Silicon Valley is no stranger to buzz word job titles. Happiness Engineer, Security Princess and Software Ninjaneer are some real working examples. But with this slew of ultra cool job titles, it would seem they have missed the most important one: a Chief Healing Officer.

Over the last 5 years I have met with many CEOs and leaders in Silicon Valley both on and off the record. In 2017, we did a BBC series and interviewed CEOs from HP, Box, Slack, Udacity and others. Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity, was one of the CEOs who spoke more openly about Silicon Valley’s lack of soft skills. Here is what he had to say:

“CEOs need a myriad of skills. They are really janitors who clear up the mess. “Silicon Valley is not known for soft skills and it’s a key point that needs addressing over the coming decade. We need a powerful combination of tools to get people to adapt to how businesses are changing with these skills”.

It has me thinking that if Silicon Valley lacks the emotional soft skills and is the epicenter for changing the world, then how do we change the world without healing and feeling?

Despite the ongoing evidence that emotional intelligence allows us to have greater awareness and control over what we do, make better decisions and create closer and more satisfying relationships, it would seem the simplistic, yet difficult need to develop these skills are an inconvenience to the abstract, rational thinking that Silicon Valley prides itself on.

In the absence of these emotional skills, we have seen a large proportion of people in Silicon Valley not able to connect to their feelings, or the feelings of others, and what this has meant in terms of mental health. Silicon Valley is no stranger to its perils. The teen suicides in Palo Alto were captured in the documentary Unmasked which shared stories of the unrelenting pressures faced by teens. There was also the compelling series; Mostly Human: Silicon Valley Secret on CNN: a deep dive into the reality of depression and mental health, and the consequences that life in Silicon Valley was having on entrepreneurs.

We recently interviewed a faculty member at Singularity, a university focused on preparing global leaders for the future and well known for its ideas in exponential thinking. After a one hour interview on a range of radical topics, I threw in the curve ball question.

“What do you think about the undercurrent of mental health concerns in Silicon Valley, and do you think that exponential thinking can come at a human cost?”

“Well mental health is not something that is really talked about in Silicon Valley, it is still very much a stigma”

It was a sharp, one sentence answer. He was thrown off, and when the interview finished, he approached me and asked;

“What made you ask about mental health?

“It’s an important question, and one I don’t think Silicon Valley has been brave enough to face yet” I responded.

With a sidetracking discomfort he replied “Have you heard of the book Stealing Fire? It’s what most people are talking about at the moment”

Stealing Fire is your classic high performance mindset read, centered around the idea of reaching ‘ecstasis’, a transcendental mental state of flow. Ecstasis is anecdotally supported by stories of extreme human experiences ranging from psychedelics to dance parties, and mentions some of Silicon Valley’s most successful billionaires Elon Musk and Larry Ellison. An honest review of Stealing fire in Quartz called it the ‘intersection between self-help empowerment fantasies and superhero empowerment fantasies’.

The book is perfectly targeted to the Silicon Valley club of mind bending, peak performing, transcendentalists seeking out profound and superhuman experiences. It also has tremendous appeal to those with mania, a symptom of bi-polar disorder and a psychological condition common, and often undiagnosed in Silicon Valley. Achieving ‘ecstasis’ can be very easily disguised with achieving a state of manic psychosis, a potentially harmful state of delusion which separates one from reality.

The irony of the experience at Singularity is that Silicon Valley’s answer to mental health pointed me directly to its problem. So where does this leave Silicon Valley today and where is it on it’s own healing journey? The New York Times article Silicon Valley Goes to Therapy explored the new startup scene around psychology tech, landing in Silicon Valley after its cry for help in mental health.

“Silicon Valley is approaching its anxiety the way it knows best. So now there is on-demand therapy. Therapy metrics. Therapy R.O.I. Matching therapists with clients using the tools of online dating…… The language the companies use is aggressive for something quiet and personal like therapy. But in the Bay Area, founders see little virtue in applying a measured response to a market opportunity”

This new combination of technology and psychology lends itself to a fast, disruptive tech driven solution for the slow, painful and deeply connected work required in therapy. Once again, it points out the irony of the problem. Because if tech therapy is matching therapists like dates on Tinder, then we can also expect similar outcomes for the user; long addictive hours trying to find the ideal therapist to meet immediate needs for self gratification.

Supercharged tech psychology, transcendental mindsets, it would seem that Silicon Valley is missing the point, and has failed to recognize the simplicity and value of emotional skill building and human connection. And judging from all the people I have spoken to, it is not an emotional risk many are willing to take. But if Silicon Valley is serious about pioneering the new frontier for humanity, it’s going to need to become more human itself, and start to deal with the slow and unsexy process of building its capacity for emotional intelligence.

As the world begins to heal post COVID-19 and realizes the importance of human empathy to build a more meaningful and purpose led work culture, then Silicon Valley runs the risk of not having the emotional diversity needed to propel and drive the big ideas. I often think the talent not available in Silicon Valley is the talent not interested in being there.

