CREATING A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE BELONG

The need to create a place where people belong grows out of the isolated nature of our lives, our workplaces, and our communities. The absence of belonging and the realization of its importance in re-engaging our workforce has been especially amplified in the past two years.
I believe that creating a place where people belong is a key driver of engagement, fulfillment, and success. So… what is belonging, and how do you create a place where people belong?
When we think of belonging, memories of high school often come to mind where belonging was about popularity, appearance, and fitting in. But through a more mature lens, belonging is about being valued for our unique contributions, knowing that we make a difference, being connected to our co-workers, supported and encouraged in our daily work and career development, and being proud of our work.
From my research and experience, belonging is rooted in five key elements:
1. Personal Responsibility: From our high school experience, many of us learned that it was up to someone else to make us feel we belong. While those around us undoubtedly impact our sense of belonging, belonging starts with a decision that “if it is to be, it starts with me.”
2.  Heartfulness: Heartfulness, according to author Elizabeth Lesser, is “knowing what you love, and having the guts and grace to go for it.” The goal of our Authentic Leadership programs is to dig deep into your self and discover the essence of who you are. Until you can belong to yourself, you will never quite feel that you belong in the world.
3.  Contribution: I learned from raising children that there is a difference between chores and contribution. We all must roll up our sleeves at times and get the chores done. But contribution is about knowing, deep within us, that our unique gifts, talents, and strengths are truly valued and make a difference to the organization and those the organization serves.
4.  Care: People around you at work – peers and senior leaders alike – genuinely care. They are sincerely committed to helping you find the resources, support, and encouragement you need to succeed in your daily work and live a full life. With caring comes a sense that we are safe and among friends, that silos are being replaced by a genuine community, strangers are welcomed, diversity is celebrated, leaders are committed to creating systems and structures that support belonging, and problems are being exchanged for possibilities. When it comes to belonging, caring is everything.
5.  Pride: While visions, plans, mission statements, and committed leadership are important, even essential, they cannot be successful without the engagement of every person in the organization. Pride is a genuine alignment with your organization’s purpose, vision, and values. Pride is what shows when you excitedly tell your six year old where you work, what you do, and why what you do matters.

The Secret Life: Getting To The Core Of Self Awareness And Great Leadership

The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, The Secret Garden, is the story of young girl whose parents die of cholera in India. She is sent to live with her uncle in a large British manor and when exploring the grounds of the estate, she discovers the entrance to a magical secret garden where anything is possible. Initially, the garden appears dead. But through her caring presence, she plants seeds, cultivates the soil, and eventually brings about a dramatic transformation of the entire garden within one season.

Stephen R. Covey used to say that we live three lives: public, private, and secret. In our public lives, we are seen and heard by the people around us. In our private lives, we interact more intimately with loved ones, family members, and close friends. The secret life is where our heart is and where our true motives and ultimate desires are revealed; it is where our authentic self resides.

Many leaders never visit the secret life. Their public and private lives are essentially scripted by everything around them and the pressures of their world. And so, they never find the key to the secret life: self-awareness. It takes courage to connect with our secret life. If we continually distract ourselves rather than seek the uncomfortable journey to the secret life, we distance ourselves from our true identity and the roots of meaning and purpose.

Leaders who attend our Authentic Leadership Academies have said, “This is the first time I’ve ever done any soul searching…” “This experience is the first time I’ve ever slowed down long enough to truly see myself…”

Most of us spend our busy days in our public and private lives, never pausing long enough to enter the secret life, the secret garden, where masterpieces are created, great truths are discovered, and every aspect of our existence is enhanced.

CRACKED OPEN – Finding Your Authenticity in Adversity

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Shortly after a good friend suffered a massive heart attack and survived an eight-hour surgery, I was debriefing the experience with him and asked, “How has all this changed your life?”

“It opened my heart,” he said jokingly. Then the conversation got real, and he went on, “It gave me renewed resolve to live life more fully, more present, and more connected to my feelings and to the important people in my life… This heart attack was probably the best thing that ever happened to me…”

There is something both horrible and potentially liberating about hard times. Adversity—the kind that finds you exhausted, depleted, laying on a cold, hard hospital bed wondering if you are going to be alive in the morning —strips you down, cracks you open, takes you apart, and sets you free.

Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not the way we planned it. Life is the way it is. The way you respond to life is what makes the difference. In the words of the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, “You must be willing to let go of the life you’ve planned so as to have the life that you are meant to live.”

In my leadership development programs, I ask people to reflect on the defining moments in their life, the significant experiences that helped shape and make them who they are today. A good number of life-defining experiences have to do with coming to grips with adversity. It only makes sense. We are meant to learn and grow and evolve in this brief human experience we’ve been given. As such, we can expect some difficult times on the path of life. That’s the beauty of it all. What’s the use of anything that’s too easy? Just as we develop our physical muscles by facing the opposition of weights in a gym, we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.

