Three Essentials To Carry Us Authentically Into 2022

“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
The Alchemist
Lately, social media reflects how glad people are to see the end of 2021. I get the frustration, but let me ask: What are you going to do differently in 2022 to make this a better year?
Remember – it isn’t the year that determines us; it’s our choices in the year that determines us. Circumstances don’t define who we are. Circumstances reveal who we are.
Responding within ourselves and our teams to the three essential needs of people now will help make 2022 a better year.
1) Certainty. When is the last time you attended a wedding, had dinner out, went to a movie, sent your kids to school, or planned a trip without concern about whether it would be cancelled or complicated with restrictions? Managing the uncertainty of this pandemic the past two years is wearing us out. We all yearn to return to some semblance of certainty.
2) Connection. Social distancing, zoom calls, and masks have separated us. When is the last time you shook a person’s hand without being self-conscious? Or even freely gave a hug without worrying about what was appropriate? Even introverts want to reconnect in meaningful ways, collaborate freely without restraints, and get back to relaxing in another’s presence. While physical separation means to curtail the spread of the virus, the impact of increased social isolation on our over-all well-being is noteworthy.
3) Clarity. The amount of information—and misinformation—about COVID has swollen rapidly the past year and it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. In our current “infodemic,” myths, conspiracy theories, scams, armchair epidemiologists, and Twitter scientists abound. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than the virus and is likely just as dangerous. We are all in need of clarity of what is true and clarity as to the direction of our lives.
As leaders coming into this new year, helping your teams respond to these needs is a vital priority. If you don’t have a title, you can become a leader by taking responsibility to turn these needs into agreements with yourself.
1) Certainty – What will you preserve? Certainty is not, as many of us have been taught, an end state. It’s a poor source of security. Embracing the uncertainty that comes with growth is a mindset. With the endless uncertainty of apocalyptic weather events, political and economic instability, and ongoing new variants, learning how to find certainty from within is the new leadership proficiency. It starts by embracing the wisdom of uncertainty. When we detach from our need for certainty and accept that uncertainty is a part of being alive, we gain freedom from our past, freedom from the imprisonment of knowing. Growth is made possible by embracing the wisdom of uncertainty. By stepping into the unknown – the field of all possibilities – we open ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates all of life. Willingness to accept uncertainty helps solutions spontaneously emerge from confusion, disorder, and chaos. When you step into the field of all possibilities, you will experience the fun, adventure, magic, and mystery of life. Rather than waiting for the world to become certain to make you feel safe, you can find certainty – and thus security – from within. The best way to embrace uncertainty is to put your efforts on what is within your control and let go of what you can’t control.
2) Connection. How will you connect? Authentic leaders are in tune with those around them. They read people. They inspire by being connected and showing deep concern for others. They build lasting friendships. Decide to take care of your team now. With each team member, identify their unique lane and be sure that their role is viewed as vitally important to the organization. Take the time to get a “temperature read” for how people are doing right now. How is their well-being? Their mental health? Their overall state? Their stress level? Use this time to check in with people. Take time to care enough to make the connection.
3) Clarity. What needs clarifying? One of the ways to counter the uncertainty in the world is to bring clarity to the world. Here are five questions that require clarity in leadership and life: How am I feeling today? Authenticity – honesty without judgement – can inspire. What is my reason for being, my why? A life without a clear sense of purpose is diminished to drudgery. What is my vision for my life and my work in the next three years? Without a vision, we languish. How do I define success? If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral, you will find your definition of success. How will I live? Take time to explore these questions for yourself. Then spend time clarifying and communicating with your team the answers to these questions in an organizational context. Ambiguity is a formula for mediocrity. Clarity is inspiring. And we are all in need of some inspiration right now.

