AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP: Using Deficiency to Earn Credibility

A leader can be defined simply as a person who has followers. Not followers in the conventional sense of being subservient, compliant, or submissive. And not necessarily social media followers. Leaders have followers in the truest sense: they follow not because they have to but because they want to. They follow by seeking your advice, looking up to you, respecting your opinions and perspective, and working with you to produce results. They follow by trusting. True followers are engaged and committed.

True leadership development, then, is about becoming a person that’s worth following. It’s about attraction rather than promotion. And if you don’t know how to attract people to follow you when you don’t have a title, don’t expect a title to make it happen for you. You can get promoted to being “boss,” but you have to earn the right to be called a leader.

So, titles don’t make you a leader. What they do make is your flaws and deficiencies immediately visible and transparent. You don’t have to be vulnerable to show others your imperfections. Those around you already know them. With the position of leadership comes the responsibility of letting your people know that you are aware of what they already know. “Here are my flaws. Here are your flaws. And here’s what we are going to do to cover each other off because we have each other’s back…” For example, if interpersonal relationships aren’t your strength, let others know that you know this. Then acknowledge the people on your team who are good with people and give them the space and support to express their abilities for the betterment of the team.

This level of self-awareness is a critically important ability for leaders to develop. Everyone already knows you have flaws. The question is, “Do you know it?” If you want to be a credible leader who is capable of influencing others and inspiring others to follow you, you must acknowledge and be open to looking at your weaknesses.

If you do it right, leadership is a voyage of self-discovery. Make sure you know this before you get promoted and make sure you tell people this when you promote them. Authenticity does not mean perfection. It means embracing the brokenness as an integral part of life. If you want to live an unexamined life and avoid having all your flaws on public display, don’t become a leader!

This is a huge failing of many organizations. Historically, we promote people based on their professional or technical competence and ability to be an individual contributor. In the midst of the tyranny of the urgent, not enough rigor is put into assessing potential leaders’ ability to inspire followers and then supporting them on their voyage of self-discovery. Some people should never be put in a position of leadership. Desiring a raise or a promotion are simply not strong enough criteria for the arduous work of leadership.

Here are four ways to earn credibility in the face of deficiencies:
1) Be committed to self-discovery and self-awareness. If you don’t want your flaws on public display and if you aren’t dedicated to working with your deficiencies and coming out the other side a better person, then accept, with all due self-respect, that leadership is not for you. There is plenty of important work in the world that doesn’t involve leading others.

2) Be open about your weaknesses to those impacted by them, what you plan to do about them, and how you need others to compensate for your flaws. This gets to the heart of authenticity. Your flaws are already known to people whether you acknowledge them or not. It’s about being open about it and willing to answer the question, “What are you going to do about it?”

3) Don’t avoid leadership because it’s tough. Just know what you are in for. Go through it, with all its pains. Leadership, like love, hurts. But if you are committed to making a difference and to making the world a better place through your influence, it doesn’t matter. All those hurts strengthen you.

4) When you see leadership ability in others, don’t hesitate to a) acknowledge it; and b) encourage it. Leadership doesn’t start with people who have a title. It starts with instinctively knowing how to inspire people around them. Leadership about presence, not position. Let’s do a better job of recognizing leadership in ourselves and others.

If you are committed to be a better leader through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence, and could benefit from a community of support with other authentic leaders, then I invite you to join me for a renewed perspective on leadership and a life-changing experience at our public workshops at the Banff Centre. Check out my website for information: www.davidirvine.com

MATURITY: The Responsibility That Comes with Citizenship

One of the highlights of my career is the opportunity it affords me to periodically present to teachers and school administrators. I learned this summer from Allen Davidson, Assistant Superintendent with Foothills School Division in Alberta and Social Studies teacher for seventeen years, of the importance of engaging students in critical thinking around current events. Part of that engagement, Allen says, (https://bit.ly/2oWhX8L), “involves ensuring we (myself and students) all understand diverse perspectives, are cognizant of our own and others’ bias, and that we can safely engage in a civil discourse around current events and issues. [When I was teaching], time was set aside every week for students to explore issues of interest to them and develop their own opinion on the issue. I loved the diverse [views] students brought to the discussion and the confidence with which they voiced differing perspectives.”
With a fall election here in Canada fully upon us and federal parties unveiling their election platforms, Canadians are given an opportunity for a similar rich civil discourse around the current events and most pressing issues facing us as Canadians. However, recent political rhetoric in Ottawa has been dominated not by vision, clarity, and dialogue, but by party partisans blaming and demonizing each other. And the discourse has been anything but civil.
But before we rush too quickly to engage in the blame game by pointing fingers at the all-to-easy target of politicians, it’s important to look at ourselves in the mirror. As I teach my corporate audiences that all change begins with you, the one critical piece missing in almost all political discourse at election time is the matter of citizenship. While it’s obviously important to expect our politicians to give us their vision of a better Canada and their path to get there, let’s not abdicate personal responsibility. Without personal ownership and accountability of every citizen to actively engage and contribute to our democracy, what hope do politicians have to make an impact?  
Said another way, we institutionally deny the fact that each of us, through our perceptions and actions, is actually creating the society and the politicians that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that I have created the world around me – and therefore I am the one to start healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. Let’s not allow personal responsibility to slip all-too-easily away from the discourse. It’s personal responsibility, after all, that will keep the dialogue both civil and constructive.
Here’s three actions that will lend themselves to citizenship – the foundation of every great democracy:
  1. Care enough to stop blaming and criticizing. Life is more than simply growing old. It means growing up. Growing old, any animal is capable of. Growing up is the prerogative of human beings. Once you decide that all criticism and blame are a waste of time your life will change forever. It’s far easier to be a critic than to be a player. That’s why there’s always more critics than players. In an NHL game, for example, you’ll find eighteen people on the ice at any one time if you include the referees and the linesmen. What do you have in the audience? Eighteen thousand critics. 1000:1. That’s about the proportion of critics to players in our society.
  2. Take ownership. One thing I’ve learned is that no one will ever think less of you for raising your hand and saying, “I’m responsible for that.” Explaining his error in judgement over a photo taken eighteen years ago, our prime-minister initially blamed his privileged upbringing for blinding him to the offensive reality of such images and how they are viewed as racist. My response is, “What’s wrong with simply fessing up to a mistake and misjudgment?” Take ownership. A leader’s responsibility is to model maturity and display what ownership looks like. And as citizens, it is our responsibility to take ownership by expecting from ourselves what we expect from our elected officials. It’s a whole lot easier to see the shortcomings in others – particularly if they are as visible as politicians – than it is to see our own blind spots and deficiencies.
  3. Don’t wait for your leaders. Another way of expressing ownership is to give what you expect from others. Waiting, as most of us know, is not a good strategy if you are after results. Indeed, we often wait for, or expect, our elected officials to legislate policies and practices that suit our own interests and in the process abdicate personal responsibility. What we expect from others, especially those placed in a position of leadership – contains a seed of opportunity to bring that to the world. If you want a visionary, benevolent leader with strong character, start by developing these qualities within yourself. If you want politicians to have more integrity, bring greater integrity to the world. Wanting your political leaders to be accountable starts with you being accountable.
My parents would call all this maturity. They, as so many others of their generation who survived a world war and economic challenges that most of us have never known, understood the undervalued virtues of human goodness that make up a civil society. A society worth living in is not achieved by waiting for or expecting our political leaders to be pleasing parents that meet all our wants. A strong society comes rom mature citizens, committed to choosing service over self-interest, duty over demands, contribution over consumerism, and civility over discourtesy. Our politicians are a reflection of our society. While we are undoubtedly in need of a true statesman to lead this country, the best place to find that kind of person starts with looking in the mirror.

