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.

THE SEASONS OF LIFE: The Art of The Long View

There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn to live without judgement, so he sent them each on a quest to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest in the fall.After they had all gone and returned, he called them together to describe what they had seen.The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted.The second son said it was covered with green buds and full of promise.The third son disagreed. He said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.The last son disagreed with all of them. He said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment. The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but one season in the tree’s life.

Inspired by my late mentor, Jim Rohn, below are five lessons I’ve learned about living and leading through the seasons of life.
Lesson #1. Don’t judge a person by a season. It is good practice to suspend the assumptions we hold of ourselves and others, and instead view life beyond a single season. You don’t want to judge a tree or a person or a life by only one time of year. The essence of who we are – and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life – can only be measured when all the seasons have been lived. Life and business are like the changing seasons. You can’t change the seasons, but you can change yourself.
Lesson #2. Learn how to handle the winters. After the fulfillment of the harvest, winter befalls us. Some winters are long, some are short, some are difficult, some are easy, but they always come. There are all kinds of winters – the winter of confusion, the winter of grief and loss, the winter of hibernation, the winter of failure. There are economic winters, social winters, and personal winters when your heart is broken. Winter can bring disappointment, and disappointment is common to all of us. Winter, whether it lasts for days or months, is a time for reflection, renewal, and learning.
You learn to face the demands of winter when you learn to handle difficulty. Problems always arise after opportunity. You must learn to handle recessions; they come right after expansions. That isn’t going to change. You can’t get rid of January simply by tearing it off the calendar. But what you can do is get stronger, get wiser, and get better. Make a note of that trio of words: strongerwiserbetter. The winters won’t change, but you can. Jim Rohn said that when things get difficult, don’t wish for things to be easy. Instead, wish you were better. Don’t wish for fewer problems; wish for more capacity. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom. If you give up when it’s winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, and the fulfillment of your fall.
Lesson #3. Learn how to take advantage of the spring. As night follows day, winter will inevitably give way to spring. Spring is opportunity. Opportunity follows difficulty. Expansion follows recession. And you can count on it. However, the mere arrival of spring doesn’t mean that things are going to look good in the fall. According to Mr. Rohn, everyone has to get good at one of two things: planting in the spring or begging in the fall. So, learn how to take advantage of the spring, your opportunities. There aren’t many springs in life. Life is brief, even at its longest. Whatever you are going to do with your life, get at it. Don’t just let the seasons pass by.
Lesson #4. Be present to life. Summer teaches us not to be so busy building toward the future of the fall harvest that you miss being present to the beauty that surrounds you now. It is in the present where life is lived, not once we achieve some future goal that will propel us into yet another objective down the road. A gardener will tell you that as soon as you’ve planted, the busy bugs and noxious weeds are out to take things over. Planting in the spring is followed by preparing for the summer’s insects and drought or flood or even late frost if you live in Canada. Every garden must be tended all summer to realize the fall’s harvest. What’s important is to not miss the beauty and joy of the present moment, the only time when these can be realized.
Lesson #5. Learn how to reap in the fall with gratitude. Take full responsibility for what happens to you. One of the highest forms of human maturity is accepting full responsibility. Learn how to reap in the fall without apology if you have done well, and without complaint if you have not. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and the joy and fulfillment of your harvest. Be present to and grateful for the abundance that life brings through your efforts. I’m not saying it’s the easy way. I’m saying is it’s the better way.
The seasons don’t work for you or against you. They just are what they are. They are guaranteed to come every year, bringing both the challenges and the opportunities. Remember the five lessons in life, whether you cycle through the seasons in a matter of days or a matter of months. Prepare for them and make the most of everything that each season offers.

Write A Ticket, Change A Life

For the past several years I have been involved in teaching leadership development programs at every level and in every division of the RCMP. In my workshops, I make a distinction between the transactional work of policing (writing tickets, arresting criminals, doing paper work, etc.) and transformational work of policing, where lives are changed, communities become safer, and police officers make a lasting difference in someone’s life.

