It is possible to notice the precise moment in which life turns. Looking back, the big ones are obvious: we asked someone to marry us, we moved to another city, we launched a business, we acted on a dream. In these moments, our own "arc of history" bends in a new direction.
For me, deciding to write a book was such a moment. I can identify the very moment in which that possibility arose within me: first as an impulse, a sense of new energy arising, an image, and then a clear decision. I re-organized into a different person in that moment.
I see it happen in others all the time in coaching: people step into new commitments, sensing new possibilities opening, and entering. Like the heron, in the very moment of rising into flight.
These moments are often clear in hindsight. Yet being present opens us to noticing them in the very moment. Our body is waking into something new. We sense the rising energy of possibility. We find ourselves in actions that, the moment before, we were not taking. A sense of aliveness pulses in us. And, we begin to notice that those moments are not always big deals, like marriage or a turn in the road, but rather little moments of awakening in which we are renewed, alive.
It is a practice to begin to notice these moments of aliveness, of newness, as they happen in you. Watch. Expect. These moments happen every day, many times a day. Wake up to them. What happens in you when you turn on a dime to address a new circumstance? Act on an impulse? Make a move that surprises even you? Are delighted by an interaction with another?
In these moments, how does this happen? How does something new arise in you? How much is possible to feel, to sense?
I was inspired last week by a group of very senior executives who work internationally in third world development and the elimination of poverty. I was teaching Coaching Skills for Executives with my friend Bev Wann; we learned as much from our participants as they did from us. In particular, it was deeply moving for me to see these leaders' commitment to something larger than themselves, and to witness their resilient capacity to stay engaged with intractable and complex challenges over the course of many decades.
In talking with these people on the front lines of international development, I was reminded of how important it is for leaders at all levels to:
• Maintain a focus on a higher purpose; these folks were motivated and inspired by making a difference to their people and to the cultures and individuals that their work served. This kept them in the game.
• Engage in self-care and practices to sustain themselves. In systems that are chaotic, under-resourced, and de-stabilized (can anyone point to a system that's not?) it is critical for leaders to embody the stability and consistency that others need. This originates with self-work practices that build our internal capacity. (See these practices and to other sites with relevant practices.)
• Coach others, through seeing problems as developmental opportunities and using questions to stimulate the learning process of subordinates. Many see this as an optional time-consuming activity, and therefore don't do it. The long term costs in employee dependency and lack of development are severe. (Download this article for pragmatic ideas on this.)
• Stay constantly aware that we are all in this together. Educator and philosopher Martha Nussbaum describes this as "possessing a global sphere of concern." This group of leaders had a remarkable global awareness, built over decades of service. Yet, for all of us, our future is inextricably linked to that of everyone else on this small earth. Operating from this awareness is a critical component of ethical leadership.
Working to care for these remarkable caregivers was a gift.