There is little doubt that the environment where we work and live impacts our lives. However, by taking charge of how you perceive your environment, you can make incredible changes in your life. Rewire your thoughts about your environment, reimagine the reality of your environment, and you will recreate your environment.
Quantum physics has discovered something that many mystics have long since known: that your perception of the universe actually invokes the very universe that you observe. If you change the way you view the environment around you, the environment around you changes. This means your creative imagination literally affects the very blueprint of your reality. How our universe manifests itself depends on how we both individually and collectively dream it up. The real power, then, is in the viewing – the lenses we look through as we observe the world around us.
There is a wonderful story of William James, one of the leading thinkers of the late nineteenth century, who, as a young man, went to Paris to study. He was depressed and suicidal at the time. However, he decided to take a wager suggested by a French philosopher, to act each day as if the universe was full of purpose and meaning. By the end of his studies, he had discovered so much meaning and purpose that he changed his life. He became a great philosopher who influenced many.
You play a role not only in how you experience your universe, but how the universe will experience you and continue its creative expansion through you. It is important to note that at any moment you can effortlessly step out of your various dilemmas. You can stop endlessly recreating a toxic or negative reality. The key is whether you recognize how you are feeding into, supporting, and hence helping to create the very problem you are reacting to. As the philosopher, Jean Houston, puts it: “Don’t keep feeding chicken soup to your pathology.”
Another way to say this is that through our perceptions and our choices we are actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that you have co-created the world around you – and therefore you are the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. In order to do this, every so often you need to stop, rewire, reimagine, and recreate the world around you.
Below are five practical strategies for rewiring, reimagining, recreating your current reality.
- Work as if you have the perfect job – now. Regardless of whether you like or dislike your job or the environment where you work or live, act every day as if this were your ideal career in an ideal workplace. Imagine that this is where you have always dreamed of working, with the kind of colleagues you always dreamed of working with, doing the kind of work you have always fantasized doing. Act every day as if your current environment was full of purpose and meaning, and observe how the environment around you changes.
- Create a vision. Without a vision you perish. And if you don’t perish, you will likely get depressed. Rewiring, reimagining, and recreating means stepping back every so often to clarify a vision you are personally moving towards. Organizational vision statements will have little meaning for you until you have a sense of your own personal vision. What gets you up early? What keeps you up late? What inspires you to go the extra mile? What keeps you going on the darker days? Regardless of whether you are working toward a goal in your personal life or work life, be sure to make time to work for a dream that engages your unique talents and that is bigger and more powerful than simply “getting through the day.”
- Choose service over self-interest. Imagine ways you can make the world you live in better for others. Decide, just for today, that you are going to be a giver – by your smile, kind words, encouraging attitude, and generosity. Decide, just for today, to be a contributor, a helper to others rather than expecting so much from others. Decide, just for today, to replace unearned entitlement with gratitude. Make it a point to say thank you three times each day. Decide, just for today, to “lift,” rather than “lean,” to build rather than tear down. Ask how you can best be of service and grant some grace to your fellow human beings.
- Make yourself happy. Make a decision to enjoy the environment where you live and work. You don’t need to have the “right” job or the “right” boss or the “right” family to be happy or engaged in your work. Happiness is not a destination; it’s a method of travel. You can decide to be happy. It’s an attitude, a mind-set, a choice. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness comes from the inside; it is not a matter of externals.
- When the horse is dead, get off. Maybe recreating your current environment means doing just that: finding something new. If you are in a job that you hate, and you need more than a renewed reality in your current environment, then cut your losses, quit your job, and start again in a new environment. Most importantly: STOP COMPLAINING, starting right now. Sometimes relationships need to end. Rewiring, reimagining, and recreating may mean starting over in a brand new environment with brand new relationships. One important word of caution: before you leave any relationship be sure that you are not running away from something you need to face, learn, and contribute to. If you seek a geographic cure, be prepared to meet the same problems in your next environment.
Put some of these intentions into action. Pay attention to the effect they have on you and your environment. You will create a new world when you rewire, reimagine, and recreate.
During his thirty years at Meredith Corporation, James Autry was known as one of the most respected magazine executives in America, overseeing a $500 million operation with over 900 employees. “Leadership,” Autry was known to say, “is a largely a matter of love. Or if you’re uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because good leadership involves caring for people, not manipulating them.”
