Leadership

All posts tagged Leadership

Winter Break Edition – Week 2

Published December 29, 2014 by Mayrbear's Lair

Week 2 Monday

Leveraging Resources

 (Blog Repost from March 18, 2013)

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Entrepreneurs are the headmasters of their organizations and the taskmasters that seek funding for their businesses, whether for initial start-up, to continue operations or to expand. While changes in banking have altered the financial landscape and closed a few doors to funding opportunities, innovative ideas have opened the doors to others. USA Today’s Small Business Columnist, Steven Strauss (2011) explains two kinds of financing: (a) debt financing; and (b) equity financing. Debt financing requires the entrepreneur take on debt to finance the business, whereas equity financing entails bartering or selling a portion of the venture in exchange for cash that does not have to be paid back (Strauss S. , 2011).

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CORPORATE MISCONDUCT

Published December 12, 2014 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Images of crime in the US reveal an increase of illegal activity from business executives. According to Simpson (2002) business misconduct is not a new social problem. Illicit drugs and violence, for example, have been an issue of concern for business leaders and policymakers for a while now. Historically criminals involved with drugs and violence were believed to have been contained within certain populations of criminal ethnic groups and immigrants. In other words, society was under the impression that crime was only confined to the constitutionally inferior and morally lax (Simpson, 2002).  However, with the expansion of the newly emerging capitalist society and its large institutions, the environment was becoming fertile for corporate criminals.

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Illegal corporate conduct is considered a form of white collar crime that is committed by persons of respectability and high social status. Some people refer to it as a crime of the rich and affluent. Cavender and Cullen (2006) postulate that it can include such infractions as (a) crimes by politicians; (b) crimes by professionals like accountants, physicians, and attorneys; (c) cheating on taxes; (d) theft or embezzlement; and (e) crimes committed by corporate organizations themselves (Cavender & Cullen, 2006). The topic of this discussion asks us to consider which presents the greatest threat to civil society: a corporation that commits crimes or a person who commits crimes that harm businesses. On the one hand, a corporation that commits a crime can create a wide range of contamination that spans across the globe.

Take for example, a multinational corporation (MNC) that markets a defective product, or worse a deadly one (like the tobacco companies that hid the harmful effects of their products). In other words, when a corporation commits a crime, millions of people may be at risk on a global level. A crime that is committed by an individual, however, who causes harm to a business, such as when a physician defrauds the government by billing for false medical payments, will have different consequences that influences a smaller region. For example, it could result with the physician’s termination and loss of that practitioner’s medical license or worst case scenario the dissolution of the medical facility and the employees. So in this instance, just the physician or facility could be affected because it does not have the same influence on a global level. However, in the long run, it may affect the policies that physicians follow if reforms are introduced to prevent physicians from further engaging in this form of criminal conduct.

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Individuals that engage in criminal activity, even though they believe they outsmarted the system and got away with a criminal act, are always focused on not getting caught. It takes a considerable amount of energy to  maintain an illusion, and as soon as they become relaxed, they get sloppy and eventually the truth surfaces. Seaquist (2012) defines criminal law as the branch of law that is focused on punishing illegal acts that are deemed harmful to others and society at large (Seaquist, 2012). In some situations, it can be difficult to discern which form of crime presents more of a civil threat because there are many facets to consider. For example, as I pointed out, a corporation, especially an MNC, has a great influence on a global scale.

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A franchise like McDonalds for instance, post signs warning patrons that their food products contain chemicals that contribute to life threatening diseases like obesity, diabetes, arteriosclerosis and other debilitating illnesses that affect millions worldwide. Prior to this, the firm actively promoted discounted fast food items which were inferior products to make huge profits by using clever marketing strategies like Ronald McDonald to appeal to innocent youngsters offering toys and other tactics to entice consumers. However, advances in science have helped educate a wider audience and with communication technology, individuals are empowered now and can make an impact on global scale by pointing out these harmful practices in order to affect positive changes in the way business is conducted.  In other words, a whole new world is emerging and those who seek to establish and commit to an ethical culture, are the ones who will help lead society to a better, healthier future.

