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HOLIDAY GREETINGS: LESSONS LEARNED FROM OUR CANINE FRIENDS

Having completed another “Other Everest” retreat for developing authentic leadership capacity last week, I have been relishing the experience. The group consisted of a remarkable collection of leaders from a variety of walks of life, committed to making a difference by being more authentic.
A central theme of the time we had together was slowing down and being present to what life presents. So, when my daughter shared a story that speaks well to what we learned last week in Banff, I thought it would be appropriate to share it in the spirit of caring and the upcoming holiday season.
The blog comes from VetWest Animal Clinics in Australia.
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that dogs’ lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try to live.
He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay for as long as we do.”
Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.
Whether or not you are drawn to dogs, here are some lessons we can learn from these canine critters:
* When your loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
* Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
* Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
* Take naps.
* Stretch before rising.
* Run, romp, and play daily.
* Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
* Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
* On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
* On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
* When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
* Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
* Be faithful.
* Never pretend to be something you’re not.
* If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
* When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
That’s the secret of a good life that we can learn from a good dog.
Have a well-deserved restful and peaceful holiday season everyone.

CHARACTER: The Undervalued Virtue of Human Goodness

 “Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny. It is the light that guides your way.”                                               – Heraclitus

My early years were filled with my father’s passion for sport and love for his sons. Dad was a nationally ranked gymnast, and when I was in elementary school, he would take me every Saturday morning to the old YMCA in our community. We would work, just him and me alone, on the parallel bars, tumbling mats, and climbing ropes. While he’s been gone now for more than thirty years, I can still close my eyes and feel the strength of his biceps and shoulders lifting me gently up on those bars. I can feel his thigh muscles as I would rest on them, learning to find a resemblance of balance on the mat. I can remember the enthusiasm and caring that lay below all of his dedicated actions. He wasn’t there because of his ego. He was there because of me and what he desired to instill in me.

When I was in high school, it was my father who inspired a dream within me to make the 1980 Canadian Olympic team as a track athlete. It was that dream that in turn inspired me to get up early to train and to take better care of my health. When I would lie in bed at 5:00 a.m. debating about whether to get up for my morning run, it was the power of that purpose that enabled me to get my feet on the floor and my rear end out the door in -25°F weather.  I can still hear my father tell me that, “The purpose of having a dream is not to achieve your dream. The purpose of having a dream is to inspire yourself to become the kind of person it takes to achieve your dream. Very few people make it to the Olympics, and even fewer stand on the podium, but anyone can become the kind of person it takes to get there.”

While I didn’t qualify for the Olympics, having the dream inspired me to live a healthier, more disciplined life. To this day, I have maintained many of those healthy habits ingrained in me over forty years ago. While my purpose has changed and broadened, the inspiration remains.

The seeds of character were planted early on in my life. At sixty, my father would walk around the house on his hands. But he didn’t lead with the strength of his shoulders. He led with the strength of his character. And he understood that character is developed by the daily discipline of duties done.

Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle 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 of the nourishing of these deeper, hidden virtues. Unshakeable character calls you to shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have, but for who you can be.  If you want to attract others, you must be attractive.  A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.

It’s not the fierceness of the storm that determines whether we break, but rather the strength of the roots that lie below the surface. Character is the courage to meet the demands of reality. When your wealth is lost, something is lost; when your health is lost, a great deal is lost; when your character is lost, everything is lost.

Originally published in 1934, this poem, written by Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr. was a favorite of my father’s and beautifully illustrates this virtue of character.

It’s called, “The Guy In The Glass.”

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

This past month I had the good fortune to speak to my daughter’s high school English class about authentic leadership and the strength of character. At the conclusion of my presentation I recited this poem and then I told these students that if it were my poem, I would have added one more verse:

When you don’t get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you dirt for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that guy has to say…

THE UNTAPPED POWER OF EMPOWERMENT

After a recent speaking engagement, I went back to my Best Western hotel room in St. Albert, Alberta. On the coffee table I found this note with a little gift bag containing a bottle of water and a candy bar.