Caring for people is not a fad. It’s a tried, true, and timeless principle that will always be a part of great leadership. James Autry had it right and in today’s increasingly complex, demanding, and changing world, it’s never been more true. In a position of leadership – whether executive, manager, supervisor, school principal, board chair, or parent – you are asked to hold a group of people that you serve in trust. However, having a title does not make you a leader. Holding a position of leadership is like having a driver’s license. Just because you have one doesn’t make you a good one. One measure of a leader is the capacity to influence, but another is the direction of that influence. Is the leader influencing others towards a goal worth pursuing? Leaders who influence are leaders who care – about their people, about the work they do, and about the difference they make.
Here’s what I believe it takes be a caring leader:
1. A Decision. Caring is a decision. It’s not an emotion. You can decide to care about someone. If you care enough to look deep enough, you will find a reason to care. You can’t always control how you feel about other people, but you can certainly control how you behave toward others. Caring is not how you feel; caring is how you act. Caring is not a noun; it’s a verb. It’s leadership in action. The eminent NFL football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “You don’t have to like your players and associates, but as leaders, you are called upon to love.”
2. Discipline. Almost everything humanly expressed beautifully in the world – a musical piece, a work of art, an athletic performance, or successful business venture – is manifested through discipline. The art of caring leadership is no different. Being disciplined about care means intentionally setting aside uninterrupted time to be present for people – in your office, in their office, on the plant floor. I’m not a fan of an “open door” policy for leaders. What I do like is structured office hours when employees know you will be there for them and with them. It takes discipline to carve out the time to show you care. The effort required to a build a discipline of paying attention and extending yourself for others takes work, but it’s worth it. Caring in this way is filled with rewards since having someone listen to them and acknowledge their story rewards everyone. The renowned business philosopher, Jim Rohn, once said, “for every disciplined effort, there is a multiple reward.”
3. Space. So just what do you do in that disciplined time that you have set aside? You turn off the computer and the cell phone and anything else that can be an interruption, and you give people your full attention. You create an uninterrupted space that makes it safe to be open and honest. You can create a space in your office or you can create a space in their world. Creating space means making the workplace safe to do their work, to make mistakes, and to be who they are. Space is where the real work of leadership is done – sharing the vision, the beliefs, the values – and how all this relates to where the organization is headed and where the employee is needed.
4. Kindness. Leadership is about producing results, but caring leadership involves being committed to people’s growth as you produce results together. Willingness to feel the pain of another’s journey and accepting without equivocation a person’s failings provides a sense that “we are in this together”. Kindness means expressing genuine concern through knowing the name, the interests, and the values of every person held in trust to you. Kindness means expressing appreciation, offering a word of encouragement, or catching people doing things right. George Washington Carver said, “Be kind to others. How far you go in life depends upon your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.”
5. The Absence of Self-Importance. S. Eliot once said, “half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.” Manipulation, by definition, is influencing people for personal gain. Caring means you don’t need to take the credit. Caring means you make it about others, not you. Caring means a willingness to leave your ego at the door and make others feel important.
6. Service. Albert Schweitzer said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know. The only ones among us who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” Servant leadership is being committed to serve those in your care, insuring that they have what they need to get their job done and grow in the process. Servant leadership is different than “pleasing” leadership, where your effort is spent trying to give people what they want. Pleasing breeds resentment, results in burnout, and turns you into a slave. Serving leads to freedom, self-respect, and wellbeing within and around you. You can’t make everyone on your team happy. What you can do is support their success by helping them meet their needs. Start by making a list of what you think your staff needs – resources, training, support – to achieve the results that are expected of them. Simultaneously, have them make a list. Then compare lists and have continual conversations about how you will work together to meet those needs.
7. Clear – And High – Expectations. Caring means building a platform where people can grow. You don’t show caring by having low standards or letting people off the hook. You have to care about people and the results they produce. Caring requires high support and accompanying high expectations. You care by supporting people to go beyond what they thought they could do. Then hold them accountable for what they have agreed to. These expectations are part of a leader’s value system that must be communicated to those being led. It is important to define your top priorities with your workers and clarify the results and the attitude that you need from them. Then model what you expect – so you will be credible to hold them accountable.
Organizations don’t give a leader power. Power comes from the people you serve. You earn power by earning the trust of others. And if you don’t use this power well, they will take it away from you. They take it away by making leading difficult for you by resisting and refusing to be influenced, even if they pretend to follow you because you have a legislated title.
When you choose to extend yourself by serving, sacrificing, and caring for others, you increase your capacity to influence. My good friend and former high school principal, Larry Dick, says, “Caring leaders are invitational leaders.” When you care, you invite people along on a journey, and inspire them to join you. You offer them a seat on the bus – not because they have to but because they want to. A leader who knows how to influence through genuine caring will be a leader who is in great demand. The paradox, of course, is that caring leaders don’t do it to be in demand. They do it because they care.
