Clearing the Space. How to Do Your Best Thinking.

One of the first tenets from the Neuro-leadership Group in my training as a Results Based Coach is to clear the space before starting any coaching session. It is clearing your prefrontal cortex so that you can prepare to do your best thinking. When I was working with a client this week she said, “Oh so it’s like Lakshmi-ing your brain.” So you might be asking who or what is Lakshmi? Well, apparently it is the Hindu goddess of wealth, love, prosperity and fortune. It is believed that you need to clear out the space and sweep before you can begin to bring wealth and prosperity in. Hmmm. Nice metaphor. Sweep out your brain before you start bringing in the innovative ideas.Clearing the Space

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that is in charge of executive function. This means that it’s the problem solving area. It brings all the current perceptions and past memories together to make decisions. The problem is that, especially in our technological environment of constant interruptions and distractions, we really don’t “make space” in our prefrontal cortex to do our best thinking; and often don’t even review anything before making a decision We are all on one giant squirrel hunt or chasing shiny objects and never focusing on our true path.

So here we go, my thoughts on how to clear the space:

1. Turn off. First of all, you need to turn everything off. This probably means you need to turn off or place your phone in another room in silent mode. The first squirrel that will interrupt your best thinking is a buzz, bell or other notification from your phone. You can live without your latest social media update for an hour. If you are on your computer, make sure all of your email and social media are shut down. I have a little piece of a post-it note to cover up the little envelope that shows up in Outlook indicating I have a new email.

2. Close the door. Make a space that is free from interruptions from the outside (or inside) world. I close my door so that my dog, or my husband or the noise from the stereo in the other room are out of my space. When I work with clients in person, we sit in a room at a table and the door is closed. The only thing in the room besides paper and pen is a clock so that I know what time it is. Physically create the space to think, that is private.

3. Breathe. I recently learned something called 4-7-8 breathing by Dr. Weil. Basically, you breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts and exhale for 8 counts. You do this cycle for 4 times. It might take 3 minutes and more likely less time. But doing so really is relaxing and centering. Focus on the breathing, and for me, this comes naturally because I am counting in my head and noticing what is going on in my body. I’m sure there are other breathing exercises out there or you may already have a practice that you use in meditation or yoga. Use what you have or give one of them a shot or try this one. The point is to relax, be present and be centered.

4. One word. When I coach clients, we each disclose one word that encapsulates what is in the “background” for them. This could be the “boss”, “reviews”, “wedding”, “bills” or “graduation”. We then metaphorically place that word on the table or floor or chair or garbage can, so that, if we want to, we can pick up that item at the end of the coaching session. This removes whatever concern, issue or event that might be rattling around in your prefrontal cortex. It physically removes it, so that we can start doing our best work.

5. Basics. I always make sure that I have a glass of water, paper and pen when I am coaching or being coached. When I do a lot of talking, I want to make sure I can replenish. I want to be able to take notes as well. It’s the same if you are trying to work out the logistics of a problem or writing an essay. Make sure you have the essentials so that once you have cleared the space, you are ready to go. When I write, I only have my word processing program open. Make sure you have the basics before you start your best thinking, and make sure you’ve set yourself up for success

Now you are ready to do your best thinking. Your prefrontal cortex is ready to go. It’s like a clean, well swept stage ready for Hamlet’s soliloquy to stand in the center and deliver each beautifully spoken line to the balcony. How do you clear the space?

Falling on the Sword

I was recently at a Peer-to-Peer Human Resource group at Elinvar in Raleigh, NC.  They had an interesting speaker, Santo Costa, Esq., who spoke to the group about workplace integrity.  The surprising observation he made was that integrity in an organization can be determined by how a manager handles mistakes.  He brought up the example of General McChrystal  stepping down after comments some of his staff made to a New York Times reporter and contrasted that with Janet Reno saying she was “taking full responsibility” for the Waco Siege but went back to her office and kept her job.  I think any political example can be fraught with misinformation (press versus one party versus another party) but it does illustrate that the person who takes the bullet for his staff can dictate the culture of the organization.

Fall on the Sword
Fall on the Sword

In most organizations that I have worked in, if the leader isn’t willing to take the heat for his direct reports mistakes, there is inevitably a lack of trust.  If the leader is constantly throwing their reports under the bus for every error and misstep, it will be a culture of CYA squared (covering your butt).  If you want to build a culture of trust and integrity in work or your life, you’ll need to fall on the sword whether it’s for a direct report or your child or your spouse.

Here are some ideas on how to boost your integrity:

1. Consistent. Show up in your relationships in a consistent manner.  The ability to control one’s emotions is a basic tenet of Emotion Intelligence.  Being a hot head or moody, can put people in your life on edge.  “Hmmm.  I wonder if Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is showing up for this budget meeting?”  Working towards authenticity involves people’s expectations being met in that they can be confident that you won’t overreact or fall off the deep end.  They know what to expect when you interact with them. Consistency is important to building trust.

2.  Humility.  Being humble in front of the team is important.  No one likes working for the leader who is constantly tooting their own horn.  The leader who does so is much less approachable. The humble leader makes sure their entire team gets credit for the project and makes sure the organization knows it. The humble leader is not trying to build their resume.  They are building everyone else’s resume.

3. Rationale.  Sharing the rationale with the folks around you builds integrity.  If you are looking at new software to make the transaction process easier, make sure the folks that will be impacted by the new software, understand the rationale.  There won’t be any buy-in if you don’t communicate the rationale.  More likely, there will be dissent and mistrust and folks might try to thwart the process.  Share the rationale.

4. Punches.  Don’t pull punches.  If there is bad news, craft the message and deliver it.  Don’t drag your feet.  Having information in limbo causes everyone to be in limbo.  The gossip mill will certainly get a tidbit of information and turn it into catastrophic conclusions in the blink of an eye.  Grab the tiger by the tail before it gets loose.  Don’t pull punches.

5. Private.  When someone makes a mistake, talk to them in private.  Figure out what went wrong; maintain their self esteem and move on to some solutions.  Don’t call someone on the carpet in front of the team.  The best practice for a leader is to critique in private.

6. Public.  When someone or the team gets something right, celebrate in public.  It’s so important to identify milestones in a project or when you finally attain the millionth customer that you celebrate.  Let everyone bath in the glory.  They will seek more of it. Others will want to be on your team.  Make sure you celebrate success in public.

7. Monkeys.  Once you have delegated a monkey (a task or project), don’t take the monkey back.  If you have assigned a monkey and the person has gotten off to a rocky start; don’t take the monkey back.  You want to check in on the monkey (make sure it’s being fed and scratched), just don’t take it back.  If people are unsure if they will keep the monkey they are much more likely to fail.  Keep the monkeys where they belong.

Building trust and creating an authentic relationship is a long process.  This cannot be created overnight.  Take responsibility for those that work for and with you.  There are times when you will need to fall on the sword but your team will be there to support you and you will create a culture of integrity.