On Leadership, Control and Moving Beyond the Struggle

Uncaged Bird

I don’t know about you, but I know too many people who are struggling right now. People who are working harder with increased responsibilities and barely managing to maintain the status quo. Organizations are doing more-and-more with fewer-and-fewer resources.

And a number of people who are un- or under-employed is staggering.

Deepening the Struggle

I also see the typical response when things don’t look as peachy as they once did—people tend to go to super human lengths to recreate what once was. They go head down, nostrils flaring, uber-determined with stress hormones raging and EI capacities being taxed.

Paradoxically, in our attempts to recreate the old, recapture the past, or repair the present, we miss opportunities to explore the future, create anew or experience the emergent. Our biggest challenge when time get tough is to not become tough in the process.

Opening The Cage Door

By staying true to a few core principles of learning, transformation and change, you can free yourself of the need to control the present in ways that open up the future.

1) There are no mistakes, only lessons

Stop kicking yourself about what you could have done, did or didn’t do.  Instead ask what do I need to learn from this experience?  Perhaps it’s self-compassion, forgiveness of others, the need to let go of ego, to learn a new skill/career, or to find the courage to otherwise move forward.

2) You can put yourself down or you can lift yourself up

Lifting yourself up is not suggesting that superhuman efforts are the key nor does it suggest that you deny reality.

Instead ask this:

  • What do I have going for me right now? 
  • What core strengths/beliefs/relationships will get me through?
  • On what can I focus right now to get my next step going in the right direction?

3) Remember working harder does not equate to working smarter

Another oft-mention cliché also relates: What got you here, won’t get you there.  Here’s a painful sign that you’re there—your struggles, the work and/or the demands seem insurmountable. Super human attention to the things you’ve done in the past just aren’t cutting it.

You’ve reached a liminal space (a place where you don’t have the answers and the old ways just don’t work).  Good news!  It is the birthplace of the capacity to let go and a source of insight, significant aha’s, and new ideas.

Ask yourself this:

  • What messages am I not hearing? 
  • What do I need to do to silence the unhelpful messages that you are sending yourself so that the future can speak?
  • How can I be still and really discern what I am hearing?

4) Lean back

A recent HBR Daily Stat noted that distance makes a task seem easier.   Physical distance from a complex task increases psychological distance and makes the task seem less difficult.

In what way can you distance yourself from the current challenges while still keeping your thinking about the future and how to make it happen on the agenda? 

  • A vacation?
  • Meditation?
  • A night away?
  • A walk in the park?

5) Experiment

Play with new choices, do something different, act on a dream.  Why not? All-consuming dedication to any task tires the mind, body and soul.

Novelty does the opposite; it helps you recharge.

And, attention to novel experiences can help uncover new ways of seeing the world, which sparks new ideas, which can open up new avenues.

The list above provides five strategy ideas for letting go of angst and toil and letting in new perspectives, ideas and futures. What other principles and/or practice would you recommend?


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Rosaria Hawkins
Rosaria (Ria) Hawkins, PhDis President of Take Charge Consultants
She helps organizations build mindful strategies to ensure long-term success
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Hey Leaders: Are You Anti-Fragile?


I am just in the beginning pages of a book that I know I will find to be fascinating, Anti-Fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Tabb.

The book’s basic premise is this: There is an opposite to fragile that is outside the awareness of many people.

Fragile or Not or Something Else

Most people see the opposite of fragile to be resilient, robust or sturdy. Tabb’s premise is that the opposite of fragile is anti-fragile. Sturdiness or resilience is some mid-point between fragile and anti-fragile poles.

Something that is fragile breaks or is destroyed when met with a disturbance; something that is resilient, robust or sturdy is able to withstand a disturbance; something that is anti-fragile excels when disturbed.

I want to be anti-fragile. I want my organization and those I serve to be anti-fragile as well.

A Worldly Example

Tabb likens the earth as a big long-standing anti-fragile system.

