RESPONDING TO OUR TIMES: Lessons From Nelson Mandela

For many years the life and leadership of Nelson Mandela has inspired and guided my work. Mandela had many teachers in his life, but the greatest of them all was prison. In the words of his biographer, Richard Stengel, “Prison taught him self-control, discipline, and focus, and it taught him how to be a full human being – the things he considered essential to leadership.” In other words, it was the solitude, degradation, devastation and inhumanity of that time in confinement that made him who he became. It was his journey away from the world that allowed him to lead in the world. Prison was, what we describe in our work as his journey to the “Other Everest,” a voyage that took him inward and downward toward the hardest realities of his life.
His years at Robben Island can be instructive for us through this pandemic. Here are three of the lessons:
1.     Let life mature you, not embitter you. When asked how prison changed him, Mandala said, “I came out mature.” He explained that maturity didn’t mean that the sensitive, emotional young man went away. Maturity didn’t mean that he was no longer stung or hurt or angry, but he learned to control what he described as his more “youthful impulses.”
Maturity, in Mandela’s world, was the courage to work through the bitterness and anger from the solitude, disgrace, and inhumanity of being unjustly imprisoned for twenty-seven years, and come out the other side with honest forgiveness. Maturity is about choosing personal responsibility instead of blame, transforming entitlement into ownership, contempt into civility, and self-interest into service. As my mother would say, maturity is the ability to do a job whether or not you are supervised, finish a job once you start it, carry money without spending it, and being able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even. With maturity comes courage, which is not, in the words of Mandela, an absence of fear, but rather the willingness to act in the face of it. It’s also about poise under pressure. Maturity doesn’t come with age. It comes with the acceptance of responsibility.
2.     See the good in others. Some call it a blind spot, others naîveté, but Mandela saw almost everyone as virtuous until proven otherwise. According to Richard Stengel, he started with the assumption you were dealing with people in good faith. Just as pretending to be brave can lead to acts of real bravery, Mandela believed that just seeing the good in other people improved the chances that they would reveal their better selves.
It’s an extraordinary quality of a person to be ill-treated for most of their life and still see the good in others. In fact, “he almost never had a bad word to say about anyone. He would not even say a disapproving word about the man who tried to have him hanged.” It wasn’t, it turned out, that he didn’t see the dark side of evil people, but that he was unwilling to see only that. He chose to look past the negative aspects of a person and see their strengths. Apparently, he did this for two reasons: because he instinctively saw the good in people and because he intellectually believed that seeing the good in others might actually make them better. “If you expect more of people, whether they are coworkers or family members, they often contribute more. Or at least feel guilty if they don’t.”
This belief was at the heart of Mandela’s approach to life. He believed that cruel and evil men were better men than their behaviour, and that their motives were not as cruel as their actions. In his biography, Mandela wrote, “No one is born prejudiced or racist. No man is evil at heart. Evil is something instilled in or taught to men by circumstances, their environment, or their upbringing.”
3.     Have a core principle. Nelson Mandela was a man of principle, and that true north principle gave him stability, clarity, and focus amid the turmoil and abuse of his circumstances. It inspired him to keep going in the midst of utter darkness around him. The principle that formed the framework for his actions and leadership was: Equal rights for all, regardless of race, class, or gender.
While on Robben Island, Mandala read the books about iconic leaders. He studied the habits of the great souls. He reflected on key moral virtues. By being principle-centered, he, over the years, transmuted hostility into opportunity, bitterness into forgiveness, and created a vision for social change. Mandela believed a transformational leader does not talk about polls or votes or tactics or popularity. A transformational leader talks about principles and ideals.
What principles do you stand for? What ideals guide and inspire your life and your leadership? If we don’t stand for something, we won’t have anything to stand on.
Today, amid this pandemic, we face our own Robben Island, an opportunity for our own “Other Everest” journey. Collectively, we are facing an opportunity to make us either bitter or better. Our decisions and actions will determine whether we use our pain, fear, grief, outrage and inconveniences to move toward accountable, caring, authentic citizens. Today, nothing is more important than strengthening our character and developing our maturity by taking responsibility for our lives, seeing the good in others, and clarifying our principles that serve the greater good.
EXCITING NEWS!
I am in the process of forming a business partnership with Ally Stone, who has assisted with the Banff Authentic Leadership retreats the past two years. We are building an online leadership development firm with an expanded team offering a variety of products and services, including coaching, an online leadership masterclass, live retreats (once it is safe to do so), customized live-streaming presentations, workshops, and leadership consulting.
Our in-person workshops will resume just as soon as we can ensure they can be done safely. In the meantime, the entire four-day Authentic Leadership retreat will be available on-line in the fall.
Ally and I are presenting a debut live-stream session on September 17, 2020. This is an opportunity to meet Ally and witness the incredible synergy we create together as a team. This is a complimentary event to thank you for being a part of my community. Be sure to watch for your invite. You do not want to miss out on this opportunity (RSVP will be required to attend). Together Ally and I bring a new level of awareness, understanding and commitment to what the Authentic Journey looks like in this ever-changing world.

