Tag Archive for: Connection
“You are a leader second. First, you are a human being.” – John Scherer
I know from my own research, and my more than thirty years of experience in the leadership development field, that now more than ever, the world is in need of leaders who are committed to substance over superficial, character over charisma, and service over self-interest. In short, we need leaders who are authentic – people whose inner compass guides their daily actions and who inspire trust by being honest and real. To come to this place of impact and influence requires slowing down, going inside, and developing a relationship with an interior self. It’s about finding one’s voice away from the voices of the world. To attain the capacity to influence in today’s changing, complex, and demanding world, to lead with the depth of a strong authentic presence, requires an inner journey, a journey to one’s heart, a journey to what I call the “Other Everest.”
A year ago I had a dream to create an authentic community of like-minded leaders – difference makers – who are committed to go deeper than what I was offering in my keynote and one day leadership programs. Last week I saw this dream come to fruition at the Banff Centre when thirty-one remarkable, authentic, caring leaders came together to create a pivotal moment in my career. Assisting me by integrating mindfulness training, creativity, accountability, self-awareness, and yoga into the experience of deepening one’s leadership presence, were two extraordinary human beings, Julianna Veldtman and Jeff Lichty.
During the three days we co-created an amazing space to pause, to go within, and to connect with our authentic selves. These leaders are committed to amplifying their impact through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence and created a community of support with other authentic leaders. Together we discovered a renewed perspective on leadership and immersed ourselves, in the words of one participant, in “an inspiring space of complete trust, kindness and support.” Another participant, a CEO from Edmonton, explained it this way a week after the experience, “It seems so surreal looking back at it now. How was it possible to bring those exact people together at that exact time to make the magic happen? I cannot fully describe the life-changing event that you set the stage for and made happen. Truly, truly amazing.”
Words cannot adequately describe my own profound gratitude for the honesty, courage, vulnerability, engagement, openness, and trust that these amazing leaders put into the experience. They actually left their devices and technology at the door for three full days and engaged themselves completely in the process. I left with a deep and sustaining knowing that leadership is truly not about position; it’s about presence. Leadership cannot be reduced to techniques or tools. True Leadership is about connecting to our authentic self and bringing that self wholeheartedly to the service of others.
My father used to say that, “only so far as a man is happily married to himself, is he fit for married life.” By embarking on a journey of integration and inner peace, one expands their capacity to fully reach and influence the world. It’s about being engaged in a perpetual process of becoming. The experience last week has made me a better person. It has confirmed my conviction that a person enlarges their ability to lead and impact others through a strong presence that is attained, in large part, through an inner journey.
Each of us has within us a calling. While the outside world pushes us, something within pulls us. Let your deepest desires lead you. If this sounds like a journey upon which you would like to embark, watch for details for the next retreat in December on my website. Also feel free to send us a note expressing an interest: http://www.irvinestone.ca/contact/.
I look forward to having you join us for the next one.
Over the winter, my wife, Val and I took time to transplant trees and repot houseplants. It’s been good for me to slow down and spend some time working with soil, getting my hands dirty and connecting to the land, reminding me of the value farmers bring to our culture. I’ve been learning from Val, our resident plant expert, that a healthy root system is necessary to ensure a robust plant. Through their natural intelligence, plants know this and develop extensive roots before their energy is transferred into growing foliage. You’ll see this in a houseplant that will get root bound in a pot before they flourish above the ground. The root system is first developed in the dirt, thus enabling the plant to support its growth above the surface.
Leadership is like that. The source of what is manifested in the world is not seen by the world. Like a plant, whose strength and energy come from its roots, the strength and energy of a leader comes from within. A good life – through a person’s roots – precedes good leadership. Below is a short list of what a good life means to me, and the roots that will sustain and support you to do the work that you are called to do.
- Clarity. Clarity is about living your life by design rather than by default. Living without clarity is like embarking on a wilderness journey without a compass. Any way will get you there if you don’t know where you are going. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare and precious achievement. You’ll be told in a hundred ways what is expected of you and what is needed of you to be a success. The real discipline in life comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.
- Courage. If you have ever walked through something that frightens you, and you grew through to the other side, you know that courage is inspiring. It inspires you and it inspires those around you. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing fear and walking through it. There have always been courageous men and women who have been prepared to die for what they believe in. What do you care enough about to give your life for?
- Character. If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.
