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How to find courage in adversity and become the leader you want to be

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Original Date: February 19, 2020
When we are faced with an obstacle in our life, our tendency is to either fight against it or run away or hide from it. The fight or flight response. Everyone is probably familiar with the boss that is aggressive and ready to get into an argument (fight response), or another one, quite the opposite, that just chooses to put their head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening (flight response).

Don’t be that leader!

There is another way!
In this webinar, Barbara Geels-Dingle, Axialent consultant and stage 2 breast cancer survivor, will help you identify cues for courage and be more in flow when faced with adversity.

You will learn to:

  • Focus on what is in your control and how to take ownership
  • Embrace polarities and change the narrative
  • Practice self-care and compassion to build resilience
  • Incorporate gratitude and spread positive energy



Hello and welcome to the Lead to Transform webinar, How to Find Courage in Adversity and Become The Leader You Want To Be. This is one in a series of webinars where we connect 30 to 45 minutes to bring to life the challenges we see in the market and what to do about them. When we are faced with an obstacle in our life, our tendency is to either fight against it or run away or hide from it, the fight or flight response. In this webinar, Barbara Geels Dingle, executive coach and consultant and stage two breast cancer survivor, will help you identify cues for courage and be more in play when faced with adversity. We will host a Q&A at the end of the session. If you have any questions during the presentation, you can write them to us in the questions section or use the raise your hand button and I will unmute your microphone when we answer questions at the end. Okay, over to you Barbie.


Thank you so much Becky and welcome everyone. Here there is a picture of me that looks somewhat professional, but this is also me. In July 2017, I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer or as I would like to call it, the day that cancer chose me. I’m a strong believer that things happen for a reason and life threw this challenge me, cancer challenged me and it did allow me to tap into my courage to fight the disease. Today I’ll share several lessons that I learned throughout my journey and they are fairly easy to apply to all areas of your life, especially in the workplace where we often face adversity or difficult challenges.

And I’m inferring that you probably joined this webinar because you don’t want to be that leader. You know that one, the one that is aggressive and ready to get into an argument, what we call the flight response, the fight response or the one that pretends nothing’s going on, puts their heads in the sand and chooses to ignore whatever is happening. That’s what we call the flight response and I hope today in my webinar I’ll give you some inspiration to be more in flow and become the leader that you aspire to be. To make it easy and practical, I’ve named these lessons the Cues for Courage and we’ll talk about four different cues today. We’ll focus on what is in your control, we’ll talk about embracing polarities, gratitude, self care and self compassion.

Let’s dive into the first Cue for Courage. Focus on what is in your control. I live in South Florida, in Miami, and this is a picture of a hurricane. It’s something that we deal with. However, this is something that we cannot control. We still haven’t found a way to control the weather. One example of something that is not in your control. The same thing goes for the stock market. It fluctuates up and down. We really do not have any control over it. Another example is traffic. You hear it very often when people ask you a little why you’re late for a meeting? Oh, I was stuck in traffic. Another example might be, Oh my previous meeting ran long, and so I stayed, therefore I’m late, I’m sorry, my internet broke down. And I wonder how many of you use this one? Maybe not in a work setting, but in school. Sorry, the dog ate my homework.

And this is just to show that using the language and blaming an external factor for your situation is something that we grow up with. It’s already ingrained into our being as start. For those of you who have kids, Oh, the toy broke. She did it. No, he did it. Very easy language that is adopted that way. So what is your cue for courage here? Thinking about what is in your control, no matter the situation that they, that is in your control is how you choose to respond to the situation in front of you.

I did not have any control over the fact that I got cancer, but what I did control was how I was going to respond to it. I was going to do everything in my power to fight and beat this disease, finding the best doctors, making sure I did all my treatments, eating healthy, exercising, everything in my scope of possibility to make sure that I would beat the disease. Don’t be a victim of your circumstances. Let’s take the traffic example. A different way to frame that by taking responsibility is something like, “I didn’t leave home with enough time to account for traffic. Therefore I’m late.” And this is where you implicate it yourself. I didn’t leave home enough. Instead of saying, “Oh, it’s traffic’s fault.” No, it was your choice to leave late. So you can also choose to leave on time and when you implicate yourself and you take responsibility, it becomes a very different conversation.

