JEKA AND THE POWER OF ONE: How Ordinary People Can Make An Extraordinary Difference

Not all of us can do great things. What we can do is small things with great love.                                                     – Mother Teresa
For more than twenty years, Jeka was my ticket agent at the Air Canada check-in desk at the Calgary International Airport. An ordinary job, you might say: greeting and checking in passengers, arranging flights, assigning seats, tagging baggage. But Jeka was no ordinary ticket agent. She was passionate about her job. She cared. Jeka would be at work by 4:00 AM, thirty minutes before her assigned shift. In the half hour before her colleagues arrived, Jeka would print out the names of every passenger who was due to check in that morning. She took the time to acquaint herself with the regulars, and would greet us by name and a cheerful “Good morning” when we hauled our tired bodies to the check-in desk for an early flight.
Jeka was forever jolly, and her ever-animated upbeat demeanor would always help start my travels a little lighter, a little more positive, and a little more willing to pass on her enthusiasm to others after our encounter. Our brief connection stood out as a highlight in the sea of transactions in the day of a business traveler.
Every Christmas I would get a personal card from Jeka, with a cheerful note of thanks for my loyalty to Air Canada and a message of appreciation for helping to brighten up her day in my travels.
I once asked Jeka what inspired her to be so friendly and ever so positive.
“It’s pretty simple. Air Canada has been good to me, but I’ve always been determined about one thing. I will never let a bureaucracyturn me into a bureaucrat. I just want to brighten up the day for every person that comes my way. Every time I brighten up another person’s day, it makes my day better. Whatever you give out, comes back to you.”
Last month I was passing by Jeka’s check-in counter and I made my usual stop to say hello and get my “Jeka hug.” I knew that retirement was around the corner for her, but I did not realize it was coming so soon.
“Tomorrow afternoon!” she exclaimed enthusiastically and tearfully. “After 40 and a half years with Air Canada, I’m going to be sitting on that big chair in the check-in area with balloons and a cake and I’m going to say good-bye to all the great customers and colleagues who have been so good to me all these years.”
As we hugged, I apologized for not being able to join her in the celebration and I asked if I could take her picture. As I walked away, I looked back briefly for one last impression of my good friend and bright spot at the Calgary airport.
“Don’t you go putting that picture up on Facebook now and making a big deal of all this!” she winked as she waved one final good-bye.
We really do make a difference. Mother Teresa was right. Not all of us can do great things. What we can do is small things with great love. In this one wild and precious life, each of us will leave a legacy. The question is, what will be yours?

Are You A Wall Maker or a Bridge Builder?

Our power went out this morning. Two seconds after I turned the light on in our kitchen everything went black – and quiet. It’s amazing how much noise caused by electricity there is in a house. We were in the dark for about four hours. In the big scheme of things, compared to hurricanes, fires, floods, and terrorism, losing your power for four hours is definitely a luxury problem.
It turns out that our entire neighborhood was affected by the outage. A transformer somewhere on our line blew out. The electric company had crews on site responding to the call within a half an hour at 6 AM. One of our neighbors, who called in the outage, ranted at the serviceman as if it was his fault for the power going out. When Val, my wife, met the repairman, she chose to be grateful that he got up early and arrived as soon as he could. She thanked him for his efforts, offered him a cup of coffee, and expressed a sincere appreciation for him coming out when he did. She built a bridge with him rather than created a wall. She helped to start his day – and her own as well – a little better. And we both, as neighbors, got our power back on at the same time.
My grandmother, in her old-fashioned wisdom, said this much more simply: “You catch for more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” While I’m not sure that anyone actually wants to catch flies, you really do make more friends and get more accomplished by being ready to lend a hand than by being rude. Bringing qualities of empathy, civility and respect to your life and the lives of others will always provide a better chance of getting the results you want than entitlement, bitterness, and antagonism. Being part of the solution will take you farther than adding to the problem.
Are you a wall maker or a bridge builder? Here are five ways to be a bridge builder:
1)    Decide to be an encourager. Everyone needs encouragement. Mark Twain said once that you can live two months on a sincere compliment. When you look for ways to encourage others, you will find your efforts will come back to you – in some form. Encouragement is about giving courage to those around you.
2)    Don’t blame your helpers. Don’t blame the repairman for your electricity going out. Don’t blame the airline agent for your luggage not making the flight. Don’t blame the waitress if the restaurant is short staffed. Don’t blame the health care worker for your injury. Decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time and your life will change forever. Help your helpers. Don’t blame them. Most of us really are doing the best we can.
3)    Give what you expect. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who help and those who hinder; those who lift and those who lean; those who contribute and those who consume. The more you look for ways to give, the more you will be given in return.
4)    Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” If you want help, be helpful. If you want support, be supportive. If you want appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. Watch how valuable it is to create value for others. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
5)    Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates. A friend told me this week how she tripped and fell off the curb crossing the street. As she picked herself up from the asphalt and was observing the scrapes on her knees and hands, she looked up and saw a car turning carelessly into the path where she would have been if she hadn’t fallen. Be thankful even for what appears as obstacles in your life. Gandhi said once: “Divine guidance often comes when the horizon is the blackest.”
Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin was at the University of Alberta last week to deliver the Department of Philosophy’s annual public lecture. The lecture was about the landmark moments in Canada’s 150-year constitutional history. In her speech, McLachlin delivered an implicit rebuttal to the spirit of nationalism, racism, and prejudice so prevalent in the world these days. Some nations, she told her audience, define themselves by exclusion – by borders, by walls. In contrast, she insisted, Canada defines itself not by walls but by bridges.
As you step back and observe your own history and your own life, how will you define yourself? Will you be a wall maker or a bridge builder?

