Be here now: what two days of leadership training taught us

When my teammate Vivek Sri and I first heard that every employee at Asana goes through leadership training, we were sure we were in for slide presentations loaded with power mantras and group sessions full of knowledge workers in business-casual attire doing trust falls. But Conscious Leadership Group is not just any leadership training program.

Co-founded by Diana Chapman, CLG is based on the core belief that “consciousness and self-awareness can dramatically help us become better leaders and better teammates.” It has also become an important component in helping Asana build and sustain a mindful company culture.

Still, I’ve never really considered myself “leadership material” so I wasn’t sure what to expect. My biggest fear was that we’d have to do some sort of public speaking exercise. Thankfully, Vivek had signed up for the same training session as me. I was going to need a buddy for this.

As our training day approached, Vivek and I had so many questions. All we knew for certain was that several coworkers who had already gone through the training had cried during their sessions. What were we going to do for two days? What would we, two slightly introverted, left-brained writers, learn about leadership and teamwork? And would there be any tears? We decided the best approach was to go into CLG with an open mind.

In the spirit of consciousness and self-awareness, Vivek and I agreed to document our thoughts and experiences over the two-day training session. We took notes individually and then combined them chronologically, thanks to our meticulous time-stamping. What follows is a chronicle (edited and condensed for clarity) of how we felt, what we thought, and what we learned from two days of CLG.

Day 1

Vivek: Our instructor is Diana Chapman.

Jenny: So… what is leadership? It means taking responsibility for your influence in the world. Everyone is a leader.

Vivek: Diana says, “Be here now.” She then asks us what we’ve heard about CLG. Someone says, “I heard that we’re going to cry.”

Jenny: We’re each asked to share the one quality that we bring to work. I was gonna go with “curiosity,” but a few people ahead of me say it first. When it’s finally my turn, I go with “organization.”

Vivek: One by one we go around the circle–there are almost 40 of us—and say our names and one describing word. I choose “deliberative.” I hope people are impressed.

Jenny: We’re asked, who is accountable for this success for this event? When each person puts in 100%, we get co-creation. We get sustainable success.

Vivek: We partner up and take three minutes to talk about a problem we want to resolve with another person in our life—it could be work or personal. Wow, three minutes is a long time. After about a minute of giving context, I started getting more introspective about my issue: talking about how I am contributing to it—rather than blame the other person.

Vivek: We start talking about the difference between being above the line and below the line. This is language I hear at Asana all the time, but I never really understood what it means.

I started getting more introspective about my issue: talking about how I am contributing to it, rather than blame the other person.

Jenny: I had some reservations going into today’s training, but surprisingly, I think I’m above the line. (Or maybe I’m just sleepy?) Conscious leaders constantly ask, “Am I above the line or below the line?”

Vivek: We roleplay again and talk about how we are below the line. The room is loud! People are clearly on a roll. Being below the line is fun!

Vivek: Diana notices an Asana whose arms are crossed. It turns out she’s just cold. I’m cold too. There are murmurs of agreement.

Jenny: The air conditioner is on blast. Everyone in the room is 100% responsible for making the situation better. So someone looks for the thermostat, but it’s locked. Someone else gets a hold of the facilities team to fix the situation. Way to go, team.

Jenny: We’re learning about the Drama Triangle. When we’re in the Drama Triangle, we either play the villain, victim, or hero. People usually start at one corner of the triangle and move around in a consistent pattern.

Vivek: Moving through the three parts of the Drama Triangle is like dancing—with your feelings.

Jenny: We’re practicing the drama dance in groups of three. I see-saw between victim and villain.

Jenny: There are payoffs to staying below the line in the Drama Triangle. You get to be right. You get to connect with others through gossip. You feel a sense of progress. You can avoid or defer responsibility. Going above the line means diving into the unknown—and recognizing that there are things beyond our control.

Vivek: We should seek our entertainment from play and a sense of purpose rather than drama and gossip. This sounds reasonable.

Jenny: On being above the line vs. below the line: One isn’t right or wrong, better or worse. When we’re above the line, we’re saying, “I choose to be here.”

Vivek: We break for lunch. Because we’re wearing name tags, other employees who have already done the training can easily identify us. At lunch I chat with two veterans of CLG.

Jenny: We’re back from lunch and discussing the Change Formula:

Change = Resistance < (Vision × Dissatisfaction) + First Steps

Sometimes we want to make a change, but we’re not ready or willing to do so. And it’s OK to stay in one place when your dissatisfaction isn’t revved up enough to outweigh your resistance.

Vivek: Are we willing to shift into the unknown? Apparently most of us are not. Below the line, accountability is assigned to you. Above the line, responsibility is taken by you.

Jenny: When we commit to change, it requires us to gather and shift our energy. We practice committing to standing up.