“Our planet has been around for perhaps four billion years and, convincingly, robustness can’t be it: you need perfect robustness for a crack not to end up crashing the system. Given the unsustainability of perfect robustness, we need a mechanism by which the system regenerates itself continuously by using, rather than suffering from, random events, unpredictable shocks, stressors, and volatility“ (page 8).

It’s All Natural

I’m so quick to write about a book where I’ve barely finished chapter one because Tabb’s thinking rings so true to me and reminds me of a client who shared a similar philosophy with me and many others so many years ago.

The late Bob Rodale, second generation leader of the Rodale media empire, shared a similar belief about nature.

According to Bob, nature held the secret to regeneration.

An area devastated by a volcano or fire, for example, emerges with rich new soil, new growth, and new species.Nature’s capacity to self-revive—without artificial additives or chemicals—and ultimately come back more vibrant, healthy, and diverse than before is a perfect example of anti-fragility.

Anti-fragile people have the same ability.

They are able to reach deep into their natural reserves to excel in the face of set-backs.

We, as leaders, need to learn from Tabb, Rodale, nature, and other sage people who share similar thinking. We need to be able to not just manage or lead in turbulent times, we need to learn to ride the waves of turbulence with giddy wonder, curious experimentation and the courage to believe in our innate ability to regenerate, survive and thrive.

So What About You?

Are you anti-fragile?

1. Can you go with the flow?

The capacity to let go and truly experience that which is before you is a gift of mindful leaders. Too many of us, when faced with disturbances, get busy trying to control the moment, the future, the past, the other, our temper or the universe and we miss the opportunity to capture a glimpse of something new and promising.

2. Can you allow things to emerge?

That requires a form of “letting go” that takes more than momentary or fleeting levels of attention. It takes courage, trust and the belief that somehow things will work out. It’s what allows a new idea to be born, a provocative concept to be aired or a discomforting notion to take flight. Sadly, most of us have a lot of work to do in that arena.

3. Can you pay mindful attention to mistakes and missteps?

Can you do it not so they can be fixed or the transgressor punished—but so that something new and different can emerge. Ellen Langer writes with eloquence about mistakes and missteps as subtle signals that something new wants to emerge. Anti-fragile leaders have the compassion, courage and forgiveness to allow that to happen for themselves and others.

What tips would you suggest for leaders who want to become anti-fragile? What do you do to excel amid unexpected disturbances or when the world of work is erupting?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Rosaria Hawkins
Rosaria (Ria) Hawkins, PhDis President of Take Charge Consultants
She helps organizations build mindful strategies to ensure long-term success
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On Leadership, Ingenuity and Sunflowers

Sunflower Field

Crissinger Dairy located north of Harrisburg, PA USA has awakened local residents, visitors, and passersby with a 50-acre sunflower patch.

The patch wasn’t intentional. It was born in the moment.

Making Hay with Sunflowers

Brothers Joshua and Nathan (both in their 20’s) were faced with 50 barren acres after harvesting one of their traditional crops (corn, soy, alfalfa and wheat). In order to find some quick cover for the barren 50-acre lot, they turned to birdseed hoping something would grow.

  • The field awakens people to the moment!
  • Drivers pull off the side of the road.
  • They walk through the field.
  • They take pictures.

The little farm has become a tourist attraction with set-aside parking and traffic directors.

Leadership Lessons from Sunflowers

There are so many lessons in this story.

Here are just a few…

  1. The unusual literally snaps us to attention. I recently read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and while I knew autopilot was our prevalent MO, I had no idea just how unconscious we generally are. Moments of novelty tend to awaken us to more conscious thought processes (yet there’s still an insidious tendency to fall back into autopilot and unconscious deliberation). What’s amazing about the sunflower field is that it snaps people to attention and draws them in—keeping them aroused, consciously engaged and creatively enamored for an extended period of time.
  2. Too often, we miss the little things that can unlock joy, fascination, happiness and wonder. The opportunity to see and experience the field—a bright, rolling, gold, sunny burst that goes on as far as the eye can see—is priceless. If the farmers were paid based on people’s opportunities to experience joy (however brief), they would be rich.
  3. Sometimes it pays to just throw caution to the wind (or seed to the field). Whether you want to describe the event as discontinuous change, radical innovation, system disruption, or some other equally impressive combination that could help title a best-selling business book, it was an accident or a folly. Two fellows threw caution to the wind and took a risk—and a thing of beauty, wonder, and profit emerged. Turns out the sunflowers are a great cash crop and have supplied many local retailers and florists with beautiful bunches that bring the magic home again.