Building the emotional capacity needed to support a strong character is the most important work for companies today. If we take the great work of Shakespeare which many humanities experts believe is the greatest handbook in leadership, the road to character is found in creative and balanced dialogue, using power constructively and finding meaning in the struggle of one’s own humanity. When it comes to Silicon Valley, it would seem it is somewhere on the road to character, but not entirely connected to the journey. And global talent with a deeper sense of character and empathy may not necessarily want to jump on the bandwagon.

As for the role of Chief Healing Officer and how companies embrace this new buzz word, well it has to start with the CEO. It is a commitment that goes beyond downloading a healing app and doing 20 minutes of healing a day. It is also recognizing that a high performance mindset starts first and foremost with an emotionally connected body and mind.

Because of COVID-19, the healing journey has already begun and CEOs now have the opportunity to embrace it as both morally and strategically. Here is what they can start to focus on:

  • Enhance the human experience at work and embed the practice of emotional skill building in the culture.
  • Have real, truthful and difficult conversations from a place of compassion more regularly with teams
  • Create safe spaces for people to express emotion and build trust and resilience
  • Make art, comedy and anything that requires human improvisation a therapeutic and creative new way to work
  • Recognize that the journey of healing can inspire innovation in teams around a more human centered experience for products and customers
  • When it comes to talent, make character strengths, life experience and emotional capacity as equally important to education and work experience
  • Advance the conversation and intervention around mental health and make healthy body and minds the greatest asset

Whatever the healing strategy, it will be the foundation for good business, and has the potential to create new value for companies. But most importantly, it’s the ethical and right thing to do.

Developing the emotional capacity will be a critical part of the healing process and will allow CEOs and their companies to benefit from a more creative, diverse and meaningfully driven workplace. It can also give organizations a new humanistic edge, and guide the road to character for Silicon Valley and its CEOs, to help pioneer the new world post COVID-19.

But it is important to acknowledge that emotional skill building is hard work. It requires courage and a commitment to personal growth and most importantly, it takes time.

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    If I am to honour courage, and the quality of spirit that is being asked right now, I must own up to the state of emotional distress I have experienced. I cannot remember a time when I have cried so deeply at the state of the world, or have felt the extent of suffering for others so profoundly. The pain our black community must be feeling is insurmountable. As I cry, I will never truly understand.

    For some white people, they are starting to feel the shame that comes with injustice. Injustice is synonymous with shame, and shame as a feeling doesn’t discriminate. It is painful and it is uncomfortable, and privilege will prevent you from feeling it.

    As a white woman, I have awakened to the cold hard truth. The truth of my own discomfort, for all I have not done, and for all the ways I have not shown up to fight injustice. Even after working with youth violence in Africa. I faced it and I lived it, but I know in my heart I didn’t do enough. This truth, it is unsettling, and it is the level of emotional unwinding that is needed to dismantle the elusive veil of white privilege.

    Understanding the truth is understanding our own complacency. We must be prepared to take a challenging and kind look at ourselves, and the ways we have not shown up to the issue of injustice. It is a feeling, and it is uncomfortable, and it is important to face into.

    Here is how it might show up:

    • Feeling ashamed because for so long you haven’t recognised how racism and injustice might feel for others.
    • Feeling guilt because you never took the time to understand what it must feel like to live in fear of racial violence
    • Feeling embarrassed because you never learnt about how to stop racism, when all the knowledge was available
    • Feeling disgraced for not having taken action to racism earlier
    • Feeling overwhelmed at the realisation that the system serves white people only
    • Feeling confused that because you are white, you are part of the problem.

    As white people, we will never feel the injustice to the extent of our black equals, but we can start by being honest with ourselves, and accept the deceit of our own privilege. Our feelings, and our ownership of them is what will build capacity for genuine empathy. Through empathy, we can meet others where they are, and begin to build the bridge towards solidarity.

    The journey of realising the extent of white privilege is not meant to feel good, it’s meant to feel uncomfortable. It will also feel messy, but it is the most important work of our time. It is the road to true healing, and it is the uncomfortable personal work that will move us towards solidarity and with hope, equality.

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      Kevin Roberts, Chairman Saatchi and Saatchi, couldn’t have been more wrong when he said that the diversity debate is over, and his poor judgement has resulted in his speedy resignation.

      As ignorant as his comments were, Roberts isn’t a lone voice in the world of chairmans and boards of his generation – many believe having a woman or two on the board is enough to reflect true diversity. The fact is, female senior executives and non-executives are in the minority and continue to work in a male-dominated environment, that largely tolerates them rather than fully supports and empowers them.

      Kevin Roberts was quoted as broadly saying three things:

      1. “I do not think a lack of women in leadership roles is a problem”.
      2. “The diversity debate is over”.
      3. “Instead of wanting to climb the ladder, women have a circular, intrinsic ambition to be happy and do great work”.

      From the overall context of his comments, he isn’t a sexist, he just doesn’t see the underlying issue.

