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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.

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?

Heroic Leadership: Lessons From The Golden Knights – By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.

Well, the professional hockey season is over and the Washington Capitals have the Stanley Cup. Congratulations to the team. But that is not the main story for many of the rest of us. Our story is composed of part magic, part luck, and what I like to call the “four qualities of heroic leadership.” Let me explain.

First, here are the “four qualities” – Compassion and Commitment, Competency and Courage. We see these four aspects of leadership in the Las Vegas Golden Knights Hockey Team.

Compassion and Commitment: I will let writer, Ben Shpigel, of the New York Times (May 22nd) start us off: “The Golden Knights play in front of fans who appreciate how quickly and deeply the team has taken to their adopted city after the tragedy of October 1st, 5 days before Vegas’s first game. The tragedy strengthened the Golden Knights bond with the fans, who found healing in hockey (emphasis mine), a respite from their grief.”

The number “58” was retired by the Knights organization at the beginning of the season in a tribute to the 58 who were murdered on October 1stat an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.

So intimate is the connection between the team and the people of the Vegas Valley, that at the end of the fifth and final game of the Stanley Cup, the fans gave the team a thundering ovation. Commentator Ed Graney, of the Las Vegas Review Journal (June 8), looking past the final game of the season for the Knights wrote: “The big picture will stand on its own, ingrained into the fabric of this city, a team and a town and the impenetrable bond it will forever share.”

Competency and Courage: Here is Ben Shpigel again, writing of this expansion team that wasn’t expected to win many games in its inaugural year much less reach the playoffs: “No matter how many goals they scored (or did not score) last season, no matter how many saves they made (or did not make), the Golden Knights gathered for training camp before the season as equals – traded and exposed, discarded by their old teams, exiled to an expansion franchise in the middle of the desert. Disrespected and discounted, the Golden Knights coalesced around that snub.” Even their coach, Gerard Gallant, suffered a setback in his career when he was fired by the Florida Panthers in the fall of 2016; he is now a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the Year.

Compassion and Commitment, clearly; Competency and Courage indeed. This merry band of “Golden Misfits,” as the players call themselves, set professional hockey “on its ear” this year and helped the Las Vegas community grow in appreciation of itself. The team and its fans can be justly proud of who they are and what they accomplished this year.

Max Oliva, a Jesuit priest, has been a friend and mentor of mine for more than twenty years. He lived and ministered in Las Vegas from 2011 to 2017. He now resides in Spokane, Washington. However, he still works in the Vegas Valley on a part-time basis and was in Las Vegas on the day of the October 1 shooting as well as for the final game of the Stanley Cup. His main ministry has been serving men and women in the corporate community on the topics of ethics and spirituality, first in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and then in Las Vegas. He is the author of seven books on spirituality and ethics. His web site is: www.ethicsinthemarketplace.com

AN UNDERVALUED VIRTUE CALLED GRIT – The Power To Persevere In The Pain

When the morning’s freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, the climb seems endless, and suddenly, nothing will go quite as you wish – it is then that you must not hesitate.
– Dag Hammarskyold

 

In the classic 1969 Henry Hathaway movie,True Grit, John Wayne plays a drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal who helps a stubborn teenager track down her father’s murderer. In true John Wayne fashion, he demonstrates a most valued virtue: grit. It’s a short word with great power. Grit is tenacity, perseverance, stamina, sticking with the task at hand day in and day out, not just for the day or the month or the years, but for as long as it takes. Grit is about passion and purpose and persistence. Grit is about living life as a marathon, not a sprint or a walk in the park. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit is defined as “firmness of character… an indomitable spirit.” Those with grit know that everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.
It’s easy to start, but it takes grit to finish. While authenticity in leadership is learning to connect, to be vulnerable and open and humble, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a spine. Leadership without backbone, without grit, isn’t leadership at all. Leadership means, at times, the toughness to stand for something, the toughness to finish, and the toughness to refine our soul with the sandpaper of hardship.
When my grandfather worked three jobs raising eight kids during the depression, he modeled grit. When I watch my friends, colleagues, and clients here in Alberta display courage, innovation, and tenacity to get through today’s challenging economic times, I see grit. When someone sets aside personal gain to be beside an ill loved one through a long illness, I am reminded of the value of this precious virtue. Grit means seeing the task through, not because it’s easy or comfortable or self-serving, but because it is the right thing to do.
Here are three qualities that both demonstrate – and inspire – grit:
A COMPELLING VISION
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s unwavering persistence in fighting for civil rights, justice, anti-discrimination, and peace inspired a broken nation. An athlete training for the Olympics will persevere through the pain of getting up early, endure the hours of brutal workouts, and see it all the way to the end. Why? Because of the power of the dream. Thomas Edison allegedly tried 10,000 times before succeeding in his light bulb. A gritty undergraduate college student will study long into the night, night after night, with the vision of becoming a doctor. A young entrepreneur endures the challenges and setbacks of failures to find a way to bring her vision to the marketplace. A recovering alcoholic, with a vision of self-respect and a commitment to the wellbeing of his family he loves, will muster the grit to stay with he program. It’s a captivating vision, along with a profound and sustaining commitment to that vision, that inspires and awakens the human spirit.
COURAGE
Theodore Roosevelt, a true exemplar of grit, spoke of overcoming fear by embracing it with vulnerability and courage in an address at the Sorbonne in 1910.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…
It takes courage to dream, and even greater courage to persist in the realization of that dream. It takes courage to identify the habits that will create and realize your dream, and even greater courage to get up early and implement those habits and ignore a thousand possible excuses to stay in bed. It takes courage to keep making progress, to keep setting new standards, in the midst of the world telling you to settle for conformity and mediocrity.
Courage, however, isn’t always apparent. You can’t always see courage, nor can courage be accurately assessed by anyone else. It takes courage to finish a marathon, and sometimes it takes courage to stop. It takes courage to build a business, and it takes courage to find other priorities in your life. It takes courage to do a job right, and it takes courage to let go of perfection, and instead allow excellence to be your standard. It takes courage to get back on the proverbial horse, and sometimes it takes courage to walk away from the horse. It takes courage to stay in a relationship, and sometimes it takes courage to leave a relationship. It takes courage to love, and it takes courage to let go. Courage, a quality vital to grit, is developed with practice and identified by a well-tuned conscience.
CARING
Jeff Clark, President of Kitchen Partners Ltd. in Edmonton believes, “there are two kinds of people in the world: ‘me’ people and ‘we’ people.” My conversation with him got me thinking that ‘me’ people turn grit into greed. Without the ‘we,’ without humanity and a dedication to the greater good, grit turns into obsession and narcissism. Grit without caring isn’t grit at all. Grit without compassion is bullying and tyranny.
Grit combined with caring is character. As I write in my book, Caring is Everything, caring enriches every facet of our lives. Grit is caring enough about someone or something to persevere. Grit is caring so much that you’ll do whatever it takes. If you care enough, you will find the grit. If you can’t find it in you to dream, maybe all you need to inspire grit is to care.
Grit, like other qualities of character, cannot be “taught” to others like you teach algebra or organic chemistry. Grit, however, can be “caught.” It can be discovered. It can be fostered in the cultures where we work and live if we take the advice of Albert Schweitzer, the theologian, philosopher, and physician:

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing”.

7 ROOTS OF LEADERSHIP Living A Good Life

Over the winter, my wife, Val and I took time to transplant trees and repot houseplants. It’s been good for me to slow down and spend some time working with soil, getting my hands dirty and connecting to the land, reminding me of the value farmers bring to our culture. I’ve been learning from Val, our resident plant expert, that a healthy root system is necessary to ensure a robust plant. Through their natural intelligence, plants know this and develop extensive roots before their energy is transferred into growing foliage. You’ll see this in a houseplant that will get root bound in a pot before they flourish above the ground. The root system is first developed in the dirt, thus enabling the plant to support its growth above the surface.

Leadership is like that. The source of what is manifested in the world is not seen by the world. Like a plant, whose strength and energy come from its roots, the strength and energy of a leader comes from within. A good life – through a person’s roots – precedes good leadership. Below is a short list of what a good life means to me, and the roots that will sustain and support you to do the work that you are called to do.

  1. Clarity. Clarity is about living your life by design rather than by default. Living without clarity is like embarking on a wilderness journey without a compass. Any way will get you there if you don’t know where you are going. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare and precious achievement. You’ll be told in a hundred ways what is expected of you and what is needed of you to be a success. The real discipline in life comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.
  2. Courage. If you have ever walked through something that frightens you, and you grew through to the other side, you know that courage is inspiring. It inspires you and it inspires those around you. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing fear and walking through it. There have always been courageous men and women who have been prepared to die for what they believe in. What do you care enough about to give your life for?
  3. Character. If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you 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. 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.
  4. Calling. Calling is a devotion to a cause beyond you. It is inspiring to be around people who have a dedication to a cause they care about. When you feel an internal calling, a deep sense of pursuing what you are meant to be pursuing, you take a step toward completeness in your life. “A musician must make music,” wrote Abraham Maslow, the famed American psychologist, “an artist must paint, a poet must write, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves.” Whether you are paid or not to express your calling, a good life requires you listen and respond.
  5. Contribution. When we come to the end of our days on this earth, we take no material thing with us. It’s not what we have gained for ourselves but the contribution we have made to others that makes life meaningful. It’s not what we get from life that has the greatest most lasting reward. It’s what we give. A good life requires a generous spirit and a giving heart. A life of contribution is a good life.
  6. Connection. After three decades of observing and learning from thousands of leaders in hundreds of organizations and in every walk of life, I finally understand what my parents tried to teach me more than forty years ago. In an interdependent world, everything is about relationships. It’s not all about models or strategies or programs or the latest technology. Whether you are a CEO building a company, a middle manager leading a division, a supervisor ensuring results on your team, a front-line sales person, a customer-service representative, or a parent attempting to develop capable young people, leadership is all about making contact and building connections. And caring is at the root.
  7. Centering. “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. For me, a good life is built around a spiritual center that I constantly seek and return to. From this foundation I find security amidst uncertainty, serenity in the middle of success and failure, stability among the fleeting emotions of happiness and sadness. It is this center that sustains me and provides connection in loss, humility in achievement, perspective in chaos, strength in weakness, and wholeness in fragmentation.

It’s an exciting time to be living in this wondrous world. What concerns me is the possibility that our efforts to continuously improve and advance everything will create a society that is actually less satisfying to live in. Every day we have an opportunity to invent a new world through the choices we make. Not just in a narrow economic sense, but also in a broader human sense: for ourselves and for our children and for our children’s children.

What does a good life mean to you, and how does living in accord with what matters to you make you a better person and a better leader?