The adversity journey, the journey to your authentic self, describes the process of surrendering to a time of great difficulty, allowing the pain to crack us open, so that a stronger, wiser, kinder person will emerge.

Here are three lessons I learned through facing my own adversity:

1. Strip away the non-essentials.
When we’re exhausted and mired in the snake pit of depression, or facing an addiction, or carrying unspeakable grief, or coming to terms with a serious health diagnosis, or confronting a layoff or unexpected divorce, when we are trying merely to survive and make it through another day, we discover that anything not essential begins to strip away like old paint. It served its purpose, but it’s now past its shelf life. Our old identity, our expectations of life, our attachments, everything we thought we had control over – all begin to disappear in the dawning of the light of our true self.

When we abandon the outdated ways we used to define ourselves, we begin to compassionately appreciate the self that would not have been valued without the hardships. We can see what others and the world truly needs, and our unapologetic authentic self gets to work.

2. Embrace the hard stuff.
Life isn’t pretty when you’re in the trenches. Pain gets real when we are pushed to our breaking point and beyond. It hurts to come to grips with loss and fear and powerlessness, or give up hopes and dreams we had for our lives and for the people we care about.

Embracing the hard stuff means refusing to hide or escape. It means facing life on life’s terms. It means shedding blame and getting real with ourselves. It means finding a community who will hold the space to make it safe to be who we are. It means giving thanks for obstacles that became steppingstones, and for those friends, guides, confidants, and family members that helped – and continue to support us – along the way. It means reaching inside and finding a strength and a faith to help get us through and emerge stronger and brighter.

3. Ring the bells that still can ring.
Leonard Cohen famously said, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Ringing the bells that “still can ring,” means bringing your whole imperfect self to whatever adversity you’re experiencing. Your contribution, however small it might feel, is vital. Know that the sound of your bell is needed today. And within our brokenness and imperfect efforts we find that the light of our gifts is our greatest contribution to the world.

Terry Fox lost his leg to osteogenic sarcoma at age of eighteen and underwent sixteen months of treatment. While in the hospital he was overcome with suffering. Not his own, but the anguish he witnessed in the cancer wards, many who were young children. He decided one morning to ring the bell that still could ring. He decided to set out to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He would call his journey the Marathon of Hope.

His last words were, “If I don’t make it… the marathon of hope must continue.” Continue it did. To date, over $800 million has been raised for cancer research in Terry’s name through the annual Terry Fox Run, held across Canada and around the world.

Disruptive times create an opportunity to get us in touch with ourselves and our world differently. They crack open the old to see a fresh view of living and working and leading. New movements are shaking up old norms. Reconciliation, restoration, and the common good are calling out for our attention. Let’s use whatever adversity or pain we might be going through to reclaim our capacity for meaningful contribution in our communities, workplaces, and institutions. Let’s do our imperfect best to make meaning out of our mess.

I walked a mile with pleasure, She chatted all the way,
But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow, And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh, the things I learned from her when sorrow walked with me.
Robert Browning Hamilton

TRUE LEADERSHIP:  How To Find Your Moxie In A Time Of Need

When I was in elementary school, one of my classmates was a girl named Laura. Laura came to school with uncombed hair and old, tattered dresses. I didn’t think of her as living in poverty; I only saw her as “different.” She suffered from epileptic seizures, which freaked everyone out. Halfway through a class, without warning, Laura would fall on the floor; her body would stiffen, her arms and legs would jerk and shake like a rag doll, and we would all circle around and watch. Back then we just waited it out. After a few minutes, Laura would open her eyes, slowly stand up, and wobble alone down to the infirmary. We wouldn’t see her for the rest of the day.

Laura was a loner. You would see her off by herself in the corner of the lunchroom or the playground. She was the target of frequent tormenting, harassment, and bullying. On one occasion, a group of boys were making fun of the stains on her blouse and the way she walked. Another boy, who himself wasn’t very popular, stood in front of the bullies and told them to stop bothering her.

For his courage, the poor kid got punched in the nose, thrown on the ground and five boys pummeled him. His face bled for the rest of the afternoon, and he had a black eye for a week. That “poor kid” went on to be the high school student union president, a talented quarterback, and eventually a successful lawyer and crown prosecutor. And after the incident, I don’t remember Laura ever being bullied again.

To this day, I wish I’d had the courage to stand up to those bullies the way he did.

Moxie. Courage. Nerve. Determination. A force of character to contend with. A quality of great leadership.

Leading can be treacherous. With or without a title, exercising leadership means shouldering the pains and the aspirations of those we serve, while failing or frustrating others. Facing resistance to changes we initiate, working in systems that go against our values, or standing on unpopular principles, leading means putting yourself at risk. It means stepping into the path of potential betrayal, rejection, discomfort, and unpopularity. Leaders get attacked, dismissed, silenced, and sometimes assassinated. Who wants that?