Make sure that you’re in the driver’s seat of your life. Don’t be a passenger to your own life and I just want to invite you to notice throughout maybe the remainder of the day, how many times you actually blame something that is beyond your control or an excuse that you make that is actually outside of your control instead of taking ownership. Awareness is the first step to recovering and you have the keys in your hand. How do you create that awareness? There is a moment between the stimulus and the response where we have a choice. When someone asks you a question, instead of responding right away almost without thinking, which is what happens often, create a moment of pause and choose how you’re going to respond. Thinking about the responsibility you can take for your action. Presence is a great tool to be more aware and create that moment of pause.

And the beauty is that we always carry a quick method to become more present with us. And that is our breath, focusing on our breath. And we can do a tiny little exercise just to create some more presence. I want to invite you to close your eyes for a moment. Maybe uncross your legs if you’re sitting and put both feet firmly on the ground so you’re in balance. And notice how the floor under your feet, is supporting you. And then you take a deep breath in and out and then slowly start to focus as you continue breathing in and out on that space, on your forehead, right between your eyebrows, breathing in, and breathing out. If there’s any thoughts that come in your mind, just look at them as clouds in this sky, just passing by. Don’t engage. Just let them go and continue to bring your attention back to that place on your forehead. Let’s take one more deep breath and really start to feel your body.

This simple exercise just took us maybe 30 seconds, but it allowed us to become more present. Use this presence when you’re faced with a challenge and then assess what is in your control and choose carefully how you’re going to respond. The first Cue for Courage is focusing on what is in your control.

The second cue for courage is embracing polarities. We live in a world of it’s either hot or cold, black or white. And we often see leaders make very binary decisions, where they weigh just one option versus the other. And they know that none of the options are the right one, but they just choose or they feel forced to choose the lesser of the two evils.

But how can we lean into that tension that we’re facing? Lean into the polarity? So we’re going to do a little experiment. If you look at this image, what do you see first? And I want to launch a little poll. I’d love to hear from you what you see first. Did you see the white faces first or that you see the black face first? I’ll give you a moment to respond.

Here are the results. We can see that some of you said faces. The majority actually, saw the white faces first and then some others saw the black vase.

This is a polarity because those answers are both correct and they were interdependent. So if you look again now that you know you can actually see both at the same time. And we have a tendency to switch between one or the other, but we’ll know cognitively that they’re both there. So keep this in mind as we talk about polarities. Let’s take again the example of the breath. We inhale and we exhale. It’s something we do mostly unconsciously. So when do we inhale, we get oxygen and that’s the positive pole. But if we inhale too much, at some point there’s no more air that will go in. And so we get uncomfortable. There might be discomfort in your lungs.

That’s where we get into the negative pole of too much oxygen. And in order to release that oxygen, we need to exhale, which again makes us feel good, which is again, a positive pole. Now what happens if we release too much oxygen and we exhale too much? We get out of air, we lack oxygen, and therefore we need to go back and inhale. And this is kind of the infinity loop. It’s a continuous flow of inhaling and exhaling that happens. Let’s look at a common business example. Do we innovate or do we do what we know how to do really well and our consistency? And that could be maintaining high quality, improving the delivery of service, maybe our reputation. Those are all the positives. Well, what happens if we then do too much of the consistency? We run the risk of not keeping up, we might start lagging behind.

We become less relevant and so to balance that we need to innovate. Creating new opportunities and interests, offering the latest and greatest, becoming much more cutting edge. But then if we do too much, again, we innovate too much. We get into the place of there might be a lack of consistency because we’re constantly renewing. We might spread ourselves too thin. Our services will start to suffer because we can’t do everything at at the same time. And so therefore we go back and revert back to the consistency. So this is the mapping of a polarity. Again, that is a constant flow between what we know how to do really well and how to innovate.