When James Autry wrote his best-selling book, Love and Profit, he examined carefully the financial benefits of the timeless principle of leading with love. But I think he would agree that profit comes in many forms besides income, including personal and professional growth, increased confidence, friendships, community, an opportunity to contribute and make a difference, and a fulfilling, meaningful life. At the end of the day, why else are we going to work?
Boston is one of my favorite cities. I get there at least once a year for work or to visit friends. For my daughter’s thirteenth birthday, we flew to Boston for a rare opportunity to see a Red Sox game and a Bruin’s game in the same day. The Fenway Park experience will be embedded in our hearts forever. There is something inexplicable about being in Boston. The beauty, the arts, the people, the universities, the passion, and the pride of community – that shone especially brightly through after the marathon bombing – all contribute to making Boston a magnificent place. But there is something else that has been a part of the splendor that has stood out in this city for more than the past two decades: Boston’s former beloved mayor.
Tom Menino, Boston’s longest-serving mayor, is a reminder of the special qualities that can make a politician cherished as a leader. Upon his death, back in 2014, Harvard’s paper, Crimson Staff, stated, “Boston lost its longest-serving chief executive, Harvard lost a partner, and the community lost a symbol of Boston’s cohesiveness, toughness, and spirit of renewal.”
There aren’t many politicians that are called ‘beloved,’ but that’s how most people in Boston would describe him after his more than five terms of office. Tom Menino was part of the fabric of Boston and the lessons about the importance of leadership that can be learned from the life of Tom Menino are worth noting. I have listed some of Menino’s attributes that describe his presence as a leader.
- Be connected. With his constant presence in the neighborhoods of Boston, more than half of Boston’s residents had personally met their mayor at one time or another. ‘Tommy’ Menino attended every possible event, ribbon cutting, and other public gatherings. People who met him said he was warm and genuine. He was authentic. Based on the hundreds of tributes after his death, Tommy’s down-to-earth, accessible manner and understanding of people made him highly regarded, both as a politician, a leader and as a person.
- Be a champion for the minority. Among Mr. Menino’s main priorities were “providing every child with a quality education; lowering the crime rate; and promoting a healthy lifestyle for all city residents.” Defender of the poor, those captive to their environments, and minorities, Menino stood strong as a principled leader of Boston, making it a great and beautiful ‘town’.
- Be humble. Months after leaving office, Menino was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. When he announced his illness, he made it clear that he did not want people to feel sorry for him, reminding the public that there are people worse off than him. He did not want to be treated any differently because of this illness. His attitude was the same as all previous challenges he had faced: “We’ll get through it.”
- Be principled. As a boy, Menino and his family experienced prejudice because of their Italian ethnicity. Thus, he was a staunch opponent to discrimination, and had zero tolerance for prejudice or racism of any kind. Menino stood up for justice by marching in the city’s gay pride parade and refused to march in South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade because it banned LGBT advocacy groups. As a bridge builder in a city that had long been accused of inadequately handling race relations, Mayor Menino shattered the mold and stood for justice by connecting the gap.
- Be courageous. Leaders who get things done require toughness, discipline, and courage. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Menino checked himself out of the hospital despite a broken leg to attend the memorial service and deliver his tribute to the victims and to the city. Menino knew that to be a leader you aren’t going to make everybody happy. Having the courage to stand for what he believed in was more important to him than popularity. The paradox was that by living and leading this way he was hugely popular.
Mayor Menino demonstrated an incredible human touch through the power of his authentic presence. Determination, work ethic, and an unyielding dedication to serving others were the hallmarks of this mayor. These qualities, along with his commitment to banish the racial polarization that had planted itself in Boston, solidified his legacy as one of America’s great public servants.
However, no leader or person should ever be emulated entirely. No one is perfect, and by observing carefully, you can learn as much from a person’s weaknesses as you can from their strengths. In order to serve the greater good, at times you have to exercise your power and be loyal to your followers. The Boston Globe noted once that, “Mayor Menino favored certain developers,” took a personal interest in almost every construction project, and often banished enemies “to the political wilderness.” He was even seen by some as a bully. Sometimes ridiculed for his lack of vision and eloquence, he was not known as the greatest of public speakers nor was he a leader with a profound ideology. But none of these criticisms overshadow Menino’s overwhelmingly assured legacy. To the contrary, these weaknesses helped make him who he was.
