Teaching Centered Leadership on the Other Side of the World

With apologies, it’s been awhile—I’ve been to the U.A.E. right after catching my breath after that trip Brazil and Colombia. Dubai and Abu Dhabi, seen through this newcomer’s eyes, are more George Jetson than 2017. Their buildings dazzle and blind when the sun hits their mirrored skins; their highways cut through the city on stilts’ the sea shimmers turquoise and emerald, and the desert stretches to the horizon.

This is our future.

I think this is called Dubai’s window but it could well be Dubai’s picture frame!

Dubai people are as glamorous as their city, transfers from everywhere, seeking adventure at work. It’s a place to drink, dance, have fun, shop. It’s also a place for serious business.

I met Arabs from Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates. I met English, French, American, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Canadian, and African too. I should have known that people this diverse would embrace Centered Leadership. I should not have worried.

Still I worry. For years, friends have admonished me not to worry. Frankly, people can talk all day. That just doesn’t work for me. I have to discover things for myself. I’m guessing that you’re similar. I know not to worry, but new experiences catapult me out of my Comfort Zone. Like the man shot out of the cannon, I zoom to my Learning Zone’s outer edge, perilously close to my Terror Zone. It’s natural to worry a little bit.

I was scheduled to introduce Centered Leadership in an iMax Theater in the City Mall, owned by one of Dubai’s leading companies. They started a cutting-edge leadership training institute and adopted Centered Leadership to share with its management. The CEO planned to attend my talk. So did a few hundred executives, some already trained. No pressure? I was on a stage, standing in front of the largest PowerPoint screen (iMax size) I’d ever used.

How peculiar and at the same time, exciting, to be standing at a movie theater screen announcing my session instead of the latest movie!

Two weeks before, I had stood on stage to meet 2,500 executives in Brazil. That was a new experience, too, but it had not blunted what I felt now. I’ve been to Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and yet this experience felt foreign. Well beneath the water line of my iceberg, I believed that worrying would improve my delivery. Worrying meant I was focused on my audience and what I most wanted for them. It also increased my sensitivity to mess ups. No matter that it also threatened joy, playfulness, and spontaneity. In reality, excessive worrying would strip me of distinctiveness. It’s a fine balance.

The mic worked and then it didn’t. On, off, on, off. Not an auspicious start. Through all my worries, I had not worried about the mic! That thought made me laugh out loud. I asked for a handheld and carried on with all the joy and fun pent up inside. The fine people of Dubai then embraced Centered Leadership and me.

So in Abu Dhabi, when the cable connecting the pc with my slides acted up, I was ready. A diverse group, ranging from young Arab students to senior ministry officials and wealthy entrepreneurs watched the blinking screen with anticipation. As my slides appeared and disappeared as ghosts, I let them go. I didn’t need the slides behind me. I needed the audience in front of me.

It’s always a surprise and a revelation that Centered Leadership feels at home in places I had never visited. Men and women in long robes, speaking Arabic, integrated the concepts of Centered Leadership through eager conversation. As they shared personal stories, they loosened up and raised their voices—just as I had witnessed in China, and France, and Sweden, and elsewhere. Why does that happen almost every time? Worth a think.

Here’s what I’ve got so far: when you believe something deeply, others are more likely to follow; when we laugh, we’re more open to trying new things; when you set the rules, others go along. I didn’t conform or try to fit in. Instead, I imposed a different approach. People were open and willing. They made it happen.

A few Millennials wanted to pose for a photo. How wonderful to connect!

If you’ve participated in one of these programs, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Meanwhile, here’s to the remarkable Millennials I met in Dubai and Abu Dhabi! I feel welcomed in your glittering country, thanks to you.

Next Generation Leaders – That’s You!

In the spring, I was invited to Budapest to teach Centered Leadership and share my perspective on advancing women at work. I had never been there, and as it turns out, I got to bring Jetta, my youngest daughter.

What an experience! Apart from drinking 21 glasses of wine to celebrate Jetta’s upcoming birthday, something very big happened. My world opened up to embrace another city, another culture, and some remarkable people. It was a whir of a week, and I’m left with image traces that feel like dreams – of a fairy tale building, or a brutal painting, or a baby’s face.

And Ewa is certain that I made this video. You can see it here. I don’t remember making it, but I can confidently say that the jet-lagged woman in this video is me. I was obsessed with Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech. Still am. Whatever you think of Teddy Roosevelt, and there are many sides of the matter, this was one helluva speech. Reframe that first or second job decision as a chance to stand in the arena. No matter what happens, you will learn something. It isn’t your only chance and it isn’t your last chance. The odds of falling down are high. And when that happens, our hero gets up, dusts off, and stands in the arena once more.

Yes that’s a romantic notion. Maybe the Hero’s Journey is not for you. That’s all fine. But when work pushes you down, and it feels like forever, know that it isn’t. How you experience the fall is up to you. Personal or Situational? Pervasive or Specific to one aspect of your life? Permanent or temporary?* Falling turns your world upside down, literally. Get some distance. Talk to people who know and support you. Look for what you’ve learned.