Another place to look when we embrace a polarities is changing the narrative. There is a lot in the language that we speak. Embrace yes and instead of the either or. And here are some examples of what that looked like for me as I was facing my journey with cancer. There would be a lot of sadness and hope. My body now has multiple scars and I’m still beautiful. I could be completely falling apart and still growing. Now think about this language and how you use it in a business setting and as a leader instead of saying no to something when if someone brings an idea answer with yes and and see what comes from that, build on what the person is saying.

Somebody might come to me and say, “Hey, I really think we should have donuts every Friday.” Yes, and maybe we take care of those who prefer a less sugary treat or snack and have some fruits or granola available. So the second Cue for Courage is embracing and using polarities and changing the narrative from either or to yes and.

The next Cue for Courage is gratitude. Before being diagnosed, it was really easy to just take things for granted. However, since the diagnosis, things that didn’t seem too important became much more important. I’d often work weekends, long hours, prioritize work. I realized this meant that I would take away time from my family and friends. And when you’re faced with your own mortality, your family and friends become way more important than work. And I’m so grateful now to be able to spend time with them every moment I have with them.

What I did is I implemented a very simple gratitude practice. Every morning when I wake up, before I grab my phone or get lost in emails or the latest news, or even just being hijacked by life in general, I lay in bed and I pause. I pause and I think about three things I’m grateful for in that moment. The wonderful colleagues I have at Axialent and their friendship, my loving husband who stood by me throughout my journey with cancer, driving me to every doctor’s appointment, sitting with me through chemo treatment, radiation, or just the warm bed that I just woke up in. Whatever comes to mind, there’s really no reason to overthink it.

Research has shown that practicing gratitude on a regular basis has a long list of benefits. It can improve your psychological health, reducing toxic emotions and stress, enhancing empathy, reducing aggression. People actually sleep better and it can crease increase your mental strength. There’s multiple, multiple benefits from gratitude and those were just a few. Now there’s lots of ways to practice gratitude. This is a practice that works for me. Do it right when I wake up so I’m not distracted by anything yet and I just pause for a moment. Others have a journal when they sit down before they start their day. I’ve heard people have a gratitude jar. Find what works for you.

Now you can also practice small acts of gratitude or appreciation at work. Think about something someone did for you. How did you thank them? Did you just say, thanks? That word is so overused and I found that it really has started to kind of lose its meaning. The energy and the intention behind it has really gotten lost. And what I mean by the intention and the energy behind it is that it becomes ingenuine, like it doesn’t feel real. For those of you who have kids, this is probably a great example of how the feeling behind what you’re saying is not there. Have you ever had a child apologize to you because they were told to or your mother told you to go and apologize? You generally get the sorry, but that’s not genuine. There’s no emotion behind it. It’s forced and I feel that’s what happening with thanks. It’s such an overused word.

Here are some simple ways to be more impactful and give it more meaning when you appreciate someone. The first one is used direct expression. Address the receiver, use their name. Becky, I deeply appreciate your efforts. Make it personal, use their name, look at them. Benja, I want to publicly recognize you for your efforts and your courage. Instead of it being impersonal, where it becomes again, “Hey, thanks man for doing this.” The third one, call out the specific behavior. What is it that they did that had the impact on you? “Selena, I really enjoy your story. It made me roll on the floor laughing. I haven’t laughed so loud in such a long time.” What is it that they did? And then talk about the specific consequences. “When you did this for me, the impact it had was…” “Rick, thank you for volunteering to help out with the project. When you spoke up, I had such a tremendous relief knowing that you would be there and it help me.” Use direct expression, make it personal, call out the specific behavior and mentioned a specific consequences.

Gratitude is the third Cue for Courage. Now let’s look at the fourth Cue for Courage, self care and self compassion. During my recovery I watched tons of Netflix and one afternoon I was intrigued by this new program called Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up and I felt inspired and if you’re familiar with Marie Kondo, she’s a Japanese author and consultant who helps people declutter their homes and their offices. And what she does is when she goes to people’s houses to help them declutter, she wants people to look and identify things that bring them joy. She will empty their entire closet, throw everything on the bed and have them go through, item by item, picking up a shirt, asking a question, “does this spark joy?” The answer is yes. It goes on the keep pile. If the answer is no, you say thank you shirt for serving me and then either goes to the donate or the toss pile. And Marie Kondo will guide these participants through this process throughout their house.