Reflecting on the life and lessons of the leaders in our lives – both the ones we are drawn to as well as those who repel us – can make us better people and better leaders. With all his strengths and weaknesses, Menino embodied what a politician can be. His lessons of hard work, dedication to those he served, and devotion to a purpose larger than himself should inspire us all as leaders to pursue our purpose with passion and a renewed sense of focus.
“Believe in your heart of hearts that your fundamental purpose, your reason for being, is to enlarge the lives of others. As you enlarge the lives of others, your life will be enlarged. And all the other things we have been taught to concentrate on will take care of themselves.” – Pete Thigpen, Former President, Levi Strauss
Not long ago, I had the privilege of touring the plant of a client who hired me to help improve the culture of his organization. As we wandered around, the CEO introduced me to everyone we came across – in the halls, the offices, the labs, and on the shop floors. But he didn’t just know everyone’s name and title. He made a point, whenever possible and appropriate, of making a brief – and positive – comment about everyone. When he introduced me to the janitor, the caretaker’s eyes widened and brightened as the CEO told me how he puts pride into everything he does and that he’ll be greatly missed when he retires next month after more than a quarter century of service. Every employee smiled as they were introduced and the CEO said something positive about the unique contribution they individually made to the well-being of this company. This CEO understands a fundamental responsibility of leaders: to enlarge the lives of every one of their employees.
As I think of my own staff, I realize that I often take them for granted. I give them work to do, put pressure on them to deliver on their accountabilities, and attempt to give them support to do their work. But do I actually make a conscious effort to enlarge their lives? We all get into our routines, our habits, our mundane patterns. In a world of incessant demands, it is easy to lose touch with the people around us and the real work of leadership.
Here are seven ways to enlarge the lives of others:
- Care. Enlarging the lives of people isn’t a technique. You can’t fake it. People will see right through you. We all get busy and forget to notice people. Your staff will forgive you for forgetting. What they won’t forgive you for is not caring. Enlarging the lives of people involves caring about people, not manipulating them. People are uplifted and better by being around people who care about them.
- Serve. Serving means having a commitment to people’s growth as much as finding the resources to help them get their job done. Serving means making the success of others more important than your own. Serving means making others look good and being willing to not take the credit. Great leaders know that you can’t necessarily make people happy, but you can help them take pride in themselves and their work – by seeing their worth, beyond what they may see in themselves.
- Make Time. Enlarging the lives of others takes time. Take time to learn names. But more than that, take time to learn about what matters to people you serve, the names of their family members, and the kind of things they do when they are away from work. Leadership is more than just wandering around. It’s tuning in. It’s paying attention. It’s being in touch. Carry a notepad and make a note of what’s important to the people on your team.
- Challenge. If you are going to enlarge the lives of others you have to push them beyond their comfort zone. You have to set a standard that stretches them. And you have to encourage them. “You can do this;” “I trust you;” and “I believe in you;” are enlarging statements. Then model the way. When was the last time you encouraged someone to go beyond what’s easy? When is the last time you did something for the first time?
- Accountability. Collin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, once said that “everyone on a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it.” You don’t enlarge the lives of people when you let them off the hook or hold back from having the difficult conversations. Set clear standards and hold people accountable. It enlarges the lives of everyone.
- Safety. Enlargement is about creating an environment where people can grow. Bruce Lipton, a cellular biologist, says that a cell has only two options in life: to grow or to protect. If the cell perceives its environment to be toxic it will go into protection mode. When it perceives its environment to be nourishing, it will enlarge. To enlarge the lives of others, you must create an environment that is physically and psychologically safe – safe to work without harm, safe to make mistakes without fear, safe to be honest without retribution, safe to be yourself without judgment.
- Appreciation. Appreciation is about acknowledging (both privately and publicly) effective, productive action. Appreciation is recognizing people when they take special care in a delivery, when they go out of their way to fix a glitch in a product, when they make a customer feel extra special, when they send the order out early, when they go the extra mile. Appreciation isn’t empty praise. Appreciation is genuine recognition when someone makes a difference. It’s about catching people doing things right rather than succumbing to the seemingly natural tendency to criticize. Say thank you. What you appreciate, appreciates.
When you are mindful and intentional about making these actions a habit, the lives of people around you will naturally enlarge. As you help people grow in this way, it will inevitably come back to you in the form of commitment, loyalty, and results. As you enlarge the lives of others, your life and your organization will be enlarged. And all the other things we have been taught to concentrate on really do seem to take care of themselves.