Rethinking Employee Engagement: What If It Isn’t About The Boss?

I define engagement in the workplace as the desire and capacity of employees to go the extra mile to help their organization succeed while finding meaning and significance in the work they do. There are no doubt bad bosses and toxic work environments that deplete you, just as there are great bosses who inspire you. But engagement is ultimately about energy, not bosses. Our level of engagement is impacted by our level of physical energy, emotional connection, mental strength, and spiritual alignment to a purpose beyond immediate self-interest. Bosses and your relationship to them are just one form of energy. There are dozens of others. If you are committed to being engaged, be aware of your energy and how your perceptions, choices, and environment impact your vitality.

Physical Energy: What you eat for breakfast or lunch affects your energy, as does the amount of sugar you consume, the amount of exercise you get, and the quantity and quality of your rest and sleep. Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and underuse, it is important to balance energy outflow with a consistent habit of energy renewal. Energy is not limitless. And physical energy fuels engagement. What are you doing to renew your vital reserve?

Emotional Connection: We all know that the quality of our connections impacts our energy. Be mindful of the people in your life that drain you and those that inspire and sustain you. Be aware of how your perceptions and choices impact these connections. Who you choose to be around, just as how you choose to be around them will affect your energy. Making room for activities that bring you joy, just as making time for people who bring you joy, will increase your energy.

Mental Strength: A pessimistic outlook on life drains vital energy, while optimism is a life giver. It’s good habit to learn to be optimistic. I had to train myself to wake up grateful and positive. Learning to be disciplined, to do the difficult tasks first, to tell the truth, to keep a promise, or to stick to a challenging undertaking when it is easier to give up, are all habits that renew essential energy. Like eating sweets, blaming others might give you a temporary high, but it will drain you of energy in the long run. Personal responsibility, on the other hand, is energy producing. How you approach life will affect your energy.

Spiritual Alignment: Discovering and living in accord with your deepest values, aligning with a sense of purpose, pinpointing your passions, or making a contribution, are all energy enhancing pursuits that enable engagement. A life that is purpose driven is an engaged life. Expanding spiritual capacity requires subordinating our own needs to something beyond self-interest. Those who have found a reason for coming to work – beyond merely completing a task or carrying out a chore or getting a paycheck – are the ones who truly enjoy their work and being alive. Finding spiritual alignment fills you up.

While bosses and your relationship to them no doubt impacts energy, the more we take accountability for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered, productive, and fulfilled we become. Blaming your boss for your lack of energy can be just as much of an energy drainer as having the bad boss to begin with. Maybe it’s time to rethink employee engagement: what if it isn’t about the boss?

Three Paths to Inspiring Leadership: Lessons From Olympians

“In everybody’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”   –Albert Schweitzer, Philosopher and Physician

After winning a gold medal in the 10,000 meters in Rio, the Somali-born British runner Mo Farah was asked how he was able to muster the strength to pick up himself up and get back to his rhythm after being accidentally tripped on lap ten of the twenty-five lap race. “I just had to believe in myself and get through it… I promised my daughter Rhianna I was going to get her a medal and I was thinking, ‘I can’t let her down’. That’s all I was thinking about – her.”

Mo dedicated his two gold medals in London 2012 to his then baby twinsAisha and Amani. After his 2016 victory he said, “I’ve won an Olympic gold for three of my children – now I’d like to win the 5,000m gold for my little boy.”