      So, what is the reality for the three points he makes?

      1. There is a glaring lack of women at the top of Fortune500 companies – 5.2% is ridiculous and surprisingly, it is getting worse.

      After releasing its list of the 500 biggest companies by revenue for 2015, Fortune tells us that the number of women running the world’s largest companies is decreasing with the numbers falling from 24 to 21 in the last year.

      Unless a new female CEO joins the ranks soon, the number will fall again when Ursula Burns steps down as CEO of Xerox later this year.

      2. The diversity debate has only just started. It is actually about hidden discrimination and cultural contempt against women.

      We currently coach a very senior executive from a media competitor of Saatchi and Saatchi.  She is a highly capable woman and has been in the business for over 20 years.  She is on the board, but is the only female in a line position with full P&L responsibility.  Although respected, if she stands up too firmly against some of the board decisions made by male colleagues, she is labelled the “difficult woman” which disempowers her and stops her from being the powerful leader that she is. She doesn’t feel like a member of ‘the club’ due to her lack of interest in sports and not being a participant of sport.  I am sure she is not alone.

      In another FTSE100 company, we were working with feedback given to the executive team from the next level down.  The feedback told us that women weren’t valued in the organisation.  A senior male executive in his 50s said, “this is ridiculous, and I can’t see it at all”.  Four of the female executives in the group either laughed or got angry, forcing a debate about the reality for women at the company. 

      From this exec’s perspective, they had set up a diversity task force a few years ago, resulting in more women placed in the executive team. Although this was factually correct, the women still felt unable to push back on issues that they really felt strongly about in the boardroom. The women also felt unable to talk too much about their family situation and having children, as they were worried about it being perceived as weakness, or career-liming in an alpha male culture.

      We worked through this, and agreed that the company would have a zero tolerance policy on discrimination moving forward. Companies need to be having these discussions to start addressing underlying internal systemic issues and cultural tensions.

      The real gender debate has only just started and Saatchi and Saatchi might help to be the catalyst. Let’s just see in the next round if companies will start to address the real issues, or if it’s going to take another few chairman to slip on the “women are not equal” banana skin.

      3. It’s not a lack of ambitious women, it’s actually that senior female executives are struggling because the system is broken and doesn’t support them.

      Many female CEOs are dropping out of the Fortune500. As Oliver Staley quotes in Quartz, among the casualties are: Carol Meyrowitz, retired as CEO of TJX Companies; Ellen Kullman, retired from DuPont after a bruising battle with shareholder activists and Gracia Matore, was CEO of Gannett before it spun off its print publishing business. Matore is head of the remaining media company, Tegna, but it’s now too small to make the Fortune500.

      The number of women on corporate boards is not significantly increasing. According to Catalyst, a research group that tracks female executives, women still hold less than one-fifth of board seats at Fortune500 companies. So, why is this?

      The reality, is that most Western boards are still male-dominated and despite having formal board procedures, the male executives continue their ‘boys club’ outside the boardroom. This is an underlying issue that still needs to be addressed. Women need to be properly integrated and connected into the boardroom with an equal voice, and the chairman is ultimately responsible for ensuring this happens. 

      Catalyst cited further research demonstrating that a gender diverse board leads a company to better financial performance. Between 2005 and 2009, the top quartile of Fortune500 companies by female boardroom representation outperformed those in the lowest quartile, with a 16pc higher return on sales and a 26pc increase in return on invested capital. These numbers grew to 84pc and 60pc respectively for companies with a sustained high representation of women on their boards.

      So, is gender inequality a male problem or a female problem?

      Our belief, is that it goes both ways and we are missing strong, authentic, successful female CEO role models. The sooner we get one or two spectacular successes, the sooner we’ll see women really accelerate to the top. It can be incredibly hard for women wanting to progress in the face of intense media scrutiny and backlash when they try to change alpha male-dominated company cultures. This is heightened by too often fragile support from mostly-male boards that can’t see that gender discrimination is an issue.

      We face another problem: many women defend current female role models, Marissa Mayer a perfect example. Ideally, she would have succeeded and provided that missing role model who could have overturned the discriminatory system. Unfortunately, she didn’t succeed at Yahoo and we need to accept that.

      This article is the first of a series of six articles about female diversity issues world-over. We are currently interviewing top female CEOs and global female influencers to gain their perspective.

      We will be covering the current reality facing female executives today and how to reset the corporate system so that women en-masse can be empowered to contribute fully to corporations.

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        Last week we were in Australia exploring what it is that makes Aussie CEOs tick and if Australians in business are true global leaders, or if they’ve mainly found success through luck. We met with some of the most well-known and iconic CEOs in Australia, including those at Telstra, Qantas, Myer and Westfield.

         “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

         This condemning quote by Donald Horne was written in 1956, a time when Australia was still a developing nation primarily building its wealth from natural resources and the trading of commodities.