“Only when we learn to be humble about ourselves, can we begin to respect others.” – Lindsay Leigh Kimmett
A sign of great leadership is the ability to transform the inevitable losses of the human experience into something beyond the loss. While certainly not seeking pain, a person of character does find a special attractiveness in difficulty, since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that they can realize their potential. Below is a story of courage and compassion, along with strategies to turn grief into creative endeavors that serve the greater good
Lindsay Leigh Kimmett was an athlete, a leader, and a medical student with enormous potential to do great things in the world. But her life ended when, as a seat-belted passenger, she was tragically killed in a single car rollover in 2008. Lindsay’s parents were consumed with unimaginable sorrow at her untimely passing, “but in an attempt to move forward positively,” they were determined to carry on her legacy. Lindsay’s family and friends created the Lindsay Leigh Kimmett Memorial Foundation in honor of her memory. To date, more than a million dollars has been invested into our community in Lindsay’s name through an array of initiatives, including Valedictorian Scholarships at all the three Cochrane high schools, the Dr. Lindsay Leigh Kimmett Prize in Emergency Medicine at the University of Calgary Medical School, and Lindsay’s Kids Minor Hockey & Ringette Sponsorships. Since her death, Lindsay’s family has also been very active in supporting Alberta’s distracted driving legislation and asks all to drive responsibly without distractions.
Great leaders have the willingness and capacity to turn sorrow and hardship into a gift that benefits others. Those who experience grief and have the courage to work with it and work through it, emerge a better person, enabling leadership qualities like perspective, patience, clarity, and empathy. Through learning to grieve in a healthy way, you open yourself to the capacity required to live in harmony and balance with one another and the earth.
Here are six ways to transform loss into a gift that benefits others:
- Make room to grieve. Let life touch you. Stop and allow grief to surface when it is present. Go to funerals. Allow yourself to cry. If you can, be with your pet when they die. Spend time with a dying relative or friend. Community can be built in tragedy. Don’t be afraid to grieve and share your grief with people you care about and who care about you. Allowing yourself to grieve enables you to accept loss as a part of the good life. Grieving is a lonely journey and should not be traveled alone. You may never “get over it,” but you can work through it – by acknowledging honestly what is happening inside you, and allowing your heart to open, both with yourself and with others.
- Accept what is. “Impermanence,” writes the poet Jennifer Welwood, “is life’s only promise to us, and she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.” Maturity means having the courage to face life as it is. Life, at some level, is a series of problems to solve. Do we want to spend our life moaning and whimpering about this, or spend our days living in the solution? At some point in our lives we have to be willing to grow up and realize that yes, life hurts. It’s hard. It’s all part of the human experience. The sooner we can accept that life is difficult, the sooner life becomes a little less difficult. Life happens. Pain is a part of our existence. At some point we have to build a bridge and get over it.
- Let go of the anger. Anger is often born out of suffering, especially when someone or something has caused your loss. While it is part of the process of grief, unacknowledged anger or anger that festers inside, turns into the bitter poison of resentment. The antidote to anger? Name it. Claim it. Take responsibility for your reactions. Then have the courage to let it go. An indication of strong character is the courage to bear an injustice without a motive of revenge.
- Be willing to not know. Sometimes the best you can do is accept what is. Although it is human nature to seek control through answers, sometimes the answers simply aren’t there. Often you have to delete your need to understand. A sign of maturity is the courage to accept the vast and inevitable unknown of the human experience, and the willingness to let go of the need for complete comprehension.
- Let grief be your teacher. In the arduous journey of grief, if you pause every so often to open your heart and look within yourself, you will discover that the grief is guiding you to be a better person. While you may not be able to find your gifts in the immediacy of tragedy, keep an open mind to what life’s adversities can eventually teach you. Loss and subsequent grieving can foster, among other things, the ability to be compassionate, to connect more meaningfully with others, and to gain perspective and clarity about what matters most.
- Turn sorrow into service. In an effort to move forward constructively, find ways for your loss to fill a need in the world. While establishing a foundation was the Kimmitt’s way to transform grief into positive action, there are many ways you can make the world better through your loss. Being open to what grieving can teach you will amplify your ability to impact others through a stronger leadership presence.
I have deep admiration for what the Kimmett family has done for our community and more in light of their tragic loss. Their willingness to turn sorrow into service is authentic leadership in action. May their story inspire you to embrace the inevitable and at times seemingly unjust and often unanswerable tragedies of life as you stumble forward – with courage, conviction, and compassion – on the journey to being a better person and a better leader.