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

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

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

AMPLIFY YOUR LEADERSHIP IMPACT

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

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

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

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.

LEADERSHIP AMIDST THE TYRANNY OF ADMINISTRATIVE MINUTIA

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”   – Thomas A. Edison
A good friend and long-time client called me the other day and asked me how I am.
I responded with, “Busy,” which is my default response when I don’t have the where-with-all to be honest. But Vincent isn’t one to let me off the hook and wouldn’t let me get away with a lazy answer. That’s what I value about our friendship. It’s real. There’s an expectation of honesty. He has a low tolerance for superficiality.
So he responded, “Is it a good busy?”
The question made me stop and think. “How do you know if your ‘busy’ is ‘good’ or not?”
He elaborated, “What have you done today that has brought you joy? How is your energy? What drains you? What fulfills you? What tires you? What animates you?”
As an executive director at a university in South Central United States, Vincent started talking about the “administrative minutia” that comes with every leadership responsibility – the paper work, the proposals, the budgets, the demands, the fires you have to put out – the day-to-day grind that will wear you down and wear you out if you aren’t careful.
I came out of that conversation with Vincent with four things you have to attend to every day in order to survive and thrive in the midst of administrative minutia.
1. MAKE TIME TO THINK. You never want to be so busy doing that you don’t have time to think about what you are doing. Peter Drucker, the great management expert said it well: “There is nothing so useless as doing something efficiently that which should not be done at all.” The best leaders I know take time – if not daily, at least on a weekly basis,  – to think about what matters, what’s important, and what needs saying no to. Remember: every time you say yes to something that is unimportant, you so no to something that is important.
2. MAKE TIME TO GET ON THE BENCH. All hockey coaches know that the game is more than performance on the ice. It’s also about good bench management. Players simply can’t go full speed for much longer than about 45 seconds. While you have to stay focused and alert on the bench, you also have to take a good rest while you’re there. Human beings are not meant to go full out without periodic rest. While you don’t want to spend all day on the bench, what do you do every day to get away from the busyness and unplug from it all? What are you doing today to get on the bench? Whether it’s a good rest over the lunch hour or a five minute rest every hour or so, we all need to regularly get on the bench.
3. MAKE TIME FOR JOY. Yes, I know we need to stop complaining about the work we have to do at work. Work is called work for a reason. You don’t come to work to play. You get paid to work at work. And we could all use a little better attitude toward our work and find a little more gratitude and a little more joy in whatever we do. But you also spend a lot of your life at this thing called work, so you want to push aside that pile on your desk and make a little room for something that brings you joy. Joy is the intersection of passion and service to others. Find something you are passionate about and negotiate for ways that intersect your passion with an opportunity to make a difference. At minimum, find something that brings you joy away from work, something that you play at, so when you go to work you can be grateful that it provides opportunities for joy elsewhere.
4. MAKE TIME TO CARE. Caring produces energy. When you intentionally and consciously take the time to care – about the work you are doing, the project you are engaged in, the colleague down the hall who needs a little encouragement, or the difference you are making – notice how it breathes new life into your days. When you s-l-o-w d-o-w-n for even a brief moment to be kind to someone, listen to someone, to be present, and put extra care into the work you are doing, notice how “busyness” can turn into contentment. Mother Teresa said that, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” It’s simple caring that makes our workplace worth working in and our lives worth living.
These strategies don’t replace hard work, effort, or results. But when integrated into a busy life you come home at the end of the day a little more satisfied, a little more fulfilled, a little more focused on what’s important, and a little less depleted. We’re all busy, but is your busy a “good” busy?

A New Year’s Message from David

I’ve been wondering what it is about New Years and the desire to make resolutions. Sure there is the tradition and the date on the calendar that gives us a perception of starting anew. But there is something else going on, a desire inside of us to keep getting better, to evolve, to give more. And the start of a new year seems to be a good place to start.

This Year Will Be The Best Year Of My Life

This year will be the best year of my life.

It will be a return to enjoying the simple things like family & friends.

It will be the year of less complaining & more appreciating.

This year I will dance more, laugh more & love more.

And be healthier than ever because of it.

I will live more consciously, deliberately, joyfully.

(Excerpted from the poem “This Year” by Steward St. John)

Kier Barker cited this poem when we spoke together at a conference a few years ago. Kier was born with spina bifida. His parents were told that there was no point in taking him home as he would live less than a week. Kier is now in his 60’s and doing well. He has faced and conquered immense challenges in his life and he is an inspiration to all who know him. A note on Kier’s website says: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

The year 2016 brought me a few storms. My brother, Hal, continues his third year on his journey with brain cancer. Diagnosed in November, 2013, he was expected to live about eighteen months. He is still at home, being cared for by his amazing wife and dedicated caregivers. I still value my weekly visits with Hal and his courage and grace continue to inspire me.

My sister, Kate, was also diagnosed with a brain tumor last year, but thankfully, hers was operable. In December she underwent a successful surgery and had it removed. Turns out it was a Grade I Meningioma, so the prognosis is good compared to Hal’s Grade III Astrocytoma. (I’ve learned a lot about brain tumors in the past three years!) Spending time with Kate over the holidays, we reflected on how precious and brief this “candle in the wind” of life is and were reminded of how to make this the best year you have ever had:

1)   Live well today. While it’s vital to have a compelling vision and focus for the future, we are made so that we can only carry the burden of twenty-four hours; no more. If you weigh yourself down with years behind you or the days ahead of you, your shoulders will bend and your back will break. The quality of your life is determined by your relationship with the present. The way to have a good year is to decide, every day, one day at a time, to have a good day. That good day will turn into a good year and that good year will turn into a good life.

2)    Change your habits, change your life. Once you decide to live well today, it’s good to realize that all life is a series of habits. If you want good health, find out the habits of healthy people and practice emulating them, one habit at a time. If you want to build a successful business, find out the habits of successful business entrepreneurs and change your habits. If you want a good relationship, learn and practice good relationship habits. A good life is a life of good habits. Good habits can include:

  • Walk everyday in nature. The sun and the air are good medicine for tired bodies and weary souls.
  • Watch less tv and read more. Spend one hour a day reading something that stretches your mind and makes you think more deeply.
  • Get more rest. Get to bed earlier. Learn to let go of all the stuff you can’t control, and relax. Breathe.
  • Take the most important person in your life on a date once a week.
  • Start the day s-l-o-w-l-y, and create pauses during the day to stop, appreciate, and go within. If you don’t go within, you will go without.
  • Bring an attitude of gratitude to everything you do. Look for ways to be grateful during the day and ways you can help lift the life of another.
  • Make it a habit of changing the habits in your life that aren’t producing the results you desire.

3) Decide to have a good year. It isn’t what happens in a given year that makes it good or bad. It is the response we choose to what happens that makes a year good or bad. Fortunately, we have the ability to choose our attitude and our response. One of the great revelations of our time is the awareness that changing the inner attitudes of our mind can change the outer aspects of our lives. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

Today I challenge you to choose to make 2017 the best year of your life so far. Some will think it is possible. Some may say that you don’t know what will happen in 2017 so how can you think it will be your best year ever? My reply is that my attitude and response will make it the best year no matter what happens. It is my choice.

2017 will be the best year of my life so far, and 2018 will be even better. How do I know this? Because I choose it to be.