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DON’T WASTE THIS CRISIS Let’s Not Get Back to Normal

A crisis is really a terrible thing to waste.  – Paul Romer, Stanford economist

In college, while on the track team, I was inspired by the university’s volleyball coach. He had a mantra that guided all his practices. Every time the ball came on your side of the net he would say, “use it.”
“The ball is not your enemy,” he would continually remind his team. “Don’t be in a hurry to get rid of it. Use it as a way of developing your capacity.”
The ball of COVID-19 has been served to our side of the net and just as in volleyball where you have three touches before you return it, three leadership opportunities arise today. Our response to these opportunities enables us to develop new capacity so we won’t waste this time afforded to us.
1.    Community. Being thrown into chaos has elicited a response of community. We see this all over the planet as people open their hearts to each other in the midst of separateness. This is a time for leaders to build community by reaching out and connecting (even if it is virtual and imperfect). It is a tremendously important time to stay together while being apart. Forgiveness and patience are called for as we stumble forward through this uncertain and unfamiliar terrain. Many employees are juggling trying to homeschool their children while managing the demands of their work. We are dealing with economic uncertainty and layoffs. If there was ever a time for compassion and grace, it is now.
Don’t compromise accountability, but don’t push for productivity; it will emerge naturally from your best people. Extend trust. Most importantly, find any way you can to express appreciation. Of course, our health care professionals and grocery store clerks need our gratitude. But all those who are working tirelessly to provide essential services in the background – electricity, gas, water, and internet, waste removal, to name a few – also need our appreciation right now. Let’s be a little more kind to ourselves and everyone around us. Remember that just because we are expected to have social distance, doesn’t mean we have to be socially disconnected. It’s a time to deepen our community.
2.    Creativity. The second authentic response to crisis and accompanying chaos is creativity. While productivity will surely wain at this time, what is spreading as fast as the fear and the virus is human creativity. From John Krasinski’s Good News Stories to the myriad creative responses to isolation, to the writing of poetry and performance of music, celebrating and expressing the human experience helps keep us entertained and enlightened, and brings light into such potentially dark times.
In a recent coaching call, I was speaking with an owner of a feedlot who is in the middle of reforming her business model. Ordinarily she would be sitting with her team to get their input. And she can’t do it virtually. Only two of her entire team even have computers. So she gave each of them a piece of paper with an initial vision sketched out, along with a request to provide input. What she is getting back is remarkable creativity and innovation. Most importantly, the introverts on the team who ordinarily would be quiet in a group setting have risen to the occasion and are shining brightly for the first time.
In times of crisis, authentic leadership opportunities emerge. How can we help our teams and our families access their creative side amidst the challenge of uncertainty? It’s all there if we simply step aside and allow it to come forth.
3.    Contemplation. There is a third equally important response required in this time of chaos and uncertainty: contemplation. There is a huge difference between surviving this crisis and actually allowing it to change us. To change we must allow ourselves to really s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, get our bearings and allow ourselves to be fully impacted by what is happening.
We live in a time of profound disruption – when something is ending and dying and something else is wanting to be born. How we have been living and working has not been working. It is becoming evident that it is not sustainable. What is dying is a civilization built on a mind-set of excess, of bigger is better, of confusing standard of living with quality of life, and of organized irresponsibility.
What is being born is less clear. It is a future that requires us to connect with a deeper level of our humanity and discover who we really are and how we want to be as a society. We are already seeing changes emerge – both within ourselves and in the environment.
People in the northern Indian state of Punjab are reacting with awe at the sight of the Himalayan mountain range, which is now visible from more than 100 miles away due to the reduction in air pollution as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown. Indians in the city of Jalandhar haven’t seen the peaks of the Himalayas for decades.
There might be a few extra endangered sea turtles in the ocean thanks to the Coronavirus after lockdowns in Brazil left nearly 100 new hatchlings with a clear path across the beach and into the waves. Wildlife officials were the only humans on the beach in the town of Paulista last week when 97 endangered hawksbill sea turtles hatched in front of their eyes.
In Italy, the lockdown is giving the outdoors — which is typically flooded with tourists — a chance to recharge. In Venice, the city’s canals are clearer because there is less boat traffic, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom. And, with fewer water taxis and boats ferrying tourists and residents along the canals, the air has also become cleaner.
What are we allowing to see more clearly and cleanly in our own lives? All social change – from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. – began with a connection to a deeper essence of what our life and our work is about. Nelson Mandela’s capacity to influence came, in large part, from the contemplation amid years of being unjustly imprisoned and emerging with the power of forgiveness. Such movements share an understanding that creating sustained change in the world requires us to connect with an inner authentic self.
If we stop, reflect, and make room for contemplation in order to connect with a deeper side of our nature, the world will change. While it is important to connect with each other and connect with our creative side, it is also vitally important to connect with our inner, most authentic self, to reset the inner compass, and be guided by a life that may well have been buried in the busyness and tyranny of the urgent.
Like the ball that has come to our side of the net, this COVID crisis is not our enemy. Let’s use it. While distraction is, at times, part of the journey, let’s be careful not to distract ourselves to the point that we waste this huge opportunity before us. Authenticity asks us to embrace what is in front of us so it will change what lies ahead of us. This crisis truly is a terrible thing to waste.