         Now that the mining boom is over, many believe that Australian corporates may have run out of luck.  We went out and tested this notion by asking Australian CEOs whether they are just lucky, or if they are truly adaptable business leaders who are paving the way for a big and successful future for their businesses and for their country.  Here is what some of them said about what makes Australian leaders unique to the rest of the world and why Australia is becoming a global force in business:

        1. They put in the ‘hard yakka’

         ‘Hard yakka’, from the word ‘yaga’ meaning ‘work’ in the Yagara indigenous language, signifies a time in which the first Australians were used to jobs that required strenuous, physical labour. The term ‘hard yakka’ still applies to Australian business leaders as they are known for their relentless drive, strong points of view, competitiveness and enormous hunger for success. Australian leaders are also known for surrendering to the simple pleasures in life, such as watching sport, being with friends and celebrating a day of “hard yakka”.

         “Australian leaders are competitive within Australia and with the rest of the world.  They are also well known around the world for their impact to be in involved in a good debate.” – Steve Lowy CEO Westfield

         “We lead from the front during the tough times and its always a big team effort.” – Alan Joyce Qantas

        1. They are battlers and they give it a go!

         Australians have a working class heritage and are used to frequent changes in government, that over the decades have imposed copious amounts of red tape on businesses. Despite this, Australian business leaders have always been battlers and are willing give to give it a go.  We are now seeing an emergence of Australian entrepreneurs who are breaking through the red tape thus introducing a new wave of entrepreneurship to the country.  Australia is driven by meritocracy, by hungry entrepreneurs who must be cherished, otherwise they will be lost to global competitors.

        “Australian leaders need to start changing the mindset of the company, not the people. We already have great people.” – Andrew Bassat CEO Seek

         “Great minds in Australia might go elsewhere.  We must harness talent and diversity.” – Andrew Penn CEO Telstra

        “You show me someone who hasn’t made a mistake and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t done anything.” – Mike Hirst Bendigo Bank

        1. They are natural pioneers

        Australia is now the 15th largest economy in the world and hits above its weight not just in mining, but in many areas. It has been at the forefront of many innovations, particularly medical technology and education. Wi Fi for example, google maps and the bionic ear were all invented in Australia. When it comes to the rest of the world though, pioneering ideas from Australia are still few and far between, but for a country with such a small population there are a lot of big opportunities.


        “There is a misunderstanding out there of Australia as a mining or commodities country.” – Steve Lowy CEO Westfield

         “Change for us is easy, we are disruptors at heart and are always changing”. – Jayne Hrdlicka CEO Jetstar 

        “Australian leaders need to always ask themselves, what does “best in the world” mean?” – Andrew Bassat CEO Seek

         4.They are humble, grounded and step out into the world

        Australian leaders are seen to be very easy going with minimal formality, making it easy to get to know them and build trust. With over 4% of Australians living overseas, Australia has always been well-connected.  They love to travel and have an open mind to the world and to business.  

         “Australian leaders are humble, grounded and outward-looking because we are remote in the world so by necessity, we need to look out into the world.” – Jayne Hrdlicka CEO Jetstar 

        Culturally in Australia we are an egalitarian society.  We have less formality and structure compared to the rest of the world. Our top teams are far more accessible and people are open to getting feedback.” – Andy Penn CEO Telstra

        1. They have unique community business models

        Australia has unique community business models which revolve around the idea of accessing remote communities and always putting the customer at the heart of the organisation. Australia Post and Bendigo Bank are uniquely positioned to serve these communities.

         “We asked our customers what is the most important thing we can do for communities, they said do your job well and look after your customers.” – Ahmed Fahour CEO Australia Post

         “A lot of people bring ideas to us because they see us as a true partner to do things.” – Mike Hirst CEO Bendigo Bank 

        1. They are one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world

        With 1 out of 2 Australians born outside the country and 1 in 3 Australians having ancestry originating elsewhere, Australia makes for a cultural melting pot.  Diversity is what makes Australia unique in world business and Australian companies are well placed to harness competitive advances from a more diverse talent base.

        “At Australia Post 30% of our employees are born overseas, 40% are women, 2% are indigenous and 8% have disabilities. Diversity is our source of competitive advantage.” – Ahmed Fahour CEO Australia Post

        “We harness creativity by getting diverse thought and ensure there is a proper debate and that this debate is put into action.” – Alan Joyce CEO Qantas

        To summarise, Australian business leaders are fortunate to live in a country of such beauty with a wealth of natural resources. Thus far, the physical distance that separates Australia from the rest of the world has provided protection for businesses to grow, however this boundary is now beginning to be broken down with the explosion of new technologies. From witnessing first-hand the adaptability and strong personal mindsets of some of Australia’s most successful CEOs, we see that Donald Horne couldn’t be more wrong. These CEOs have made their own luck and are increasingly positioning themselves for a push across Asia and beyond. What we saw in Australia’s business leaders indicates that they’re not headed for retirement on Bondi Beach, but are ready to get out there and take on the world.

