APRIL 18, 2019

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The need for belonging

I am just back from a trip to Europe to visit my family, my country of origin and my soul’s home. Coming back to California I once again felt torn between all the places I could call home and all the people I know, love and miss. It brought up two questions: where do I belong, and what do I need to feel like I belong?

These are also questions that always come up with my clients. The need to belong is universal. When women ask that question about their work, as they do not feel seen, heard or acknowledged anymore for their contributions, it is the moment they start to disengage and likely look for alternatives.

According to Abraham Maslow, a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need and most important in seeing value and meaning in life and a major source for our motivation. In the workplace, belonging allows employees to feel like they can be their authentic selves and therefore has a significant impact on performance and retention. It enables us to cope better with difficult situations and emotions.

What contributes to your sense of belonging?

The question “How can I belong” is a crucial moment in every coaching process, as belonging has a lot to do with what we value, what gives us meaning and where we enjoy our life (and work) to the fullest.

Dublin, for example, always gives me a strong sense of belonging, as it aligns with a lot of my values, needs and what I treasure in relationships. It is a place where I can be in flow (movement), the city is walkable (and that is important to me), a lot of my friends are there (meets my need and value for connection), it has a lively art scene (that is aligned with my curiosity and creativity).

Designing our lives for belonging

I recently interviewed a woman who designed her job to ensure that the people at her business site were seen, heard and included. She understood very early on that to flourish as part of a multinational company, you need to ensure that the people in your location feel connected and create their own community, while at the same time being part of a larger network.

What do you need to feel like you belong? And what resources are available to you?


I’d like to invite you to journal and reflect about the following questions:

  • What do you need to feel like you belong (at work, in a relationship, a place, a situation, a project, a community or team)?
  • What are your resources and connections?
  • What does belonging mean to me? How do I know that I belong?
  • What can I do to claim or reclaim my sense of belonging?

The aim is to understand where your feel like you belong and what resources you have to create that sensation in your work and life again.

Nicole Kleemann is a coach based in the SF bay area. She specializes in coaching women leaders. You can read and learn more on her website

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MARCH 25, 2019

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Dr. Robert Kegan postulates that there are five stages of adult development. The first two, Impulsive Mind and Imperial Mind, are mostly seen in children (or those who act like children!).

Stage 3 is the Socialized form of Mind, where we look for external validation and allow the opinions, beliefs, norms and behavior of others to determine who we are.

Stage 4 is the Self-Authored form of Mind. This is where Oprah and all the self-help books want to get us to... a place where we see ourselves creating our own reality and responsible for our own lives.

In Stage 5, the Self-Transforming form of Mind, you are less held prisoner by your own identity. How you show up in the world is created and influenced by your interactions with others. Kegan estimated that less than 1% of the population were Stage 5 adults.

In Stage 5, yes, you are prioritizing, making choices and responsible for your part of the results you are getting. But the world and the people and events around you are also shaping you and the choices you make. The people who agree with you, the people who challenge you, the successes, the difficulties... all these are changing you moment to moment, asking you to look at who you are and how you are showing up, and affording you the opportunity to continuously realign yourself.

In short, you are the writer, making choices, and at the same time, being written by everything around you.

There are echos of this perspective from diverse schools of thought. In Moby Dick, Melville writes:

Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.

Here is another view, from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

And here’s yet another take from the late physicist and card-carrying empiricist, Carl Sagan:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

What did Sagan mean by this? Look at all the forces acting on a wave on the ocean: underwater structures, changing ocean temperatures, atmospheric conditions, wind, tides, gravitational pulls, lunar forces, planetary motion, and on and on. A single wave literally comes into and goes out of existence because of all those forces. If asked, “when did that wave begin and when will it end?” I think Sagan would say, “It began when the universe began, and it will cease when the universe ceases.”

The complex, fast-moving times we live in demand new leaders who know they are the writer and the written. A leader in a meeting might have a sense of what s/he wants to do. S/he doesn't think, these opposing viewpoints are distracting and annoying, how do I impose my will? Instead, s/he thinks, these other stakeholders are not only not against me, they are me! And I need to let them shape what I do and how I do it.