When I teach this leadership principle I tell a story about a constable who rightfully ticketed me several years ago for going through a stop sign while I turned on to a main street in the community where I live. But this constable didn’t just write me a ticket. He carefully took the time to make the whole experience a transformational moment. He sincerely and respectfully told me a story of why he was writing me a ticket. He had recently attended to an accident where children were killed because a car was t-boned when the driver went through a stop sign without stopping.

The story was transformational to me. It changed my life. While I won’t say that since that day I have never rolled through a stop sign, over the past nine years I frequently think of that constable when I am approaching a stop sign, and when I do so, I make sure I come to a complete stop.

In recent weeks I have taken the time to track down this constable and thank him for changing a life. Here, in essence, is what I said:

“I want to thank you for stopping me that night and telling me that story before you ticketed me. You changed my life. Because of your actions, I am a safer driver. But it not only made me a safer driver. For the past nine years I have been telling this story to corporate audiences across the continent and several people over the years have told me that my story has helped change their driving habits and made them safer drivers. 

So… your service in our community has changed lives and likely saved lives. I just wanted to write and express my sincere appreciation to you.

Continue on with your important work in our community and beyond. You and your colleagues in the RCMP do incredible work that is far too often unacknowledged and unappreciated.”

So often, we never know when one action will have a rippling effect to make lasting change in a person’s life. So often, we never know how our lives can make a difference.

To paraphrase the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that one thoughtful, committed citizen can change the world.”

Creating A Better World 5 Decisions That Will Change Your Life

I rarely fill in surveys for hotels or airlines when I travel. But yesterday, I took five minutes to respond to an online survey from Air Canada. They wanted to know how my Regina to Calgary flight was last week.
I had a great experience on this flight, and I told them so. But taking the survey made me think about a much bigger issue. What actually makes a great experience possible – whether on an airline, in a hotel, restaurant, workplace, or even a marriage? I have had some bad experiences with all of the above in the past. What is the common denominator? When I am honest with myself, I can see that every time I’ve had a lousy experience it’s because I’ve been in a lousy mood.
Quantum physics has discovered something that many mystics have long since known: that our perception of the universe actually invokes the very universe that we observe. If you change the way you view the environment around you, the environment around you changes. The world isn’t as it is. The world is the way we see it.
Don’t get me wrong. Bosses make a difference to the experience of an employee. Customer service people make a difference. Waitresses make a difference. And it is important to get feedback on how we are doing. We are all co-creating the world that we live in. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture – in our airlines, hotels, restaurants, workplaces, and marriages – that we so enjoy complaining about.
Deciding that I am creating the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. A simple decision can change your life. Here are five decisions that will make your workplace a better place to work and your world a better place to live:
1) Decide to take 100% responsibility for your experience. When you decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time, your life will change forever. I learned years ago that I attract, even in some small way, what is happening in my life. Operating from this assumption empowers you. If you are unhappy, look at how you are contributing to the problem. If you can’t figure out your part, take time to ask people around you. They will help you out.
2) Decide to give to others whatever you expect from others. My parents taught me to “be careful what you give, for it will be what you get.” If you want good service, serve the customer service agent – with kindness, patience, and grace. Treat others with the same care as you expect from others.
3) Decide to be a contributor rather than a consumer. Consumer means to “destroy, squander, use up,” whereas to contribute means to “build, serve, make better.” It’s interesting that we now call this a “consumer” society. Decide to be a giver rather than a taker. Look for ways that you can make life a little better for every person you meet today. A smile, a word of encouragement, a little patience. These simple acts of caring go a long way.
4) Decide to care. Caring makes workplaces worth working in, schools worth learning in, relationships worth being in, and lives worth living. Caring is everything, and caring starts with a decision. Caring isn’t a feeling. Caring is a choice. Make a decision to care – about your job, about your co-workers, about your employees, and watch how your world starts to change. The power of caring was evident this past month by those who so generously have been reaching out in response to the Fort McMurray evacuees. (See my blog on the Fort McMurray fire.) Caring makes all the difference.
5) Decide to be grateful. You can always find reasons to be grateful. Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement (the attitude that you have a right to something just because you want it). Gratitude makes you healthier and the world around you healthier. The real power of gratitude comes when you are having difficulty finding anything to be grateful for. Gandhi reminded us, “Divine guidance often comes when the horizon is the blackest.”