CONSIDERING THE LOST ART OF CONSIDERATION

“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.

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.

RECONNECTING IN A DISTRACTED WORLD

“The key to living well in a high tech world is to spend much less time using technology.” 
Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism 
Christopher Robin is a delightful 2018 Marc Forster film, starring Ewan McGregor. The story follows an adult Christopher Robin who had, years earlier, left behind his childhood friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, and with them, his imagination and source of inspiration. Lost in the demands of his work, Christopher finds himself disconnected from his family and from what matters most in his life. Strained and alone, he finds himself strangely reunited with his old stuffed bear friend, Winnie-the-Pooh, who innocently reawakens his imagination, sense of wonder, and playfulness. It turns out that going back to the Hundred Acre Wood wasn’t just good for his soul and his loved ones as they reconnected with the new found essence of their father and husband. Reconnecting with his authentic self allowed him to bring his vast untapped creative forces to his work that eventually provided a great service to his company and the world. His companions from the Hundred Acre Wood opened the door to his destiny.
I identify with this story. Like Christopher Robin, I have had my own periods of growing apart from the life I’m meant to live. I know well what it’s like to drift from my sources of inspiration, lost in the demands of others. At such times I wrestle with self-doubt and denial of my capacity to make a real difference in the world, settling for what others expect from me rather than staying connected to a deeper, more sustaining voice from within.
Years ago, I came across a quote that has been a source of inspiration for me over the years. It’s from Demian, by Herman Hesse, and reads, “each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself… His task was to discover his own destiny  – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.” 
For those committed to living a life of “genuine vocation”, I offer five strategies.
  1. Give yourself permission. A participant from my upcoming “Other Everest” retreat wrote to me about why he decided to sign up. “I’m at a time and space in my life,” he said, “where I want to do an ‘authentic’ dive into who I am, what makes me tick, and how am I adding value to the world. It’s time for me to begin my transformational journey.”
  2. Rethink social media. I see more and more people becoming progressively distracted and exhausted by our attachment to the world of social media. I’m also finding increasingly validated research that is substantiating the neurological, psychological, and societal impact of social media as an addictive activity. While there is no doubt it holds some entertainment value, some convenience as a source of communicating information, and some increased market exposure value, I’m no longer so convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs. I am currently wrestling with this matter, questioning the use of social media in my work and my life, and considering quitting it all together.
  3. Resist Compliance. Carl Jung said that disobedience is the first step toward consciousness. We are not here to fear or please those in authority and should realize that there is meaning and value in our acts of disobedience – not disobedience for its own sake, but as a fuller expression of our own unique humanity and purpose in the service of the greater good. The fact that we are resisting conformity may be a sign that we have begun to live our own lives. It’s about giving yourself permission to choose adventure over safety.
  4. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n and pause. Choosing a deeper, more substantive side of ourselves over superficiality requires giving ourselves time and space to think independently and to value the inward journey. Learning to be comfortable with the pause and the silence opens the door to authentic change. It’s an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we’ve lost our way. On a regular basis I find it vital to stop and ask myself questions like: “What nourishes me?” “What fulfills me?” “Whose voices am I paying attention to?”
  5. Stay connected to what’s real. The challenge of authenticity is to sustain our humanity when everything around us is being automated. Authenticity values direct experience over electronic or virtual experience. It means staying connected to the natural world, to human beings, to the entire spectrum that life has to offer. While institutions are built for consistency, efficiency and certainty, authenticity relies on variability, vulnerability, and surprise. Focus on the things that really matter, including spending more undivided time without distractions and with friends and family, enjoying the good things in life.
What are your practices for staying close to your own “Hundred Acre Wood?” How do you ensure that you maintain contact with an inner guiding compass and create enough stillness and playfulness in your life that you can hear the voice of authenticity?