HOW TO EMBRACE CHANGE AUTHENTICALLY

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.

This pandemic is an enormous experiment in shared authenticity. Fear and grief can bring out our worst selves, but, when experienced authentically, they can transform us into our most conscious, caring, courageous selves. We’ve all heard that when one door closes another one opens. What they don’t tell you is that it’s hell in the corridor. Below is a road map for getting through the corridor of the transition we’re all experiencing in our own unique way at this time.
Stage 1. Attachment to the familiar – We’ve all been there. In the context of the current pandemic is the expectation that we are supposed to live in a world free of life-threatening disease.
Stage 2. Foreign Element – The introduction of Covid-19.
Stage 3. Chaos – Grief, loss, denial, confusion, anger, fear, insecurity, betrayal, vulnerability – all part of the process of being thrown into the unknown. Some indicators of chaos are immobilization, irritability, impatience, excessive busyness, feeling overwhelmed, hoarding toilet paper, and a desire to go back to the “good old days” even if the old familiar was not sustainable.
Stage 4. Reflection – We step back and reflect on what this all means, what can we learn, and how can we contribute – out of love, not fear.
Stage 5. Decision – It’s not your abilities that will determine your outcome or show you who you are. It is your choices. Decisions determine your direction.
Stage 6. Rebuilding – You begin creating a new life in the new reality.
Stage 7. Trust – As you work through the process you develop new resources and new capabilities. Self-trust emerges, along with your capacity to trust in the world around you.
Stage 8. New Possibilities – You begin to realize new possibilities for yourself and the world you live in.
Key Principles For Getting Through the Process
1. We are all unique. There is no formula for how long it takes to get through these stages. It is different for everyone. It can take days, months and even years. Some never make it. They get stuck in the chaos. It’s also not a linear process. Like grief and recovery from trauma, it’s messy. We go back and forth. When it comes to getting through the corridor of change, direction is more important than velocity.
2. The four cornerstones of chaos recovery are:
a.Congruence – See, hear, and experience yourself as you are right now, not as you “should” be or are “supposed” to be. What’s important in chaos is to honor whatever experience you are going through. Be present to it. Resist the natural human tendency to want to escape the discomfort of chaos – with busyness, excessive news watching, obsessive internet surfing, and shopping for toilet paper. As we say in trauma work, you have to look the dragon in the eye. Avoiding chaos will, paradoxically, keep you in it.
b.Community – In chaos, it’s also critical to reach out for support and share what’s going on. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Literally and figuratively. Make room for the people in your life you care about and who care about you, even if you need technology to make that happen. Accept that whatever you are experiencing is understandable and acceptable. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel. It’s what we do with our experience that will either help or hinder getting through the chaos.
c.Creativity – Even with social distancing, we see people reaching out to each other and coming up with all kinds of creative expressions of the human spirit. This is true in our workplaces and in our lives. Everyone I know is doing extraordinary things – in their own, human, imperfect, caring way. It is incredibly inspiring to be a part of the expression of what it means to be human.
d.Centering – There was a time when farmers of the Great Plains would run a rope from their back door to the barn at the first sign of a blizzard. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and froze to death, having lost sight of their home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards. We all need a rope to bring us home to our true nature right now. While we embrace change, we also need to know that simultaneously something in our lives remains stable and is preserved. For some, the rope we hang on to is our faith. For others it is keeping structure and routine our life. For some it is being in nature. Where do you find your centre, your place of refuge from the storm?
3. With all change comes sacrifice. There will be loss. There will pain. There will be inconvenience. We all need to be willing to let go of something or someone in our lives. We’d all like this to be different, but unfortunately this isn’t how the universe works. Let’s do what we can to minimize the sacrifice and be sure we get the lesson.