And so I felt compelled to apply those methods and not to my house, I generally very neat, I prefer to apply it actually to my life as a way of self care. Self care is really not implied when you face a disease like cancer, it takes a lot of effort. You already have a full list and now cancer is added to that long list of things that you do. And you cannot just say, sorry life, I put you on hold, I need to take care of cancer. You need to make sure how to carefully rearrange your life to make sure that you are a priority.

And there’s a really beautiful quote that Maire uses, “To truly cherish things that are important to you, you must first discard those that outlived their purpose.” And I specifically connect with the cherish part. Cherish the things make them a priority. So I did, I looked at three different areas in my life, work, social circle and time. I want to invite you to just think about your job or the work that you do and ask yourself some of these questions. What am I grateful for? Think about the gratitude that you have for the job that you hold. Are my personal values aligned with those of the organization? Maybe you haven’t even checked into your values for a while, so this could be a good opportunity. Do I still feel connected to the greater purpose of the organization I work for or the work that I do?

Am I excited to go to work in the morning? Do you jump out of bed or do you drag your feet? Does my work spark joy? Now, if you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, fantastic. You had a few nos unlike Marie Kondo, who would say just toss it or put it on the donate pile, I am not. So this is a disclaimer, I am not telling you to quit your job. The purpose of this exercise is to give you some insights where there might be some discomfort, where there might be some unhappiness, maybe where you’re no longer aligned with your values. So now that you’ve identified a problem or the issue, you can do something about it. If you’re not part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.

The second area that I looked at is the social circle. The people that you surround yourself with. What are you grateful for when it comes to your social circle? Write down the names of those around you that are your cheerleaders and your supporters. Who might be holding you back? We probably know the friends that are always negative, who are always complaining. Is it really good that you spend time with them? Who amongst my friends sparks joy and who doesn’t? And noticing? Do you prefer the hangout with one friend versus another because they uplift you? Yeah, and if you said no to a few of these questions, I am not suggesting that you break up all your friendships. These people came into your life for a reason, and this exercise again serves as a way to take inventory and create some awareness on how you spend your time and with whom you spend your time.

As a breast cancer survivor, this process happened almost organically. It is incredibly shocking to see how many friends you lose during the process. People that you would hang out with on a regular basis somehow got uncomfortable about the fact that you’ve got a disease and you’d hear less and less. And so that’s kind of like a self selecting process that happens. And then there’s those that really stayed with me throughout the process and supported me, would check in with me constantly. So check in with your social circle, think about who you hang out with and spend time with.

Speaking of time, something we just never seem to have enough of. When was the last time that you took a tally of how you spend your time? Maybe think about last week and write down how your time was allocated each day or maybe use the remainder of this week and every day kind of tally, what am I spending my time on? Is it work, exercise, volunteering, family activities, school writing? Whatever the activity is and how do you spend your time? And then in addition, I would say if you have a smartphone, also check how much of your screen time you had this week and it was it useful time or was it just the aimless scrolling through social media and once you’ve written all that down and put together a tally, think about what am I grateful for when it comes to time?

What are some of the patterns that I’m noticing and observing? Where did I not have a good use of time? Where did I waste it? Is how I spend time aligned with my values? Again, check in with your values. Maybe think about wow, if I value rest and relaxation or I value being at home with my family and I did tally and I noticed I was hardly home or hardly interact with my family, that’s a very telling example. And how would I allocate my time to have more joy? What things bring me joy that I’m currently not doing, that I’d like to do more of? And maybe what are some of the things that I need to stop doing?