CREATING PSYCHOLOGICALLY SAFE WORKPLACES – It Will Depend on All of Us

There are people in our world who do not feel safe because of the color of their skin. There are people who don’t feel safe because of their gender. There are people who don’t feel safe because of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation. This has to stop. It’s time to decide, once and for all, that inequality and this kind of fear are unacceptable.
Living without fear begins with the way we raise and educate our children, relate to each other in our communities, and approach each other in our workplaces. Why not start with the realization that there are people in our society who do not even feel safe coming to work. They don’t feel safe to speak honestly, to offer ideas, or to be themselves. They fear that sharing concerns and mistakes will mean embarrassment or retribution; that if they are honest, they will be humiliated, ignored, or blamed. They fear asking questions when they are unsure of something. They sit on their hands, stay within the lines, underperform and become dissatisfied. When people are afraid, they stay dangerously silent, they disengage, they lie, and they leave if they can. Or worst of all, they quit and stay.
Far too many managers – both knowingly and unknowingly – still believe that fear is what motivates. Too many managers are unaware of how unacknowledged stress and anxiety breeds fear around them. Brain science has amply demonstrated that fear inhibits learning, productivity, engagement, innovation, and fulfillment.
As we emerge and re-engage from this pandemic, the need for people to feel safe as they face uncertainty and anxiety is more important than ever. And a great opportunity lies in front us to reset the compass and create fearless organizations and lives. Let’s decide to change the world by creating safe, authentic places for people to live and work. Here are seven strategies:
1. Take 100% accountability. The issue of fear will never recede in our world until it recedes within ourselves. Taking accountability means committing to examine the level of fear that we knowingly, or unknowingly, create around us. Changing the world starts with looking in the mirror. Taking accountability also means being willing to understand how our past impacts our perception of our current reality. Due to our reaction to past trauma, abuse, and shame, many people do not feel safe living in their own body, tainting every relationship in their life, particularly those in authority. Before blaming your boss for disrespecting you and not creating a safe workplace, understand how your past impacts the lens with which you view the world. Changing the world means taking accountability for facing, healing, and coming to peace with our past. While organizations are accountable for co-creating a safe environment with their employees, security must come from within each one of us individually.
2. Take care of yourself. Given the enormous level uncertainty in the world right now, resist the natural human tendency to “push through,” and instead, slow down and define what truly matters to you. Use this time to create a safe place within. Creating a safe space around you starts with feeling safe with who you are. Self-care isn’t always comfortable or easy. Self-care means respecting yourself enough to know what you need and creating disciplined routines that ensure those needs get met. Make sure you get support for yourself so you can create safety and support those around you. We ultimately treat others the way we treat ourselves.
3. Bring a servant mindset and a generous spirit to your work. According to Lance Secretan, “leadership is a serving relationship that helps people grow and makes the world a better place.” It starts with being a “we” person rather than a “me” person. It’s about supporting people to get the work done rather than controlling and manipulating; and helping them be the best they can be in the process. Leadership is ultimately about caring, because leadership involves caring for people, not manipulating them. If you don’t genuinely value everyone’s unique contribution, creating a psychologically safe organization will remain elusive and superficial.
