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Leadership Recovery

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“I am looking forward enormously to getting back to the sea again, where the overstimulated psyche can recover in the presence of that infinite peace and spaciousness.” (Carl Jung)

Jung was speaking of recovery in ways that are uncommon to us. In usual terms, we refer to recovery as the process of healing from an injury, illness, medical procedure or addiction. Recovery in the broader context however, and as brought to light by neuroscience research as well work on trauma recovery, refers to the return of the nervous system to a balance state in which our functioning and our ability to lead is optimized. Recovery, therefore, is a vital leadership skill.

Exasperated, the CFO walked out of the meeting she has just had with a Board Advisor. It happened again, this Advisor bypassed the agenda agreed upon the day before, and pressed her to come up with data on unrelated topics, registering his exasperation at her apparent lack of psychic abilities. She blamed herself for not being more vigilant, but was beginning to see how the ‘bait and switch’ strategy of these meetings was eroding her trust in the advisor and her confidence in herself. Nonetheless, she needed to “right” herself before the next meeting, only minutes away. Unfortunately, and predictably, the next meeting did not go well, either. Despite her best efforts to mentally shake off the residue of the last meeting, her system was ‘stuck on go.’

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“I am looking forward enormously to getting back to the sea again, where the overstimulated psyche can recover in the presence of that infinite peace and spaciousness.” (Carl Jung)

Jung was speaking of recovery in ways that are uncommon to us. In usual terms, we refer to recovery as the process of healing from an injury, illness, medical procedure or addiction. Recovery in the broader context however, and as brought to light by neuroscience research as well work on trauma recovery, refers to the return of the nervous system to a balance state in which our functioning and our ability to lead is optimized. Recovery, therefore, is a vital leadership skill.

Exasperated, the CFO walked out of the meeting she has just had with a Board Advisor. It happened again, this Advisor bypassed the agenda agreed upon the day before, and pressed her to come up with data on unrelated topics, registering his exasperation at her apparent lack of psychic abilities. She blamed herself for not being more vigilant, but was beginning to see how the ‘bait and switch’ strategy of these meetings was eroding her trust in the advisor and her confidence in herself. Nonetheless, she needed to “right” herself before the next meeting, only minutes away. Unfortunately, and predictably, the next meeting did not go well, either. Despite her best efforts to mentally shake off the residue of the last meeting, her system was ‘stuck on go.’

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Peddle to the Metal

Peter Levine, well-known researcher/educator on trauma recovery discovered that the process of “shaking off” is exactly the method wild animals use enabling them to successfully recover (and move on, informed but unaffected) from a stressful event. He discovered that once an animal was out of danger, it’s body automatically shifted to a balanced, rest and recovery (parasympathetic) state, discharging tension by shaking, breathing, sweating, and more. His work, paired with neuroscience, has drawn a parallel of this recovery period to the capacity humans possess to “return to normal” allowing recovery and fuller functioning after a stressful event.

What obstructs our returning to normal? We humans are neurologically wired to survive, and we have the capacity to generalize stressful situations in our organizational lives as survival triggers. Unlike animals in the wild, we have the ability to compartmentalize, rationalize, repress and override our sensations in service of external demands. There is a price we pay for our ability to override our physiology as Dr. Van der Kolk has written, “the body keeps the score.”

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SHAKE IT!
I work with executives and leaders who need immediate ways to re-set and also reshape more productive leadership behaviors. The following practices are designed for this, and are so simple, they are often overlooked or underestimated as the powerful tools they are in building resilience and recovery.

Rx for building recovery muscles:

Tap in: To a greater extent we are unfamiliar with physical sensations or are at the least, inattentive to them. Although it may seem counter-rational (“I don’t have time! What’s the use if I can’t do anything about this right now?”), do something radical. Breathe, and tap into the sensations you are feeling physically in your body. Use words that describe the sensations rather than thoughts that label, for instance, “tightness in my chest,” versus “ticked off with the Board Advisor.” With practice, this will take less and less time, seconds. What is the use of this? Even when the sensations are unpleasant, you are connecting with yourself and your dignity in a way your thoughts aren’t able to provide. When you are in your body, aware and honoring your sensations, your capacities increase.

Make Room: To ‘make room’ we need to let go. Skilled leaders have learned about the impact of entering a new meeting with the same mindset of the previous one. They realize that in each circumstance, each meeting, and with each individual they are speaking with that in order to interact at maximum effectiveness, they need to have recovered from the last “present moment” and into the “present” present moment. They also rarely have an abundance of time to make that happen.

Perhaps you only have time for a few moments of conscious connection to recover before you need to move on to next. Realize that whatever happened, the story is not over, let go for now, and ‘make room’ for what is happening next, vowing to return when you have the opportunity.

Revisit: Revisit the occurrence in a calmer state. In the above scenario, the CFO was able to trade a conditioned tendency to tighten, gird and ‘soldier on’ for a capacity of recovery and return. She returned through connection with what was important to her (being seen as competent, having the knowledge to prepare effectively for meetings) and strategized on a conversation she planned to have with the Board Advisor which would intervene in what would have, very likely, become a negative cycle. In doing so, she reshaped herself and a dynamic that had plagued her in both professional and personal domains.

“Know thyself, or at least keep renewing the acquaintance” (Robert Brault)

Getting stuck at either ‘on’ or ‘off’ in the cycle of recovery can have substantial ramifications in the ability to recover and, therefore, lead well. On the other hand, almost anyone can integrate a practice that involves brief moments of awareness and connection scattered throughout the day, every day. These simple acts, practiced regularly, will help build resilience, recovery and leadership coherence.

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Reinventure Coaching And Consulting

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