HOW TO BUILD COMMUNITY IN A TIME OF ISOLATION

A research project from the 1980s, documented in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that male heart attack survivors who were socially isolated had more than four times the risk of death than men with strong social connections. And a study of more than four thousand men of Japanese ancestry living in Hawaii found that social networks guarded against coronary artery disease (independent of known health hazards such as high blood pressure and cigarette smoking).
Over the past four decades, there has been a sizable body of evidence documenting that being socially isolated significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk equal to that of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
Simply put, people are nourished by other people. Research suggests that belonging to a tightly knit community is a significant predictor of health and mental well-being. Living beings yearn for the proximity of other living beings. Humans are happiest and healthiest when around other people, working together and helping each other. For much of history, humans have banded together as a matter of survival.
Even with pandemic fatigue, where we are weary of social distancing and isolating for the sake of our community’s health, our need for community has not changed – we desire to be heard, to be connected, to belong. Social distancing is not the same as social disconnecting. Isolating is not the same as detaching. Working together for the good of the whole is not the same as living in fear and withdrawing from each other. In our current conditions, we are called to develop a renewed connection to ourselves, to learn to enjoy solitude, to appreciate smaller spaces, and to be creative and intentional about sustaining our relationships with each other – thus finding innovative ways of sustaining community.
Living with a propensity for depression and having walked through some very dark periods in the course of my lifetime, I can suggest five strategies for fostering community during this pandemic that have worked for me:
1) Develop self-awareness. When a Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council was asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was almost unanimous: self-awareness. But how do you develop self-awareness? Self-awareness starts with checking in on yourself in the present moment. Are you afraid? Stressed? Inspired? Exhausted? Angry? Renewed? All of the above? Self-awareness comes from introspection and feedback from others. It takes time and intention but is a journey worth taking. You can only connect with others to the degree you connect with yourself.
2) Find a confidant. A confidant is a person with whom you can be real and honest. Confidants provide a space for those who are busy holding a space for everybody else. At this point in the pandemic, as fatigue is settling in for so many of us, we all need at least one confidant who can put us back together at the end of the day. Confidants are friends, spouses, coaches, lovers, or trusted colleagues that provide support, perspective, and accountability in the midst of our frustrations and challenges.
3) Practice kindness wherever you go. We are all doing the best we can to get through these challenging times. Let’s make it a point to grant each other a little grace. Even while wearing a mask we can smile with our eyes, offer encouragement with a hand gesture, and practice patience with our tone of voice. We’ve never been more alone, but we have also never been more together, sharing this experience with eight billion people on this planet. Community is developed one kind act at a time.
4) Find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. In a world preoccupied with problems, community is about discovering our gifts and finding ways to bring them into focus. Community is ultimately about being needed, belonging to something beyond yourself, being inspired with a reason to face the day. It is the task of leaders, indeed the task of every citizen, to shine a light on the gifts of those in the periphery and bring them into the centre. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, we need to find a reason to put our feet on the floor each morning.
5) Get comfortable being alone. Loneliness and being alone are distinct. A desire for solitude is a defining characteristic of an authentic person. A quest for community can be one more form of manic activity if it is not rooted in a continual practice of silence and time for reflection. If you work on creating a balance between reaching out to others and enjoying what the Finns call hiljaisuus, or solitude in one’s being, you’ll strengthen your sense of self-worth and find more meaning in your life.
Our intention, in our upcoming Authentic Leadership Masterclass is to do our part to help build communities with like-minded authentic difference makers. While we show how authentic leadership presence can be applied to the leadership practices of fostering trust, building accountability, navigating change, and engaging talent, a major part of the program is to connect leaders with each other to sustain their growth, connections, and sense of community. We work with accountability partners between sessions to support each other’s growth, help each other stay on track, and sustain the insights you glean from the class experience.
We still have a few seats available for our January and February programs for those of you committed to renewed leadership development this year in a community of incredible like-minded difference makers. I hope you will join us.
To mark the passage into the promise and hope for a safe and prosperous new year, I want to borrow from history and visualize an ancient and meaningful ritual. For 2,500 years, the Japanese have been making and drinking sake, a type of rice wine brewed from fermented rice. Throughout all that time, sake has been used to mark special occasions with the people that matter most. In most celebrations involving sake, a glass is placed inside a masu cup and the host pours sake until it overflows like a waterfall. The overflowing is an act of kindness and generosity to show appreciation for the people around them. It also works as a little act of celebration, to lift the spirits and to enjoy the present state of life. Watching the sake overflow and not knowing whether it will tip over presents a beautiful moment of suspense, when time seems to slow down. By introducing a moment of suspense, the ceremony keeps your mind in the present moment, focused only on the beautiful waterfall of sake.
As a message of appreciation to all my readers over the years, I’m taking the liberty to borrow from this little Japanese ritual and overflow some sake with you. My hope is that the image of this overflow will remind us all to bring presence and generosity into this new year. May we all experience the overflow of kindness through our actions as we build community together and navigate into 2021.