4. Get reliable information. Fear enables people to be manipulated and controlled. Experience fear. Share your fear. But don’t live afraid. This is the dark side of the transition we’re in. No question we need information during chaos; we just have to be sure we are getting it from a trusted source. Don’t believe everything you read in the news, and don’t buy everything you hear. Don’t build a false economy based on fear.
5. Take time for reflection. It’s an old and ironic human habit to run faster when we’ve lost our way. This is a time for all of us to stop and get our bearings. Once you are through the initial shock, intense fear, and grief of the chaos, make time to take stock – of your values, your life purpose, and a vision for yourself. When you honor the chaos in your life and find a community of support around you, you’ll find that renewed wisdom and clarity will emerge.
6. Decisions will determine your destiny. It’s not your abilities or your circumstances that will determine your future; It is your choices that show who you really are and will set the course for your destiny through this. Here are some decisions to consider: Rather than complain about the wind or hope it will change, decide to set your own sails. Decide to be grateful today and look for reasons to choose gratitude. Decide to be a “we” person rather than a “me” person. If you look around it won’t take you long to find something you can do to make the world better today.
7. This is ultimately a time for us all to reinvent ourselves and the way we’ve been living. It’s a time to reshape and renew the world as we have known it. The world is in need of rebalancing. The virus is showing us that we need to create a new way of living. I’m very curious to see what we can create – both personally and collectively, and I’m passionate about doing my part to make it a better place to work and live. The world as we have known it is no longer sustainable. Let’s embrace a new possibility for ourselves and the planet.
8. As we rebuild, we begin to see that this is not an end but a new beginning. Through careful reflection and renewed conscious action we can learn from our mistakes and heed the lessons from this crisis. We can begin to get a glimpse of Bill Gate’s vision, that rather than a great disaster, we can view this as a “great corrector.”
I trust this road map will be useful to you. If you would like a longer version of this process, go to my website for a free Whitepaper on Embracing Change. You’ll also find a variety of other resources:  www.davidirvine.com/free-whitepapers/
More resources from Irvine & Associates
If you and your team would like a complimentary virtual presentation on Embracing Change using the roadmap outlined above, contact our office and we’ll set up a call to design a free session for you:  www.davidirvine.com/contact/
Beginning March 27, my colleague, Ally Stone (www.davidirvine.com/faculty) and I will be creating a weekly podcast – an open-hearted, honest, authentic conversation about what’s happening in our world and how it is impacting our lives and the lives of those we love, how we ourselves are walking through this transition, and ways to better reach the world by being connected to our authentic self. We are going to offer some insights and tools from our own experience and the experience of others to help navigate this journey. Let’s learn together how to lead ourselves and others through not just today’s crisis, but the disruption we will inevitably face in the future.
The podcast series will be part of my regular podcasts: David Irvine – Conversations with Authentic Leaders 
For some of my own perspective on how I’m personally facing the current reality, watch: https://youtu.be/Fgq4TkVS22c
I’m also offering a customized, complimentary virtual program for you or your team or those you serve. To find out more go to: www.davidirvine.com
If you are seeking personal coaching, for a limited time I am offering a complimentary assessment call. If this interests you, contact us at: www.davidirvine.com/contact
Stay tuned for a complimentary e-book that will offer you simple insights and tools for staying connected to your authentic leadership in this time of unprecedented disruption. You will find it on my website very soon: www.davidirvine.com/free-whitepapers
Finally, please be safe. Err on the side of caution. Stay home. Use this opportunity to step back, awaken to your purpose and discover your gifts. And whenever and however you get a chance, express gratitude to our health care professionals and front line workers who are putting their lives on the line every day for us. This virus is humbling us all and reminding us that we all share this human journey – s e p a r a t e l y. I would welcome an opportunity to be a resource for you whenever and however I can.