4. Be human. At this stage of the pandemic, people are experiencing a variety of emotions. They are nervous and anxious, fatigued from fear and uncertain about the future. There’s grieving, ambiguous loss, resentment, and a mixture of caution and optimism as we emerge into a new reality. There can be awkwardness with people you haven’t seen face-to-face for several months and uncertainty about new expectations and norms. Take time to listen, to be there for those you serve, and to look for opportunities to connect and have the conversations. Most of what you’ll hear you likely can’t fix. What people need to know is that you care enough to take the time. It’s a time to grant grace and exercise patience. It’s a time to practice being human.
5. Get rid of performance appraisals. Stop evaluating, grading, supervising, and treating people like children. Replace parental, disrespectful reviews with ongoing feedback, honest respectful conversations, shared ownership, two-way accountability, and mutual agreements that support both personal as well as organizational success. Be a partner with your staff, not a parent.
6. Be curious, humble, and vulnerable. Great leaders know they aren’t the smartest person in the room. They surround themselves with capable people and then take time to learn from them. They know that no one is better than anyone else. We all merely bring unique gifts to our lives and our work. Making it safe means being vulnerable and open to learn from everyone and asking for help when you need it. Being vulnerable means sharing what matters to you and listening to what matters to those around you.
7. Invite the bad news and say thank you. If you’re going to live or work together in the spirit of humanness, you are going to have to accept that there will be bad news. Great leaders don’t pretend that it isn’t there and cover up the facts. They embrace the negative and see it as a growth opportunity. Making it safe to bring the bad news isn’t about blame. It’s about ownership, personal responsibility, courage, and honesty. It takes a secure leader to be grateful that people trust you enough to bring you the hard stuff, and open enough to learn together how you’re going to work collaboratively to fix it.
In summary, creating a fearless, psychologically safe workplace does not happen by accident. Just because you see yourself as a good leader, doesn’t mean that people around you necessarily feel safe. You have to be intentional. A safe environment doesn’t mean that everyone always agrees and are polite to each other all the time. It’s about a genuine commitment to honesty and respect. It means having clearly defined expectations of each other, along with high standards and working in partnership to achieve those standards. It also means we accept that we are all human and that we are going to fall short at times and it’s okay to talk about it, learn from it, and recommit to a new course of action.
To create psychological safety, positional leaders need to make an explicit – formal and informal – space and time for open, ongoing, acceptable discussion of error, failure, and shortcomings. Conflict will inevitably arise, and we need a safe place to speak candidly about what’s bothering us, with each person taking responsibility to look at their contribution to the conflict. We need to be intentional about inviting participation and sincerely valuing every person’s input. We also need to be intentional about recognizing and expressing sincere appreciation. What we appreciate appreciates. And, perhaps above all, we need to grant grace that it takes time, patience, and persistence – let’s give the human spirit a chance.
For a more in-depth study of psychological safety in the workplace, I recommend Amy Edmondson’s book: The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety In The Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth.