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Well, that wraps up our organizational management blog posts for this year. Our team will be taking some time off to honor and celebrate the winter holidays. Now that Mayr has joined the talented team at the College of Southern Nevada’s (CSN) Performing Arts Center (PAC) as the Publications Writer, she will not only return with all new posts on organizational management in the new year, she will also introduce a new blog series for the PAC, so stay tuned! In the meantime, keep a lookout for some upcoming holiday giveaways by Media Magic!

In closing, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone that has been a part of this journey with us. We sincerely wish you and your loved ones a very happy and healthy holiday season! See you next year!

Until then … stay organized!

HappyHolidaysBanner oil

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Sharing the holiday with other people, and feeling that you’re giving of yourself, gets you past all the commercialism. – Caroline Kennedy

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organizational management business skills publications nov 2014

For more information on Media Magic’s digital publications, or to purchase any of our Business Life titles, please visit amazon.com’s new feature called “Author Central” to view:

Mayr’s author page

References:

Cavender, G., & Cullen, F. (2006). Corporate crime under attack (2nd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing.

Seaquist, G. (2012). Business law for managers. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Simpson, S. (2002). Corporate crime, law, and social control. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Failure Management

Published September 5, 2014 by Mayrbear's Lair

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One thing we are not prepared for in life, nor is this topic generally taught in most academic institutions, is how to deal with failure. Maxwell (2000) points out that people in school are trained for success and as a result, most of us have an unrealistic perception of what failure looks like, let alone how to deal with it. The truth is, we should also receive training for failure as this a far more common occurrence (Maxwell, 2000). In fact, taking into consideration that 1% of the population holds all the wealth, we can say that poverty is more prevalent than wealth and disappointment transpires far more often than not. Just ask all the teams that did not make it to the Super Bowl or any of the athletes that have ever competed at the Olympic Games who did not walk away with a medal. Given these statistics, it makes sense that the odds are in favor of our failing more often than not. When you think about it, that’s a pretty grim perspective. However, acknowledging this element can be helpful to leaders in a business arena. For instance, one survey from professionals that help companies in trouble, pointed out that components like inadequate leadership and poor planning are two of many reasons why some companies fail. This is valuable information that can help key decision makers create more effective strategies.

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To address the first reason for business failures – the inadequate leadership factor, key decision makers must first understand what the magical component is that makes one person stand out from others. In other words, to address poor leadership issues, one must first comprehend the components that differentiate an average person from a top performer. Coulter (2010) points out, for instance, that effective leaders develop strategies that will: (a) move the company forward, (b) maintain the company’s position in the marketplace, or (c) reverse an organization’s shortcomings to lead them to successful outcomes (Coulter, 2010).

But why are some leaders effective while others fall short? Celebrated soccer player Kyle Rote is quoted to have said that there are many roads to success, but that the path to failure is a person’s inability to look beyond those failures. In other words, the difference between an average performer and a top performer is how they perceive failure in addition to how they deal with it. For example, a person that has the ability to learn from their failures is more likely to achieve successful outcomes, than one who allows failure to deter them from moving forward or making another attempt.

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A leader that is a high achiever tends to view negative outcomes differently. This is the kind of leader that will approach a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than blame mistakes on someone or something else. A leader that blames others is missing an important opportunity to discover a new strategy and is more likely to repeat their mistakes. In addition, an inadequate leader most likely does not expect to fail again, once they resolve an issue. As a result, if and when it occurs again they are not prepared. Therefore, a strategy for company owners and shareholders would be to recruit top performers in leadership positions that possess some of following characteristics: (a) individuals that take responsibility for errors and shortcomings rather than blaming it elsewhere, (b) they learn from their mistakes, (c) they understand that failure is part of the process that leads to progress, (d) they challenge outdated assumptions, (e) they are not afraid of risks, and most important, (f) they persevere (Maxwell, 2000). These components can help key decision makers engage in better leadership choices to reduce chances of errors that can occur from inadequate leadership issues.

