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
There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn to live without judgement, so he sent them each on a quest to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest in the fall.After they had all gone and returned, he called them together to describe what they had seen.The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted.The second son said it was covered with green buds and full of promise.The third son disagreed. He said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.The last son disagreed with all of them. He said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment. The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but one season in the tree’s life.
A participant in one of my leadership development programs in Oklahoma wrote me this week giving tribute to his late mother and the impact she had on his life. It has obvious application for parents and for all of us who are committed to having a positive impact on those we serve and love. Whether a relationship with a family member, an employee, or an interaction with the cashier at the supermarket, remember, words matter.
A Tribute To Mom
Through my work in social services and as a college professor, I am in a unique position to observe human behaviors, and I often have opportunity to be a compassionate, listening ear for a younger generation. I see the long-term impact a parent’s negative words can have on individual self-worth. I share my story this year in hopes that parents realize the tremendous, long-term power their words can have.
Twenty-two years ago tonight the trajectory of my life changed. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was the night my mother passed from this life into the next. I am fortunate I had the opportunity to spend the last few hours with my mom, visiting and enjoying time together. I still remember the last words she spoke to me, “I love you, and I’m so very proud of you”. Her words are a cherished memory that continues to sweeten as time moves forward.
Each year on the anniversary of her death I find myself in a very introspective frame of mind, seeking to identify the areas of growth I have experienced in the previous twelve months. Through the years, I have come to recognize that the emotional turbulence brought about by my mom’s death, while deeply painful, has become the catalyst for personal growth. The turbulence I once feared has transmuted and emerged as a powerful wind providing lift that has enabled me to soar to new heights and allowing me to become the person I am.
This year the anniversary has been no different; it has been a time of remembrance and evaluation. As I consider the lessons learned, the personal growth I have achieved, and new concepts revealed, I realize that the greatest gift I ever received from my mom is not found in tangible things that can be held in the hand; instead, it is in the last words she spoke to me, “I love you, and I’m so very proud of you.”
I did not know it at the time, but her words would have a profound impact on my life and personal development, so much so that it has taken twenty-two years for me to become fully aware to what extent. In her last words she provided love, acceptance, and validation. Her words fostered a new personal freedom enabling me to continue to grow and evolve into the person I have always been meant to be. My mom was a very skilled wordsmith, always choosing her words carefully. I believe her last words to me were purposeful and deliberately selected, all the while knowing the long-term impact they would have.
What a powerful, extraordinary gift I received that night; one that continues to impact my life twenty-two years later. WORDS HAVE POWER! One lesson to share with others is this, parents have the ability to influence and shape their child’s life even in the parent’s absence. Parents, your words will do one of two things, they will provide empowerment or inflict rejection and pain. Choose your words carefully as they will influence the life of your child for many years to come.
I feel so very blessed to have had a parent who always tried to empower, even in her absence. Thank you for that gift mom, I miss you!
I received a thoughtful response to my latest article from a client:
“You state: “the true measure of a leader is their capacity to influence.
I do not disagree that successful leadership does include the ability to influence, but is the true measure of a leader in their capacity to influence? Or is it in their ability to inspire?
Subtle difference but different none the less. Influence (from my perspective) suggests that you know best what they need to do, and sometimes that is true. However, if as leaders we inspire our people then through that inspiration we can unlock their ability to create something far greater.”
And my response?
So is it influence or inspiration? Or is it a combination of the two?
Influence, unfortunately, has taken a bad rap, because we don’t fully understand what leadership is and are working from an outdated model. When it comes from an outdated leadership approach (command and control), then you are correct. As you say, “you know best what they need to do.” In this day and age, you won’t be successful – at least not for long – if this is your view of influence. That is an old way of looking at influence, based on a patriarchal paradigm.
Yes, I agree that inspiration is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Inspiration is the means. Influence is the end. The question arises, “inspire people to what end?”
Influence, in the partnership paradigm, is not unilateral. Yes, you inspire, but you have to influence toward the achievement of some kind of shared vision or result, or you can’t call it leadership. Just because I inspire you doesn’t make me a leader. I am inspired by all kinds of things, but I’m not necessarily influenced by that experience to move toward a result. I can, for example, be inspired by a youtube video, but you can’t call that video leadership unless it in some way influences me to take action toward a focused result that is important to both of us. A true leader might influence with the use of that video. To be a leader, I have to work with you, listen to you, collaborate with you, build trust, etc. (all of which is required to influence you to achieve something that is important to both of us). That is leadership. And maybe I can even get there without inspiration (although I wouldn’t count on it).
I completely agree with you that inspiration can unlock our ability to create something far greater. But what exactly is that something? Leadership requires clarity about where we are going and more importantly why we are going there – even beyond our current imagination – along with deliberate, sustained, and collaborative attention toward that end (influence).