Accountability, Ownership, and COVID-19

The focus of my life’s work and passion is authentic leadership. At the foundation of authenticity lies ownership and personal accountability. In part, this means the ability to distinguish between what you can control and what you can’t and putting energy into that which you can influence. I am aware that COVID-19 is causing concern and fear. I recently read that, despite all that is being done, 50,000 people still die on this continent every year from the flu. As much effort that is going on to try to contain this thing, let’s keep things in perspective. A trickle of fear in the brain can eventually turn into a trough that everything flows into.

The truth is that our health is constantly threatened by external toxins and “invaders” such as viruses and bacteria. We have little control over what is circulating in the air around us, but most of us have the ability to influence our immune system – how the body responds to these toxins.

Personal accountability means taking full responsibility for what we can control and letting go of what we can’t control. In the midst of all the unknowns in the current world narrative about this disease not enough emphasis is being placed on what we can control – our own response to the disease. Let’s not get so stressed about this that we create a self-fulfilling prophesy of a compromised immune system.

While much lies outside the sphere of influence in this impending endemic, here are three things we can all be accountable for:

1)    Get as much knowledge about what is happening as we can – from trusted sources.

2)    Learn as much about your immune system as you do about the disease. And put your energy into what you can impact – bolstering your well-being.

3)    Wash your hands.

FIVE WAYS TO LIVE A LIFE OF ENOUGH

Do you have more than one pair of shoes?
Do you have more than one choice about what you’ll eat for each meal?
Do you have access to your own means of transportation?
Do you have more than one pair of underwear?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, then by the world’s standards, you’re affluent. Less than ten percent of everyone who has ever lived could do so at any one time in their lives.
When I was a teenager, we had a hired hand named Norris, who helped on the farm. He lived in a dirt shack. A couple of horses he rode with a binder-twine bridle and an old, rusty one-gear bike he used to get himself to work were pretty much everything he owned. He was likely one of the poorest men I’ve ever known. He was also one of the happiest people I’ve ever known.
Norris was my first exposure to what I now understand to be the difference between secondary success and primary success. Secondary success is external. It is defined by the accumulation of status, materialism, popularity, and achievements. Primary success is internal. It is built on character, contribution, and connections. To paraphrase American journalist and activist Dorothy Day, secondary success is being better off, while primary success is being better.
A goal based on being better
The endless pursuit of more has left us unhappier than ever. We have confused standard of living with quality of life. And through it all, haven’t moved the needle much on addiction, mental illness, child abuse, crime, or compassion. As a society, we have been successful at raising our standard of living, but as my mentor, Don Campbell, asked, “Has this made us a better society? Has it enriched our relationships with the people who matter in our lives? Has it built better families, communities, and workplaces?”
I propose a new goal, a goal based on primary success. When we focus on becoming better people instead of better-off people, our priorities, our lives, and our world will change. We can create a society with less indifference and more compassion. Less class distinction and more honest respect for each other. Less anxiety and more contentment.
Five ways to live and lead better
1.Define a noble cause for yourself that makes the world better. When you’re committed to creating a better world, you have to be better to rise to the challenge. Declare independence from the approval of others, set high ethical standards, and devote your life to a cause. Don’t aim for success. Success will happen as the unintended consequence of your dedication to a cause beyond yourself.
2.Tame your ego. Stop worrying about whether you’re the most valuable player and start creating value for others. Pride hopes to impress; humility seeks to serve. Notice how the universe might be helping you topple your tower of self-importance right now.
3.Stay connected to life and the people in your life. We can only experience a sense of enough when we are fully present, grateful, and awake in the moment. This is where life is lived. The only moment we can feel and know with any clarity is the moment we’re experiencing right now.
4.Trust your inner compass and rely on your heart’s intuition. The voices of the world are loud. But when we get to the truth of who we are, we come closer to a more truthful life of sufficiency. This is what leads us to knowing the next right thing to do. Navigating leaders to their authentic and most reliable inner compass is central to my cause and the foundation of my life’s work.
5.Be content with what you have. Being content isn’t about complacency, apathy, or laziness. It doesn’t mean you don’t strive to be better. It means striving to be better because of your commitment to making the world better –– and staying grateful while you do. Contentedness comes from overflow, not from emptiness. It means living and leading better by living a life that’s enough.

FINDING YOUR VOICE: A Story of Authenticity and The Birth of an Immortality Project

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 info@davidirvine.com or 1-866-621-7008. I look forward to having you join us.
Are you ready for the journey?

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.