Spread The Light

I love this time of year. When it’s the darkest, we see a festival of lights throughout our communities.
I love our family ritual of unpacking Christmas stuff and spreading light throughout the house. And even though I usually spend the time on the couch, I love being a part of the annual decorating of the tree. When I am brightened and calmed by the light on our tree, it reminds me of the difference between leaders and learners.
Leaders bring a bright light to their work and spread it wherever they go. On the other hand, learners often, through their suffering, dim their light and the light of those around them.
Take some time to pause and ask yourself: What are you doing to keep your light bright? What are you doing to spread that light to the people in your life? Wherever you go today, and whoever you encounter, bring the gift of your light to the people around you.
The gift may be a compliment, a message of appreciation or encouragement, or simply taking the time to be there with empathy and compassion. Today, make it a point to give a gift of light to everyone you come into contact with.
By doing so, you begin the process of celebrating joy, compassion, and affluence in your life and the lives of those around you.

THE COURAGE OF VULNERABILITY: Inspiring a More Human Organization

The value of vulnerability and its role in inspiring trust, creating psychological safety, and fostering collaboration and engagement on your team has been underscored in recent years. But a naïve understanding of what it means to be vulnerable can impede your growth, limit your impact, and even blow up in your face.

When a senior VP in a manufacturing organization was promoted, his role substantially increased his accountability. He was nervous about making the leap. He had just learned about vulnerability and so bared his soul to his new team of leaders. In an opening address to his team, he said, “I want to do this job, but I’m scared and shaky and not quite sure I can come through for you. I’m going to need your help.” His candor backfired. He lost credibility and trust with the people who wanted and needed a confident leader to take charge. He was never able to regain the trust of his team and was soon removed from this position.

Let’s start with understanding what vulnerability isn’t. Vulnerability doesn’t mean being weak or submissive or indiscriminately exposing all your hidden fears and flaws. It’s not about falling apart when you need to be standing tall. It’s not about bringing all your insecurities, doubts, and worries to work with you. In short, it’s not about expecting your team to be your therapist.

Simply put, vulnerability is the courage to be yourself. It’s that simple, and it’s also that difficult. Vulnerability lies at the core of authentic leadership and understanding who you are as a person is at the core of vulnerability. Thus, the paradox of vulnerability. You must be real, and you must be stable.

Vulnerability is not a leadership technique or tool. It is a way of being in the world. Vulnerability means replacing “being professional by keeping a distance” with humanity, honesty, respect, and staying calm under pressure.

Vulnerability means:

1. Sharing your values, dreams, and intentions in your work as a leader. I remember a senior leader in the agriculture sector who began her opening speech to her team with slides of her parents farming in Saskatchewan and the values she learned about growing up on the farm. She then shared her vision for this division. Within five minutes she had inspired an entire team of leaders to be completely aligned with her.

2. Being curious and self-aware. Vulnerability means being comfortable with yourself, so you aren’t driven by approval ratings or a need to please. It means being open to learn about yourself and how your behavior impacts others. It means being open to seeing your blind spots, letting go of all blame, and being committed to grow as a leader and as a person. Being vulnerable means you don’t seek power as a way of proving your worth. You know that your worth and security come from within.

3. Having a good support system away from your work. The strength and clarity of vulnerability come from having a place away from work to bring your fears, doubts, and insecurities, so you are free to be human when you get to work. A good support system of confidants, coaches, or therapists provides perspective and a place to fall apart and get put back together again so you can return to your team with civility, compassion, and clarity.

4. Encouraging others. Because vulnerable leaders are comfortable with themselves, they are not threatened by the growth of others. They are open about their appreciation of others. They are humble enough to know they aren’t the smartest person in the room and are wise enough to extract the strength of the members of their team. They are committed to helping people become the best version of themselves.

MENTAL TOUGHNESS IN AN AGE OF ENTITLEMENT

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

We all have the ability to choose how we react in our circumstances and given the situations we now find ourselves in, it is helpful to fortify ourselves so we choose wisely. I offer some suggestions to strengthen your mental toughness to help you thrive through these challenging times.

