WHAT DO THE HOLIDAYS MEAN TO YOU? Five Ways to Stay Authentic During This Busy Season

Last Friday — Black Friday — I delivered the closing address at a conference in the Fantasyland Hotel in Edmonton, then walked through the attached West Edmonton Mall to the food court for lunch.
I was shocked by what I saw: deal-hungry consumers jammed this huge shopping center wall to wall.
I couldn’t help but contrast the frenetic shoppers with the committed group of family and community support services leaders I had just presented to. I realized the mall was too crowded and crazy to enjoy lunch. I ended up, instead, in a quiet restaurant away from the mall with space and peace to reflect on my experience at the conference.
In the quiet I thought about the leaders in my presentation. They exemplified what I would call authentic leadership: men and women who are committed to substance over superficial, character over charisma, and service over self-interest, people whose inner compass guides their daily actions and who inspire trust and confidence by being honest and real. Being with them was such a contrast from my Black Friday experience, a sales bonanza that now marks the start of the holiday season.
My musings led me to reflect on the holidays, a time of demands, expectations, and obligations. But authenticity — the commitment to be piloted by an internal guide rather than solely by the expectations of others — asks us to stop and reflect on the question, “What does this holiday mean to you?”
In response, here’s my list. As you read it, think about what’s on your own list.
1. Renewal. In the dark of winter, the holiday lights are a wonderful reminder to stop and let them brighten us, both literally and emotionally. Even a small moment of noticing can be renewing and sustaining. This is a time of year to s-l-o-w down and find restoration where you can. It’s a time for revitalization, not depletion. What nourishes you? What gives you energy? What replenishes you?
2. Presence. A friend winters in Mexico. I spoke with her shortly after she arrived. “Mexico is so beautiful!” she exclaimed. I wondered if it was Mexico that was beautiful or if she was just noticing the beauty. When my wife, Val, was unpacking Christmas ornaments this week and hanging up her beautiful collection of bells, I stopped for a few moments to be present to the beauty of her joy, which in turn brought joy to me. Life is only lived now. What makes a task valuable and life meaningful is the quality of the attention we give to whatever we are doing in the present moment. Allow this time of year to remind you of that. While presents are appreciated, the best gift we can give is our presence in this moment.
3. Connection. Who do you want to spend time with? Who enriches your life? I plan to share this holiday season with Val, my daughters, my grandchildren, and very close friends. Connection is ultimately about love, and expressing and experiencing love. By being present in the moment, you can feel the love within yourself and those around you. Love is a state of being. You can never lose it, and it cannot leave you. When you share this connection with those you truly care about, you are nourished and fulfilled.
4. Reflection. One of the keys to making the most of your life is developing the ability to reflect. Go back over your day, your week, your month, and your year. Look back through your calendar. Whom did you see? What did they say? What happened? How did you feel? Reflect on your experiences, your choices in the past year. What were your successes and failures? What is there to celebrate? What did you learn? How will you apply those lessons? What are your intentions for the coming year?
5. Service. You will never experience joy if you are perpetually waiting until everything is okay with you, or the rest of the world, to feel thankful. You must catch joy as it presents itself, even in the midst of sorrow or suffering. In the craziness of life, gratitude inspires meaning and joy. The best measure of a person’s character is their capacity for feeling and expressing gratitude. And service awakens us to appreciation. Wherever you go, and whomever you meet, bring them a gift. The gift may be a compliment, a flower, or a prayer. Reach out to someone less fortunate than you. Pay it forward. Service is vital to a life well-lived.

I hope my list has inspired you to articulate what you truly value, and that you will live this season in close alignment with those values, rather than being driven by the tyranny of obligations. Happy holidays.