DON’T WASTE THIS CRISIS Let’s Not Get Back to Normal

A crisis is really a terrible thing to waste.  – Paul Romer, Stanford economist

In college, while on the track team, I was inspired by the university’s volleyball coach. He had a mantra that guided all his practices. Every time the ball came on your side of the net he would say, “use it.”
“The ball is not your enemy,” he would continually remind his team. “Don’t be in a hurry to get rid of it. Use it as a way of developing your capacity.”
The ball of COVID-19 has been served to our side of the net and just as in volleyball where you have three touches before you return it, three leadership opportunities arise today. Our response to these opportunities enables us to develop new capacity so we won’t waste this time afforded to us.
1.    Community. Being thrown into chaos has elicited a response of community. We see this all over the planet as people open their hearts to each other in the midst of separateness. This is a time for leaders to build community by reaching out and connecting (even if it is virtual and imperfect). It is a tremendously important time to stay together while being apart. Forgiveness and patience are called for as we stumble forward through this uncertain and unfamiliar terrain. Many employees are juggling trying to homeschool their children while managing the demands of their work. We are dealing with economic uncertainty and layoffs. If there was ever a time for compassion and grace, it is now.
Don’t compromise accountability, but don’t push for productivity; it will emerge naturally from your best people. Extend trust. Most importantly, find any way you can to express appreciation. Of course, our health care professionals and grocery store clerks need our gratitude. But all those who are working tirelessly to provide essential services in the background – electricity, gas, water, and internet, waste removal, to name a few – also need our appreciation right now. Let’s be a little more kind to ourselves and everyone around us. Remember that just because we are expected to have social distance, doesn’t mean we have to be socially disconnected. It’s a time to deepen our community.
2.    Creativity. The second authentic response to crisis and accompanying chaos is creativity. While productivity will surely wain at this time, what is spreading as fast as the fear and the virus is human creativity. From John Krasinski’s Good News Stories to the myriad creative responses to isolation, to the writing of poetry and performance of music, celebrating and expressing the human experience helps keep us entertained and enlightened, and brings light into such potentially dark times.
In a recent coaching call, I was speaking with an owner of a feedlot who is in the middle of reforming her business model. Ordinarily she would be sitting with her team to get their input. And she can’t do it virtually. Only two of her entire team even have computers. So she gave each of them a piece of paper with an initial vision sketched out, along with a request to provide input. What she is getting back is remarkable creativity and innovation. Most importantly, the introverts on the team who ordinarily would be quiet in a group setting have risen to the occasion and are shining brightly for the first time.
In times of crisis, authentic leadership opportunities emerge. How can we help our teams and our families access their creative side amidst the challenge of uncertainty? It’s all there if we simply step aside and allow it to come forth.
3.    Contemplation. There is a third equally important response required in this time of chaos and uncertainty: contemplation. There is a huge difference between surviving this crisis and actually allowing it to change us. To change we must allow ourselves to really s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, get our bearings and allow ourselves to be fully impacted by what is happening.
We live in a time of profound disruption – when something is ending and dying and something else is wanting to be born. How we have been living and working has not been working. It is becoming evident that it is not sustainable. What is dying is a civilization built on a mind-set of excess, of bigger is better, of confusing standard of living with quality of life, and of organized irresponsibility.
What is being born is less clear. It is a future that requires us to connect with a deeper level of our humanity and discover who we really are and how we want to be as a society. We are already seeing changes emerge – both within ourselves and in the environment.
People in the northern Indian state of Punjab are reacting with awe at the sight of the Himalayan mountain range, which is now visible from more than 100 miles away due to the reduction in air pollution as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown. Indians in the city of Jalandhar haven’t seen the peaks of the Himalayas for decades.
There might be a few extra endangered sea turtles in the ocean thanks to the Coronavirus after lockdowns in Brazil left nearly 100 new hatchlings with a clear path across the beach and into the waves. Wildlife officials were the only humans on the beach in the town of Paulista last week when 97 endangered hawksbill sea turtles hatched in front of their eyes.
In Italy, the lockdown is giving the outdoors — which is typically flooded with tourists — a chance to recharge. In Venice, the city’s canals are clearer because there is less boat traffic, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom. And, with fewer water taxis and boats ferrying tourists and residents along the canals, the air has also become cleaner.
What are we allowing to see more clearly and cleanly in our own lives? All social change – from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. – began with a connection to a deeper essence of what our life and our work is about. Nelson Mandela’s capacity to influence came, in large part, from the contemplation amid years of being unjustly imprisoned and emerging with the power of forgiveness. Such movements share an understanding that creating sustained change in the world requires us to connect with an inner authentic self.
If we stop, reflect, and make room for contemplation in order to connect with a deeper side of our nature, the world will change. While it is important to connect with each other and connect with our creative side, it is also vitally important to connect with our inner, most authentic self, to reset the inner compass, and be guided by a life that may well have been buried in the busyness and tyranny of the urgent.
Like the ball that has come to our side of the net, this COVID crisis is not our enemy. Let’s use it. While distraction is, at times, part of the journey, let’s be careful not to distract ourselves to the point that we waste this huge opportunity before us. Authenticity asks us to embrace what is in front of us so it will change what lies ahead of us. This crisis truly is a terrible thing to waste.