- Calling. Calling is a devotion to a cause beyond you. It is inspiring to be around people who have a dedication to a cause they care about. When you feel an internal calling, a deep sense of pursuing what you are meant to be pursuing, you take a step toward completeness in your life. “A musician must make music,” wrote Abraham Maslow, the famed American psychologist, “an artist must paint, a poet must write, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves.” Whether you are paid or not to express your calling, a good life requires you listen and respond.
- Contribution. When we come to the end of our days on this earth, we take no material thing with us. It’s not what we have gained for ourselves but the contribution we have made to others that makes life meaningful. It’s not what we get from life that has the greatest most lasting reward. It’s what we give. A good life requires a generous spirit and a giving heart. A life of contribution is a good life.
- Connection. After three decades of observing and learning from thousands of leaders in hundreds of organizations and in every walk of life, I finally understand what my parents tried to teach me more than forty years ago. In an interdependent world, everything is about relationships. It’s not all about models or strategies or programs or the latest technology. Whether you are a CEO building a company, a middle manager leading a division, a supervisor ensuring results on your team, a front-line sales person, a customer-service representative, or a parent attempting to develop capable young people, leadership is all about making contact and building connections. And caring is at the root.
- Centering. “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. For me, a good life is built around a spiritual center that I constantly seek and return to. From this foundation I find security amidst uncertainty, serenity in the middle of success and failure, stability among the fleeting emotions of happiness and sadness. It is this center that sustains me and provides connection in loss, humility in achievement, perspective in chaos, strength in weakness, and wholeness in fragmentation.
It’s an exciting time to be living in this wondrous world. What concerns me is the possibility that our efforts to continuously improve and advance everything will create a society that is actually less satisfying to live in. Every day we have an opportunity to invent a new world through the choices we make. Not just in a narrow economic sense, but also in a broader human sense: for ourselves and for our children and for our children’s children.
What does a good life mean to you, and how does living in accord with what matters to you make you a better person and a better leader?
Dad once looked down an assembly line of women employees and thought, “These are all like my own mom – they have kids, homes to take care of, people who need them.” It motivated him to work hard to give them a better life because he saw his mom in all of them. That’s how it all begins – with fundamental respect. – Bob Galvin, speaking of his father, founder of Motorola
Leadership is about connection. It’s not just a rational, analytic process. If you are going to influence people; if you are going to get past compliance to genuine engagement; and if you are committed to creating an environment that produces the results you need, you have to reach people’s heart. If you simply give your employee a job description or list of expectations that are required to do their work without a sincere interest in them as a person, you relegate your people to simple “task-doers,” rather than genuine contributors. In order to lead, people need to know you care. They need to know you have a vested interest in them as a person, a genuine commitment to their wellbeing that goes beyond what they do or what they achieve.
What this means is that in order to engage people, you not only have to know yourself and have a high level of engagement in your own work, you also have to be engaged with the people you are attempting to engage. The first condition of leadership is connection.
Making a connection with employees begins by asking and sincerely seeking to understand the fundamental engagement question: “What do each of your employees need to be motivated?” Because every person is unique, it’s most likely that each employee will have a different answer to this question. If you don’t know the answer, then you are just guessing. And the risk of being wrong is too great. It’s much better to simply ask the question and set out to discover the answer.
Before he hires people, a leader in a long-term care organization asks the engagement question this way, “What are you passionate about? What would excite you to come to work here?” In his world, answers deal with interests in areas such as end of life challenges, dementia, HR/labor relations, and health and safety. He then asks: “How can we, as an organization, help you develop that passion?”
After listening to their response, he concludes with: “If we can help you develop that passion within your role, do you mind being a resource, coach, mentor, etc. for others in this organization?” Over many years, he has yet to have anyone say no. He then sets out to help them develop a plan that will grow their area of interest and contribute that talent to the organization. In this leader’s view of engagement, you have to give people a sense that they are needed and find a way to connect to their unique talents and passion. His motto to engage people (employees and residents alike) is to give them both a voice and a choice.
Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, ask three fundamental leadership questions in relation to anyone you serve (customers, clients, external stakeholders):
- What are you doing to get to people’s heart?
- What are you doing to make a connection to your employees, those you serve?
- What are you doing to uncover your employees’ passion and talents?
In her book, “Kids Are Worth It,” Barbara Coloroso, the world-renowned parenting expert, says parents need to create a home environment that provides six critical life messages:
- I believe in you.
- I trust you.
- I know you can handle life situations.
- You are listened to.
- You are cared for.
- You are important to me.
It’s no different for employees. To be engaged, we all need to work – and live – in environments that support these fundamental messages.
What’s your way of connecting? What worked or did not work for you?