Vivek: We all stand up at the same time to feel our commitment to standing up. We pay attention to our weight as it moves from our trunk through our legs, and down our feet, and then up to our trunk again as we rise.

Jenny: Saying, “I want things to be different” isn’t the same as actually making the change. In the former, it’s like we’re unconsciously saying, “I’m committed to not resolving this permanently.” Whoa, this one stuck out to me.

Vivek: We stand up and take part in a group activity. We introduce ourselves to 5 other people with statements about the things that bother us but we aren’t changing. I feel a little sad hearing what some my coworkers are saying.

Jenny: The question is, what would 100% responsibility look like from where I stand? From my current role? It’s about doing your job to the best of your ability, based on what you can control.

Vivek: Conscious listening involves understanding the content first, then moving to understand emotions. And possibly something else, but I didn’t hear it.

Jenny: Thoughts and beliefs are not the same as emotions. Our thoughts can influence our emotions and create cognitive emotive loops. I think this explains why I have a tendency to shame spiral. Frequently.

Vivek: We talk about personas. “Are we playing personas or are they playing us?” We interview the personas inside ourselves to see how they contribute to our behavior. My persona is “critic” and he helps me be judgmental when I need to be. Personas keep things a certain way to keep you in the Drama Triangle.

Jenny: You can wear personas like a jacket depending on the context or situation. (But can I wear a denim vest?) They exist above and below the line. You can wear a persona above the line. Below the line, personas wear you.

Jenny: Home stretch of Day 1. Work conflicts and stress stem from our need to control our narratives. We’re afraid of not knowing, of what life could be. We fear abandonment. We fear engulfment. We fear threats. We fear joy.

Jenny: Final lesson of the day: the Clearing Model. It’s a way for people to clear up conflicts and connect more closely. (Clearing is not the same as venting.) I wonder, though, does the Clearing Model work in a very hierarchical org? Could anyone schedule a clearing session with their CEO?

Day 2

Vivek: Guided meditation. Today is the day we’re supposed to cry, apparently. We’re asked if we have anything we want to clear with someone else in the group. No one volunteers. All over the floor are pieces of paper that read: “candor,” “genius,” “win for all,” “integrity,” “enough of everything.” They describe what it’s like to be above the line.

Jenny: We’re meditating as a form of presencing. We close our eyes and silently observe the sounds and sensations that are happening. They are always happening around us.

Vivek: “Instead of venting, hold your [stories] lightly.” This is the way into the opposite of the Drama Triangle: The Leadership Triangle.

Jenny: We’re coming up above the line. Right now. In the Leadership Triangle, we become the screenwriters of our own lives as opposed to being “at the effect of our” circumstances.

Jenny: We’re doing a breathing exercise called 4×4. We’re supposed think about something we fear. I’m thinking about a company goal I’m responsible for. It’s scary! What if I fall short? Breathing in and out four times, at four second intervals each, helped me slow down the catastrophe train in my brain. I went from, “How can I run from this?” to “What can I learn?”

Vivek: We can even reinterpret body soreness and other sensations as merely “motion.” As something happening. There is emotion happening all the time. Emotion has a range. Thoughts may be “arguable” but there are inarguable feelings.

Jenny: We’re asked what we’re feeling right now. I feel a little bit of sadness and fear. Sometimes we get confused about what we feel.

Vivek: Think of emotions as high level advisors. Emotions last 10 seconds, and at most, 90 seconds. Mammals shake off their anger. (I’m worried that we might ecstatic dance.)

Vivek: Authentic emotions aren’t “at” anything. They just are. And emotions should be a part of work culture.

Jenny: When it comes to effective leadership, EQ (emotional intelligence) > IQ.

Jenny: Thoughts pop up like a ticker. They just arise. When we’re above the line, we say “Here’s a thought.” When we’re below the line, we automatically form stories around a thought.

Jenny: So, how do you stand for your preferences without being right? Turn it around. Opposites can be just as true, or not true. Black isn’t white. Or black is white.

Jenny: Breath and movement help us clear blood and brain reactivity. Three words: Creative. Joint. Play.

Jenny: We’re practicing gratitude right now with people volunteering to express appreciation (on the outbreath) for someone else in the room. There are lots of feels right now. Appreciation is like a rich decadent dessert, though. Too much of it can feel uncomfortable. It can also be hard to receive appreciation because it challenges the stories we’ve made up about ourselves.

Jenny: And that’s a wrap on CLG training. Diana thanks everyone for playing. Still no tears though.

Staying curious and conscious

By the end of Day 2, Vivek and I both felt a little tired but also calm and introspective about everything we had learned. I personally felt more open and curious than before (in my default state, I tend to be anxious), and appreciative of everyone’s candor and willingness to participate. We both also came away with a much better understanding of how we as a company communicate without conflict and how commit to effecting change—day in and day out.

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