A crisis is really a terrible thing to waste. – Paul Romer, Stanford economist
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.
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 email@example.com or 1-866-621-7008. I look forward to having you join us.
Are you ready for the journey?
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.
“Being considerate of others will take you and your children further in life than any college or professional degree.”
Marion Wright, American activist
It has been said that the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
This week I received an email from an old friend, a man who was in my boy scout troop when I was a teenager. My father was our scout leader, and Alan passed along a memory to me:
“Years ago, when we were young scouts, we were hiking and stopped on the edge of a long steep embankment. Soon we were rolling large boulders down the mountain and watching them as they gathered momentum and bounced out of sight. Your dad came by and gently taught us a life lesson.
He said, “boys, while what you are doing is exciting and seems to be fun, have you ever considered those who might be on the same trail that you came up and how your actions might be putting them in danger?” Then he quietly walked away.
I thought you might like to know of the positive influence from your dad that remains in my life.
The verb consider comes from the Latin for “contemplate,” and hidden in the word is sid, the Latin root for “star.” Originally it meant to examine something very thoroughly, or carefully, as if you were staring at the night sky, contemplating its mystery. If you give something consideration, you think about it carefully, and not too quickly. Without consideration, without careful reflection and contemplation of how attitudes and actions impact others, over time, the long term consequences can be devastating: homes get broken, groups become marginalized, civility is eroded, and humanity suffers.”
Since receiving Alan’s email, I have been doing just that – contemplating carefully – the impact of my father on my life and the tree of consideration that he planted under whose shade many of us are now sitting.
Evolving my own sense of consideration is always a work in progress, but two things I do know about consideration: Being considerate inspires people around you and you earn self-respect and the respect of others. Secondly, consideration is learned. Whether or not you had adults in your life who actively worked to inculcate a sense of consideration in you during childhood, consideration is something we can all work to develop in ourselves. Like anything else, it is something we can get better at, with conscientious practice. That means you can acquire it, nurture it, and expand its influence over your life – through some simple actions.
1. Listen before you speak. We would do well to learn from Carol Gilligan’s Radical Listening Project team and notice what happens when we replace judgment with curiosity, and approach the act of listening as among the deepest manifestations of respect for persons. Notice what happens when we truly take time to understand before trying to be understood, when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes before we come up with our own conclusions, when we take the time to sincerely feel with another person.
2. Be on time. The consideration of showing up on time displays respect and earns the trust of others. It shows you thought about the obligation or meeting or appointment ahead of time and planned for it, which in turn shows you care about it. Being on time extends beyond just a meeting commitment. It involves good manners – a conscious awareness of the feelings of others and a commitment to treat others with the same degree of dignity and respect we extend to ourselves.
3. Think before you proceed. Before you speed through that playground zone, before you throw that piece of trash on the road, before you leave a mess for someone else to clean up, before you impulsively gossip or criticize someone, consider the impact of your actions on the people around you, which may include even those who were not the direct target. Create the mental space for consideration between the impulse to act and your actions.
4. Step away from the metaphorical aisle. Have you ever been boarding a plane, waiting in the aisle for someone to store their carry-on bag, thinking, if they’d only step out of the aisle to let the other passengers behind through, things would move much more efficiently? When eventually someone taps the passenger on the shoulder to point out the long line of people behind them, most of the time, the passenger moves aside, having not realized the delay they were causing. Sometimes in day to day life, we are that passenger, oblivious to the inconveniences we are causing others. Just like the passenger on the airplane not looking behind them, the answer is to practice being more aware of how our habits and actions – big or small – may be affecting others.
5. Practice patience. Patience is far from being passive. Practicing patience is about being kind – even when we don’t feel like it. It can be difficult to come by – especially when we feel stressed, overwhelmed, and surrounded by impatience. However, that is all the more reason to find compassion for people around us. Maybe that person who’s holding the line up on the plane requires a patient response. We are all doing the best we can.
6. Apologize – when it’s warranted. Promptly admit when you’ve made a mistake. But an authentic apology is not an empty confession. It’s not a Sunday school platitude. It’s one thing to continuously say “sorry” to be polite. It’s another to forgo apologies altogether. An apology is a sincere acknowledgement of a wrong-doing and a bone-deep commitment to change. Being considerate means apologizing when you made a mistake and apologizing when you think you’ve made a mistake.
These are just a handful of examples of practical ways by which we can all cultivate consideration. Learning to be considerate requires developing your ability to understand the people around you.
My father was loved by the people he spent time with – in large part because he exhibited this rare and precious human quality of consideration. It came through practice – and from taking the time. Just as the early astronomers didn’t rush their observation of the far-off stars in the night sky so they could better understand what they were observing, we too can invest time in nurturing consideration for the constellation of people in our lives, both those near and dear as well as strangers.