What I love most about the Olympics are the inspiring stories – in both victory and in defeat. The parents, the coaches, the communities that raised these athletes – there’s a story behind every one of them. And then there is the inspiration in the athletes themselves. Rosie MacLennan, Penny Oleksiak and her teammates, the Rugby and soccer players, the track athletes – all have inspired an entire generation of young women in Canada.

Great leaders, like great athletes, inspire those around them. The word inspire is derived from the Latin root spirare, meaning to “breathe life into.” The need to inspire has never been greater than it is today, when many people feel afraid, cynical and stressed. Awakening the passion of others by speaking to the inner lives and deeper needs of those we serve is the work of leaders at every level and in every walk of life.

As I allow myself to be inspired by the Olympic games, my hope is that every one of us will allow ourselves to be inspired by the people around us – to enable us to inspire those we serve. Here are three pathways that inspire:

Pay Attention. The great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” You can be inspired everyday if you s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, pay attention to what’s going on around you, and watch for inspired action. It isn’t just during the Olympics that you will hear inspiring stories. Every life has a meaningful story behind it when you care enough to take the time to pay attention. Last week I was working with a group of leaders at Emera Energy, an authentic maritime company with a down-to-earth, humble approach to business and was inspired by many of their leaders, especially the passionate young people who demonstrated commitment, ownership, and an accountable attitude. I was also inspired by how many of these leaders – mostly engineers – had mastered the simple skill of listening carefully to people. When I work with a great organization I come home inspired. What you focus on is what grows. If you focus on what’s wrong with your workplace or your life, you will soon find yourself with lots of reasons to be unhappy. But if you care enough to pay attention and focus on the goodness around you, you will find a reason to be inspired.

Choose Gratitude. I have been reflecting lately on the many people who have inspired me. I remember how George Nelson, a long-time friend of my parents and former boxer, would get up every morning and spend the first thirty minutes of his day skipping on our front porch when he and his wife Audrey visited. I always admired George, and he inspired me to get up early and start the day with some exercise. Years ago, the great motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, inspired me to create a “Wall of Influence” – photos of the twenty-five most influential people in my life. My wall of influence has evolved over the years and as I reflect on these people, I am filled with gratitude for everyone who has helped make me who I am today through their love, their character and their example.

Care. It is inspiring to be around people who care, who choose service over self-interest, who have a sense of purpose beyond themselves, and who are passionate about making a difference in the world. People who care enough to keep their promises, to go the extra mile, and to be concerned and committed to serve the people around them make workplaces worthwhile, schools vital, relationships meaningful, and lives valuable. Caring makes all the difference. Caring is everything.

To be inspiring, you must be inspired. How do you get inspired? What inspires you? How do you inspire people around you?

SHINING A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS: 5 Ways Caring Can Make A Difference

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.     – The Christophers

Yesterday I received a note from a good friend and client of many years. It started a discussion on how, over recent months, we have both been gravely troubled by the violence in the world, the disregard for human life and politicians using fear to appeal to the darkest side of humanity. I don’t know what’s worse: the terrorism, shootings, and how people treat each other, or the fact that we are getting used to it.

While advancing age is undoubtedly a factor in increasing one’s concern about the world, I think it is more than that. There is a call to action needed. We need to be vigilant to create positive messages, thoughts and behaviors wherever and however we can.

Here are five ways you can implement some caring in your workplace and the world around you:

  1. Show you care before you show you’re competent. There is a growing body of research that illustrates when we judge our leaders we are looking for two primary characteristics: 1) How competentthey are, and 2) How much they care. It’s human nature to try to emphasize our strengths, abilities, and credentials to demonstrate our competence. We feel compelled to show others that we are “up to the job,” by striving to present the most innovative ideas in meetings and being the first to tackle a challenge. But this approach ends up backfiring. Trustworthiness is the first thing people look for in others and in leaders. Those who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, distance and disengagement. And the first step in gaining trust is showing you care. In times of uncertainty, people look to a leader who they believe has their back. Those are the people we trust. Those are the people we listen to. Before people decide what they think of the message, they decide what they think of the messenger.
  2. Don’t wait for the boss to give you recognition and appreciation. Instead, get busy givingrecognition and appreciation to everyone on your team. I am a believer in peer recognition programs. Instead of waiting for the manager to acknowledge good work, each employee is encouraged to recognize positive attributes, stories of overcoming life’s challenges, and contributions at work that make a positive difference. I know of companies where staff are encouraged to give out actual certificates that recognize specific achievements of their peers either privately or at employee recognition functions. Done respectfully and meaningfully, these methods of appreciating and acknowledging each other can go a long way.
  3. Say thank you. Gratitude has transformative power. Gratitude is the antidote to hatred, fear, and entitlement. Next time you see a police officer, take a moment and thank them for their work. Next time you see a tired cashier at the grocery store, take a moment and express your gratitude. Thank a colleague for their contribution on a recent project. It’s easy to be grateful when you get what you want. The real challenge is being grateful when you don’t get what you want. It’s not a good life that makes us grateful; it’s being grateful that makes a good life.
  4. Apologize. To be human is to err. When you make a mistake and everyone knows it was a mistake, admit it, say you’re sorry, and tell the people who are impacted how you are going to remedy the situation. Having the humility to acknowledge when we are wrong and apologize for our errors is an indicator of strength, character, and integrity. Real leadership is impossible without a willingness to apologize and acknowledge when we make a mistake. It’s an act of caring to have the courage to take an honest look at ourselves, to take a truthful appraisal of the impact of our actions on others, and to have the willingness to make necessary changes.
  5. Create a circle of trust with your team. Whether your team is an executive team in a company, a project team in your division, a board of directors in a volunteer organization, or a family, a circle of trust is a helpful tool.  It revolves around kindness and understanding of the other person’s challenges and situation. A circle of trust is a process for taking the time to understand all the relevant and salient issues leading up to any particular decision or action in the team. The circle of trust approach ensures that each person on the team gives their peers the full benefit of the doubt until they fully understand why a decision was made. Complaining or expressing off handed comments concerning any team member has a negative effect on the reputation and wellbeing of all team members. Openness, honesty, and sincere caring for each other restores a sense of dignity and compassion until each person on the team can understand the challenges of the other.

How people interact, care and recognize one another impacts our lives and our world in unimaginable ways. A little human touch makes a big difference. Each of us may only be able to impact a small piece of the world through positive behaviors and influence. But eventually, with enough of us making some effort, we well might make a difference. This world could use a helping hand from all of us.

Let’s all do our part to make the world around us just a little better. What are you doing to bring some light to this darkened world?

It’s In Us To Care

Circumstances don’t determine a person; they reveal a person.  –Epictetus

Last week when the restaurant where my daughter works took a reservation, the customer tearfully explained that she was from Ft. McMurray and that this was the first time since the evacuation that their family could be together. “We’ll have daughters and parents with us as well. We don’t care what time the reservation is. It’s just important to be together.” My daughter had the good fortune of waiting on their table. After the meal the family asked for their bill and Chandra responded. “There will be no charge. Our restaurant is taking care of everyone from Ft. McMurray.” Chandra related the story with tears in her eyes, proud to work for such an organization.

While tragedy crushes the soul, it also inspires the human spirit. There is nothing quite so uplifting as the spontaneous eruption of human goodness and caring that emerges in the midst of a tragic catastrophe. Whether it is a flood or a fire, a tornado or an earthquake, a school shooting or the suicide of a person who lives next door, it appears to be the human code that every civil citizen, in times of crisis and calamity, becomes your neighbor. If you want to know what lies in the heart of people, watch what happens in and to a community following a catastrophe. I know enough about the residents of Ft. McMurray that they will rebuild with a firm resolve and emerge from this tragedy even stronger. Many, after all, are from Newfoundland, who know something about resiliency and caring. Regardless of how it expresses itself in the moment, or whether is lies so deeply within it cannot immediately be found, caring is in our bones.

Amidst the horror of the Alberta wildfires, we witnessed the immediate outpouring of the human spirit. Men and women drove up and down the evacuation convoy with gas for stranded vehicles, food and water, baby supplies, and simple words of comfort. Within hours, schools, educational institutions, and sport facilities were transformed into shelters. Airplane hangers were filled with donations. The Red Cross received a record amount in donations.

I wish to especially pay tribute to the first responders. The firefighters, who, as described by our premier held off an “ocean of fire” and saved up to an estimated 90% of a city that otherwise would have been left to ash and rubble. I also want to recognize our amazing police force, the RCMP, who evacuated some ninety thousand residents in a few hectic hours without a single life lost. Incredible accomplishment. I just can’t fathom how that could possibly be orchestrated.

I’m reminded by my good friend Corey Olynik of a quote from our mutual favorite hero, Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” It is indeed humbling to see all the helpers this past week – from across the province and beyond.

At some time in our life, we have all experienced those who help and those who hinder; those who lift and those who lean; those who contribute and those who consume. To give encouragement, offer support, show interest, and awaken hope in others is its own reward and returns to the giver many times over. Caring actions are noble and beautiful; they make the world a kinder, gentler place for all of us.

I hope the kind of action that came out of Ft. McMurray this week inspires us to not wait for a crisis, but to constantly watch for ways to jump in whenever and however we can, and be part of the solution. It can’t help but be an inspiration to all of us.