For the past eighteen months through the weariness of COVID, I have been inspired by studying the lives of those who stayed strong and compassionate through the hard times. An impressive example and role model is Nelson Mandela. The longest stretch of Mandela’s twenty-seven years in prison was his eighteen years on Robben Island where he endured harsh conditions in a cell block constructed for political prisoners. Each prisoner had a single seven-foot square cell with a slop bucket, around a concrete courtyard. They were allowed no reading materials and worked crushing stones with a hammer to make gravel in a blindingly bright limestone quarry. He endured and emerged to be one of this century’s most influential leaders.

In addition to being inspired by such stories, I’ve gained strength by becoming a more thoughtful observer of my own life through this journey. Here are six lessons I have learned about mental toughness in an age of comfort and entitlement.

1) Start with a compelling vision. When my father agreed to be my track coach in high school the first thing we did was establish an inspiring goal. As a former nationally ranked gymnast, he could see I didn’t have Olympic talent. But that didn’t stop him from challenging me to have a dream of making the Canadian Olympic team. He would say, “the purpose of having a dream is not to achieve your dream; it’s to inspire you to become the kind of person it takes to achieve your dream.” A compelling vision gives you a reason to have mental toughness. I didn’t get out of bed at 5:00 am to run ten miles in a freezing snowstorm. I got out of bed at 5:00 to prepare for the Olympics. What is your compelling vision?

2) Embrace the grind. When I look back over my sixty-five years, I recognize that the hardest and most frustrating times in my life were also the most formative. Challenges in life are unavoidable. If we help our children accept difficulty as a part of life and instead of making it easier for them, support them through it, they have a greater chance of success as adults. Children who learn to handle their own problems are also the ones who are more apt to thrive as adults. The Chinese saying, “Chi Ku Shi Fu” (eating bitterness is good fortune) highlights the idea that there is the opportunity for wisdom and growth amid misfortune. While we don’t have control over the situations that life will bring to us, we do have a choice of how we react to them. Life is tough. When you can accept and embrace that fact, life is no longer quite so difficult. The 40% rule, first coined by David Goggins, explains that when your mind and body are starting to tire and you feel like giving up, you’re only at forty percent of what you are truly capable of achieving. My dad said it this way: “Don’t pray for the world to get easier; pray instead for the you to get stronger, and then get to work.”

3) Be in it for the long game. Twenty-seven years in prison teaches you many things, but one of the lessons is to play the long game. According to Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela was impatient as a young man. He wanted change yesterday. Prison taught him to slow down, and it reinforced his sense that haste often leads to error and misjudgement. Above all, he learned how to postpone gratification. Many of us are used to the opposite. Because of our aversion to discomfort, we confuse instant gratification with expressing ourselves. Getting through this pandemic with mental toughness means letting go of our need for immediate relief and trusting – with a firm resolve – that we will come through this – and we’ll be better for it.

4) Find your hidden power by focusing on what you can control. Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, walked with a limp as the result of years of being chained up as a slave. Great thinkers like him knew that the only thing you ever really have control over are your deliberate thoughts. You can’t control other people, you can’t control your situation, and you can’t always control your own body. So, the only thing you do have control over is your emotions, thoughts, and behavior—the essence of mental toughness. A hidden power from within is harnessed when we spend our time on things over which we have complete control: goals, values, and what we do with our thoughts.

5) Keep your heart open. Mental toughness isn’t the same as cold, callous grit. Mental toughness is more like tender courage. It’s realizing that it’s not determination but acceptance that demonstrates strength: letting go of the resistance and the war. And it means finding ways to express kindness at every opportunity. An entrepreneur with anxiety and depression whose business has taken a hit through the pandemic called me last week in an entirely different mood. He was confident and inspired and told me how one morning that week an elderly stranger pulled up beside him and asked for directions. After he found the directions on Google Maps and tried to explain to the stranger how to arrive at his destination, he could tell how confused this poor man was. So, my client then had him follow him as he drove there. This simple act of kindness made his whole day. It’s kindness – not cruelty – that’s going to get us through this.