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          Why is it that there are ten times more female CEOs in Thai private companies than in the Fortune 500? What is it that has enabled business women in Thailand to reach managerial and CEO positions more easily than those in the West? What do the CEOs of the Fortune 500 have to learn from female, Thai CEOs?

          In Thailand, ancient Warrior women would fight alongside men and protect their husbands from war. Not much has changed in the country since then, as it’s normal to find women taking on a leadership role both at home and at work.

          In Thai society, nearly 12% of CEOs in public companies are women, 18% are directors, and in the public and private sector combined, the numbers are anywhere between 30% – 40%. Compare these figures to the 4% of female CEOs in the Fortune 500, and we see that the rest of the world has a lot of learn from Thailand when it comes to gender equality at the top.

          We spoke to 3 of Thailand’s most successful female CEOs for the BBC CEO Guru, discussing the secrets of female leaders, Thai society and what can happen if you have gender equality  as a starting point for business;

           Equality in the work place

          The Thai male population has a mutual respect for male and female leaders. As a result, it is normal to find women in managerial and CEO positions. This ingrained gender balance can be said to stem from ideas in ancient Thai folklore, such as the story of Si Suriyothai – an iconic woman known for protecting her husband and dying in war.

          “In Thailand we all support each other – both men and women.  We have great female leaders, and we are always smiling” – Wandee Khynchornyakong, CEO SPCG


           Women are leaders both home and at work

          Thai women are comfortable being leaders and CEOs by day, and mothers and supporting wives in the evening, making meals and taking care of the home. Just as in the West, where female leaders often build a support network to help with their family and business duties, managing to lead at work, mothering and maintaining a happy home life is embodied in the Thai way-of-thinking. 

          “I see my role to be a great mother, a great leader and a great wife” – Wasna Lathouras, CEO Narai Intertrade



          They overcome insurmountable problems

          Thailand is known for it’s political instability and the occasional coup. As a result of this, there are a number of gaps that have developed in Thailand’s business infrastructure. For example, it can take up to two weeks to deliver a product to their home – ‘Amazon’ is often an unknown luxury. Female CEOs have a relentless drive to identify the gaps that exist in Thailand’s business infrastructure and they will not stop until they have found a way to solve them.

          Thai duty to family and to Thailand

          In Thailand, all of the CEOs who we spoke to had a sense of duty, both towards delivering on their parents’ aspirations and expectations, as well as to making an active contribution to the country. In Thai business there is a recognition of connectedness which has lead to a genuine supporting of each other in overcoming the issues with the country’s business infrastructure.

            “We invest where there is crisis.  We invest boldly and whatever we do we keep Bangkok at the heart” – Chadatip Chutrakul, CEO Siam Piwat  

          Warmth, understanding and patience

          Anyone who has been to Thailand knows that the country is a land of smiles, where there is a genuine care in service and an impeccable attention to detail. These innate female qualities match the core of Thailand’s values as a country, in how they deliver tourism, hospitality and retail – the heart of Thailand’s private sector.

           Bringing life to work

          Female leaders in Thailand proudly talk about 24/7 7 days a week working. Yet when asked about their family, they smiled and told us stories about how they would make their husbands come into work for dinner!  When asked why they worked so hard, they responded ‘we love what we do, so why wouldn’t we?’

          Thai women are successful because they embrace both leadership and femininity, and they are supported by a gender balanced-mentality in the business world. Imagine if we provided a similar platform across the rest of the world and that the next generation of female CEOs were in a position to seize that opportunity?

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            This decade has been an awakening to the “I,” the decade of personal reflection, self-betterment, psychological development, neuroscientific evolution, and spiritual enquiry. This decade of “I” had us spend hours on the meditation mat asking deeper questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be of service?

            Many of us have evolved with this intentional “I” focus, giving back to ourselves with self-love. We have better understood our deeper purpose finding ways to express and articulate its relevance to the greater world. This fundamental deepening of the “I” has meant we now understand the ego and its undeterred wanting of things, causing us to strive for more meaningful wants such as kindness, compassion, and love.

            It’s time for us to say well done, “I,” for awakening our egos to want more of what is better for ourselves, each other and humanity. I hope we have gained enough insight to our wonderful selves and have shared enough spiritual content on social media to show how much love, kindness, joy, and compassion we desire for this world. 

            The next decade however will be different as we embark upon the transformational shift from the ego-centric “I” to the collective “we.” We are now at the juncture of either glorifying our spiritual ego further through seeking even greater divine enlightenment or taking part in spiritual activism. 

            Spiritual activism is about getting ourselves off the meditation mat and applying our newfound selves to the collective “we” wilderness. It is the doing of the enlightened being. It is our free will to act, no matter our circumstances. It is about honouring fear whilst stepping into courage. It is shifting from a greater service to ourselves to a greater service of others. 