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Another reason why businesses fail is because of poor planning. However, upon closer examination, we will also discover that businesses do not only fail because of poor planning, failure also occurs because the plans were not executed to their fullest potential. Carroll and Mui (2008) revealed, for instance, that corporate America has spent hundreds of billions of dollars producing epic business failures. In fact, many executives in top management positions cringe at the word failure. As a result they rarely learn from failed outcomes and in most cases, focus the blame elsewhere. Take for example the mortgage and loan crisis of 2008 that repeated earlier financial crises. This is a strong indicator that business institutions continue to repeat the same or similar errors. The statistics are quite sobering in fact because they reveal that since 1981, 423 US companies with assets of more than $500 million filed for bankruptcy. In addition, their combined assets at the time totaled more than – are you ready for this – $1.5 trillion! Their combined annual revenue was almost $830 billion; and in fact, some of these corporations filed bankruptcy multiple times! This tells us that companies are not even learning from other companies’ mistakes (Carroll & Mui, 2008).

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So what is the reason for all these burnouts? Carroll and Mui suggest the culprit is poor execution of strategic plans. For instance, in a battlefield, most leaders reveal that a battle plan rarely survives first contact. This is because they can only engage in so much planning before just moving forward. Executives could stand to learn from this fact. Planning and execution are significant, but what is equally if not more important, is creating a plan with good strategic actions that will produce effective results.

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Take for example the famous incident that occurred at the Charge of the Light Brigade, the British Cavalry so named because they were optimized for fast mobility. The English troops were led by Lord Cardigan against Russian soldiers in October of 1854 during the Battle of Balaclava. According to reports, faulty intelligence affected the orders given to the cavalry that contributed to the disastrous decision to charge the Russians who were equipped with a considerable amount of artillery in the Crimean War. The British executed their strategy as planned, however, because the strategic move was based on false data, their campaign was ineffective. Once the charge was set in motion, there was no way to avoid the disaster they encountered and as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his famous poem, the soldiers walked into the valley of death. In other words, their failure did not result from poor planning, it resulted because of incorrect information that was used to devise the plans. This is how inaccurate information can result in disastrous outcomes. In fact, in a business context, Carroll and Mui further postulate that 46% of company failures can be avoided if leaders are more aware of the pitfalls they may face. Other failures can also be avoided if companies are able to detect the warning signs.

Available Now Value Audiobook Ad

My ebook, The Value of Strategic Management, just released on audiobook, provides insights to effective leadership skills and examines strategies that top performers implement to manage an organization more efficiently. In short, the best strategy leaders can use to avoid failures that result from poor planning is to understand that poor planning can result from a lack of accurate data in the construction and execution of the strategic planning process. Although we acknowledge that there are many factors that can contribute to a business failing to achieve their desired outcomes, the key lies in a firm’s abilities to not only acknowledge their mistakes, but take responsibility and accountability for them and use their experience with failure as an opportunity to learn and avoid repeating the same patterns thereafter.

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“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”  –  Paulo Coelho

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For more information on Media Magic, our digital publications, or to purchase any of our accelerated learning Business Life titles, please visit our website at: Media Magic Publishing.

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References:

Carroll, P., & Mui, C. (2008). Billion dollar lessons. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Coulter, M. (2010). Strategic management in action (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Maxwell, J. (2000). Failing forward. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Destructive Energy and Growth Strategies

Published September 3, 2014 by Mayrbear's Lair

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What a wacky world we live in today — food shortages, unemployment, natural disasters, and the shock and horror of war! Is it any wonder that so many people are on the edge, stressed, and sleep deprived, struggling to manage anxiety and process emotional states of depression? It seems that conflict, discontent, and corruption are found within every fold in the fabric of life all around us — in our communities, governments, spiritual and academic institutions, the workplace, and of course at home, away from the public’s awareness. The negative input individuals are constantly bombarded with from such conditions, have contributed to a collective consciousness of defensive people ready to engage in battle at the drop of a hat. Many are working diligently to suppress their feelings of deep rooted rage which continues to build as they process the added pressure exerted on them.

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As a result, many feel displaced and confused about their values or what their purpose in life is for that matter. This is one reason a person can lose focus at work leaving them vulnerable to making costly mistakes or engage in altercations with colleagues. Some even become confused over career aspirations while others are trying to discern who is authentic and trustworthy. Individuals that operate from this mindset risk advancing heightened levels of emotions which can eventually escalate into feelings of panic if they are not addressed. From this state of anxiety it is understandable how a person can travel down a corridor of darkness and despair unless they are able to find a way to manage their concerns in a healthy manner.