HOW TO EMBRACE CHANGE AUTHENTICALLY

Authentic leadership is both active and reflective. One has to alternate between participating and observing. I am in the midst of navigating my own way through that journey and feel compelled to share my experiences and perspective with you.

This pandemic is an enormous experiment in shared authenticity. Fear and grief can bring out our worst selves, but, when experienced authentically, they can transform us into our most conscious, caring, courageous selves. We’ve all heard that when one door closes another one opens. What they don’t tell you is that it’s hell in the corridor. Below is a road map for getting through the corridor of the transition we’re all experiencing in our own unique way at this time.
Stage 1. Attachment to the familiar – We’ve all been there. In the context of the current pandemic is the expectation that we are supposed to live in a world free of life-threatening disease.
Stage 2. Foreign Element – The introduction of Covid-19.
Stage 3. Chaos – Grief, loss, denial, confusion, anger, fear, insecurity, betrayal, vulnerability – all part of the process of being thrown into the unknown. Some indicators of chaos are immobilization, irritability, impatience, excessive busyness, feeling overwhelmed, hoarding toilet paper, and a desire to go back to the “good old days” even if the old familiar was not sustainable.
Stage 4. Reflection – We step back and reflect on what this all means, what can we learn, and how can we contribute – out of love, not fear.
Stage 5. Decision – It’s not your abilities that will determine your outcome or show you who you are. It is your choices. Decisions determine your direction.
Stage 6. Rebuilding – You begin creating a new life in the new reality.
Stage 7. Trust – As you work through the process you develop new resources and new capabilities. Self-trust emerges, along with your capacity to trust in the world around you.
Stage 8. New Possibilities – You begin to realize new possibilities for yourself and the world you live in.
Key Principles For Getting Through the Process
1. We are all unique. There is no formula for how long it takes to get through these stages. It is different for everyone. It can take days, months and even years. Some never make it. They get stuck in the chaos. It’s also not a linear process. Like grief and recovery from trauma, it’s messy. We go back and forth. When it comes to getting through the corridor of change, direction is more important than velocity.
2. The four cornerstones of chaos recovery are:
a.Congruence – See, hear, and experience yourself as you are right now, not as you “should” be or are “supposed” to be. What’s important in chaos is to honor whatever experience you are going through. Be present to it. Resist the natural human tendency to want to escape the discomfort of chaos – with busyness, excessive news watching, obsessive internet surfing, and shopping for toilet paper. As we say in trauma work, you have to look the dragon in the eye. Avoiding chaos will, paradoxically, keep you in it.
b.Community – In chaos, it’s also critical to reach out for support and share what’s going on. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Literally and figuratively. Make room for the people in your life you care about and who care about you, even if you need technology to make that happen. Accept that whatever you are experiencing is understandable and acceptable. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel. It’s what we do with our experience that will either help or hinder getting through the chaos.
c.Creativity – Even with social distancing, we see people reaching out to each other and coming up with all kinds of creative expressions of the human spirit. This is true in our workplaces and in our lives. Everyone I know is doing extraordinary things – in their own, human, imperfect, caring way. It is incredibly inspiring to be a part of the expression of what it means to be human.
d.Centering – There was a time when farmers of the Great Plains would run a rope from their back door to the barn at the first sign of a blizzard. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and froze to death, having lost sight of their home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards. We all need a rope to bring us home to our true nature right now. While we embrace change, we also need to know that simultaneously something in our lives remains stable and is preserved. For some, the rope we hang on to is our faith. For others it is keeping structure and routine our life. For some it is being in nature. Where do you find your centre, your place of refuge from the storm?
3. With all change comes sacrifice. There will be loss. There will pain. There will be inconvenience. We all need to be willing to let go of something or someone in our lives. We’d all like this to be different, but unfortunately this isn’t how the universe works. Let’s do what we can to minimize the sacrifice and be sure we get the lesson.
