by Ann Marie MacDougall, MBA, eMBA: The world is changing and those changes are accelerating rapidly…
The pillars of traditional hierarchy are crumbling causing 21st century leaders to face unprecedented levels of complexity as they navigate high performing teams through boiling points of pressure, tight deadlines and transform group ideas into action.
From these new world realities, there is an undercurrent of excitement on the potential to empower and evolve humanity. Notwithstanding, leaders are also facing enormous accountability on how they lead their workforce into the future: what they say, what they do, and how they empower their teams to actualize full organizational potential.
In this interview, we are grateful to speak with Byron Katie, who shares her wisdom on the power of cultivating leadership calm during chaos through self-inquiry. Her process, called The Work, is being levered across the globe to improve leadership effectiveness, clarify strategy, drive innovation, and unlock human potential.
Byron Kathleen Mitchell, known internationally as Byron Katie (everyone calls her Katie), is an American speaker and best-selling author of the books Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, I Need Your Love-Is That True?, A Thousand Names For Joy, and the forthcoming A Mind at Home with Itself.
Katie, thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview. It is a privilege to learn from you, and I am excited to have a discussion on empowering 21st century leaders.
You’re very welcome.
A systemic and recurring concern we’re hearing from multi-sector leaders is how do I empower my workforce to remain focused and calm while navigating enormous amounts of change and complexity. From your interaction with millions across the globe, what common challenges are leaders facing in their day-to-day activities?
The challenge leaders face today is the same challenge leaders have faced for centuries: stress, fear, and limitation. What causes these reactions is what leaders are believing about their companies, their employees, the world, their families, and themselves. Staying focused and calm is difficult when you’re believing your own unquestioned thoughts.
Agree. Stress, fear and thoughts of limitation seem to be major drivers of confusion.
The outer transformations we’re witnessing in the world today seem to be catalyst for inner transformation (individuals, teams, communities and organizations). By example, business leaders are having to address higher levels of workforce concern expressed in areas such as: fear of the future, fear of change, fear of overwhelm, fear of failure, etc. Can you comment on your observation of this phenomenon and how leaders might effectively navigate these conversations?
All these fears are crippling to one’s confidence and creativity. But there’s a very simple and powerful way to address them. I call it The Work. (Tools and instructions are always free at www.thework.com.) The Work is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the stress, fear, and limitation in the world. It consists of four questions and what I call turnarounds, which are ways of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. We identify our stressful thoughts, then write them down and question them, using the four questions of The Work: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? 4. Who would you be without the thought?
For example, your stressful thought might be “I have too much to do.” Let’s take that through inquiry. Is it true that you have too much to do? Here you would close your eyes and wait for the answer to appear. The answer is either yes or no, with no buts or becauses—just one syllable. Let’s say you answer, “Yes.” The second question is Can you absolutely know that it’s true that you have too much to do? Take your time here. Go deeper if you can. You might find a surprising no, or you might still answer yes.
Then there’s the third question: How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought that you have too much to do? You might answer that you feel anxious, there’s a constriction in your chest, your heart starts to race, your breathing gets shallow, you think of a future in which necessary things are left undone, you feel overwhelmed, etc. Your answers to this question will enlighten you to the cause-and-effect of believing a thought like this.
Finally, there’s question four: Who would you be without the thought? Who would you be if you didn’t even have the capacity to think the thought that you have too much to do? Calmer? More peaceful? Less irritable? More able to act efficiently in the present? Simply doing the task of the moment, without worry beyond that? When you answer this fourth question in depth, you’ll realize that an unquestioned thought is the only thing that stands between you and a powerful state of calm and focus.
Then comes the turnaround. The opposite of “I have too much to do” is “I don’t have too much to do.” How might that be true for you? Meditate on the turnaround and see if you can find specific examples of how it might be accurate. You might discover some surprising insights here.
Within my own company, and within many others across the globe, we identify whatever is holding us back—anything that would limit our work and personal lives. The beautiful thing that surfaces is always productive and contributes to the common good. It really is that simple, and all it takes is a curious, open mind.
Thank you, very powerful insights. I love that your inquiry process is universal in the sense that it is being leveraged by so many across the globe to help transcend fear and unlock potential.
In your online materials, you’ve said, “Without our story about people, we can really hear them.” Can you please comment on how this might translate to leadership?