Since receiving this inspiring little note of kindness, I have used it to illustrate leadership at its finest as it demonstrates that leadership has nothing to do with a title. Leadership instead, is about inspiring and influencing action from the people around you. It’s about PRESENCE, not position. After receiving this bit of acknowledgement, I’ve been intentional about keeping my hotel rooms cleaner. Not for the prize but for the pride.
While this is leadership about inspiration and influence, it’s also a story about empowerment. Someone empowered Jen and Grace to give this kind of recognition to a customer, and these two ladies also empowered themselves to step up to good leadership.
Empowerment is about removing barriers, creating space, and providing the support, encouragement, and tools for people to be the best version of themselves. But empowerment isn’t just about the manager letting go of some control. Empowerment, building a culture of trust, also requires the employee to choose service over self-interest. Believing that you can do just what you want and get all that you ask for is confusing empowerment with entitlement. Under the guise of empowerment, I’ve heard people ask for such things as freedom to come and go as they wish, increased salary, a risk-free environment, and no consequences for choices made.
Just because empowerment might mean working without being micro-managed, being trusted to make decisions, or having freedom to take some risks, empowerment doesn’t mean that you are going to get all you ask for, nor can you expect to be protected from being unhappy.
Empowerment is a partnership. It’s a relationship of trust. It’s a commitment to a dialogue with each party taking ownership. It’s not an act of concession. If a manager has the courage to hold an employee accountable for the agreements they made, don’t mistake this for  maltreatment.
Three simple ways to build an empowered relationship:
1)    Work with your employees within a solid accountability and delegation framework. Be sure there is clarity among all parties regarding expectations, parameters, agreements, needs for support, and consequences. Remember two things: Ambiguity breeds mediocrity and a request is not an agreement.
2)    Be intentional about building leadership capacity around you. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” You give a person a fish when you delegate through giving commands without a why, a sense of purpose or understanding the work from a larger context. It’s like saying, “go do this, and when you’re done come back and I’ll give you something else to do.” Then you become a seagull manager, when you flap around and crap on people for not doing it “right.” Empowerment implies starting small and gradually building on larger and larger expectations as trust is built and capacity is acquired.
3)    Take ownership. High involvement and high collaboration are key to empowerment. Workers will simply perform best when they have influence over their workplace and act as owners. While empowerment does imply the willingness to trust and let go of some control, ownership on the part of the employee is also required to fully grasp the task they are empowered to do. Ownership is the willingness to choose 100% responsibility. Ownership is about deciding, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time. Ownership is about ensuring results rather than merely putting in a “good effort.”
Empowerment isn’t a leadership fad or flavour of the month. Empowerment is an approach to life. As a shared responsibility, empowerment builds leaders, takes pressure off of managers, delivers results that matter, and helps shape organizations that are worthwhile places to work.
What are your experiences with empowerment? I’d love to hear from you.

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!