6) Plant a garden. Even on a remote island, Nelson Mandela needed a place where he could be with himself and find strength. The early days on Robben Island were bleak. The wardens were coarse and abusive. The work was backbreaking. Prisoners were permitted only one visitor and a single letter every six months. So, Mandela decided to plant a garden. In his autobiography, he goes to great length to talk about the meaning it had for him to go through the arduous work of creating a garden amid the obstacles of a prison system, and then carefully nurturing it. It was not a place of retreat but of renewal. “Each of us,” he later explained, “needs something away from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction, a place apart… You must find your own garden.”

If you are interested in getting more of my perspective on living through this pandemic with greater mental strength, please join me for my complimentary webinar on Tuesday, October 26th:

Register for 9 AM Mountain Time  

Register for 5 PM Mountain Time

SHAPING THE NEXT CHAPTER OF YOUR LIFE – AUTHENTICALLY

The pandemic has created an opportunity to shine a light on the quality and depth of your life, your leadership, and your relationships. The past several months have been a time of reflection and evaluation to ask questions such as:

  • Where is my career going?
  • Do I really want to spend the rest of my days working seventy hours a week?
  • How can I be a better leader by focusing on what truly matters?

One client talked about how, for the past twenty-five years, she was in the “rhythm of a corporate tune, continually reacting to the demands of others.” She said, “Now is the time to find my own new rhythm.”

I offer some strategies for moving into the next chapter of your life as you settle into the new reality which will likely be with us long-term:

  1. Decide to see this as an opportunity. Choices have great power to determine the outcome of your life.
  2. Make room to step back, pull out a journal, and answer some questions:
  • What’s been working well in your life?
  • What areas are not flowing/working well?
  • Where might you be over-accommodating, compromising yourself, and burning out?
  • What parts of your life have you felt most excited/passionate about?
  • What do you feel called to do?
  • What might need to shift/change/end?
  1. Reach for your why – your reason for being – an inspiring purpose for getting out of bed in the morning.
  2. Reflect on your most important values.
  3. Consider your unique abilities, talents, and gifts that set you apart from the crowd.
  4. Plan on how you will contribute and serve the world over the next five to ten years.
  5. Include your loved ones in your plans and intentions.

Authentically shaping the next chapter of your life, whether you stay in your current role, decide to renew it, make a transition to a new role or even a new career, or are considering what retirement might look like, requires careful and conscious attention. From time to time, we all drift away from our true nature. When we realign with our authentic self, we amplify our positive impact as a leader and create meaning and purpose in our life.

If you want to learn ways to shape the next chapter of your life in alignment with your authentic self, please join me for a complimentary one-hour webinar on September 23. This – and more – will be included in the webinar and in my upcoming virtual Life In Transitions course.

The webinar is offered at 9 am MT and 5 pm MT. Register now to make sure you get a seat!

REOPENING • REENGAGING • REFOCUSING How To Make The Comeback Better Than The Setback