            Here is a list of the critical needs for new world leadership for anyone striving to move leadership forward in this next decade:

            • Need to be more ethical and live real-time corporate social responsibility.
            • Need to promote transparency and access.
            • Need to be leaders in climate change and have a responsibility for the sustainability of our planet.
            • Need to be leaders in equality and navigate complex dialogue currently occurring between the masculine and feminine.
            • Need to be leaders in diversity and promoting the equal rights of humanity.
            • Need to be leaders in the adverse and ethical effects of global technology.
            • Need to be leaders in how company’s influence the socio political agenda.
            • Need to be leaders in wealth distribution.
            • Need to be leaders in the void of human connection, to be more empathetic and connected to the social constructs we operate in.

            The last decade has seen many leaders feel stuck and disempowered, with the magnitude of the task at hand too overwhelming to know how to take real-time action. Even the most influential of leaders can begin to make the shift towards activism by starting with small conscious steps, so here is some advice…

            If you are wondering what your deeper purpose is, start with serving others.

            If you are stuck on what meaningful cause to support as part of your mission, ask those around you what causes they support.

            If you don’t know how you will make the big change, make a small change to someone you don’t know well.

            If you are stuck on how to love yourself, find ways to cultivate and talk about love with others.

            If you can’t find joy on the journey, figure out what gives joy to others.

            This decade, we embrace the “we” collective of spiritual activism, and it starts with small conscious steps outside ourselves, with free will, and in service of others. If we can start making these small changes, we will start to become new world leaders of the next decade.

            What are some of the small, conscious steps you will take this year to step into new world leadership?

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              Leaders are being faced with the greatest challenges of their lifetime as the world is united with fear and uncertainty. When anything is unified, it is amplified, so leaders are being called to step in and shift the uncertainty into new opportunities. 

              It’s make or break time, so here are just some tips to help you navigate the crisis and find ways to breakthrough.

              Are you ok?  – Isolation is new to everyone. It can be a rollercoaster of emotion as we navigate new ways of engaging with ourselves and others. Mental and physical health is the number one priority so being aware of your thoughts and feelings is critical. On the flip side, isolation is also a great opportunity to take your health and wellbeing to a whole new level. Take yourself deeper. If you do it well, it will give you an edge.

              Listen to what is not being said – Your teams are being impacted at an emotional level. Some are more resilient than others, but rest assured, no one is immune to the psychological impact of the current climate. Many of your people will show a brave face, so it’s important to listen for what is not being said. Tune into the anxieties of others and surface them in a real and compassionate way. Be attentive to what others may need from you and respond. Make your people your top priority.

              Stay true to mission – If the mission is set well, it will inspire and serve the current situation. Staying focused on the mission will keep hopeful and positive minds on the future, while dealing with the reality of the moment. You will be glad when you can reflect back on this time and say, ‘we did it, and we kept on mission’.

              Stay purposeful –  I was asked by a friend how I stay so motivated during such times, my answer was simple, I have a purpose. Bring your teams together to reflect on your company’s purpose. Or even more importantly, elicit the individual purpose of others. If you can begin to understand their deeper motivations, you will begin to create new meaning that could very well set a new tone for your culture. This crisis is forcing people to focus on what really matters, so why not hear from others and reset what really matters for the company too.

              Revisit ways of working – With many people working from home, it’s important to encourage the freedom while being creative and productive. As many companies struggle to transition to remote working, measuring how people deliver remotely can be useful, and can enforce new ways of working for the future with greater trust and accountability. It will be a challenge, but it will also be the new way

              Pioneer – These are perfect conditions to seek out new pioneering ideas so long as you have protected the downside. During this particular crisis, the streets and slate are literally clean! It may be the ideal time to be super entrepreneurial and motivate your teams to step it up with their big ideas and begin to test them against new conditions and assumptions.

              Don’t delegate the tough decisions – The biggest mistake any leader can make is delegate the tough calls, not just in a crisis, but anytime! As a leader it is so important, we live and breathe the full emotional experience that comes with the position of leadership. If you are fully accountable, empathetic and act with integrity on the tough calls, your people will notice, and they will become accountable themselves. 

              When it comes to layoffs, do the right thing – In my early career I would have many sleepless nights with the responsibility of layoffs. I would always challenge my colleagues and ask, have we done enough? So, ask yourself, has your company gone all the way to help support the hardship both financially and emotionally? Has the process been thought through and carefully executed? Your people won’t remember why they were laid off so much as they will remember how. If poorly executed, layoffs will be detrimental to the culture. If done well, you will protect your culture and retain greater talent in the long run.

              Work through fear – Working through individual and collective fears each day is both cathartic and important. It will ensure the concerns of others are heard, distilled and supported. Encourage your teams to be honest and transparent about their fears and work them through carefully. If you can distill fear, you can ignite passion, and passionate minds focused on the other side of the crisis is what will drive new momentum.

              Keep it real – People are suffering, so an overly positive outlook on the future may not land well with everyone, nor will a dire perspective that further facilitates the impact of what is happening. It’s important to stay focused on the opportunities without downplaying the realities that are being faced in the now. Just keep it real and keep it real-time.

              Leading through unsettling waters is one of the greatest challenges and privileges of leadership. 