Challenge Questions:

The leadership lessons that parallel those above are our challenges.

  • How do we wake up, energize and enliven people? What do we need to bring into the world of work to make people want to get out of their comfort zones, experience, experiment and spend time?
  • In today’s fast-paced environment that challenges people’s ability to balance work and life, how often do you stop to smell the roses (or gaze at the sunflowers)? We miss countless opportunities to experience joy, wonder, amazement and satisfaction day-by-day, moment-by-moment. As a leader, how do you stay mindful of the wonder of the moment? How do you help your organization do the same?
  • What can you do today, tomorrow, and next month to throw caution to the wind, allow folly to have its way, and experience the marvels that can emerge?

Do it! More importantly, let me know how you did. I would love to hear your story!


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Rosaria Hawkins
Rosaria (Ria) Hawkins, PhDis President of Take Charge Consultants
She helps organizations build mindful strategies to ensure long-term success
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

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Leaders: Your Amazing Brain!


Two bits of news from the animal kingdom have caught my eye over the past couple of weeks.

On Leadership and…

…Pigeon Brains

First, a group of researchers recently found that pigeons use only 53 neurons to sense the direction and strength of the Earth’s magnetic field.  I don’t know about you but I find that pretty amazing—given that I’ve often been told about how small the pigeon’s brain was and as a result it wasn’t quite as bright as the other birds. 

And, to tell the truth, it is pretty unsettling given the size of the human brain visa-vi a pigeon’s and my appalling sense of direction…


Second, recent enhancements in anthropological dating techniques suggest that  Neanderthals may have been the originators of the world’s oldest cave art. They left their mark in Spanish caves in El Castillo.  They actually made hand prints by blowing pigment against their hands while they were on the wall. 

One can’t help but wonder—what does it all mean?

Now Back to Pigeons

Perhaps with the pigeon, it’s a sign of a natural gift—and a well honed neural pathway. Imagine 53 cells that enable a bird to take flight, soar through the skies, stop atop a couple of statues, and find its way home.

Fifty-three cells that create a type of virtual GPS!   

And some pigeons are even more amazing. They are known for their homing ability—flying at speeds of up to 50 mph and covering up to 600 miles before returning home.

And on to the Cave Men

There are lots of stories I can spin about the handprints;

  • I’m sure many anthropologists could prove me wrong—but isn’t’ that what just happened to them?
  • Is it early evidence of man’s appreciation of art, of absurdity (a creative fluke when attempting to overcome boredom one day), a desire to leave one’s mark, or a collective ritual of some sort? 

Regardless, again a creature with limited cognitive capacity has the world a’ wonderin’.

I’m always amazed when I learn something new about the brain.  And this appears to be the decade the whole thing will be cracked open—literally. 

On Just Leadership

While I’m not a neuroscientist, I can’t shake these two stories.  Two leadership questions haunt me:

1) With our brain so far more developed, would another species look at our “handprints” relative to the marks we have left on the people we have been entrusted to lead with the same wonder? 

2) Fifty-three cells and a primitive brain up against an 80 billion-cell highly advanced and evolved brain.  Are we truly that impressive in setting the direction, staying the course and arriving safely?

A gazillion cells ready to be deployed and put to work, yet many of us run on autopilot each day.

Our challenge as leaders is to find time and space to dabble with the unknown, set a new direction, stay the course and along the way leave “handprints” of innovative leadership practices that trust, respect and honor followers.   

Perhaps in doing so, we’ll tap into our innate brain power, wake up and leave our mark on history.

What do you make of it all?

