Tag Archive for: authenticity

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

A CULTURE OF BELONGING: Re-Engage, Renew, Refocus Your Team In A Post-Pandemic World

American philosopher, William James, said, “there lies within every being a place where, when connected to it, we feel deeply and intensely alive. At such moments there is a quiet voice inside that says, ‘This is the real me.’”

After completing the Authentic Leadership Academy this week, I agree as it was truly an experience of being ‘deeply and intensely alive’ for me.

Over sixty like-minded leaders from all walks of life and from all types of organizations came together virtually for three days. We shared a commitment to make a difference in the world and to amplify our impact by supporting each other to connect with our authentic selves.

A diverse group of people who would not have been able to connect like this in-person shared a unique learning experience in a virtual space. There were amazing stories, tears, laughter, and pure joy as we built an authentic community. I left incredibly inspired by the humanity, courage, and wisdom that emerged during our brief time together. We all left knowing that none of us are alone.

When we departed, we weren’t just leaving a virtual event, we were leaving a community. I left inspired with a renewed belief that the work of a leader is to turn a group of people into a community. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of work and the re-examination of our lives. The new workplace reality is that organizations need to be more flexible in their approach to work. Many workers are emerging from the pandemic with greater independence and autonomy over their career and life choices. To attract and keep the best people, organizations need to adapt to these evolving expectations.

But the Academy last week reminded me that whether we’re connecting virtually, in-person, or in a hybrid environment, people really haven’t changed much. They have the same need to belong, to be a part of something beyond themselves, to be working toward a shared vision, and to contribute something meaningful in the world. And our workplaces still serve as an important tool to make that happen.
Here are three strategies to re-engage, renew, and refocus your team in a post-pandemic world:

1. Integrate flexibility with accountability. People will undoubtedly be across the spectrum as far as readiness and commitment to return to the office. Some are yearning for the office environment where they have routine, work/life boundaries, and meaningful and creative connections, while others love being at home with the independence and freedom it permits. While flexibility will be the new norm in a hybrid approach, there must be accountability. The work still has to get done and some in-person interface will undoubtedly be required for creativity and collaboration. While lots of work can be done remotely, some work, to maximize potential, has to be done in-person. The key is to work toward a flexible, accountable structure that works for everyone. Remember: leadership isn’t about always being pleasing or making things easy for people. You have to push and challenge as much as you grant grace and respect the need to feel safe. As the old saying goes, “If it’s not good for the hive, it’s not good for the bee.”

2. Ensure values alignment. Historically, values have been driven from the positional leaders of an organization. The boss tells the employee what the values are and what the expected behaviors need to be. The new world presents an opportunity to collaborate more meaningfully with your team members. Listen carefully to what people’s personal values are and explore a win-win relationship so that both the organization’s and employee’s values are aligned. There is potential for higher engagement and inspired employees who know you care about their work and where it fits into their lives – and that you care about their lives beyond work.

3. Create a platform for authentic contribution. People ultimately aren’t inspired by what they get; they are inspired by what they give. We are all unique and have something important to offer. Rather than simply giving people a job to do, be committed to know the gifts and passion of every person under your care and devote yourself to supporting the expression of these unique abilities in a way that contributes to the organization and those you serve. Everyone has a story, and when you can create an environment that brings that story to life, that ignites their inner flame, you’ll never have to spend another day motivating anyone. If you aren’t empowering passion and building capacity in others, you aren’t leading. Every person needs to be able to answer the question: Why do you matter here?

AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP  Bringing Your Best Self to Work