If I am in discussion with an employee or colleague, my job is to stay completely open and connected, since that is the only way I can actually hear what they’re saying. If I move into that conversation with assumptions, preconceptions, or hidden agendas about that person, then I’m dealing not with the actual person but with my own projection of him or her. That leaves me out of touch and unable to see who I’m actually in conversation with. It limits the possibilities of our interaction; it sabotages not only his or her creativity but also my own. It’s crucial that I deal with the real person, not with the person I believe him or her to be. Anything less than this is disrespectful and inefficient.
Great advice, thank you ~ staying open and connected creates clarity during dialogue.
From the perspective of managing increased levels of stress, complexity, and chaos, how might 21st century leaders leverage this as opportunity to access greater levels of team awareness, empowerment, and achievement?
Any crisis is fear-based. It is always an opportunity to grow. Questioning my thoughts is the education. Once I thoroughly question a stressful thought, then I can turn it around and learn how that turnaround might be just as true as—or even truer than—the original thought I was believing. This can be a huge liberation. And when I become aware of what is wise, the path often opens in the simplest and most wonderful ways to simply live that wisdom. This kind of awareness leaves us with a fearless state of mind. It becomes very clear what changes to make and when to make them. Good leaders follow. Everyone in my company has something to teach me, and I am open to learn. When all the self-limited, self-aggrandizing, self-defeating motives have been questioned and understood, the mind becomes unlimited in its power to solve ego-driven fear.
Thank you. I love the idea of evolving to the point where we become unlimited in power to solve ego-driven fear. It would be liberating, in so many ways.
On this point, the process of unlocking conditioned and fearful beliefs seems to be unique to the individual and cultivating greater states of presence, unfolds over time. Do you agree, and can you comment?
I do agree, and I suggest that leaders devote a minimum of twenty minutes every day to stop and notice and jot down the stressful thoughts they’re believing. Once a judgment or assumption is identified, question it, who would you be without the thought, what would your life be without inquire into what happens to your life and happiness when you believe it, then witness who imposing that judgment onto your world. Then turn the thought around. Use The Work app on your phone or go to the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, downloadable free on thework.com. Moment by moment, day by day, The Work opens your mind to a world that is kinder and more beautiful than you ever could have imagined. Someone said the most important question to answer is whether the universe is friendly. I’ve come to understand that aside from what I was believing, that really is true. The Work is a practice that anyone with an open mind can do.
Wonderful, thank you.
In today’s business circles, there’s increasing interest to discuss the challenge of balancing Artificial Intelligence (AI) with Human Intelligence and/or a need for Being Human. Can you please comment on the degree to which human consciousness must evolve with the pace of advancement in technology?
Life is virtual reality, in the sense that it is what we believe it to be, as opposed to what it really is. We superimpose what we believe about the world onto the real world, and as a result we live in a world of illusion, thus creating our own worries and fears.
Thank you, agree. It would be a leap for humanity to live more in the present, as compared to being perpetually focused in the past or future.
Are there any other insights you’d like to share on how 21st century leaders can effectively manage increased pressure while navigating change within their teams?
It really is the truth, our own truth, that sets us free. Here’s one exercise that I’ve found to be extremely effective. It does take a good deal of courage and an open mind. You begin by listing your daily complaints, then you question them and turn them around, one at a time. For example, the first complaint on your list might be “I complain about John, because he betrayed me. So you would ask, “’He betrayed me’—is it true? Can I absolutely know that it’s true?” And then you would notice how you react when you believe the thought that he betrayed you. Then you would contemplate who you would be if you didn’t believe that thought. And finally you’d turn the thought around. “He didn’t betray me”—how might that be true? What specific example can you find in that situation? Another turnaround would be “I betrayed him.” Still another: “I betrayed myself.” What examples can you find that would show how each of these turnarounds might be at least as true or the original thought? This will give you a twenty-minute session with yourself each morning.
Also on the website, there are videos of me doing The Work with people on a variety of topics, and it can be very helpful for everyone on a leadership team to watch some of these videos. What I love about The Work is the laughter and tears that can come with the major shifts that happen when our identities are questioned. There is also a One-Belief-at-a-Time app, and we’re working on a virtual-reality app as well.
Katie, thank you. It’s been an immense privilege to interact with you in this way. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and please let us know where we can learn more about your upcoming events and access your powerful self-inquiry tools and materials.
You’re so welcome. As for learning more, people can visit my website, thework.com, where they’ll find a schedule of events, information about how to do The Work, free materials to download, many video clips of me doing The Work with people, and a free helpline with a network of facilitators.
This interview was conducted by Ann Marie MacDougall, President and Founder of LeaderBoom Inc., a leadership development firm based in Toronto (www.leaderboom.com) and focused to empower the full potential of global leaders, teams, organizations and communities.