10 Keys For Leading In The Layoffs

If your business is at all connected to the oil patch, layoffs have become so common this year that it is unusual to meet a senior manager who hasn’t had to manage a reduction in their work force or isn’t in the midst of planning one. It is helpful to reflect on ways to provide leadership in times of downsizing and uncertainty

The decision to downsize and the choice of who is to be laid off can be so wrenching that many managers have little energy left to consider what happens after the layoff.  How do you help the shell-shocked survivors recover and move forward in a productive way? How can you rebuild a great culture after you have laid people off? How can you build morale and increase employee engagement when you are downsizing your workforce?

Below are ten strategies for guiding your culture toward cohesiveness, engagement, and trust while laying people off. Even if your organization isn’t currently cutting back its workforce, you will find these approaches helpful in the midst of any change:

1) Acknowledge the emotions. During layoffs, people go through a wide range of legitimate feelings and they need structured opportunities – half an hour a week or the first ten minutes of a meeting – to express honestly how they are doing. Just because people didn’t get laid off doesn’t mean they’re happy.

2) Make it safe to open up. As a leader, you aren’t responsible to fix the feelings that arise; people have to take responsibility to deal with their own emotions. Your job is to create a respectful and safe space where people can open up and feel support from the organization. Let people know that being honest will never be a career limiting decision. If you find people are holding back in these sessions, get them into smaller groups where you know there are pockets of trust.

3) Allow some space for grieving. People need space to grieve and say good-bye to their colleagues and friends. I’ve seen people cry and hug as they walk out the door. You cannot make it worse by inviting people to be honest. It’s about being human, and supporting this helps create a more fully human organization. How can we expect people to be engaged if we don’t accept and support people to be where they are?

4) Exercise patience – with yourself and others. Recognize that when people are in shock they behave in uncharacteristic ways. When people are vulnerable they may act out or blow their top. Don’t be surprised if it happens to you. As managers, you’ve been busy planning and managing the layoff and solving problems. Cut yourself some slack and don’t forget to apologize personally to anyone who got in the path of your outburst.  Emotional turmoil is all part of the transition process. It is a positive step forward and everyone needs to learn to deal with emotions constructively in a way that doesn’t inflict pain or fear.

5) Respect that people are in a transition. One day everything is fine; the next day a layoff is announced. One day you have a department with a hundred people; the next day there are sixty-five.  These are external changes that can happen quickly. Transition, the reorientation that people go through to come to terms with the change, takes time and intentional leadership. Give people time and clarity to understand the process of transition and the time to work through it.

6) Focus on creativity and community, not productivity. While it’s unrealistic to expect that work is going to stop while people come to terms with their emotions, putting added pressure on them when they are hurting and stressed by the workload creates mistrust, destructive tension, increased anxiety, and low morale. There’s always a drop in productivity. Smart leaders understand this and work with it. Getting the group to help you solve problems and come up with creative solutions is a good way to get support yourself, get collective wisdom from your team, and give people a sense of meaningful importance.

7) Create an opportunity for people to have some degree of control. Destructive stress is created when people feel they don’t have any influence over what is happening. There are two fundamental questions that need to be answered in tumultuous times:

  • What are we committed to preserve? Not all change is good. We have to be clear and have some control over what we won’t allow to change.
  • What must we be willing to let go of? People need to be given the opportunity to acknowledge and say good-bye before they can start to think about the future.

8) Share as much information as you can. Tell people what you know. Tell them what you don’t know. Information eases stress.