When you can see what happened as less personal, more specific, and short-lasting, the world reappears in technicolor. The hero in you regains the energy to stand up and get going.


* These three dimensions come from Martin Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (New York, Vintage, 2006). Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant found this approach helpful for people struggling to recover from a traumatic event like the loss of a loved one. As Sheryl notes, that process is neither easy nor quick. But if you’re dealing with the everyday kind of upset, challenges at work, learned optimism is a powerful tool you should consider.

How Our Brains Stretch

On November 17, I was invited by Neeti Banerjee to speak at the annual conference of Talentnomics – a nonprofit dedicated to growing the global pool of women leaders. Quickly.

Thanks to a participant who captured me in the act at the Talentnomics conference! 

David Krakauer, president of the Santa Fe Institute, defined intelligence in terms of simplicity, openness to change, and a learning mindset. Seema Patel, chief of innovation design for USAID’s global development lab, used those concepts to achieve a break-through. Ellyn Shook, CHRO of Accenture, revised the definition of diversity & inclusion in a simple, adaptive, and organic way. All three blew my mind!

First up, David reminded me how powerful reframing can be. As panelists debated the notion of risk and failure at work, David introduce a new name for those actions. By calling them experiments, he removed anxiety and fear. As long as the experiment produces learning, it is deemed a success. An experimental organization learns constantly. Reframe your next risk as an experiment and see what happens to your blood pressure and energy.

Seema described how doctors, nurses, locals, materials scientists, and development specialists came together to redesign the hot and heavy Hazmat suit for use in tropical climates where Ebola had taken hold. It was a costume designer who held the key to the redesign, reducing the ‘points of contamination’ along with the time to change out of the suit. Seema said, “She cracked the problem, but I had no idea how she came to be invited to our meeting!” Next time you hold a creative brainstorming, figure out who your costume designer might be.

Ellyn, featured in the photo below, is leading a massive change program at Accenture to achieve the firm’s mission of becoming a truly human company for the digital age. You may have seen Accenture’s video. If not, search for #InclusionStartsWithI. I did and found 31 million impressions. Not bad for social change! Accenture changed their definition of D&I by adding a B for Belonging—feeling valued and able to be my authentic self. If you have time, watch their video on inclusion. If nothing else, it will inspire you to make your difference today.

Ellyn Shook inspires with a clean & clear definition of diversity that I’m adopting.

As for me, I shared centered leadership with this group. I left with ideas and an approach for breaking through the hard problem I’m undertaking now: breaking through to advance more women leaders. My good luck prevails: Neeti, David, Ellyn, and Seema will help.


Adventures in Latin America

It was a week full of challenges, and so I was steeped in learning opportunities. I was in Sao Paulo and Bogotá to speak about centered leadership.

My original purpose was a keynote speech at HSM’s annual executive conference. A few thousand executives entered the room and another 25,000 watched from their offices. That’s a challenge. It’s easy to grasp centered leadership intellectually. But the five capabilities are not yours just because. It takes deliberate practice with tools best introduced through reflection, dialogue, and experience.

Here I am at HSM’s 2017 Executive Conference, on stage after Adam Grant and Kevin Kelly! 

I’m no television evangelist or guru, so naturally, I had never met an audience of this size. Still, my intention was to engage them all through experience. Minutes in, anyone could see that wasn’t happening.

Then something possessed me to step down from the stage to meet those 2,500 people personally. With each interactive exercise, I walked through the giant hall, introducing strangers to each other. I felt uncomfortable—good. I faced my fear of being found out—better. I persisted, fully present and focused on intention. Best. The room started to buzz. Challenge met.


A few interviews, company meetings, and book signings later, I landed in a room with 15 remarkable women professionals. They introduced me to my second challenge: something was missing in the book. Grow Wherever You Work is filled to the brim with formidable challenges that happen to most people sometime during their first ten years of work. Lousy bosses, big mistakes, poor reviews – it’s all in there with one powerful exception.


If I had to pick the one theme that characterized this session, guilt won by a wide margin. Women were guilty about missing hours with children that could never be recaptured. Wives were guilty about husbands living apart in a different city. Young women were guilty about working too many hours, running out of time. How do you alleviate the guilt that’s always with me, they asked. Usually glib, I was tongue-tied, searching my brain for an acceptable answer.

Some guilt is good. It makes us pay extra attention, avoid repeated mistakes, and be extra nice to people we love. Too much guilt affects performance. It drains energy steadily. Guilt is usually accompanied by untenable situations, like a 70-hour week topped off by a miserable travel experience when, all the while, our children are having birthday celebrations. Or being late for dinner yet again because we lose sight of the time. Or standing up a friend because our boss calls an unscheduled meeting and we’re too afraid to push back.

