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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.

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.

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.

MASTERY AND THE POWER OF REFLECTION

“Don’t aim to become a person of success; rather, aim to be a person of value.”
-Albert Einstein
A key to living authentically is the capacity to reflect. Reflect means to go back over; to study again. Go back over your notes. Go back over your thoughts. Go back over your day, your week. I like to take time at the end of the year to reflect upon what’s important in my life, going back over the year to be sure that in my pursuit of a standard of living I don’t lose track of the standard of my life. January is a good time to reset the compass and clarify my intentions for the upcoming year.
Reflection turns experience into insight.
–  John Maxwell
I kicked off 2019 by attending a five-day workshop called Come Alive at The Haven Institute on Gabriola Island on Canada’s west coast. Facilitated by my good friend David Raithby and his colleague, Linda Nicholls, the experience was filled with tremendous insights, reminders, and discoveries that supported my own authentic journey. It reinforced my reflections and renewed my vision for my life and work.
One of the significant take-aways from the retreat was the understanding of the difference between achievement and mastery.From very early in life we experience them both and often confuse the two. While they appear to be similar, the motive and results of each are distinct. Achievement, as defined here, is the attainment of a goal based on external motivators, such as recognition, approval, money, appreciation, status, or the opinion that others have of us. We work hard in school to get good grades. We build a successful business for the profit and prominence it promises. We lose weight so we’ll look good for the reunion. In an achievement-oriented world, one’s value is measured by external results, such as income, appearance, fashion, numbers of likes on social media, and how we compare with others.
Mastery, on the other hand, is about internal motivation. We experience mastery when we take our first steps, learn to tie our shoelaces, or overcome a difficulty. With mastery we experience the reward of curiosity and discovery, wonder and fulfillment. With mastery, we feel deep satisfaction as our world expands and we uncover new capacities. Rather than being externally motivated, mastery is inspired by an inner yearning to realize our potential and express who we are meant to be. As parents and teachers, we cultivate mastery by providing a safe learning environment and encouraging support. Rather than focusing on praise, approval, and external rewards, mastery is developed by encouraging children to reflect on their own endeavors, experience their own sense of amazement, and affirm themselves based on their own internal measurement of self-expression and gratification.
Alongside the experiences of mastery, we all experience, to some degree, the pull of achievement and its rewards. While achievement is a worthy aim at particular points in our life, it potentially creates a dependence upon something outside of ourselves that can blind us to the sustaining fulfillment of mastery. This reliance on external validation as a motivator is expressed when students are driven by grades rather than the love of learning, businesses are motivated by making a buck rather than making a difference, and success is motivated by an unquenchable hunger for fame and fortune. When a person’s worth becomes dependent on societal validation, a cycle of self-criticism, burnout, anxiety, despair, and ultimate emptiness results.
Being all too familiar with the barrenness of achievement motivated by the drive for approval and status, I am now emerging into a stage of life where achievement is being replaced by mastery. It’s fulfilling, less stressful, and a whole lot more enjoyable when you build a business based on self-expression and contribution than one driven by notoriety, the praise of others, and success defined by the marketplace. If you consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral, you will find your own definition of a life well-lived and discover that the people you seek approval from won’t even be at your funeral!
Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle knew something about the difference between achievement and mastery when he distinguished between what he termed “external goods,” such as prosperity, property, power, personal advancement and reputation, and “inner goods,” or “goods of the soul,” including fortitude, temperance, justice, compassion, and wisdom. He taught that the good life is not one of consumption, but one of the flourishing of these virtues.
Five suggestions for bringing more mastery into your life and living authentically:
1. Create a regular habit to pause and take a deep breath. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n and make room to pay attention to the voice within. Connecting to your breath opens you to connect with the present moment. While goals are important, life is not lived in some distant future. Life is lived now. The present moment is where meaning lies.
2. Take an honest inventory of what drives the actions in your life.Ask yourself some tough questions: What motivates you? How dependent are you on the validation and approval of others to define you? Whose voices are driving your life? What matters to you: achievement or mastery? “external goods” or “internal goods?” Take time to notice the impact that your motives are having on the quality of your life, your relationships, your health, and your leadership.
3.Listen to your body. Your body knows. I came down with a cold after the holidays. I don’t like to take cold medicine. I like to hear the symptoms clearly and listen accordingly. Paradoxically, I think it’s healthy to get sick periodically as it helps reset your immune system and gets your attention if you listen to what it’s trying to tell you. Perhaps the same thing could be said for pain. I stayed home for a couple days, relaxed, and used the time for some reflection. It went quickly and informed me to let go of some expectations I had of myself that were externally driven and not aligned with my authentic self. If you don’t listen to a cold and take care of it, it will turn into bronchitis; if you don’t listen to bronchitis it will turn into pneumonia; if you don’t listen to pneumonia….
4.Clarify your intentions. You may find that nothing needs changing in your life except how you approach your life. There’s nothing inherently wrong, for example, with having a goal to build a financially successful company. But living authentically requires a careful examination of your intentions. If you are depending on the success of your business to give you your worth and your place in the world, you’ll likely find it will never be enough. If, however, you are building a business in order to express yourself, help others grow, and bring value to the world, the journey can be far more meaningful and fulfilling.
5. Take stock of your relationships. Reflect on the people that are in your life right now and where you might need support to live with greater mastery. If you want a fulfilling life, hang out with people who will inspire and support you to be who you are. Coaches and mentors can be helpful to guide you to your own truth and your voice. Mastery, like authenticity, is a lonely journey but it can’t be done alone.
I’d love to hear your experience, perspective, and reflections on the difference between achievement and mastery, and what these insights mean to you.