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In a corporate setting, managers that look away or allow this kind of behavior to go unchecked, not only risk creating more harm in an organizational setting, it may also lead that staff worker into believing they have no one to turn to for help, or worse, there is no one they feel safe enough to seek counsel from. When a sense of hopelessness reaches this level that individual also risks losing faith in their own abilities and intuitive reasoning. This is why many lose motivation to participate at work and eventually begin to feel the same about life in general, risking eventual self-destruction. At this stage the individual risks becoming so imbalanced they are unable to function productively and may even eventually lose their ability to cope or behave in an ethical manner.

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These are some of the outcomes that occur if growth strategies are not implemented.  In a business arena, the best growth strategy is a well-planned one. In fact, there are many studies to support that implementing growth strategies are more likely to yield positive outcomes as well as higher performance levels. Liker (2011) for example, postulates that growth strategies are implemented because they enable improvement considerably and in a shorter period of time. This is achieved by developing a framework that encourages perpetual growth which can help achieve some of the following outcomes: (a) a significant upper hand in operation excellence in a relatively short amount of time; (b) the development of systems that target and eliminate toxic behavior; (c) smoother operations with respect to receiving and delivering messages; and (d) the ability to adapt to changing environments rather than respond from a reactive position (Liker, 2011). In other words, effective growth strategies encourage continuous improvements while eliminating waste.

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In addition, growth strategies can play a role to help individuals establish and reach their desired destination. For example, when an individual plans for a road trip, without the use of a map or a GPS system to guide the traveler to their journey’s end, the navigation process can become more difficult. This is a good way to approach growth strategies – as the road maps that help with expansion to reach desired outcomes. Coulter (2010) suggests that growth strategies can help in the development process because they assist in locating and allocating resources that can transform the individual’s capabilities into distinctive functional competencies that others are unable to easily duplicate (Coulter, 2010). In short, effective growth strategies can help individuals achieve their goals quicker because they consist of focused detailed plans.

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By applying growth strategy principles, individuals are better equipped to weather and navigate through various emotional storm systems that emerge because they are based on principles of positive psychology. This approach has been instrumental in my own ability to work through moments of darkness in an effort to minimize destructive outcomes which tend to occur when enhanced emotions guide my choices.

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As we all have experienced at one time or another, when emotions are out of balance, it is difficult to perform at optimum levels because we put focus on input that works against our energetic current, rather than feeling gratitude for all that is flowing harmoniously in our world. In other words, by focusing only on what is not working in the world, or in our lives, it feels like we are trying to swim against a strong current rather than sail with it.

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Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (2012) stated that once we learn how to manage enhanced emotions we can experience more rewarding relationships. In addition, keeping channels of communication open can also help us cultivate more joyful experiences in our lives (Hanh, 2012). Growth strategies offer us a different way to navigate through and manage challenging events more effectively without fueling the situation even further by focusing on negative thoughts or energy patterns.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned though, we’ll be back on Friday with another new post! Until then … stay organized!

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“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” ― Tom Bodett

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For more information on Media Magic services, our published works, or to purchase any of our accelerated learning Business Life titles, please visit our website at: Media Magic Publishing.

References:

Coulter, M. (2010). Strategic management in action (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Hanh, T. N. (2012). Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press

Liker, J. (2011). Design for Operational Excellence. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

 

The Ethics of Heightened Tensions

Published August 4, 2014 by Mayrbear's Lair

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With all the bad news and negative images in the world, it may help explain why many people are feeling overwhelmed with emotions and behave defensively. In addition, most folks are dealing with pressures from work, expectations from colleagues, commitments to loved ones, financial obligations, relationship issues, and so forth. As tensions continue to build, more and more people are unable to operate at full capacity, and in extreme cases, many with low tolerance levels respond quickly with short explosive fuses that can result in destructive and even violent acts.

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People that react from fear and panic, initially respond from a fight or flight state of mind. That is when the reptilian part of the brain takes over which instinctively goes into survival mode. It is from this heightened state that typically many individuals engage in behavior with little or no regard for ethical outcomes. Their only objective in operating from this attitude is a successful outcome. In other words, irrational responses are more likely to occur when decisions are made quickly from an extreme emotional mental state, rather than allowing a moment to think of a situation appropriate response before taking action.