The year was 1970. My dad was waiting in line in our town’s only hardware store to pay for a bag of nails. The wooden floors creaked. Musky smells surrounded us. We bought just about everything that we needed to run the farm, from binder twine to paint thinner to fence posts at that store.
I didn’t want to be seen with my father. I pretended not to know him as I stood to the side. He started his usual cheerful banter with the clerk, oblivious that people were lined up behind him.
My father had recently been discharged from a psychiatric facility where he had spent the past several weeks recovering from an episode of what was then called manic depression. The situation felt weird and strange but somehow normal and confusing. I was worried that he was going to start to get inappropriately excited again.
As a fourteen-year-old teenager, who was trying to figure himself out and not stand out, I snuck out the front door and climbed into our rusty old 1954 GMC pick-up. We never locked vehicles in those days.
When dad finally exited the store and got into the driver’s seat, I slunk low so I couldn’t be seen. Dad knew what was going on, but he never said anything. We quietly drove through town. I never sat up until we were out on the highway.
What I wish today is that I could have just one more ride home with my father in that old truck. But this time I would sit up high and proud beside him. I would tell him how much I admired his courage to face his illness and not be ashamed to be who he was. I’d tell him that my anger toward him was my way of saying that I was scared. I was scared that he wouldn’t come home from the hospital. I was scared that I’d be like him. And I would tell him how much I appreciated his acceptance of me that day. And I would tell him that I was sorry for judging his kindness as a weakness.
But that was beyond what my fourteen-year-old inarticulate, insecure self could do. I Iet embarrassment get in the way of knowing who I truly was – or who my dad was.
Whenever I tell this story, it amazes me how people immediately respond with their own stories. It never fails to happen. We all have experiences that can, if we are willing and create the space, become a gift we carry on our journey. The more we open up and share, the more authentic we become and the more relatable we are to others.
Being authentic is a way to bridge the barriers so prevalent in our world today. When we show who we truly are, what inspires us, what we believe in and care about, we connect with others. Indeed, if we are committed to making a difference, we have to truly see those we serve. And to fully see others, we must first allow others to see us.
Here are a few suggestions for leading authentically:
Be at peace with yourself. It’s been said that we don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are. We can’t give what we don’t have. Authentic leadership hinges on the understanding that who you are as a person and how comfortable you are with yourself is where you make your most valuable contribution. Being authentic doesn’t mean you fall apart when things get tough. In fact, quite the opposite. It means you are comfortable with who you are so you can be poised – clear, calm, and compassionate under pressure. Being comfortable with yourself is an endearing and compelling quality. The more present you can be for yourself, and the more peace you have with yourself, the more able you are to inspire and influence others.
Grant Grace. This week my friend, Dianne McConnell, invited me to the virtual launch of her wonderful book, “Could It Be Grace?” It is the story of her journey through the love and loss of two of her beautiful children. During the launch there were some technical and timing glitches but when we looked at each other through our screens, a sense of reverence, humanity, and lightness overcame the little anomalies. As face after face populated the screen of Dianne’s loving and supportive community, I instantly felt warmth and joy. Technology may have made the connection possible, but it was the emotions – authentic and palpable – that made it real and inviting. It was a moment of grace, which was most appropriate, given the title of the book. Whether we are on screens or on the phone or in-person, adapting to the post-pandemic reality, we are all stumbling forward together. Authenticity asks of us to bring our humanness and caring to everything we do. Let’s decide today to grant each other some much needed grace.
Stay humble. There’s a great story about Winston Churchill when he met with a flight sergeant being honored for bravery during World War II. The sergeant had the courage to climb onto the wing of his bomber plane at 13,000 feet to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. But meeting Churchill in person scared this officer so much he couldn’t speak. Churchill noticed and said, “You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence.” The flight sergeant agreed. “Then you can imagine,” Churchill continued, “how humble and awkward I feel in yours.” Humility is a true evaluation of conditions as they are. It’s about embracing the humanity in us all. While we all have unique circumstances and make unique choices within these circumstances, no one is above another. Anyone who thinks that the letters or the titles behind their names or the size of their office makes them more important or more powerful than anyone else, is sorely misguided.
Authenticity means taking a risk to show others our true selves. It’s uncomfortable and carries with it the very human fear of not fitting in. But the greater risk is being inauthentic. The best part of being authentic is that you don’t have to maintain a front. You will please some and perturb others, and none of it will concern the truth of your being. And when you do your part to create an authentic workplace, it will be a place worth working in.

CIVILITY AMID DIVERSITY  How To Rebuild Trust in A Fractured World

As Canadians, we were collectively shocked and dismayed at the spate of divisive behavior across this country recently. And now, the crisis in the Ukraine has given our situation in Canada a new perspective. The disunity in our country appears to be indicative of the divisions in our communities, our workplaces, and even our families. It’s been said that a crisis doesn’t determine a person; a crisis reveals a person. Although I’m not sure that we are not any more divided today than we have always been, the dissection has been exposed and amplified.
We used to be able to leave our political, religious, and personal value differences at our office and front doors. But in the pandemic, policies that govern our behaviors with the intent to protect us, have inadvertently divided us.
In short, politics and personal values are now in our face. As teams are balancing a return to the office with remote work, the challenge in front of us is how to rebuild trust in a fractured world.
To rebuild trust requires deep understanding of each other without the need to correct, fix, or “straighten out.” You must get beneath the surface of opinions, positions, views and even values, and connect with the deeper emotions to begin healing what divides us. It’s critical to shift the goal from agreement to understanding. You don’t have to have the same values to value someone. What you do have to do is separate the person from the issue.
Here’s a little model I learned from teams who are debriefing and recovering from trauma. It’s called the SELF model:
Story. Everyone has a story from the pandemic. Let’s take the time to understand each other’s stories that are coming out from the past two years. We just don’t know what people have been through.
Emotions. The past two years have been a form of collective trauma. What emotions have been a part of your experience over this time? What have you had to give up? Where have feelings such as self-doubt, loneliness, fear, excitement, clarity, or anger been a part of your reality? What have you done with these emotions?
Loss. Since the beginning of the pandemic we all lost something and are going through the grief process to some degree. Here are a few losses: our health, a loved one, some of our freedoms, spontaneity, rituals in gatherings like funerals and weddings and church services. I’m not making a judgement. I’m simply stating the obvious and facing reality.
Future. The future depends on the decisions we make today. How will we rebuild? What do we need to feel safe and supported? What needs to be let go of so we can create an opening for change? What do we need to say good-bye to? What decisions need to be made? (e.g. to let go of blame and judgement and resentment; decide to be a contributor instead of a consumer, a builder rather than a destroyer)
A crisis is too significant to be wasted. Let’s embrace this time of difficulty and allow the pain to break us open so a stronger, wiser and kinder self and a better world can emerge.

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.”

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.