I’d like to leave you with a really, really nice quote that goes to self compassion. Because applying the Marie Kondo method to your life is a great starting point to take better care of yourself. But don’t forget that you also have to have some compassion for yourself. Give yourself a break. At the end of the day, tell yourself gently, I love you. You did the best you could today. And even if you didn’t accomplish all that you had planned, I love you anyway. So today we looked at four Cues for Courage. Focus on what’s in your control, embrace polarities and changing the narrative, practice gratitude and appreciation, and self care, and self compassion. We faced adversity in our personal lives and our professional lives. And there’s great learning to take from both, but we often keep them very separate. I’ve combined them both. And you can too so that you have the right Cue for Courage and mindset when you face a difficult situation. I hope that these cues provided you some inspiration as well as some antidotes for the fight or the flight behaviors that we often display, creating more flow using these tools and techniques and become the leader that you aspire to be.

Becky, I’m going to pause here and hand it to you to see if we have any questions.


Thanks Barbie. That was really great. Just to set a reminder, if you’d like to ask anything, you can either write your question in the question section or use the raise your hand button and I’ll unmute you so you can ask your question.

Barbie, the first question that’s come up is, what did you do or what do you do when you wake up or have a moment and just feel like giving up?


Thank you, Becky. Yes, that is a really good question.

I think what I was very aware of throughout my process was to make sure that I stayed present. When we feel like giving up, at least in my case, I noticed that I was creating scenarios. What if they don’t find a cure? What if I die? What if it comes back? And those are all stories and future scenarios that have not happened yet, but it can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. And so I would kind of try to catch myself and say, okay, is this something that has happened or is this something really happening now? Or is this just a story right now that I made up about a future possibility of happening? And then I would say, okay, I’m not going to engage. And I would really try to come back to the present moment, connecting what’s right in front of me.


Okay, thanks for that. I’m just checking the list of questions, another ones come up. Can you give more tips on how to create a moment of pause?


Yes. So I did the little breathing exercise, but there’s multiple ways. For me, pause and presence are closely related. Maybe there’s some examples in your life that you can use as a cue. For example, I have a dog, her name is Mango and the beauty about dogs is that they live fully in the present moment. They don’t have any stories in their mind. They really just focus on what’s happening in front of them. If I go and leave the apartment to go and throw out the trash and I come back, she’s really excited to see me because I’m right there in front of her.

And so she serves as a great reminder for me to aspire to be that present and not get caught in my head. Breathing is another way to do it. I exercise a lot so that also helps me calm and feel my body. I do Pilates and I run and I walk. Just noticing things around me like feeling the warmth of the sun on your body or smelling the freshly cut grass when you walk around the neighborhood or whatever it may be. Those are some of the things that I do to create cause.


Thank you Barbie. Another question is, have you always had that optimistic personality or did it develop with the disease?


I think I’ve always been pretty optimistic that from ever since I grew up having just a strong belief that if I would put my mind to it that I would get it done. One example is that growing up I really wanted to go and work for Club Med, the French resort company. And one of the requirements was to speak French. I did not speak French, but that didn’t keep me from still trying. And when I applied I did speak English and Dutch and German so I had an advantage of multiple languages and what they do during the interview process. I did not know that, but this was just because I hadn’t given up trying. So when I applied during the interview process, they want to make sure that you actually have a good knowledge of other languages other than French. And so I passed with flying colors and go sent off to a resort in Greece.

I don’t speak Greek either, with a very international group of guests, but the main language in the resort was French and I got by just starting off with pen and paper, asking people that would speak French and German or French and English to help me translate but I’ve always had this spirit of never giving up. I hope that helps.


Yeah, great. Thank you. That’s really interesting. Never give up. So I can’t see any of the questions at the moment. I don’t know if anyone has a last minute one they want to add otherwise we’ll end it here, Barbie.


That’s great. I hope everybody got some great value out of it and if there’s any questions or any comments, I’d love to hear and don’t hesitate to reach out.


Thank you. Well as Barbie said we hope you enjoyed today’s session. We will share the recording in the next few days. We’ll send out an email with that and we look forward to seeing you at one of our next webinars. Thank you again, Barbie.


Thanks everyone. Have a great rest of your day.

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