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Inside-out Leadership

Randi B. Noyes
with Ingrid Strøm-Olsen and B. Keith Geddings II

I have listened to many stories from leaders of corporations over the last 20 years. The major challenge for a top leader is to find peace inside in the midst of uncertainty, confusion, ambiguity, and conflict. With every session, we move leaders away from fear and into a place of complete clarity where solid decisions can be made.

A change is emerging in the way we approach leadership. The business world is changing, and so are our ways to deal effectively in it.

The mind and intellect were dominant in the past, we thought. But now we know that it is emotions and our ability to understand them that make us better leaders. Moving beyond our feelings to a place of peace is where answers to complicated questions are found.

Being an effective leader demands a new path, but where does one get the fresh, new ideas and inspiration? The answer is from within – and while seemingly accessible, it is often the hardest to access. Every modern leader needs to be able to tap into a place of peace and flow on a regular basis in order to see clearly, and to be creative and effective. Choosing to be still and tap into your inner peace daily is essential.

A Modern Leader 

Take Allan, a man in his early forties and owner of an exterior surfaces business. The company’s products are metals and rock formations in all shapes and forms, imported from all corners of the world. Within this industry, his company has now won awards for the highest level of quality and craftsmanship.

Allan became increasingly frustrated with his work. He wanted to become a successful leader and grow a big business to “grow the country”, as he often said as time went by. (To grow the country, was his purpose although he didn´t understand that until a year later.) His passion had been great, and his willingness to go through “fire and water” to reach his goals was equally great.

When I first encountered him in my leadership seminar he was burned out, not able to see a clear path forward to achieve his goals. He felt like he was maneuvering in a dense fog that impeded his ability to see. He had been in a place of peace and flow before, but he had no idea how to get back to that place of resolve. He was stuck.

Allan was a ”man’s man,” and he was stubborn and set in his own ways. I was eager to work with him, because I knew these characteristics meant that he would be committed and not give up easily once he set his goals.
In that seminar, I facilitated an exercise where I used stones of various sizes to symbolize problems and challenges, and I asked every participant to pick one. Allan refused to select a stone, and while it might seem counterintuitive, I actually respected that. In private during the coffee break I commented that I regarded it a sign of strength on his part to follow his own course and not do as he was being told. This opened a door of trust and respect between us. I know that leaders need to be true to themselves in the first place, in order to be good with others. They have to be in harmony with the actions they take. “If I were to pick a stone, it would have had to be a mountain“ he said, “and there is no room for that here.” His challenges were overburdening him.


I called him after a couple of weeks to tell him that I was interested in taking him on as a client. Allan showed up in my office the week after I called him, and we started to work on taking the mountain apart, stone by stone.

I asked him if he was willing to write down his frustrations with others in letters (and not send them). After a few meetings, I also asked if I might meditate with him to establish a more personal connection with him.

“You have been in a peaceful place before, and now we are going to do everything we can to get back there as fast as possible. We are depending on your ability to see clearly and receive new insights in order for our work to be successful. You will already know how to move forward once we have removed some roadblocks and you find your place of peace and stillness inside. I guarantee it.” I said.
After talking about how important it is to allow feelings to emerge, whatever the feelings were, he was on the move again. He had not been aware of the importance of letting his feelings flow. He now acknowledged being angry, sad, afraid, elated, thrilled, happy, and guilty — all the colors of emotion. He blasted through one block after another, and his feelings brought him forward. Many leaders don’t understand at first how very important it is to learn to use and manage their own emotions. Emotions are energy in motion, and if you suppress them instead of feeling them, you get stuck.

Back in the Flow

Feelings are like a river of various emotions, flowing downstream all the time. If you block what comes down the river, the water will back up and cause significant floods and damage. In our meditation sessions, Allan relished an inner peace and the new ideas that came up. He grew by leaps and bounds, and he was willing to let the river flow. At the same time, the company was making great progress, and we enjoyed much of this trip together.

There was only one problem. If his wife had not been part of his life, he could have worked more. She really held him back, he thought. As a matter of fact, the following Christmas he wanted to get a divorce.

SOS The Homefront

“Allan, if you choose to do that you will go through a lot of turmoil and it will certainly affect you and therefore your business for at least a couple of years to come,” I said. “You will feel a lot of guilt seeing what your children have to go though. That will surely shake your foundation.”

As we contemplated this question, I told him that I would not be happy as his wife.

“Why,” he asked.

“Clearly you feel that she is in the way, and she obviously feels it. No one likes to be treated like that. You don’t feel that way about your executive team, your employees, and your customers. Your family is allowed to show that she is in their way as well. They are not treating her well. She needs to feel cherished and loved by you. Allan, please think about this. If you really want to succeed, you need a base of support and peace, and you have to create that yourself.”