4. Get reliable information. Fear enables people to be manipulated and controlled. Experience fear. Share your fear. But don’t live afraid. This is the dark side of the transition we’re in. No question we need information during chaos; we just have to be sure we are getting it from a trusted source. Don’t believe everything you read in the news, and don’t buy everything you hear. Don’t build a false economy based on fear.
5. Take time for reflection. It’s an old and ironic human habit to run faster when we’ve lost our way. This is a time for all of us to stop and get our bearings. Once you are through the initial shock, intense fear, and grief of the chaos, make time to take stock – of your values, your life purpose, and a vision for yourself. When you honor the chaos in your life and find a community of support around you, you’ll find that renewed wisdom and clarity will emerge.
6. Decisions will determine your destiny. It’s not your abilities or your circumstances that will determine your future; It is your choices that show who you really are and will set the course for your destiny through this. Here are some decisions to consider: Rather than complain about the wind or hope it will change, decide to set your own sails. Decide to be grateful today and look for reasons to choose gratitude. Decide to be a “we” person rather than a “me” person. If you look around it won’t take you long to find something you can do to make the world better today.
7. This is ultimately a time for us all to reinvent ourselves and the way we’ve been living. It’s a time to reshape and renew the world as we have known it. The world is in need of rebalancing. The virus is showing us that we need to create a new way of living. I’m very curious to see what we can create – both personally and collectively, and I’m passionate about doing my part to make it a better place to work and live. The world as we have known it is no longer sustainable. Let’s embrace a new possibility for ourselves and the planet.
8. As we rebuild, we begin to see that this is not an end but a new beginning. Through careful reflection and renewed conscious action we can learn from our mistakes and heed the lessons from this crisis. We can begin to get a glimpse of Bill Gate’s vision, that rather than a great disaster, we can view this as a “great corrector.”
I trust this road map will be useful to you. If you would like a longer version of this process, go to my website for a free Whitepaper on Embracing Change. You’ll also find a variety of other resources:  www.davidirvine.com/free-whitepapers/
More resources from Irvine & Associates
If you and your team would like a complimentary virtual presentation on Embracing Change using the roadmap outlined above, contact our office and we’ll set up a call to design a free session for you:  www.davidirvine.com/contact/
Beginning March 27, my colleague, Ally Stone (www.davidirvine.com/faculty) and I will be creating a weekly podcast – an open-hearted, honest, authentic conversation about what’s happening in our world and how it is impacting our lives and the lives of those we love, how we ourselves are walking through this transition, and ways to better reach the world by being connected to our authentic self. We are going to offer some insights and tools from our own experience and the experience of others to help navigate this journey. Let’s learn together how to lead ourselves and others through not just today’s crisis, but the disruption we will inevitably face in the future.
The podcast series will be part of my regular podcasts: David Irvine – Conversations with Authentic Leaders 
For some of my own perspective on how I’m personally facing the current reality, watch: https://youtu.be/Fgq4TkVS22c
I’m also offering a customized, complimentary virtual program for you or your team or those you serve. To find out more go to: www.davidirvine.com
If you are seeking personal coaching, for a limited time I am offering a complimentary assessment call. If this interests you, contact us at: www.davidirvine.com/contact
Stay tuned for a complimentary e-book that will offer you simple insights and tools for staying connected to your authentic leadership in this time of unprecedented disruption. You will find it on my website very soon: www.davidirvine.com/free-whitepapers
Finally, please be safe. Err on the side of caution. Stay home. Use this opportunity to step back, awaken to your purpose and discover your gifts. And whenever and however you get a chance, express gratitude to our health care professionals and front line workers who are putting their lives on the line every day for us. This virus is humbling us all and reminding us that we all share this human journey – s e p a r a t e l y. I would welcome an opportunity to be a resource for you whenever and however I can.