CARING LEADERSHIP – The Undervalued Virtue of Human Touch

“Whether at home, at work, or at play, the human heart seeks to be known, understood, and connected. If you do not connect, the ones you care about will find someone who will.”
Dr. Henry Cloud
In 1980, when I was in graduate school, I was inspired by a study from Ohio State University where researchers were studying heart disease in rabbits. Rabbits were fed diets extremely high in cholesterol and, to the scientists’ amazement, one group did not get high cholesterol levels despite being given the same diet. They found that the only difference between these rabbits and the ones who developed atherosclerosis was the technician feeding them. Instead of throwing feed at them, he took them out of their cages to pet them, cuddle them, and kiss them. He would sing and speak to them. The researchers discovered that this touching resulted in a change in the peptides and neuro-peptides and they would, in fact, shunt the cholesterol into a different metabolic pathway, so they did not get heart disease, even though they were consuming diets that were high in cholesterol.
Countless studies since then have shown that health is impacted by being close and connected with other people, a sense of belonging, and whether we can give and receive love, care, and support. Caring actions impact the lives of those around us. Authentic leadership requires an ability to communicate caring to others. I suggest the following ways to start:
1) Disconnect to connect. Put down your devices. Pay attention and take the time to listen to what matters to people. There has never been a generation so riveted with mental health challenges and so starved for nurturing relationships. Devices have become substitutes for the more constant real human contact that parents used to provide when they worked near home or on the farm. These electronic sources of entertainment are also used as replacements for the sense of community formerly provided by large extended families or the clan, tribe, or village.
2) Attune to the emotions of others. Attunement means being “in tune” with another’s emotional state. Attunement is the language of caring. The quality of a relationship is measured, in large part, by one’s ability to be present with each other in such a way that the other feels understood, valued, and accepted. Attuning to others can be as simple as acknowledging their frustrations, their fears, or their enjoyment. One of the ways that our ability to attune to others gets impaired is when we approach the interaction with a belief that we have to “fix” the emotions that arise. People primarily need to be listened to and acknowledged. There is a time for problem solving, but not when people are in an emotional state.
3) Stay in love. There lies within every person a place where, when connected to it, we feel deeply and intensely alive; a place that says, “This is the real me.” Staying in love means staying connected to that place, then bringing more of that passion to what we do. It means letting go of resentments, valuing life and surrounding yourself with life-giving people. Staying in love means focusing on what we have in common rather than what divides us; underscoring our shared humanity, that which unites us. Staying in love means staying in love with life, thus igniting the fire in others.
From my mother’s library I inherited The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm. The lessons in it are classic: Learning to love and express caring, like learning to be authentic, is not easy. It requires concentration, solitude, thought, knowledge of one’s self, listening, living in the present, and patience.
Above all, to lead is to make learning to care your supreme concern.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is for you to come alive.”
Howard Thurman

CONVERSATIONS WITH AUTHENTICITY – What Makes Ordinary leaders Extraordinary?

I have the great privilege to meet and learn from remarkable leaders and incredible human beings in the course of my work. It is one of the many advantages of doing what I do, and I learn some valuable lessons from everyone I encounter.
You may be aware of my Podcast project entitled “The Other Everest.” While much of social media focuses on stories of “famous” people, the intent of my Podcast series is to shine a light on the stories of “ordinary” leaders who are making an extraordinary difference in the world – people on the journey to what I call “The Other Everest.” Along with examining their own unique philosophy of leadership and what they do to create change, I have them share their story of how they became the kind of person that enables them to make such an impact. To listen to their stories, download the Podcasts at: https://davidirvine.podbean.com/
I have found that there are four qualities that run through the fabric of the lives of authentic leaders, exemplified in the podcasts:
1)    A Compelling Humility. All the leaders on these podcasts are surprised to be asked to record their story. Their ego doesn’t drive their work. Humility opens the door to curiosity and self-awareness. They influence others because they themselves are open to be influenced. True, authentic leaders aren’t attached to titles, degrees, or the size of their office. They are keen to learn about themselves, receive feedback, and grow. You get a sense of the person behind the role, and that imperfect – at times vulnerable – person is what comes through.
2)    Courage That Inspires. Authentic leaders aren’t just humble and modest. They are also immeasurably courageous. While courage can be expressed in many ways, one voiced it as the courage to “reach in” through the diminishments and the defeats, and find a way to turn encounters with illness, failure, bankruptcy, injury, abuse, death of a loved one, or any type of tragedy – and come out the other side with newfound awareness, strengths, and gifts. The inner journey forces us to meet our demons face-to-face, to travel long miles in the dark without seeing the light at the end. But these leaders have the courage to keep walking – in their own unique human way – until they eventually realize that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually coming from their own headlamp. Authentic leadership is fueled by a voyage that takes us inward and downward, toward the hardest realities of our lives. The best leadership comes from people who have penetrated their inner darkness, men and women who can lead the rest of us to a place of authenticity that is hidden from what the world sees, who have been there and know the way, and in so doing, know the why.
3)    A Vision of Caring. These authentic difference makers are “we” people not “me” people. They choose service over self-interest, committed to a sense of purpose beyond their immediate pleasure and gratification. They care about being successful, but they care even more about being devoted – to their calling and to bring value to those they serve. Each of these leaders care enough to take the time to listen to an inner calling, a vision that lifts them during the times of being “stuck” into an understanding that such periods are really fallow periods, a time to let the soil renew itself before it can grow a new crop.
4)    An Arousing Hope. In a world where violence, terrorism, and abuse can abound, authentic leaders inspire us with hope. But hope is not naive enthusiasm. The best portrait of hope I know of is painted by the former US president, Barack Obama:
“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”
May we all be inspired by those around us who bring courage, caring, and hope through their leadership and lives. May we be inspired by the humble, authentic people in our lives who are making a difference – and let them know how valued their contribution is. And may we each know that we are those leaders.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS: LESSONS LEARNED FROM OUR CANINE FRIENDS