Allan is a highly reflective and smart man, but has few friends. His only foundation was his business. He had also withdrawn somewhat from his parents and siblings years ago, and they all blamed his wife. They used every chance they had to insult her and hurt her. There was too much turmoil at home.

Allan and I meditated often during the coming days. He meditated alone as well. There had to be better answers, and he found the answers in his soul during the sessions of inner peace. Allan realized that he had pushed his wife away, just as he had his friends and family. He had also seen his wife as competition to his company – after all, how could he have time for both? He felt as if it were an ‘either, or’ scenario where he had to choose, but through reflection and pattern recognition he realized that was not the case. There, inside of his peaceful self, it did not feel right to file for divorce in the end.

So, instead of divorcing his wife, upsetting the children, and unsettling his foundation, Allan decided he needed to rebuild his family life and his marriage, as well as his business. Asking his parents and the rest of the family to stay away so that he could focus on that rebuilding effort was the hardest thing he had ever done, he told me later.

A man has to leave his parents and go to his wife, as the wise saying goes. For how can a leader possibly be a strong leader when he lets his parents undermine himself and his own growing family?
And how can a man become a good leader if he neglects to exhibit leadership in his own family?
Allan found strength in finding peace daily through meditation. He was excited when I asked him to be as true to himself at home as he was at work.

Together we identified all the strengths of his wife, as we had done earlier to define the strength and virtues of his employees. The result was that he really started to respect her and see the best of her. This brave man found a shortcut to his own heart, his own soul, and his own knowing. He found a way to loving his own wife by choosing to look for the best qualities in her.

It has taken some time, but he is now living a love affair with his wife and enjoying the love of his children. Getting there has not been easy, but what does that matter? Allan is happy, and so are his wife and children. But how does that tie back to being a good leader in business?

In Balance

Allan had created a solid foundation to stand on just like every good leader needs!
During this transition, Allan’s company grew exponentially, with revenues increasing from 55 to 195 million dollars in about three years. He has now bought two other businesses, has hired a new managing director for one of his five companies, and is himself the CEO of the group. All these companies are in the same industry but have different roles. Throughout this process, Allan and I meditated on which people to hire and weeded out people that could have cost the company a lot of money and damage.

Allan and I still marvel at what we see and know in that peaceful, still place together.

At one time Allan was about to hire a CFO that he basically had “fallen in love with”. When he agreed to meditate before making the decision to hire this person, we both saw clearly that this person was not a match, but Allan had become so emotionally attached that his feelings tricked him. We love that story, and it is an easy story to understand for anyone who has fallen in love. It could have become expensive for the company.

Going Deep

Last year I had Allan, the CFO, and five of the company’s top leaders in a leadership seminar. Allan insisted that everyone there learn how to meditate. He wants to give deep leadership training to his senior executives, so we will be taking many steps together, helping the business grow in an inside-out manner. (He has recently decided that he only wants people on the board who are willing to meditate.) This is how he himself found his way.
It is worth repeating: Much can be said about how important emotions are in our lives. We need to remind ourselves that emotions are energy in motion; they flow through us like a river. We don’t want to lose that energy; rather we want to harness it. If you stop acknowledging your challenging emotions, the water in the river will back up and overflow. We must allow all the “water“ in that river to flow through us, to ensure that it continues to flow freely.

I had promised Allan to lead everyone in meditation twice on the day of the seminar. Afterwards we discussed how it affected us. All felt it was a relief to be able to experience inner peace. They understood that this is a shortcut to new ideas and clarity. I had never met any of these leaders before, all of who were men. Yet, we were able to quickly build a strong connection and loved the peace and trust we shared. They all were inspired to deepen their ability to find peace, see new solutions, and make better choices from a place of peace and strength rather than from fear (which inhibits so many leaders). We are in fact growing a new kind of leader who feels as much as they think. They lead from strength rather than from fear.

A study conducted by Professor Lerner at Harvard University shows how even sadness, if we don’t allow ourselves to feel it, distorts our decision-making process. If you are willing to feel what you feel at all times, every part of the river, your emotions do not become stuck. There is an art to being aware of the current of emotions that is running through you at all times. Meditation will deepen your ability to do just that. This awareness is a powerful tool.  By focusing on what is here and now, you position yourself for success. Now is all there is. All decisions are made here and now. A leader needs to know how to harness their own peace in order to be creative, innovative, and make good choices from that place of peace.

A modern leader finds the answers to their leadership challenges in the stillness of their own heart and soul, often through meditation.

Leadership is an inside- out job. As good music is created from the heart and the soul, so is inside-out leadership.

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