FIVE WAYS TO LIVE A LIFE OF ENOUGH

Do you have more than one pair of shoes?
Do you have more than one choice about what you’ll eat for each meal?
Do you have access to your own means of transportation?
Do you have more than one pair of underwear?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, then by the world’s standards, you’re affluent. Less than ten percent of everyone who has ever lived could do so at any one time in their lives.
When I was a teenager, we had a hired hand named Norris, who helped on the farm. He lived in a dirt shack. A couple of horses he rode with a binder-twine bridle and an old, rusty one-gear bike he used to get himself to work were pretty much everything he owned. He was likely one of the poorest men I’ve ever known. He was also one of the happiest people I’ve ever known.
Norris was my first exposure to what I now understand to be the difference between secondary success and primary success. Secondary success is external. It is defined by the accumulation of status, materialism, popularity, and achievements. Primary success is internal. It is built on character, contribution, and connections. To paraphrase American journalist and activist Dorothy Day, secondary success is being better off, while primary success is being better.
A goal based on being better
The endless pursuit of more has left us unhappier than ever. We have confused standard of living with quality of life. And through it all, haven’t moved the needle much on addiction, mental illness, child abuse, crime, or compassion. As a society, we have been successful at raising our standard of living, but as my mentor, Don Campbell, asked, “Has this made us a better society? Has it enriched our relationships with the people who matter in our lives? Has it built better families, communities, and workplaces?”
I propose a new goal, a goal based on primary success. When we focus on becoming better people instead of better-off people, our priorities, our lives, and our world will change. We can create a society with less indifference and more compassion. Less class distinction and more honest respect for each other. Less anxiety and more contentment.
Five ways to live and lead better
1.Define a noble cause for yourself that makes the world better. When you’re committed to creating a better world, you have to be better to rise to the challenge. Declare independence from the approval of others, set high ethical standards, and devote your life to a cause. Don’t aim for success. Success will happen as the unintended consequence of your dedication to a cause beyond yourself.
2.Tame your ego. Stop worrying about whether you’re the most valuable player and start creating value for others. Pride hopes to impress; humility seeks to serve. Notice how the universe might be helping you topple your tower of self-importance right now.
3.Stay connected to life and the people in your life. We can only experience a sense of enough when we are fully present, grateful, and awake in the moment. This is where life is lived. The only moment we can feel and know with any clarity is the moment we’re experiencing right now.
4.Trust your inner compass and rely on your heart’s intuition. The voices of the world are loud. But when we get to the truth of who we are, we come closer to a more truthful life of sufficiency. This is what leads us to knowing the next right thing to do. Navigating leaders to their authentic and most reliable inner compass is central to my cause and the foundation of my life’s work.
5.Be content with what you have. Being content isn’t about complacency, apathy, or laziness. It doesn’t mean you don’t strive to be better. It means striving to be better because of your commitment to making the world better –– and staying grateful while you do. Contentedness comes from overflow, not from emptiness. It means living and leading better by living a life that’s enough.

FINDING YOUR VOICE: A Story of Authenticity and The Birth of an Immortality Project

What in your life is calling you?
When all the noise is silenced,
the meetings adjourned,
the lists and agendas laid aside…
what still pulls on your soul?
In the silence between your heartbeats hides a summons.
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must, or leave it forever nameless,
but why pretend that it is not there?