There are exceptions, of course, when life and death situations occur. A split second decision in an emergency may be crucial. Under these conditions taking a moment to think rationally may not be an option. However, in other instances, when pressure is mounting in an individual’s personal or business life, in addition to their feeling that the world is in complete disarray, the sensation of hopelessness can prompt some individuals to behave irrationally; giving in to unethical or destructive behavior.

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It seems logical, that especially during those times when we feel that: (a) the world seems unfair, (b) an escalating amount of respected leaders are caught behaving unreasonably, and (c) more people than not, seem to be engaged in misconduct, that is when we really need to get involved and help make positive changes. Not just in our immediate environment, collectively, we also need to become more cognizant of our contributions as a global family. In other words, take accountability when we make mistakes, bad judgement calls, or hurt others. It also requires that we engage in behavior that reflects mindful, responsible citizenship in our business affairs and home environments.

One way to achieve this is to help cultivate an ethical climate by making conscious choices to conduct ourselves reasonably with common sense and compassion for others. For example, when we encounter people or an institution engaged in unethical behavior like cheating, stealing, lying, or illegal conduct, we are faced with one of three choices: (a) expose the behavior, (b) ignore the behavior, or (c) participate and condone the behavior. If we choose to expose the behavior, we risk being chastised as whistle blowers, but by courageously moving forward we can help achieve ethical outcomes. If we ignore the behavior, we avoid the risk of not fitting in as a player at the corrupted culture and save everyone involved the embarrassment of getting caught. However, by keeping silent, we are helping to enable unethical behavior. If, on the other hand, we choose to condone the behavior, even participate in it, we are not only contributing to an unethical culture, we are gambling that we will not get caught or face the consequences for engaging in misconduct.

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This is where ethics comes into play. In my book, Ethics in the Real World (2013), I explained that individuals who make the best ethical choices do not engage or support strategies that include lying, cheating, stealing, or illegal conduct.  The truth is, most people are not interested in conducting business with others they do not trust. Furthermore, leaders who lack ethics and cultivate a culture of fear are not likely to earn respect from their staff or the community for that matter (Berry, 2013). When individuals, whether in respected positions of power or not, use tactics of intimidation, illegal conduct, misdirection, or get caught in blatant lies, they jeopardize tarnishing their reputation and credibility permanently.

Thich Nhat Hanh (2013) compares all our emotions to weather events—they blow in, remain for a time and move on. He suggests that if we stop all our thinking when these storm fronts of strong emotions develop (and I will add “refraining from verbalizing and directing toxicity towards others” to this list), we can help prevent fueling the fire. Instead, we can choose to apply mindful practices like breathing and walking strategies as coping techniques, that will not only calm down our breath when we are feeling out of control, they also serve to help calm the body and mind (Hanh, 2012).

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The truth is, we all have strengths and weaknesses and will continue to face many temptations throughout our journey in life. Although it may take only one person to help shift a corrupted culture, it still requires others to follow suit. Taking all this information into consideration can help us understand more clearly why it makes sense that during those times when we are feeling most vulnerable, confused, and overwhelmed with emotions, that including a component of ethics in the decision making process can help us achieve outcomes we are content to live with.

On Wednesday’s post, we will take a closer look at what neuroscience students from Brown University discovered recently about mindful practices. Until then … Have a great week everyone! Be mindful and stay organized!

“Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.” —Mahatma Gandhi

References:

Berry, M. A. (2013). Ethics in the Real World. USA: Kindle Direct Publishing.