              There is no perfect way to steer, but there is a strength of character that is needed to endure and there is a deeper sense of meaning that will help shape a new future. If as a leader you are not experiencing tremendous challenge, burning excitement and your own deep personal transformation during this time, then it’s time to assess and ask yourself – am I really breaking through?  

              I would love to hear your stories on how you are breaking through with your leadership.

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                If I am to honour courage, and the quality of spirit that is being asked right now, I must own up to the state of emotional distress I have experienced. I cannot remember a time when I have cried so deeply at the state of the world, or have felt the extent of suffering for others so profoundly. The pain our black community must be feeling is insurmountable. As I cry, I will never truly understand.

                For some white people, they are starting to the feel the shame that comes with injustice. Injustice is synonymous with shame, and shame as a feeling doesn’t discriminate. It is painful and it is uncomfortable, and privilege will prevent you from feeling it.

                As a white woman, I have awakened to the cold hard truth. The truth of my own discomfort, for all I have not done, and for all the ways I have not shown up to fight injustice. Even after working with youth violence in Africa. I faced it and I lived it, but I know in my heart I didn’t do enough. This truth, it is unsettling, and it is the level of emotional unwinding that is needed to dismantle the elusive veil of white privilege.

                Understanding the truth is understanding our own complacency. We must be prepared to take both a challenging and kind look at ourselves, and the ways we have not shown up to the issue of injustice. It is a feeling, and it is uncomfortable, and it is important to face into. 

                Here is how it might show up: 

                • Feeling ashamed because for so long you haven’t recognised how racism and injustice might feel for others. 
                • Feeling guilt because you never took the time to understand what it must feel like to live in fear of racial violence 
                • Feeling embarrassed because you never learnt about how to stop racism, when all the knowledge was available
                • Feeling disgraced for not having taken action to racism earlier
                • Feeling overwhelmed at the realisation that the system serves white people only
                • Feeling confused that because you are white, you are part of the problem.

                As white people, we will never feel the injustice to the extent of our black equals, but we can start by being honest with ourselves, and accept the deceit of our own privilege. Our feelings, and our ownership of them is what will build capacity for genuine empathy. Through empathy, we can meet others where they are, and begin to build the bridge towards solidarity.

                The journey of realising the extent of white privilege is not meant to feel good, it’s meant to feel uncomfortable. It will also feel messy, but it is the most important work of our time. It is the road to true healing, and it is the uncomfortable personal work that will move us towards solidarity and with hope, equality.

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                  I came across a Harvard Business Review article highlighting the top 10 commitments companies must make to advance racial justice. The article speaks to the ineffectiveness of corporations tweeting out statements of concern, and enlisted a set of company commitments that must be supported with action. Whilst I agree action is part of the answer, what the article seemed to infer is that there is a “one size fits all” set of commitments.  

                  Having worked with CEOs and their teams around the world, I have seen all too often where company commitments become just another strategic head exercise, overseen by executives and outsourced to H.R. and other departments. While there will be some quick company decisions that need to be made in response to racial injustice, the inherent danger is that companies move forward strategically, without first establishing a base reality of the culture. 

                  If companies are looking to commit to real change, and want to tackle the issues of racial justice head on, then it has to start with the CEO. His/her mandate will be to understand the unique set of root cause issues that exist within the culture before they can move forward.  Here are some critical steps the CEO may need to consider prior to taking action:

                  Communicate inauthentic leadership

                  There is so much out there about authentic leadership. But what does that even really mean? It always helps to look at what it doesn’t mean, and in this case it is turning up with a set of strategic company commitments to change without deeper reflection, purpose, and personal accountability. CEOs must face into the truth of their own complacency and own up to where they have not shown up to the issue of racism. True authenticity is deep rooted in vulnerability, and CEOs must be willing to show their cards and take ownership of their inaction, and have the courage to communicate this throughout the organisation.

                  Encourage employees to share their stories and listen to them wholeheartedly

                  Storytelling and language is what connects, creates community and can facilitate the healing journey. Before a CEO and leadership team can create any strategic change, they must encourage and listen to the stories of people within the organisation. And even before they can attempt to listen, they must first provide a safe opportunity for those stories to be shared. Stories of injustice and racism will be deeply rooted in personal history and life stories. There must be a genuine and heartfelt willingness to want to listen to people’s pain, anger, and suffering. There will be stories that will be courageously told and difficult to hear, but without the truth being exposed, there cannot be an opportunity for transformation and true strategic alignment.  

                  Establish a shared reality of the existing culture and have real and difficult conversations

                  Racism is systemic, so it is vital for CEOs to understand exactly where racism has shown up in the culture and ask the question of leadership: What has the company done to date to create a culture of justice? In truthful and courageous conversations, the answers will be very different. 

                  A CEO must be prepared to have the real and difficult conversations, and be able to hold a safe space with the leadership team for expression, and encourage constructive debate. The current situation has created an unprecedented level of distress and tension in people. A lot of people are carrying these emotions which may be in the form of blame towards the company. All views are important, and must be surfaced to establish a shared reality of where the company is in terms of its culture. Only then can a new set of behaviours be set that are in support of strategic commitments.

