Tag Archive for: Articles by David Irvine

Fears, Trust, And the Human Experience

When our daughters were much younger, we went on a family “adventure” to the Fantasyland Hotel in West Edmonton Mall and took in a ride in the submarine. After boarding, the hatch closed, and as we “descended,” the guide began safety instructions. The moment she said, “if any of you get claustrophobic…” I immediately started hyperventilating. My heart was racing and felt like it would explode. I was nauseous and dizzy. My lifelong fear of closed spaces took over and I went into a full-blown anxiety attack.

My family knew what was happening. Chandra got the guide’s attention who helped me ascend through the safety hatch. I climbed out the escape trunk, got into a row boat in the middle of a mall in six feet of water, and was escorted to back to pier.

We’ve had lots of good laughs about it all over the years. But underneath the humor, there is a deep respect for each other in our family. We all understand that anxiety is no laughing matter.

A few years after the submarine incident, we went caving in Northern Utah. We all knew this would be a challenge for me. I sweated it for weeks before we got there.

At Timpanogos Cave, I learned we would be 90 minutes in a confined space. “You don’t have to do this, Dad,” my young girls kindly said. The first thing I did was tell the guide, Royce, about my claustrophobia. He looked me right in the eyes with kindness and care that I’ll never forget. He gave me the flashlight and said, “Come right up front, right beside me. We’ll get you through this. You aren’t alone.”

I did get through it. One step at a time. With the love and support of my family and Royce, who guided me, not just through the cave, but to a newfound bravery and courage.

At the end of a tour, Royce shares his passion and love for these magnificent caves and offers a challenge:

“Most of us will never discover a cave, but each of us has an opportunity to discover something that we truly care about, something that we love. It might be music, mathematics, art, dance, languages, science, athletics, neighborhood parks, or a million other things. Just as our lives are better today because of the Timpanogos Cave Committee, the challenge is for us to use our energies and talents so that one-hundred years from now, life will be better for people and for this planet because we were here.”

Making Authenticity Real – A Leadership Checklist

A lot of research ( e.g. Harvard Business Review and Leadership & Organization Development Journal) shows that employees’ perception of authentic leadership is the strongest predictor of job satisfaction and can have a positive impact on work-related attitudes. Most employees believe authenticity in the workplace leads to better relationships with colleagues, higher levels of trust, greater productivity, and a more positive working environment. Much of the research contains detailed definitions and lists of attributes of authentic leaders, but how do you really know if you are leading authentically?

Here is a leadership checklist to test if you are leading authentically.

  1. Are you committed enough about your leadership to ask these questions? If you are interested in asking and reflecting on these questions, you are already on the authentic journey. Authenticity isn’t a destination; it’s an inquiring and honest method of travel.
  2. Do you care? Do you care about the people around you and what matters to them? Do you care about your work? Do you care about your own growth? Do you care enough about your team to help them find their gifts? And do you care enough to put the success of the team ahead of your own career advancement?
  3. Are you open to feedback? Are you open to know how your behavior impacts those around you? To learn about your blind spots and become more self-aware? Are you committed to learn to be graceful in receiving criticism? Are you willing to get past defending yourself and pretending you have it all together?
  4. Are you honest? We understand the importance of not stealing from your organization or lying to your employees. But there is another kind of honesty: self-honesty – accepting that you aren’t perfect. Honesty is understanding your strengths and weaknesses and ensuring people on your team are needed and valued by helping to fill the gaps.
  5. Do you keep your promises? Authentic people are accountable. We call people who think they are authentic but who can’t be counted on flakes. Flakes can’t be trusted. So don’t be a flake. Earn trust by being trustworthy.
  6. Do you enjoy your life? Do you enjoy waking up in the morning and coming to work – at least most days? One way to measure good leadership is that good leaders enjoy themselves. Authenticity means you’re living a life that belongs to you, which means you’re enjoying it. And if you are enjoying it, there’s a good chance people around you are enjoying working with you and finding some fulfillment in their work.

Four things to remember when leadership feels hard.

Leading – whether in your family, your team, community, or company – is like life: it’s hard at times.

When you decide to step up and stand for something, you open yourself up to be attacked, dismissed, criticized, silenced, and sometimes even assassinated. It is not uncommon to bear the scars from your efforts.

Leaders represent change, and with change comes loss, fear, confusion, and anger. And those brave enough to go against the crowd risk backlash. Change can make people cruel: empathy, compassion, and grace are often sacrificed when craving order. Irresponsible scapegoating of the authority figure is certainly unfair, but it comes with the territory.

Leaders are also always letting someone down. Somebody’s bound to be disappointed in decisions that are made, and stepping into leadership means shouldering the agony and aspirations of a community.

So… when leadership feels hard, here’s a few things to remember:

  1. Remember that hard comes with leadership. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would be leading. Once you understand and accept that leadership is hard, then it is no longer hard, because it no longer matters. You are on a more important mission than being comfortable.
  2. Ask yourself, “Is this a good hard or a bad hard?” Good hard means you are pursuing a worthy cause and accepting that obstacles are a predictable prerequisite. Good hard means your heart is open and you feel the pain of the people you serve. Bad hard means you have lost contact with yourself, others, and the vision.
  3. Preserve a sense of purpose. When you cannot find the inspiration and when discouragement and despair emerge (that only later are recognized as seeds of creativity) you just have to keep walking. It doesn’t have to be fast or spectaluar, but just keep stumbling forward toward the cause that you believe in.
  4. Find a life practice. To sustain your energy, every leader requires a daily practice – a habit that connects with and taps into the power of the life force that runs through us. A life practice is anything that you do over an extended period of time that consistently and reliably deepens the connection to your experience and expression of being alive.