Maybe this is all semantics, and I stand to be corrected.
Let me give you a very concrete example in our relationship right now. First, I am grateful for your inquisitiveness and questions. It inspired me, without doubt. Now, the real challenge is: How will your inspiration influence me to be a better person or achieve a result that is important to both us? What are we going to do as a result of the inspiration? To what end will the inspiration lead us? If the goal is simply to learn, then we call that teaching, not leading. If teaching influences behavior, then teachers become leaders. Only when you answer that will I call you a leader in this context.
When returning to the office after a holiday or simply getting up in the morning to greet a new day, take a moment to ask if you are inspired or expired? Do you look forward to your life and your work, or do you dread getting out of bed? We all know people who are expired: past their shelf life in a job and resigned to “doing time”; who “quit and stayed.”
Gravity is the downward pull that enables life to exist on this planet. But if you don’t develop habits that counter the pull of gravity at the physical level, you eventually experience its long-term effects on your body, such as hunched shoulders, compression in your back, joints and internal organs, and tired, sagging muscles.
A pull similar to gravity in the cultures we live in is the pull of mediocrity. Mass consciousness is toward what is easy, and if you don’t have a strategy to counter the pull of mediocrity, you will one day find yourself psychologically – and likely physically – hunched over, rigid, tense, sagging, and expired – unable to experience the fullness of your potential.
Here are seven ways to counter the effects of the pull toward mediocrity and help you discover a source of inspiration.
- Take 100% responsibility for your inspiration. Take a look in the mirror and search for the sources of your own inspiration. We are not going to be inspired everyday, but don’t blame others because you aren’t feeling on top of the world. Maybe you need a simple shift in attitude, a little more rest, or a new set of friends. Perhaps it’s a simple decision to change your attitude. Regardless, it’s your life. Take responsibility for it.
- Have a vision. The pull to the future is a source of inspiration, whether it’s a list of inspiring goals, a compelling vision, or a dream. Years ago what inspired me to get up at 5:00 AM and run 10 miles in freezing temperatures was a dream to qualify for the Canadian Olympic team. While I didn’t make the Olympics, what I did make were the seeds of good discipline and strong character. Whether you are nine or ninety-five, it’s never too late for dreams that can lift you out of the pull of mediocrity.
- Live a life of service. Nothing gets you out of self-pity more than making life better for someone else. One sure way to guarantee an uninspired life is the path of self-centeredness. Get out of yourself and adopt an attitude of gratitude. “We are, each of us, a miracle. Within every one of us, the pilot light of hope never dies,” wrote Og Mandino. A sure way to ignite that inner flame is to choose service over self-interest. Concentrating on inspiring others rather than waiting to be inspired, can itself be inspiring.
- Track your energy level. Be aware of the activities or relationships that energize you and those that consume your energy. Pay attention to the people you spend time with, the food you eat, the music you listen to, the television programs you watch, the work you do, and what you do in the time away from work. Ask yourself what gives you energy and what depletes you. What activities in your life and work fuel that inner flame? Take an ‘energy inventory.’ What do you need to take out of your life? What do you need to bring into your life? Start making choices that increase your energy.
- Know what inspires you. We all need a well-spring of inspiration from the world around us. An unexpected teacher, a new experience, a great leader, a word of encouragement, a good book, a story or a poem, can all be a source of inspiration. Overcoming a challenge or embarking on a new and unfamiliar adventure can be inspiring. A spiritual practice such as meditation, yoga, or prayer that quiets you and taps into the light within you are also sources for inspiration. Even spending a little time each day improving your attitude can be inspiring. Stay plugged in to the source that supports and sustains you. What inspires you: poetry, song, novels, dance, story, visual arts, film, theatre, time in nature? Who uplifts you? Expose yourself to those guides, writers, poets, artists, musicians, songwriters, environments, actors, teachers, friends, colleagues – anyone or anything that awakens you.
- Find Inspiring People To Be Around, “In everybody’s life at some time, our inner fire goes out,’ wrote Albert Schweitzer. “It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Who inspires you? Find a book club. Start an Ideas Group, where people take turns sharing good ideas. We have had an Ideas Group in Cochrane, Alberta for the past 16+ years. Or simply develop a good friendship with a person who knows how to bring the best out of you.
- Be present to life. At some point in your life you will be standing alone, when there is nothing or no one to inspire you. In these moments it is important to remember that your greatest source of inspiration will always be within you. The best way to access this is to be still, even while you are busy, and be present in the present moment. Whether its stopping to realize the beauty of a sunset, the magnificence of a flower, the wonder of a child, or the peace that comes from supporting a friend or colleague, if you are mindful you will discover that life itself is one continuous moment of inspiration after another. Instead of the future or the past, inspiration is your experience of being alive, right now.
The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali says, “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world.”