Building Belonging: The Power of Connection

When Justin was early in recovery from a brutal, deadly five-year crystal meth addiction, his withdrawal symptoms were debilitating and painful, including excruciating paranoia and an inability to sleep. Some of his paranoia was grounded in reality. He had drug dealers and gang members breathing down his neck.
His grandmother, who was caring for him and desperate to help, asked if he wanted to go to church with her. “Maybe Jesus can help you sleep,” she said one Sunday morning. Justin had no interest in Jesus but liked his grandmother and had nothing else to do, so he went along.
It turned out that he got so bored with the sermon that he fell asleep.
Week after week, he kept going. And every week he would sleep through the service. He became a permanent fixture in the congregation. Often you could hear him snoring, but no one disturbed him. They let him be. In fact, long after the congregation left, Justin would still be lying there, fast asleep. The pastor let him sleep in the chapel all Sunday.
When I asked him why he kept going to church, he said, “It’s the only place I feel safe enough to sleep.” He eventually became an active member in the church community. It was a big part of his recovery journey.
Acceptance of another is not without boundaries, expectations, or consequences; it’s not necessarily about agreement or condoning behaviors that we would not choose for ourselves. Instead, it is a deep and simple respect for another human being. It’s an understanding that transcends judgement, prejudice, and marginalization.
Acceptance is the cornerstone to belonging and becomes part of the foundation of a psychologically safe place to live and work. Our awareness of the importance of psychological safety to create high trust, highly engaged, productive organizations, has increased dramatically in recent years as employees demand better workplace cultures. Building a sense of acceptance and belonging with your team is a critical factor in building a high-performance culture in your organization.
I suggest three critical strategies for ensuring that you are building belonging around you:
  1. Take time to think about belonging on your team. Reflect on whether every team member knows that they belong, that their contribution is recognized and appreciated, and they feel accepted as a valuable member of the team.
  2. Reflect on your own inner state. Pay particular attention to how you handle stress, and how your emotional state creates either tension or inspiration in the people who depend on you.
  3. Look at your own values. Take an honest inventory of how you feel about the people on your team. Examine carefully where you have judgements and how it’s helping or hindering your success.

Holistic Management Annual General Meeting

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Holistic Management Annual General Meeting.

The event was held at the Lloydminster Agriculture Exhibition Association.

There is an incredible team running this facility, a team that has been built over the past forty years through the leadership of a truly remarkable community leader, Mike Sidoruk.

In the hallway, you will find this sign:


We all leave a legacy. What will be yours?

We all leave a legacy. What will be yours?

The older I get, the more the light of my success fades against the brightness of the successes of my children and grandchildren. Watching my daughters’ launch into satisfying careers brings joy beyond my own deeply fulfilling vocation. And my personal achievements pale next to my grandson’s academic and athletic accomplishments.

A wise grandfather once told me, “you can tell when you have instilled your values in your children when your grandchildren teach you what you tried to teach your children.”

Just as I take pride in my progeny’s success, I also recognize my team’s brilliance in facilitating our SAGE Forums:
Their capacity outshines my abilities, and as I realize this, it gives me a sense of satisfaction beyond my personal achievements and recognition.

Even in my speaking and workshops, satisfaction is coming from what participants discover within themselves. It appears that aging is a course in ego reduction.

As we mature, we begin to reflect on existential questions of: Why am I here? What difference am I making? What will my legacy be? If you are fortunate enough to confront these questions, you realize there is an opportunity to do good in the time you have left. This is what makes life meaningful.

Meaning is, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, not to be sought after, but something to be experienced by being fully alive to what is in front of us at each moment. And on the journey, you begin to realize the paradox that legacy isn’t what we leave behind; it’s the difference we’re making now.

We all leave a legacy. What will be yours?



When I go to the gym, I’m focused and intense.

When I go to the gym, I’m focused and intense.

I can also be judgmental of “amateurs.”

So one day, while I was waiting for one of the weight machines, there were two seniors joking around, oblivious to the fact that I was impatiently waiting for the equipment they were “playing around on.”

I thought to myself, “Don’t you know that you’re holding me up from getting my workout in?”

Then I realized that I was so tense compared to them, and it dawned on me, what good is it to get stronger at the expense of my well-being?

Maybe they are actually getting more from the workout by having a community and taking care of their mental health.

And… who will live the longest?
Even more importantly: Who will live better?

No easy answers. But I thought it was important to raise the question.

How do you show the people you care about that you care about them?

How do you show the people you care about that you care about them?

When I was eleven, our family drove across the county to experience Expo 67 in Montreal and on to upper state New York to visit my uncle.

As part of our visit, Uncle Reed took us into New York City for the day. My dream was to go to the top of the Empire State Building. My brother (who was four years older) had a dream, too – to see the New York Stock Exchange.

We were late getting to the Empire State Building and had to rush to make it to the stock exchange before it closed. So we only had time to get to the 86th floor observatory before leaving for the stock exchange. I never made it to the top. I remember crying all the way down.

This story has become legendary in our family. My daughters will tell you, to this day, that I felt sorry for myself for years that my brother always got his way and I always got the short end of the stick. They reminded me often that I had carried it long enough and it was time to let it go.

We’ve traveled many places as a family, but we have never been to NYC together, so when my daughter was there a few years ago, she texted me the image below with a message:

“Dad, you don’t need to be sad any longer that you didn’t make it to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. I brought you up here with me.”

When it comes to caring about the people we care about, the little things are the big things.

#caring #authenticity #authenticleadership

What are the stories that run your life?

What are the stories that run your life?

After reading Dain Dunston’s thought-provoking book, Being Essential: Seven Questions for Living and Leading with Radical Self-Awareness, I was intrigued by the notion that our stories can unconsciously drive our lives. So we best be sure that we know what these narratives are and that they are true for the context we are currently living.

At four years old, I was incubated in an oxygen tent with a poliovirus infection. It created significant trauma, as I didn’t see my parents for weeks. In those days no visitors were allowed. I remember lying there alone crying myself to sleep, wondering if they would ever return.

After I went home, my arms and legs were very weak, so my father, a gymnast, coached me on the parallel bars and tumbling mat in our basement each day to help rebuild my strength.

And when I was bullied and teased at school, attributed, at least in part, to the residue of a weakened body, my dad would say, “Don’t pray for the world to get easier, pray for you to get stronger.”

The result of years of passionate dedication was a track scholarship at university. I credit my ability to overcome adversity through discipline and focused work to my father’s patient and persistent support and love. My commitment and the results that followed increased my confidence as I went on to build a successful speaking and consulting business.

However, in the process, I unconsciously created a story that my worth is dependent on what I can prove to the world I can overcome and achieve.

While the story served a vital purpose at the time, it eventually exceeded its function and led to unbridled ambition and eventual workaholism, tension, neglected relationships, a life out of balance, and burnout.

As I find my security from within, the narrative is now shifting from proving myself to expressing myself, from uncontrolled obsession to meaningful, focused contribution in my work.

The journey was enhanced by Dain’s insights. I recommend his book to those committed to living an authentic life with greater self-awareness.