The new leaders, then, are radically inclusive. They are willing to release the tiller because they are at a stage of adult development where they recognize that leadership is a role in a field of complexity, not a fixed position. They follow the flow and let the voices and perspectives of emergent leadership take over. They know there is a win-for-all somewhere in the mix, and they work towards it.

And when the time is right, they ensure decisions get made and are willing to take responsibility for the results of the team's choices and actions. The new leaders abhor the victim stance and never assign blame. They espouse the motto, “Why cry? I made the bed in which I lie.”

Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Here’s a good one to start with: just as light is both a particle and a wave, you are the writer and the written.

You don't need an extended retreat or a cosmic epiphany to see this. The first step is just to stop acting as if it's not true.

Dennis is an executive coach and consultant based in the San Francisco bay area. More by and about him on his website.

Photo by Hunter Leonard on Unsplash

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MARCH 6, 2019

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Waiting until you know for sure what’s going to happen – where people are involved – means waiting for ever.

With machines, it’s easy. With sufficient understanding of mechanics you can often predict exactly what’s going to happen. Cause and effect, straightforward to establish.

But human situations are nothing like that, even though we pretend to ourselves that they might be.

Take a meeting, for example.

Should you speak up about what’s on your mind? Now? Later? What effect will it have on your colleagues? On the decision to be made?

You cannot know for sure.

Whatever insight you have about the situation can only ever be partial. You can’t know what’s going on for others. You can’t know what they are thinking of saying. And you can’t know – even if you know them well – how they will respond to your speaking.

You have to act knowing that you’re speaking into an unknowable situation. And that speaking up will, in all likelihood, change something, at the very least for you.

But staying quiet is an act too, changing things no less than speaking up. So you have no choice but to be an actor, whatever you do, and however much you pretend it is not the case.

We get ourselves into trouble when we forget all of this. We imagine that we can only act when we are able to predict the outcomes of our actions. Or we blame and judge ourselves and others when things don’t turn out the way we expected.

And all the while we’re holding back our contribution, our insight, our knowledge, our creativity, our unique perspective because we’ve set ourselves standards of understanding that were never – could never be – reached.

Justin is a NVW faculty member based in London. More from him here

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FEBRUARY 21, 2019

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In a few of his books, Jack Kornfield talks about the myth of a snake and a beautiful young princess. The princess is to be wed to the snake prince, unwillingly, so she goes to see an old witch who advises her to wear 13 wedding gowns and every time the snake prince asks her to take off a dress she is to ask him to take a layer off too. After painfully removing layer of skin after layer of skin a handsome prince finally emerges.

I have been thinking quite a lot about this story and how it relates to self-development. I can identify with the pain and agony of personal growth and shedding layer after layer of the self, and though I am far from the last layer, I would still like to share my thoughts.

From my experience, where this story falls short is that personal growth is not a one-off thing. Growth is not linear. It is human and messy.

I recently saw a beautiful picture of the colourful mountains in Peru, and it struck me that a topic I had always found boring was actually nature’s way of showing us what personal growth looks like. Each layer of the earth is mixing with a different layer during significant events such as earthquakes and landslides. Ancient earth containing precious fossils and clues to the earth’s history suddenly becomes apparent after years of being hidden, sometimes creating new land to be explored. And, at times, new earth being taken down to the underworld, being buried deep under the earth’s mantle close to the core, bringing with it elements as big mountains.

We can think about the landslides and earthquakes as the significant events in our lives that transform and change us—maybe allowing us to remove a layer of skin, exposing an old layer that still needs to be worked on and addressed, or both. Vibrant layers will suddenly reappear, forgotten stories come back to haunt and daunt us, to allow us to learn and grow from them again. Even if these experiences are quickly forgotten, they will have created a new layer of colour deep in us, transforming the overall structure and shades of our mountain.

Stephany is a coach and yoga instructor based in Switzerland. More of her wisdom can be found on her blog.

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