RECONNECTING IN A DISTRACTED WORLD

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

THE MAGIC OF BOLDNESS

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” 
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
In my travels the past few weeks, I have suffered many a delayed or cancelled flight and the stress and inconvenience that goes along with it. This is the time of year when my travel schedule is at a peak, when weather wreaks havoc on getting to my events, and when patience and trust must consciously dissolve frustration. A friend reminded me today that in the midst of delays to find the “gifts in the detours.”
In 1979, Marwa Atik’s grandfather made the decision to leave his home in Syria and start a new life in the United States. He settled in California and his wife and seven children were to follow on a future flight. Their American Airlines Flight #191 reservations included a stop in New York, followed by a connecting flight to Chicago before finally arriving at their final destination in California. After landing in New York, immigrants first had to apply for a green card before their next destination. Hala, a young thirteen-year-old and one of the seven children, had recently put on the hijab. When it came time for her photo, officials asked her to remove it, but she refused. Immigration officers persistently informed her that she would not be allowed to move to America or continue to their next flight until she took this photo. Hala was unfaltering and insisted on her right to wear the hijab.
By now, Hala’s mother became impatient. Having flown half-way across the globe and spending close to their life savings on these tickets, she did not want to miss the next flight to California. She pleaded with her daughter to comply with the officers, but Hala held fast. The officials brought in their superiors and insisted that if she did not remove her hijab for the photo she would not be allowed into the U.S. and her family would be sent back to Syria. After three brutal hours of interrogation with numerous officers, and with a young lady who refused to compromise, the officials finally relented and allowed her to keep her hijab on for the photo. However, by then it was too late. The family had missed their connecting flight. They ended up having to purchase new plane tickets and stay overnight in New York. Dismayed and furious, Hala’s mother lectured her young daughter into the evening and for the whole flight to California.
By the time they arrived in Los Angeles, Hala’s father greeted and embraced them all with tears. It was then that the family learned that the original flight they were supposed to be on had crashed, and all 271 on board perished.
Two years ago, I felt called to take the risk to offer in-depth public leadership development programs to deepen one’s authentic presence. While this act of “boldness” in no way compares to the courage of young Hala, it was my dream and took a great deal of my courage. After much trepidation, we have now successfully facilitated two retreats. I know this is what I am meant to be doing. It has become hugely fulfilling to me and I hope for the participants.
I want to let you know that we still have seats available for our next retreat at the Banff Center and I invite you to join us. You can find more information on my website: www.davidirvine.com
Also this week, in another small effort to be “bold,” I am officially launching my new podcast series: Conversations with Authentic Leaders. My purpose is to look at how authenticity fosters leadership. There are so many good leadership books out today on what good leaders do and how they behave. But leadership is too important to be reduced to techniques or titles. My questions and contribution have to do with how leaders “become.” Where does the capability to influence and impact others come from? How can one amplify their ability to influence others through a stronger authentic presence? What is their life story? What are their defining moments?
This podcast series consists of conversations with “ordinary” leaders who are making an extraordinary difference. Amazing people who are contributing through their authentic leadership presence. I am shining a light on their stories with the hope that we can all magnify our ability to lead by being more fully who we are. Leadership, after all, is about presence, not position.
What are you doing to realize the magic of boldness? How have you inspired others through your courage? What is your dream?

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.

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.

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.

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.