FORGET YOUR PERFECT OFFERING

Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
Every leader has cracks,  imperfections in their personality. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela – all had cracks. All the great contributors of our time had flaws. Why? Because they were bad leaders? No. Because cracks come with being human.
I often speculate that some of these great leaders would never have made it in the age of the internet, where their imperfections would be magnified and scrutinized in social media. They may never have stood a chance of earning credibility or making an impact.
With modern news access, especially in an economy when fear sells, the rarity is the reality, and the reality is the rarity. One murder in a million, amplified in the news reels, suddenly makes a whole city feel afraid. The action of one employee, magnified by social media posts, can color the perception of an entire organization. If we aren’t careful and judge the many by the one, the behavior of a single person can taint an entire race. If we fail to understand the context and the means by which news is fed to us, we run the risk of naïve prejudice when we turn on our devices. It is both difficult and essential to a civil, sustainable society to expose ourselves to competing perspectives and exercise our freedom to choose – to “screen in and screen out.”
So how do you work with the flaws in yourself and others? Here are three strategies to deal with the imperfect offerings we will inevitably bring to the world in our leadership:
1)    Be sincere. Sincere is derived from the Latin ‘sine’ meaning without, and ‘cera’, meaning wax. According to one popular explanation, dishonest sculptors in ancient Rome and Greece would cover flaws in their work with wax to deceive the viewer; therefore, a sculpture “without wax” would mean honesty in its imperfection. Sincerity means being honest with yourself and aware of the impact your behavior has on those around you. It’s about being open to seeing your inevitable cracks. You don’t need to shine a light on all your defects in public, but honesty and realness in the spirit of acceptance and a commitment to grow and change goes a long way.
2)    Start with the person in the mirror. It is human nature to see the flaws in others more readily than it is to see them within ourselves. Those in the public eye who risk daring greatly in the arena of critics, provide us with a great opportunity to look at ourselves before pointing the finger. Whenever you see arrogance, unethical behavior, or any other crack in a public figure, resist the human impulse to judge and instead take a close look at these potential blind spots within yourself. Get some feedback from trusted people in your life and listen carefully to what they tell you. Get some coaching. Grant yourself and others some grace. Reflect upon the notion that our judgement of others is often a defense against looking at our own flaws and a lack of courage to change.
3)    Find your gifts in the cracks. It’s within our flaws that the light of consciousness is able to see its way in and its way out. It is within our wounds that we are often able to use our gifts to make the world a better place. A huge part of my Authentic Leadership retreat focuses on how to transform the shadow side of our nature into our most important contribution to the world. True authentic leadership is fueled by a voyage that takes us inward toward the hardest realities of our lives. To attain the capacity to influence in today’s changing and demanding world, along with the depth to lead with a strong authentic presence requires an inner journey, a journey to one’s heart, a journey to what I call the “Other Everest.”
In my retreats we create a space to pause, go inside, and connect with your authentic self. It is an opportunity to understand your cracks and flaws and learn how to re-frame them through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence.
Remember – no one is perfect and it is through the cracks or imperfections that the light shines upon our gifts!
If you are interested in a journey to discover how your imperfect offering can make a greater contribution to the world, join me in Banff for “The Other Everest Retreat”. There are still seats available at the early bird price at until mid-October.

CELEBRATE AUTUMN With THE OTHER EVEREST

It’s been many years since my daughters were returning to school in early September. But I still get nostalgic this time of year. Maybe it stems from the years I started back to school as a child or taught university and looked forward to returning to the classroom. Or maybe it’s because my corporate year-end comes in August and I’m starting a new fiscal year. Or maybe it’s the incoming cooler weather and the crisp smell of harvest and hay as I drive through the country and reminisce about my formative years on the farm.
For whatever reason, I love September. It’s a time for a new beginning, for moving into something fresh, for starting over. We all need times during the course of our lives when we give ourselves permission to reset and begin anew. September is a great time for this. It’s important to turn a corner and bring a renewed energy into our lives and our workplace, especially if we have taken time over the summer for rest and renewal.
What renewed vitality are you bringing into your work this September? What compass are you resetting? What restored resolve are you bringing to your life?
What I’m especially excited about this September is the release of my latest book on authentic leadership that arrived on my doorstep this week. I am immensely proud of this book. Over five years in the making, it is a culmination of my learnings and teachings gleaned over a lifetime in the personal and leadership development field. Encyclopedic in its insights and teachings on authentic leadership, The Other Everest is a book designed as a resource you can come back to time and again for inspiration and ideas. The sheer volume of information and tips it contains cannot be fully digested and applied all at once, and that is not the intention. Everyone creates and takes their own pathway to authentic leadership. Use the knowledge in The Other Everest as a source of support and replenishment that you can draw upon over time at your own pace. Getting started can be as simple as taking one or two concepts from the book that resonate with you and building time into your life to reflect and let them help shape your journey.
You can find a complimentary white paper about The Other Everest, and a preview of the book on this website. You can also order it now!
If you are interested bulk purchase prices, contact val@davidirvine.com