What do you keep in mind when leadership feels hard?

I grew up when the work ethic was so strong that talking to others and enjoying yourself at work meant you were wasting time.

Friendships in the workplace were seen as distractions.

But recent Gallup data indicates that having a best friend at work actually improves employee performance and motivation and is strongly linked to business outcomes, including profitability, safety, inventory control and retention. Employees who have a best friend at work are significantly more likely to engage customers and internal partners and get more done in less time.

Good leaders not only encourage friendships among employees, but also help facilitate them.

Here are three ways leaders can foster friendships in their organization – i.e. build friendful cultures.

  1. Make friendship a company value. Make friendships at work a priority. Be explicit. Be intentional. Talk about what it’s important and what it means to you. Ask what it means to others and respect each others’ expectations and degree of openess. For some, being “friendly” with each other will be enough. Emphasize that friendships have to happen “organically.” They can’t be forced.
  2. Establish rituals. Create regular team learning and team building events – experiences that foster collaboration and friendships. Our team went fly fishing on the Bow River last fall – an amazing experience. A client has a bucket list bulletin board in their coffee room. Everyone in the company is encouraged to have a bucket list, and every time they accomplish something on their list, they post a picture of it on the board and tell the story at the next team meeting.
  3. Practice Heartfulness. Heartfulness means knowing what you love and being supported and encouraged to go for it. Schedule a regular time to share each other’s stories. Heartfulness means ensuring that everyone knows that they belong. Make time to ask: What do you love? What do you care about? How does your work here help you take care of what you care about? How can we support you to do that better? What is your WHY and how can we support you to realize it? I’m at my best when…

In the past we would just tell people to do their job and expect that it got done. Those days are gone, thankfully.

People expect much more from their leaders today and that is a good thing.

Just as we need to expect more from ourselves in what we bring to the cultures we work in.

Tending a friendful culture isn’t just good for people and for relationships. It’s good for business.

Boundaries and Bravery

Boundaries are healthy and important, but can the idea of a boundary give us an easy out and prevent us from being brave and stretching ourselves?

Years ago, in a family counselling session, parents were complaining that their 25-year-old son living in their basement wasn’t employed or contributing to the family in any way. The parents wanted me “talk to him to get him motivated.”
These parents eventually learned that this wasn’t a motivation problem. It was a boundary problem. Motivation eventually followed when they set clear boundaries. Reality is a great motivator.

Here are five principles for healthy boundaries:

  1. Boundaries keep us healthy. Just as the immune system says no to unwanted bacteria and viruses, saying no to unwanted demands on our time keeps us healthy. Caring about others while suppressing our own needs, contributes to illness.
  2. Boundaries are about self-care. There’s a difference between self-care and self-centeredness. Self-care says that we take care of ourselves so we can be strong and better take care of those we love and serve. Self-centeredness says we take care of ourselves so we can take care of ourselves. Boundaries remind us that we are responsible TO others, not FOR others.
  3. When we take care of ourselves, we ultimately take care of others. Rescuing people from the natural consequences of their behavior weakens them. Saying no may risk disappointing another, but in the long run it helps them make necessary changes to improve their life.
  4. Boundaries are not an excuse. Boundaries used as an excuse to take the easy road are not boundaries at all – they are excuses. Boundaries are firm but not rigid. It takes bravery to set clear boundaries, not brutality.
  5. All life, to be sustainable, requires boundaries. I grew up in an age when you had a phone on your office desk that was wired into the wall. When you were done work you went home. The boundary between work and home was clear. Then we were promised that computers would simplify this. Now in a 24/7 world, establishing boundaries has never been more of a challenge. But without boundaries you have no clear priorities or focus. Everything is important and nothing is important. We all need boundaried time for uninterrupted, focused work or play that requires our full attention to what matters.

How To Inspire People Through Basic Human Goodness

John Coltrane, the American jazz saxophonist and composer, once said that to be a better artist you have to be a better person. He could have been talking about leadership. We understand that leadership is too important to be diminished to techniques or titles. Leadership is about the character and integrity of a person. It’s about presence, not position. It’s about being, first and foremost, a good person.

I don’t think enough is said about what it takes to develop that presence, what it means to be a good person first before you can be a good leader.

Here are some of my thoughts about what it means to be a good person and what it takes to get there.

Humility. Humility is a true evaluation of conditions as they are; a willingness to face facts. One fact of leadership is that while you might get promoted to being a boss, you don’t get promoted to being a leader. You aren’t a leader until someone declares you one. You have to earn it. And you start to earn it by being willing to face the reality of how people perceive you.

Honesty. Being a good person doesn’t mean being perfect or trying to make the impression that you have it all together. It means that you are willing to see your blind spots, willing to see how your actions impact others, and have the courage to make the necessary changes.

Accountability. Accountability is the ability to be counted on. It means showing up. It means never making a promise you don’t intend to keep. It means deciding, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time and that complaining is a defense against the courage to act.

Caring. Caring is everything. People will cut you a lot of slack if they know you care. And they won’t give you room for error if they know you don’t care. You can’t fake caring. It goes back to honesty.