As we emerge from COVID-19 restrictions, new challenges lie ahead. I have been asked by many clients to help them navigate the transition into a new reality. Regardless of whether you have been on the frontlines in an essential service or working remotely, the next few months are critical for planning your personal transition into the new reality. There is an opportunity to rebuild team focus, morale, and productivity, and a renewed feeling of belonging as we emerge into a post-pandemic world.
Here’s a few leadership tips to help you make the comeback better than the setback:
Connect Before You Expect. We all need our teams to be productive and focused, especially as we emerge from the disruption. Parenting over the past forty+ years has taught me (the hard way) that leadership in the home and at work is mostly about connection. When children are safe, relaxed, and cared about, they are more willing to receive our guidance and follow through on their responsibilities. Brain science tells us that this is true for all of us. We are all more likely to be accountable when our perspective is taken into consideration. People are emerging from the pandemic with a variety of emotions – anxiety, excitement, fear, loneliness, exhaustion, grief, self-doubt, and everything in between. It’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay – in fact it is necessary for our well-being – to acknowledge what we are going through, what we’ve been through, and what we are up against going forward. Now is a great time to rebuild connections, listen carefully with compassion and empathy, and take the time to be there. Don’t be afraid of asking people about their mental health status. It’s not about fixing anybody or anything. It’s about community. Connect before you expect.
Think Win-Win. While many of your team are excited to get back into the workplace, many are also as excited to continue to work remotely. While flexibility from leaders will be required, even more important is the commitment to a win-win solution. Take the time to define the needs of the organization and the needs of your team members and make these explicit with everyone. Then take time to create a third alternative that serves both the employee and the organization. Remember – you can’t sink half a ship. You won’t succeed in the long run until everyone succeeds.
Reinforce Personal Responsibility. Personal responsibility is about giving to others what we expect from others. Making this comeback better than the setback means taking personal responsibility to come to work better and stronger than when we left. We all have a part to play in building – and rebuilding – a worthwhile place to work. Accountability isn’t about blaming or finger pointing or fault finding. It’s about taking ownership and recognizing that each of us does our part. Personal responsibility recognizes that waiting for someone to change is never a good strategy.
Make Belonging an Intention.  A sense of belonging, or feeling part of something bigger than ourselves, is a fundamental human need. Knowing that our unique gifts are needed and valued gives us meaning and purpose. When people feel safe to voice their views and to be who they are, are included in decisions that impact them, and are listened to and valued for their perspective, it increases productivity. We all need to be recognized for what we bring and how our contribution and authentic voices and ideas can be powerful and make a difference. A sense of belonging can also mean giving credit when it’s due. You can’t take for granted or assume that everyone feels that they belong. You must be intentional at making it happen. I am committed to making my leadership programs more diverse and inclusive and so I have asked a senior executive from a community services agency whose mother was raised in the residential school system in Canada if she might consider joining and starting the classes of my live-stream masterclass with some smudging, an indigenous prayer, and some teachings from her people.
Attend To Your Authentic Leadership. Authentic leadership means finding your own path and bringing that more fully to the world. As leaders, we spend our lives helping and building others, but do we have an authentic vision for ourselves? Leading authentically requires a strong identity, a compelling sense of self. Thelonious Monk, the jazz musician, said once that “a genius is a person most like themself.” Being an authentic leader is synonymous with being one’s self. It is that simple, and it is also that difficult. The authentic leadership visioning process (which we teach in our masterclass) is about creating something that’s true to your values, to who you are and to your dreams and that will make a lasting impact on the world. It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do. In essence, it’s not what we can do or what we should do, it’s what we want to do or what we may feel called to do. I encourage you to take some uninterrupted time this summer to reflect deeply on what the next ten years of your life would look like if it were aligned with your truest self. Assess the gaps between your vision and your reality and get to work to close those gaps.
Many people have recently asked me whether we are going to emerge from the pandemic as better people and better leaders. My response is a quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  Ford was referring to the power of belief. Our beliefs are potentially the biggest single force at work in our personal and organizational lives. We all face a fundamental choice as we go forward. You can have trusting beliefs or distrusting beliefs about a problem. The problem remains the same. It’s just how we perceive it. Distrusting beliefs put us in a victim mindset: “There’s nothing we can do. This is horrible. We’re stuck. We’re at the mercy of poor choices and bad leadership.” A trusting belief says, “This is challenging; we were not prepared. But if we stay true to who we are, our values, our vision and our mission; if we treat each other with dignity; if we believe in the spirit of generosity; if we stay true to those beliefs, we can get through this.” Let’s decide to make this comeback better than the setback.