Tag Archive for: Caring

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.

CARING IS EVERYTHING – Getting To The Heart Of Humanity, Leadership, and Life

We are all inspired by random acts of kindness, particularly this time of year.

But does our caring have to be random? What if we decide to be more intentional in our actions?

Caring has a pervasive, enduring influence on the well-being of those around us. Caring impacts who we are as people and the places we work and live. So, considering caring intentions for this holiday season, I propose, that along with your to-do list, we make a TO-BE list.

Here’s mine:

  1. Be Kind. In Charlie Mackesy’s book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, the mole and the boy have a conversation: “I’m so small,” said the mole. “Yes,” replied the boy, “but you can make a huge difference.” Then the mole asked what the boy wanted to be when he grew up. “Kind,” said the boy. Now that’s a worthy goal for any of us.
  2. Be Generous. I know of a family who decided, this year, that instead of buying presents for each other they adopted a Ukrainian refugee family to ensure they all have warm clothes and love this holiday season.
  3. Be Curious. A caring way to de-rail an activated stress response is to get curious. While being angry may be an understandable response, it only worsens it. Curiosity transforms anger into understanding, opens the door to empathy and compassion, helps solve the problem more effectively, and lowers your blood pressure.
  4. Be Present. When on vacation it seems the places I visit are more beautiful than where I live. But, is the place really more beautiful or am I noticing something I take for granted in my day-to-day life? When my wife was hanging her Christmas bells this week, I stopped to be present to her joy, which in turn brought joy to me. What makes a task valuable and life meaningful is the quality of the attention we give to it in the present moment.
  5. Be Patient. Practicing patience is having the maturity and composure to be kind – even when we don’t feel like it. When stressed, overwhelmed, and surrounded by impatience, it is even more important to find compassion for people around us.
  6. Be Thoughtful. Being thoughtful of others starts with being thoughtful within ourselves. Over the coming holiday season, take time to reflect on what truly matters. Step away from the clamor of the demands of others and the noise of social media and think about what’s in your heart. Take time to meditate, to be grateful, and enjoy a sunset. Hug the people you love. Make time to listen with empathy to someone who thinks differently about the world than you do. Take your dog for a longer walk. Embrace each moment, for you’ll never know if the next one will come along.

Leading Beyond the Great Disruption

Nelson Mandela had many teachers in his life, but the greatest of them all was prison. In the words of his biographer, Richard Stengel, “Prison taught him self-control, discipline, and focus, and it taught him how to be a full human being – the things he considered essential to leadership.” In other words, it was the solitude, degradation, devastation, and inhumanity of his time in confinement that made him into the leader we admire. It was his journey away from the world and into his soul that allowed him to lead in the world.
The pandemic turned our world upside down in a short span of time, and its impact is wider spread than we might acknowledge. Offices, communities, and families have been divided. People have been hurt. We’ve all experienced loss. Our mental health has been affected. The residue of the collective trauma we experienced lingers. The enormous health, economic, and humanitarian challenges of the past two-and-a-half years have led to a great disruption that challenges leaders to reinvent their organizations with an orientation toward renewed and sustainable growth, resilience, and purpose.
May Nelson Mandela’s courageous long walk to freedom be an inspiration to us all to make this great disruption our greatest teacher.
We can start this holiday season by pausing, getting our bearings, resetting our personal and collective compasses, and opening our hearts. It’s a time for healing, caring, and forgiving as we move forward together.
Here are three ways we can be part of creating a new world:
  1. Clarify a vision. Mandela’s dedication to the African people and the ideal of a free and democratic society where all people would live in harmony kept hope alive for the South African people. It also kept Mandela’s own hope alive during his years of unjust confinement. Hope is not a guarantee of a desired outcome, but a deep and sustaining confidence that our contribution will make a difference – regardless of the outcome. What is your personal vision that inspires hope?
  2. Open your hearts. Divisiveness, exclusion, and dissention have been a part of the places where we live and work the past two+ years. Vaccine mandates, corporate policies, religious views, and political opinions have divided families and workplaces like nothing I have experienced in my lifetime. Ask yourself who in your world needs to be listened to, heard, and truly understood. Where might apologies be needed? It’s not agreement but respect, understanding, and compassion that is required. It’s naïve to think that we can just return to work and personal relationships, and everything will be back to normal. Healing from the impact of the pandemic will take time, patience, and much caring from everyone.
  3. Let go of bitterness. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,” said Nelson Mandela, “I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Forgiveness is not some bleeding-heart, Sunday school platitude. Forgiveness is having the courage to honestly face the emotions that come from being unjustly injured and then letting go of the right to be resentful. It takes maturity to be able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even. Forgiveness does not abdicate the importance of justice; rather it removes revenge from the justice process. Forgiveness transforms vengeance into freedom. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.”
To quote Lady Gaga: “The really fantastic thing about kindness is that it’s free. And it can’t hurt you or anybody else. It is the thing that brings us all together. In times of chaos and crisis we start pointing fingers at where we think the bad guys are, where the evil is. We all start arguing. Everybody has different opinions… The solution is that we need to build a stronger, braver world. We need to get rid of the labels, the different factions… none of this can matter anymore. We are unified in our humanity. And the only thing we all know, the one thing we all appreciate in one another, is kindness. This must come before all things. And you must operate relentlessly this way. With everything you have.”

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.

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.”