Hanh, T. N. (2012). Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

Ethics and Coping Strategies

Published August 1, 2014 by Mayrbear's Lair

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When an individual is feeling confident and well-balanced, that person is capable of reacting and responding to unexpected events in a more understanding fashion, and can even perhaps find humor from the experience. On Wednesday’s post, we looked at how emotions can go from calm to ballistic by looking at the story of the mom whose toddler transformed their bathroom into the kind of chaotic condition that one would expect to see had Bugs Bunny’s Tasmanian devil paid them a brief visit. Using that incident as an example, we determined that from a calm state of mind, a parent is better equipped to understand that in that situation, the child was merely exploring to learn more about their environment. In other words, this is typical behavior for children that age. Knowing this, the parent can respond lovingly, taking accountability for the risk they took in choosing to leave a small child alone. However, like many parents with young children, they are typically overtasked and shorthanded on help. A scene like that is enough to heighten anyone’s emotional being (especially if they are sleep deprived). From a state of heightened emotions, the parent may feel so overwhelmed already that this additional incident can lead the individual towards a nervous breakdown–which, in turn, may prompt that caretaker to respond from a place of anger and thereby release negative energy on the small child, who was innocently occupied in age-typical behavior.

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In my book, Ethics in the Real World (2013), I explained that how we respond or react to unplanned events that heighten our emotions can have a profound effect on our outcomes. In other words, when we choose to react to an unexpected situation emotionally and without thinking, we risk contaminating the situation even further. Therefore, regardless of our emotional states of mind, when faced with any unforeseen event, there are many effective coping skills we can utilize for help. The first step is to stop, take a moment or a deep breath, and allow for time to calm down before saying anything that can cause more hurt feelings or contaminate the situation even further. Of course, the initial priority in responding is to make sure everyone involved is safe and there is no present danger. Once the situation has been briefly assessed and any possible dangers or threats have been eliminated, the next plan of attack is the inevitable, cleaning up the mess and devising a plan to address the situation that heightened the emotions. By taking a moment to think before acting, the individual can respond more logically to a crisis at hand. Then, once the situation feels more under control, order can be restored, and all parties involved eventually will return to a calmed state.

 Angry Man

When a person feels steamed about a situation or has issues with another individual, they do their best to manage the dilemma and the emotions that accompany it, working hard to find solutions. Sometimes, however, there are those instances when they believe the harder they try, the worse it gets. Meanwhile, their emotions continue to escalate, leaving them in a state of helplessness and unable to come up with solutions. In this frame of mind, they are overwhelmed, even making comments like, “It’s just not my day.” Then there are instances when they become illogical and out of control spewing comments like, “This is the worst day of my life!” In this frame of mind, heightened emotions typically lead to further despair, leaving many tumbling in a downward spiral. In short, the individual feels like they are experiencing nothing more than one failure after another in everything and anything they attempt, no matter how hard they focus to change or improve the situation, nothing seems to work.

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It is under these conditions that Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (2013) suggests we retreat to our inner home and engage in practices that will lead to our own emotional tidying up. In other words, this is when we can go to that island of self we discussed in Wednesday’s post, to find sanctuary and more clarity for the dilemmas we may face. A simple strategy–for instance, like being mindful of in-and-out breathing–is one effective coping skill that can help us manage heightened emotions. Hanh purports that these strategies help focus the mind in the present moment. They serve as relaxation tools which been successful for communities like Plum Village for stress management and calming emotions.

By incorporating strategies that nurture us when we are feeling lost, we are building a culture of happier people. Strategists agree that people who are happy are more inclined to perform at optimum levels–which, in the long term, contributes to better outcomes for the entire community. In other words, by practicing coping skills that help enable individuals acknowledge and recognize their strong emotions, people are better equipped to process and work through them without creating more challenges–whether they stem from fear, anger, anxiety, or despair. To sum up, whatever strong emotions we are confronted with, once we acknowledge and recognize them, we can implement coping strategies to help us manage them in the same way loving parents do when a child is upset and in distress: by embracing them tenderly and then, step-by-step, applying a coping skill strategy we feel comfortable with, to manage the emotional upheaval. In other words, respond to ourselves as loving parents when we become emotionally out of balance.

Well … that’s a wrap for this week. Have a great weekend everyone!

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“You are a Divine Being and within you dwells the infinite wisdom of the ages.” ―Anthon St. Maarten

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References:

Berry, M. A. (2013). Ethics in the Real World. USA: Kindle Direct Publishing.