                  Arthur Chan says it here beautifully in his LinkedIn post:

                  Make a set of real and tangible leadership commitments that are supported by personal values and stories

                  CEOs and their leadership teams must humanise every aspect of the challenge being faced, and ensure a real, emotional connection is established to the commitments being made around racial justice. Company commitments that are merely a set of strong and positive statements will seem disingenuous, and will go down in the organisation like a lead balloon if the real issues haven’t been surfaced and acknowledged. On the other hand, personal leadership commitments that are aligned to values and life stories and communicated authentically will show truth and diversity, and will allow employees to align where there is resonance.  

                  A set of strategic company commitments without listening to an organisation can have a detrimental impact in what is very sensitive and precarious terrain. Employees are becoming more observant and challenging of leadership, and are using their voices to speak up more widely in support of social change. If they are to buy into company commitments, they will want to be heard, and they will want to believe in the company’s change in course. They will also want to know that commitments are substantive, real and come with a quality that has been unearthed through genuine truth and reflection, and are in support of real and bold action.

                  Originally published on

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                    I have recently taken up surfing. Having been a professional athlete before, trying a new sport can be challenging on the ego, yet humbling for the soul. Being out in the open ocean on my board really had me thinking. Amidst the complexity of COVID-19 and all the social unrest, there is still so much freedom to experience, and there are many opportunities to imagine beyond the present-day reality. 

                    It is now my 6th week and while I am still learning and get frustrated at times, I do spend time imagining the feeling of catching the perfect wave with the right amount of balance and feeling the powerful pull that comes with it. There is no doubt that surfing has captured my imagination. It is being pursued from passion, it keeps me uncomfortable and curious, and it feels equally valuable and important to growing my company. 

                    15 years ago, while I was playing basketball in one of Australia’s premier basketball leagues, I remember a sports psychologist we had for the season. As young striving professional athletes with high egos, the team were not quite convinced how techniques in psychology would enhance performance. Especially when it didn’t involve using the physical strength and endurance needed to tough out the weeks of training and games. I, on the other hand, was fascinated.  

                    We were trained in a visualization technique used before games. It involved moving ourselves into a meditative state and taking ourselves on a journey into the future to recreate the experience of a game. From leaving home, getting to the stadium, being in the change room, walking out onto the court and then finally visualizing how we would play and see ourselves winning. The most important part of the technique was to bring to life the vivid details of each stage, while also focusing on the feelings that came with it. We were trained to step into feelings of fear, doubt and learned to transcend them, so that by the time we got onto the court, we were grounded, confident and ready to play.  

                    What I learnt most from this technique was that winning games was important, but how we showed to up to play was even more important. And while visualization was a powerful way to see through to the ultimate end goal, there were absolutely no shortcuts in the hard work of getting there.  The visualization tool also helped me to see beyond winning and allowed me to understand why basketball was serving me to become a better person both on and off the court.

                    Just recently I was coaching a young entrepreneur, and he told me he practiced yoga every other day, so I asked him why? He said because it made him feel good, so I asked him why does it make him feel good? He said because he felt more connected to himself, so I asked him why is it important to be connected internally? Each time I asked why, and each time he answered the question, there was a deeper layer to the purpose of his practice.  

                    As I think about the new world of work and what is required to re-create an uncertain future, I also think about how leaders must find new ways to inspire themselves and imagine new possibilities. From my experience of working with CEOs, I have seen many of them use surfing, yoga, golf and other sports as a way to destress from their high-pressure roles, as well as catch up with friends and socialize.  While this is highly useful for reasons of health, it would seem some of them use these physical outlets as a way to push themselves even more, or to tick the proverbial ‘exercise and social’ box.  This means they miss the opportunity to go deep and learn how to use their practice to explore deeper intuition and creativity. 

                    For many of them, it also becomes part of a fixed routine, which can sometimes lead to a fixed mindset if not explored interdependently with other creative outlets.  I often recommend to CEOs and leaders that they pursue the creative and physical outlets they love, but to also explore new ones so they stay in a place of learning, curiosity, purpose and surrendering to the ego, much like I have done with surfing.

                    When we begin to practice these physical pursuits from the level of purpose, we have the potential to open ourselves creatively to new thoughts, new ideas and use the power of visualization to guide us towards a new future. The capacity for endurance and resilience while also bringing purpose to the work is a tremendous skill, and not always an easy one to develop, but a very valuable one to bring to the role of CEO and leadership especially during these uncertain times. Just like surfing, trying to stand too soon is exactly what wipes you out. It is the persistence to develop the practice that counts most, and the imagination of catching the long wave is what inspires the greater pursuit of the future.

                    With a new world of leadership emerging and greater stress amounting for CEOs and leaders to pivot in uncertain directions, finding deeper creativity and purpose is critical to finding new ways to inspire a new future, and it can all start on surfboard.

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