Having completed another “Other Everest” retreat for developing authentic leadership capacity last week, I have been relishing the experience. The group consisted of a remarkable collection of leaders from a variety of walks of life, committed to making a difference by being more authentic.
A central theme of the time we had together was slowing down and being present to what life presents. So, when my daughter shared a story that speaks well to what we learned last week in Banff, I thought it would be appropriate to share it in the spirit of caring and the upcoming holiday season.
The blog comes from VetWest Animal Clinics in Australia.
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that dogs’ lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try to live.
He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay for as long as we do.”
Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.
Whether or not you are drawn to dogs, here are some lessons we can learn from these canine critters:
* When your loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
* Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
* Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
* Take naps.
* Stretch before rising.
* Run, romp, and play daily.
* Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
* Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
* On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
* On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
* When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
* Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
* Be faithful.
* Never pretend to be something you’re not.
* If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
* When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
That’s the secret of a good life that we can learn from a good dog.
Have a well-deserved restful and peaceful holiday season everyone.

AMPLIFY YOUR LEADERSHIP IMPACT

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The greatest challenge we face today, and upon which our very survival as a species depends, is the task of learning to live in harmony with ourselves, with each other, and with the environment. Responding to this challenge begins with taking an inner journey, a journey to what I call “The Other Everest.”
It is my intention to create authentic communities of like-minded leaders – difference makers who are committed to making a positive impact in the world. To accomplish this, I’m facilitating a three-day retreat on Authentic Leadership from December 4-7 at the Banff Centre and I invite you to join me.
In this public workshop we will create a space to pause, go inside, and connect with your authentic self. If you are committed to be a better leader by being a better person – through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence, and could benefit from a community of support with other authentic leaders, come for a renewed perspective on leadership and a life-changing experience. 
Highlights of this retreat:
  • Create a space to shut off the noise of the world to achieve a fresh outlook on your life and your leadership.
  • Take the time to reset your internal compass with a clarity of values and sense of purpose as a leader.
  • Learn how to earn the trust and respect of those you serve through authentic relationships.
  • Understand the quality of presence and how it creates more productive and engaged employees and relationships.
  • Value and model accountability and self- discipline as a trust builder.
  • Find clarity about what matters most in your life while living and leading with greater focus and alignment with your highest values.
  • Learn how mindfulness, meditation, body integration, and yoga can help you amplify your impact on others.
  • Transform the darker side of your nature into your greatest gifts.
  • Leave with your own personal leadership development plan.
I am pleased to let you know that there are still a few seats available and as a preferred client, we are extending the early bird deadline (a savings of $200) until the end of October.
Click here for further information or details about registration.
I hope you will join me in Banff!

AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP The Strength of Your Presence Means Being Present to Life

A participant who attended one of my leadership programs earlier in the spring has been traveling with her daughter in Europe and sent me an email with a line that has not left me: “…while traveling I’ve had time to not think at all, just wonder and be amazed…”
This put me into a reflective mode and I contemplated how, in a world filled with so many demands and expectations, we don’t have time even to think, much less “just wonder and be amazed.”
  • When was the last time you slowed down long enough to watch the sun go down?
  • When have you taken time recently to meditate, notice your breathing, and fully relax?
We are clever people, efficient and high-powered, but in our zeal to get things done we are forgetting the simple art of living. And I might add, the art of leading.
Since my schedule has tapered off for the summer, I am reminded how important stillness is in life; time to get away from the demands of the world and simply be. There is wisdom that can surface when we stop thinking, stop planning, stop doing, and make room for even a few minutes of stillness and attention to breathing. Whenever an answer, a solution, or a creative idea is needed, stop thinking for a moment by focusing your attention on what is going on inside of you. Momentarily get away from the burden of “thinking,” and become aware of the stillness. This may only take a minute or two, or it may require a walk outdoors. When you resume thinking, it will be fresh and creative. In any thought activity, make it a habit to go back and forth every few minutes between thinking and an inner kind of listening, an inner stillness.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life,” wrote Socrates over twenty-four hundred years ago. While an overbooked schedule is exhausting, I wonder if he was also referring to the nature of the active mind, the human tendency toward busyness inside our heads. Whether it’s an over-extended timetable or a harried mind or a combination of both, be sure to take time, not just over the summer but in your daily living, to pause and be present to life. It not only improves your leadership; it makes life worth living.
If we don’t make time to befriend the present moment, to connect ourselves with the world around us and with the people who matter most to us, what is the purpose for doing anything else?