding the connection to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book is an important tool and framework I've used in my career long before I started to practice meditation. The foundation of the Seven Habits is to be proactive. There's a lot more on this topic in this blog post, but suffice it to say, I see meditation as a useful tool to understand your responses to events and improve your ability to be proactive (and not reactive) in response. Meditation allows you an ability to practice this awareness in an offstage way. This is an extension of 1 and 2 to some extent, but for me it is a useful extension that places my practice in a broader context. It's also a useful way in talking about this topic with colleagues.
  4. In Andrew's class I learned about Negativity Bias - this helped me understand some of the why behind the reactions that I was having. It isn't that I'm a pessimist. My brain is built to identify negative (and potentially negative) situations. This is an evolutionary adaptation which served early man well, and kept them from being eaten by bears, but it needs to have some regulation to be useful to a modern person. It is very helpful to be aware of this fact and no when Negatiiy Bias is in play.
  5. I began to be able to predict some of the time when I was headed into a situation that might produce an emotional response. This allowed me a little bit of forethought on how I would handle this situation and the possible stress responses I might have.
  6. Working on Positivity Bias. By reading Hardwiring Happiness I was able to not only identify Negativity Bias but to actually work toward adding Positivity Bias. This is achieved by focusing on positive experiences and success and more fully integrating them into our conscious and subconscious minds.
  7. The Waste of Worry. I know that people trust a worrier - someone who is obviously aware of possible future implications is often considered more trustworthy than a person who seems unaware, even if their lack of awareness makes them confident. This is useful up to a point, but also puts a wasteful burden of stress on people worrying about things more than is necessary.

As it relates to number 7, I don't have a final resolution to perfect balance. I can counteract some of the stress from it and help others to do so, but it is useful sometimes. As I work on it I hope to integrate it both for myself and help my team. I want to balance the necessary concern and planning that is crucial to individual, business, and societal success with more tools to keep that in its proper place.

After a year of meditating, I feel that mindfulness practice has helped me to manage stress better than I could without it. But stress reduction has been achieved through the advancements listed above, not on it's own as a separate outcome.

Here's hoping that 2018 will be a great year with further refinement and improvement of the abilities listed above and new discoveries as well.

Photo above by Scott Webb on Unsplash.


Leadership Mindfulness

Brain is Body, Leader is Team - How are you connected to the group that you lead?

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The brain is part of the body, the leader is part of the team.

The brain is not more important than the stomach. Without a stomach the body will also die, it just takes longer. Same for lungs, heart, neck, mouth, intestines, liver, and other important organs.

A leader isn’t more important than the other parts of the team, but she can and should have a big impact – on morale, on direction, on career path for other team members.

Are you the brain? What impact are you making today?


Mindfulness Leadership

The Head and the Heart Working Together - Emotion is Information

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Emotions are information. Through emotion our body tells us things (often important things) and upon which our brain is trained to react.

This system developed as an evolutionary adaptation - fear of being eaten by a bear produces a fight/flight/freeze reaction.

Today this system gets invoked for reasons that often don't have anything to do with why we evolved the system in the first place, and it is therefore an imperfect system.

We can pay attention to this in ourselves. Understanding that we are having an angry reaction is meaningful - perhaps we should be angry. We also may be reacting to one thing (work) and taking it out some place else (home). This is less healthy.

Choosing these reactions and managing them are part of being an adult. It isn't easy. I've found Focused Attention Training and meditation to be effective ways to understand these streams of information and work on managing them in an offstage way.

This can help you later on when you have to manage them onstage.

You can also understand people by looking at their emotional reactions, though again, this is an imperfect system.

A person may display anger for a number of reasons:

  1. Frustration
  2. Pain (physical or emoational)
  3. Exhaustion

All of these are examples of the brain doing the best it can to handle a situation.

What is happening inside that person you can't tell without talking to them or knowing them very well.

What you do know is that anger is a strong emotional response driven by something that is bothering them. It's an indicator that this person may need help and you should approach it from that direction.

It's also possible that anger is being used to manipulate or negotiate. This is also information.

Here's another good blog post on this topic: post.



Detecting Lies

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As a leader, people are going to lie to you occasionally. Even if it is simple lies of omission.

Here is a video from Dr. Romie about some signs that someone might be lying to you:

This is a good video, probably worth watching, but let me summarize it for you. How do you know when someone is lying?

  1. Use of negatives - A person who is lying about calling you back might say, "My phone is so stupid!", "I hate my cell phone provider!"
  2. Use of complex stories and run-on sentences - A person who is lying will tend to provide a more complex explanation, "I had a flat tire and then my boss called and then I ran into an old friend and couldn't get away."
  3. Use of third person - A lying person may avoid talking about themselves and their emotions.

I think as a leader you have to be aware that people are going to lie to you and hide the truth from you sometimes. There can be a lot of different reasons for this.

The big question for you is: what are you going to do about it?


Creativity Leadership Innovation

Creativity, A Theme

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I've recently been talking with my son about all the ways in the world there are to be creative. This stems from some rivalry with his brother and his feeling that his brother is somehow more creative than him.

He's 10.

So, I guess it is good to have these conversations now. I had similar conversations with my father a few years back about the ways in which he was creative in his career. His own feeling was that somehow he wasn't creative because he wasn't painting or writing or poetry or something in the fine arts. This is in spite loaning money to business throughout the community and fighting for what he believed was the right way to do this. And he was very successful at it.

That's very different than what I do, but it's still a creative endeavor. It helped a lot of people build a lot of businesses. It's probably more creative than what I do.

We had these conversations after he was retired.

We probably all have days where we don't feel creative enough. It's possible that what you do is not creative in the same way as others and not creative in the same way as some Big-C Creative endeavor. If you're worried about it you might reconsider who you're comparing yourself to. It might be more creative to look at the world and look at the ways you're having an impact, whether you're inspired that day or not.

The truth is my son is pretty creative in his own ways, and I do my best to reassure him of this (as I did my father). It's interesting that it is something that he feels strongly about at a young age - that's good and its a place to build from.


Leadership Learning Interview

Learning, Like Falling in Love

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I used to ask an interview question about what analogy someone would use to describe their relationship to learning new things. I had a couple of examples (drinking a glass of water, winning the lottery) and then I would turn them loose.

I always considered this an interesting question because I was trying to understand what their relationship was to learning new things and I was trying to set expectations in the interview process about what was expected. In this case it was, "I hope you like learning new things, because that is a big part of the job here."

Anyway, I got a lot of "it's like travel to a foreign country" or "it's like climbing a mountain." All of which had some element of both process and destination, and I always considered these to be pretty good answers.

Until one day when I got the title of this blog:

"Learning something new is like falling in love."

How remarkable that was - it was ALL process and no destination, and yet who can argue with the process of falling in love? You're compelled by the very nature of the thing to want more of it, wherever it may take you.

This was a fine answer. It was, in fact, the best and only answer. I stopped asking the question because I couldn't help comparing every other answer to it.

Interviewing can be stressful, much more so for the candidate than the interviewer of course, but to do a good job you have to prepare on both sides.

Here is what makes it all worth while though - whether you get the job or not - in the interaction the opportunity to answer a question and offer insight. It's worth thinking about in any interaction of course, but in a job interview something to definitely seek out.

What if there was no opportunity to offer insight? Would you still want the job?

What if you offered the insight and still didn't get the position? What does that tell you?