― Adapted from Mevlana Rumi

In 2017, days before my brother’s passing, I found myself in the familiar place of sitting at his bedside holding his hand. Hal’s breathing was labored, and his eyes were closed. I rubbed a moistened sponge gently along his chapped lips. My hand on his heart seemed to help relax the strained movement of his rising and falling chest. In those long moments with him, I learned that caring is more than simply being open to experiencing the anguish of another’s suffering. It is the willingness to live with knowing that we can do nothing to save another other from their pain. On this particular afternoon, in a feeble attempt to relieve my restlessness, a question arose within me with no expectation of a response.
“Well, Hal, what advice do you have for your younger brother before you die?”
His eyes opened and he squeezed my hand, surprising me with a response.
“Find your voice,” he said clearly.
“Find your voice? What do you mean?” I asked.
That was all he had. His hand relaxed; his eyes closed; and he drifted back into unconsciousness.
After months of disabling aphasia, these were the first words he was able to string together in as long as I could remember. And, as it turned out, they were the last words I ever heard him utter. I spent considerable time after Hal’s passing reflecting on his life and considering carefully the significance of his guidance to “find my voice.”
I wrestled with the meaning of Hal’s words and the meaning of my life. Amid the grief, I began to fear that my life was somehow being wasted. Was I making a difference? Having any impact? I needed to look this dragon in the eye. I needed to face honestly the haunting prospect of my own insignificance. As the Scottish hero William Wallace says in the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies; not every man lives.” Hal’s dying inspired me to live. And to live authentically.
Hal, as an extraordinary medical doctor and remarkable human being, left a legacy of generosity, love, and wisdom to his patients, his staff, his community, and his family. He had unknowingly created what anthropologist Ernest Becker called a symbolic “immortality project” – a noble cause of enduring value beyond one’s life. I have come to understand that an immortality project is an integral facet to authentic leadership. I’m not sure Hal ever fully understood his impact. Perhaps that is the reality of a true contributor.
In the midst of my grieving the loss of a brother, something was being born within me: an immortality project of my own – a cause that would outlive me and bring meaningful work and membership to a noble and ethical community of like-minded leaders. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “When a leader demonstrates that his purpose is noble and the work will enable people to connect with something larger – more permanent than their material existence – [then] people will give the best of themselves to the enterprise.”
Like so many leaders I work with and learn from, I struggle between having confidence to live a life of purpose and yielding to the daily demands of others. By too easily yielding to what is pressing, practical, and popular, I can sacrifice the pursuit of what is in my heart. Hal’s dying became a gift to my living. It became clear that I needed to take action, gather my courage, and offer a public workshop for authentic leaders. Thus, The Other Everest Retreat was born.
I didn’t know how it would be received, but I needed to walk through my fears and listen to my voice. Regardless of how many people registered, it was vital that I kept walking on this journey. Thus far, we have filled four retreats as well as two Alumni sessions for those committed to go deeper. I have facilitated learning forums for participants who complete The Other Everest. I now have a partner who shares my passion and vision and will assist with future retreats. We are establishing a coaching program for participants to stay on track and further their leadership development. We are planning to offer more retreats and in more locations. We are also in the process of setting up a foundation, so finances are not a barrier to participation. My mother used to tell me to “shine a light on what you desire. Whenever you set a goal there is an unseen force, an energy, that moves you toward that goal.” Nowhere in my life have I come to know the truth of this statement more than from the response to The Other Everest retreats.
I hope you will join us and take this leap together to create authentic workspaces and authentic lives for those we lead and those we love. If you are interested in knowing more about this retreat or to register, please visit: www.davidirvine.com or contact us at info@davidirvine.com or 1-866-621-7008. I look forward to having you join us.
Are you ready for the journey?