Hanh, T. N. (2012). Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

Ethics, and Strong Emotions that Emerge from the Island of Self

Published July 30, 2014 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Legend suggests that when Buddha was 80 years old, knowing his days were numbered, he shared with his students a practice that introduced them to the island of self. It was developed based on a concept that there is a safe place–an island, if you will–that dwells within each of us. It is a place of inner sanctuary that we can return to any time we are feeling afraid, unstable, or in despair. In other words, Buddha was instructing his students to go within to what he called home, and identified this safe place of the mind and spirit as the island of self.

In his book Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day (2013), Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains that this place dwells within each and every one of us. Based on this premise Hanh has developed techniques to help the community members of Plum Village enhance their coping skills. These practices are used as tools to help provide a kind of refuge when community members are processing deep emotional despair or sorrow. In this context, the island of self is identified as a sacred place of the heart — one that each of us has access to whenever we need to find a place to go to and feel safe during those times when emotions are heightened. What is beautiful about this construct is that the island of self is just one moment away. Hanh further asserts that when we engage in practices of awareness, such as mindful breathing or mindful walking (as we discussed in last week’s blog posts), these serve as ethical strategies that help us feel safe by returning home to the island of self, straightaway, at any time and any place (Hanh, 2012). These and other practices help encourage and support an ethical culture which I discuss in further detail the the eBook, Ethics in the Real World (2013)

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To help explain with more clarity what we can do when we are feeling emotionally out of control in our own daily lives, let us examine the following example: a mother is confronted with an unexpected situation after her young toddler’s brief visit to the bathroom. As a result of leaving the child alone for a few minutes to answer the phone, the mom returns to the scene, and what she discovers leaves her feeling overwhelmed with emotions and on the verge of losing control. The washroom has now been decorated with toilet paper in every corner; water spilling out like a river, breaching the barriers of the sink; baby shampoo knocked on its side, pouring a waterfall of goo down the cupboards; and toothpaste creatively smeared all over the mirrors and counter tops. In short, the chaotic condition of the bathroom was enough to make anyone’s hair stand up!

 Crying-Baby-001

The truth is that the parent is now faced with a situation that requires them to parent their own emotions. For example, when a baby needs comforting, is in distress and crying, tuned in parents respond immediately to the situation. Hanh explains that during these moments the infant is experiencing the energy of suffering. The caretaker’s natural response to this energy of suffering is to provide the energy of nurturing, tenderness, and compassion, perhaps by lovingly caressing the baby in their arms. This nurturing energy slowly penetrates the tot’s body and, in turn, assists to bring the small child back to a place of peace and comfort.

 Smiling mother holding baby

As a coping strategy during times of despair, Hanh suggests that we try to process our heightened states of emotion and fear as a parent would responding to the suffering energy of a baby. In other words, return home to the island of self and take care of our baby, the energy of suffering by implementing the energy of mindfulness. One way to achieve this is using the in-and-out breathing practice that was described in last week’s posts. The mindfulness energy is meant to represent the role of a nurturing parent that helps in the calming process. By taking care of the baby (the out-of-control feelings that can drive imbalanced behavior), with the energy of mindfulness we generate, we are in a better position to return us to a place of stability which will then allow us see the situation with more awareness and clarity. Hanh compares this mindfulness energy to the heat produced by a cozy fireplace which is meant to help us relax. The warmth acts as a catalyst, which in turn helps us to feel better when we are cold and miserable.

 guilt

Hanh, like other self help leaders, further explains that our emotions are important components and an essential part of our personal growth. We do not need to suppress them. Rather than feeling guilty or bad about having strong or negative emotions, he postulates that we must not only acknowledge they exist, but also accept them as an essential a part of the human experience. Once we acknowledge this premise we can then work to refrain from fighting or judging them. In other words, rather than ignore or snuff out our fears, anger, and anxiety, we can instead accept that they are there and implement practices of mindfulness to honor and work through them. In conclusion, when we acknowledge strong emotions, create a safe place to process them with helpful coping skills, they can be managed more effectively.

On Friday, we will examine how to develop effective coping skills strategies in the work place when we are faced with situations or co-workers that trigger strong emotions which spiral out of control. Until then, stay organized!

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“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”  – Robert Fulghum

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References:

Berry, M. A. (2013). Ethics in the Real World. USA: Kindle Direct Publishing.

Hanh, T. N. (2012). Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.