The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. Leading means the courage to follow our heart. It means, at times, the courage to stand alone as we stand up for something or someone we care about. It means having moxie.

Moxie teaches us to honour our true self and worry less about how we look or how we conform. Here are three methods to finding your moxie:

1.Be willing to stand alone. To lead and belong fully in this world, you must be prepared to stand unaccompanied. Having moxie means having the courage to do what’s right rather than doing what’s popular. There is no path to moxie. There is no path till you walk it.

2.Stand for something. You can’t stand alone until you know what you stand for. Whether you have a well-defined set of principles that guide your leadership or your life, an intuitive sense of purpose, or a clear vision for your life and your work, moxie comes from clarity.

3.Care. Moxie comes from caring. Caring about your people. Caring about your work. When you care, moxie surfaces in times of need. As I say in my book by the same title, Caring Is Everything.

In the poem “A Memorable Fancy,” William Blake enters into an imaginary conversation with the prophet Isaiah: “Does a firm persuasion that a thing is so, make it so?” Isaiah replies, “All poets believe that it does, and in ages of imagination this firm persuasion removed mountains.”

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.

Caring is Everything: Getting to the Heart of Humanity, Leadership and Life

Charles Dickens, author of the famous, A Christmas Carol, said, “I have always thought of Christmas as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. It’s the only time in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people around them as fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
A Christmas Carol was published 178 years ago, and I sincerely hope that we can take Dickens’s wisdom and apply it to our hectic lives today. We are all inspired by random acts of kindness, even on a small scale. But does our caring have to be random? What if we decide to be more intentional in our actions? What if caring means illuminating the difference between impulsively floating along and intentionally navigating a more satisfying course through life?
Intentional caring is what I believe sets great leaders apart from the rest. Over the past nearly four decades in the leadership development field, I have met some incredible leaders who care about the people they serve. They care about their communities. They care about the work they do. And they care about the impact they are having on the world.
Caring has a pervasive, enduring influence on the wellbeing of those around us. Authentic leaders know this. Caring impacts who we are as people and the places we work and live. So, when considering caring intentions for the coming holiday season, I want to propose that we make a to-be list instead of a to-do list. Here’s mine for today:
1) Be Kind. In Charlie Mackesy’s book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, the mole and the boy find themselves having a conversation one afternoon.
“I’m so small,” said the mole.
“Yes,” replied the boy, “but you can make a huge difference.”
At that point the mole asked the boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“Kind,” said the boy.
Be kind. Now that’s a worthy goal for any of us.
2) Be Connected. Some incredibly caring leaders have crossed my path this past eighteen months. One such leader, Trevor Muir, CEO of Surepoint Group has used this time to build a stronger company and a stronger community. When 2020 came around, “the stability of everything his organization knew was gone,” reported one team member. “Uncertainty and fear loomed in every corner. Isolation and lack of work grew rampant as the pandemic dug in for the long haul and put everyone there to the test.” ‘Trev’ humbly responded by navigating his company through it with compassion and an unwavering commitment to the people and communities they operate within. Among so many other things, he considered the mental health of his employees and delayed layoffs as he recognized that being in isolation removed many coping mechanisms people would typically access in a pre-pandemic world. He decided to continue celebrating the holidays and had gift bags made for every employee full of items sourced from local businesses within each branch location. People felt valued and loved that these baskets helped support local businesses within their communities. Trev used the pandemic to listen with people, to be attuned to their mental health challenges, and to build community through connections.
3) Be Curious. This week an Amazon driver mistakenly drove past our snow-covered driveway and onto our lawn, where he got stuck. Spinning his tires on the ice, he dug ruts in the grass. I’m embarrassed to say that I stormed out the door yelling at him, which didn’t solve a thing. It only created more anxiety for both of us, resulting in deeper ruts in the lawn as he “tried harder” to get out and an embarrassed driver who left, I imagine, feeling horrible about himself. I wonder how the ordeal would have turned out if I took my own advice and brought curiosity rather than hostility to the circumstance. A caring way to de-rail an activated stress response is to get curious. While being angry may have been an understandable response to this situation, getting angry only made it worse. Curiosity transforms anger into understanding, opens the door to empathy and compassion, helps solve the problem more effectively, and lowers your blood pressure. And it’s free.
If you talk with any organization responding to the mental health challenges in their community, you will know that this has been a tough two years to say the least. Addiction, family violence, and suicide prevention lifelines are all experiencing an increase in calls. Suffering, I have learned, looms largest when we try to go at it on our own. Marginalization is what happens whenever we feel that we don’t belong.
I want stress two things: You are not alone, and it is okay not to be okay. Please reach out for whatever support you might need now. There are amazing resources around and generous people who want to be needed. “Help” is truly the bravest thing we can say.