Rosaria (Ria) Hawkins, PhDis a the president of Take Charge Consultants
She helps leaders & organizations build mindful strategies that ensure long-term success
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

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Mindful Leader: Know and Heal Thyself

Turbulent Thoughts

I have had a spate of recurrent dreams. They have been a bit turbulent and unsettling. But this has been my subconscious life.

It has been like I go to sleep to find that I am a shiny ball inside a pinball machine getting batted back and forth.

On Dreams on Turbulence

The main story line is this:

I’m teaching a class or doing a presentation and I start without setting the context and reviewing the agenda. From there, I am propelled from a series of quasi-urgent events and tasks that keep me from my own preset agenda. Each evening as I slumber, night becomes day in my head and I become a pinball, swatted and propelled from one unintended obstacle to another.

The day swallows me as I am it’s unsuspecting victim.

You don’t need to be a dream interpreter to get the message. The demands of the day are taking its toll. Shame on me for not recognizing it sooner!  I wonder how many others are in the same place.

  • Packed agendas
  • Too many demands
  • Constant calls for one’s attention
  • Decision after decision that need to be made

Chances are that you not only get my drift, but that you too are also living some degree of this turbulence in your world.

Recalibrating for Results

I can’t help but be reminded of some basic tips for being more mindful, attentive to self and body, and resilient. They follow. (For you purists, please excuse the use of brain and mind interchangeable in the tips that follow. I opted for snazzy subtitles.)

1. Listen to Your Body 

Our bodies are remarkable early warning machines. Before the constant onslaught of nightly dream-based messages, there are daytime signals.  How does your body respond when overtaxed (or better yet as you head there)? Do you have a stiff neck, lower back pain, tightness in the head/chest/elsewhere, tired legs, irritable bowels, etc?  When you notice the signal, take action. Several strategies follow.

2. Get Out of Mind

Take a few moments to shut down and recharge. Meditate, do deep breathing, pray, nap—whatever floats your boat. For more on these strategies as well as others, visit http://stressinstitute.com/stress_reduction_management.asp

3. Feed Your Mind

According to recent neuroscience, glucose and carbs are it! They are the fuel that feeds the brain. A glass of OJ or lemonade can literally help you recharge.

4. Let Go of Limiting BS (Beliefs Systems)

Telling yourself day in and day out about how harried and overtaxed you are doesn’t do much in terms of priming you for positive action. Instead start the day with a new mantra or affirmation. Perhaps something like “I’m a centered and skilled professional who can not only manage, but excel at work today, by focusing on the right things.” 

5. Let Go of Worries

One of my favorite parables comes from either the Zen or Buddhist traditions (actual source uncertain). It follows.

Two monks, on a journey, came to a stream. The current was strong and the water deep. At the same time, a young woman was also at the water’s edge—wary to cross. Yet all needed to get to the other side. One of the monks, picked her up, carried her across, and placed her gently on the other side. The three parted company.

The monks continued on in silence for a number of miles. Finally one monk spoke. “You know it is against the rules to have contact with a woman. How could you do that?” To which the first replied, “I put that woman down miles ago, it is you that has been carrying her this whole time.” 

What do you need to let go of?  Why not adopt an old tradition for use today? Use the worry doll method—except do it both day and night. Neuroscience shows that my simply naming our emotions and thoughts, we quell and quite the amygdala.  Why not take it a step further and literally tuck those worries away by assigning them to a doll or slip of paper placed in a drawer. Literally and mentally keep them there until you are ready to deal with them.

6. Get Attached 

According to attachment research by Jim Coan, connecting with others, even strangers under the right conditions, provides comfort.  Reliance on caring others lessens the load, literally, in the brain.

7. Get up, Get Moving

Good ol’ exercise is another key. It provides 5 mind blowing benefits.  It reverses the detrimental effects of stress, lifts depression, improves learning, builds self-esteem and enhances body image, and leaves you feeling euphoric.

What will you do today?  Better yet what will you do each day over the next week? Even better yet – what can you do to help others?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Rosaria (Ria) Hawkins, PhDis the president of Take Charge Consultants
She helps leaders & organizations build mindful strategies that ensure long-term success
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog

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