We blame the situation, but actually, guilt starts with us. We cook it up, triggered when we cannot do what we know we must do. Knowing that made me feel guilty, but that’s the best I could do in the circumstance. I want to invest more time in reading the research on guilt. Not every challenge is met with success.

Later that week, in Bogotá, I met two more groups of women professionals. When I had agreed to the two events, I had figured on an hour’s flight from Sao Paulo. Ignorant American! I would have agreed to Tierra del Fuego, that’s how clueless I am (was).

Think it’s easy to sign 50 books in 15 minutes? I forgot how to spell my name! 

The first group of women—local executives—engaged in dialogue and seemed to embrace centered leadership, that is, until we got to the Q&A. Then they talked about the rural women who had watched their husbands and sons killed in the narcotics war, their villages destroyed by drug traffic. Bogotá was the bubble, and the rest of the country was the reality. What good would centered leadership do for them?

In the afternoon, I reenergized with a roomful of younger professionals who had flown in from all over Latin America. They were pioneers, isolated in Buenos Aires, Santiago, Lima, or Bogotá. You don’t understand our context, they reinforced. How many times had I been to London or Shanghai or San Francisco? Too many times to count. This was my first trip to Bogotá. That said it all.

To meet this third challenge, I offered respect and kindness, agreeing to return with a new workshop focused on mentoring, networking, and community.

Sixty-something remarkable Latin American women leaders, a baby (with her father), Trish Gyorey, Jacqui Brassey, and me! 

Earlier that week, I had called my husband to console myself with ties to home. I remember blurting out, “My brain’s on fire!”

Yes it was. And that’s a good thing.

Surviving Your Sponsor


This week, I offer you a story that speaks to the loss you feel when your sponsor moves on.

Colleen grew up craving stability. In fact, she signed up for an internship at her accounting firm plus a full-time position post grad school before her senior year at college! Colleen learned perseverance and purpose from her parents:

My dad had the morning shift and my mom had the night shift. But they both came home for dinner and their work never came up! My dad said, ‘you do what you have to do in order to do what you want to do.’ You suck it up now to take some of the pressure off later on. That’s my perspective on work and life too. Staying five years is nothing if you are going to have a 35-year career. I told myself I would leave when I stopped being challenged, but it hasn’t happened yet.

My parents grew up in the Civil Rights movement and indoctrinated us to think we could do anything we wanted to do. The world was bigger than South Carolina.

For years, everything rolled along merrily. So it came as a shock to Colleen when her sponsor announced that she was leaving for a better opportunity:

She was the person who had my back! I thought, What am I going to do? I cried at work that day. It was part shock and part fear. I had worked so hard to get on her good side! She told me, “You’re great because of you. You’ve been carrying it so far.” She gave me a window of two months. I told her I was pissed and we laughed. It took me three weeks to get over it. I had to distance myself because I knew it was coming.

It hit me again when the project we had done together came round again and I had to work with a partner with a very different personality. I had to take control of the project on my own since he didn’t know me. It was scary, looking over my shoulder to see if I was doing things right.

Her sponsor’s departure was a turning point in Colleen’s career. First she put her head down to complete the project. That showed Colleen that she could perform without her sponsor. It emboldened her in new ways:

It took a good two quarters to get used to the new person. We didn’t mesh at all. That was weird. My sponsor had been hands-off but she became hands-on when necessary. Her replacement was hands off without really helping. He was not a partner, but a boss. He said, “I fly in and swoop back out!” He asked why I didn’t say anything. I said, “I’m just an associate and it’s not my place.” I started to understand his pattern. I had to rise to the occasion and get it done. I just did it my way. I thought, If you don’t like how it’s done, show me what you want.

Then I shifted to the attitude that I could do anything. New projects popped up. Where I might shy away, I took them on. Curious to know what was going on, I started interacting more with the client, speaking my opinion without thinking I had to have approval. When someone asked me a question and I answered in two seconds, I realized that I could not have done that before.

My sponsor’s departure made me float and then swim on my own. It was almost like I learned without knowing I had learned. I had to trust myself because I had no one else to lean on. It was a pretty amazing feeling! I did it. I proved myself not only to everyone else, I proved it to me.

Colleen’s sponsor still checked in with her quarterly, counseling and guiding from an outside perspective. And eventually, the new partner became Colleen’s next mentor.

So what?

Colleen experienced loss when her sponsor left. Remarkably, her growth also accelerated.

It’s tough to be abandoned at work! But remaining behind as your sponsor leaves is normal. People routinely move on. Give yourself time to experience and share what you’re feeling. Recognize that the discomfort and disruption you feel indicate a big change underway. Change promises growth if you are willing to embrace it.

At minimum, ask your departing sponsor or mentor for her honest view on all your development needs. Also, review how you worked together and decide what you want to do differently. Face the truth that your new relationship will not be the same.

When the dust resettled, Colleen found herself with one sponsor, another mentor, and even better—more capability and confidence than when she started.