9) Bring a compass with you. It is a habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way. In these chaotic, uncertain, demanding times, we just don’t know what we will face ahead of us, and there is no road map to take us there. It’s more important than ever to stop and get your bearings. Be guided by a vision, values, and principles, both personally and organizationally, rather than by emotions or the pressures of others.

10) Build a Bridge and Get Over It. Eventually, even with all the support and strategies for being creative and building a collaborative community in your organization, you have to get on with your work and your life. You have to take accountability for your own emotions and reactions, and make a decision to change your attitude, support your organization, or move on.

For those who have experience with layoffs and downsizing, you know that, while the current reality may be chaotic, one can always take solace in the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow to allow you to get on with the next chapter of your life. Look forward to the adventure with some focused planning, a firm resolve, a renewed vision for the future, patience, perseverance, and a positive outlook.

If your organization is currently undergoing significant change, feel free to contact me to explore how I might help guide you through the transition process.

Not All Change Is Good – Seven Things I’m Committed To Preserve

When we moved to Cochrane, Alberta to raise our children in 1991, there were no traffic lights in this small foothills community. Today, there are more than fifteen and it takes about five times longer to cover the same distance through town. You no longer buy fly rods at the fly shop. You buy them at Canadian Tire. The fly shop has gone out of business. The two locally owned bookstores, the best you could find anywhere, no longer exist. We now have a Walmart, Staples, and Sport Check. This little town has changed a great deal in the past quarter century.

I’m all for change. Change is not only a good thing; change is required. Change is an integral part of life. “In times of change,” wrote the philosopher Erick Hoffer, “learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” What I’ve been reflecting on though, is that as necessary as change is, not all change is necessary. Not all change is healthy. Whether you are renovating your home, reorganizing your workplace or redesigning your organization, starting a new relationship or new job, moving, adjusting to being new parents, loving your parents through the aging process, coming to grips with a life-threatening illness, or maybe several of these things at once – remember to ask one fundamental question of yourself and of those you are entrusted to lead: “What are we committed to preserve in the midst of this change?”

While reflecting on the changes that are happening in my life, I developed a list of what I’m committed to preserve. In the middle of the changes you are going through, what are you and those you live and work with committed to preserve? Here’s my list:

1)    Character. Character means knowing what’s right and doing what’s right, even when it causes you discomfort. Character is doing what’s honest and honorable, even when costs you financially. If your character is situational, that is, if it changes with the whims of your circumstances, you won’t have the foundation of self-respect to get through the change.

2)    Faith. Faith is the inner sanctuary where hidden permanence and power reside. My faith strengthens and supports me, allowing me to lean on a compassionate force beyond myself. My faith gives me a compass in the wilderness, a private north star to navigate the journey.

3)    Family. Family is the base camp on life’s Mount Everest ascent. Family is where you stock up, replenish, and take shelter from the storm. Family gives you a place to come home to. Family – whether immediate, extended, or inner circle of most trusted friends – gives you the stability and constancy you need to deal with whatever life throws at you. Change can be lonely, but it can’t be done alone.

4)    Health. Regardless of whatever changes are happening in the tyranny of the urgency around me, rigorous healthy habits sustain me. Ensuring that I get adequate rest and exercise, spending time in the sunlight and in nature, and eating food that strengthens rather than depletes, gives me the energy needed to thrive in change and embrace new possibilities.

5)    Traditions. What I admire about the RCMP, the armed forces, and other law enforcement and emergency services agencies is that they are steeped in tradition and fortitude. But families, communities, and individuals must also maintain traditions. Traditions and strong rituals keep people anchored and stable during the storms of life.

6)    Caring. It doesn’t cost to care. Caring is about taking time for the people in your life that matter, even if you don’t have the time. Caring is about paying attention to the little things, despite the chaos that may surround and pull you into the fray. Caring is about staying connected, even when the world seems to be falling apart.

7)    Attitude. “Everything,” wrote Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and author, “can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Whether it’s an attitude of caring or an attitude of building, when the world around you is a problem finder, you can always be a solution maker.

So… in the midst of all the changes happening all around you, what are you committed to preserve?