FINDING YOUR VOICE: A Story of Authenticity and The Birth of an Immortality Project

What in your life is calling you?
When all the noise is silenced,
the meetings adjourned,
the lists and agendas laid aside…
what still pulls on your soul?
In the silence between your heartbeats hides a summons.
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must, or leave it forever nameless,
but why pretend that it is not there?

― Adapted from Mevlana Rumi

In 2017, days before my brother’s passing, I found myself in the familiar place of sitting at his bedside holding his hand. Hal’s breathing was labored, and his eyes were closed. I rubbed a moistened sponge gently along his chapped lips. My hand on his heart seemed to help relax the strained movement of his rising and falling chest. In those long moments with him, I learned that caring is more than simply being open to experiencing the anguish of another’s suffering. It is the willingness to live with knowing that we can do nothing to save another other from their pain. On this particular afternoon, in a feeble attempt to relieve my restlessness, a question arose within me with no expectation of a response.
“Well, Hal, what advice do you have for your younger brother before you die?”
His eyes opened and he squeezed my hand, surprising me with a response.
“Find your voice,” he said clearly.
“Find your voice? What do you mean?” I asked.
That was all he had. His hand relaxed; his eyes closed; and he drifted back into unconsciousness.
After months of disabling aphasia, these were the first words he was able to string together in as long as I could remember. And, as it turned out, they were the last words I ever heard him utter. I spent considerable time after Hal’s passing reflecting on his life and considering carefully the significance of his guidance to “find my voice.”
I wrestled with the meaning of Hal’s words and the meaning of my life. Amid the grief, I began to fear that my life was somehow being wasted. Was I making a difference? Having any impact? I needed to look this dragon in the eye. I needed to face honestly the haunting prospect of my own insignificance. As the Scottish hero William Wallace says in the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies; not every man lives.” Hal’s dying inspired me to live. And to live authentically.
Hal, as an extraordinary medical doctor and remarkable human being, left a legacy of generosity, love, and wisdom to his patients, his staff, his community, and his family. He had unknowingly created what anthropologist Ernest Becker called a symbolic “immortality project” – a noble cause of enduring value beyond one’s life. I have come to understand that an immortality project is an integral facet to authentic leadership. I’m not sure Hal ever fully understood his impact. Perhaps that is the reality of a true contributor.
In the midst of my grieving the loss of a brother, something was being born within me: an immortality project of my own – a cause that would outlive me and bring meaningful work and membership to a noble and ethical community of like-minded leaders. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “When a leader demonstrates that his purpose is noble and the work will enable people to connect with something larger – more permanent than their material existence – [then] people will give the best of themselves to the enterprise.”
Like so many leaders I work with and learn from, I struggle between having confidence to live a life of purpose and yielding to the daily demands of others. By too easily yielding to what is pressing, practical, and popular, I can sacrifice the pursuit of what is in my heart. Hal’s dying became a gift to my living. It became clear that I needed to take action, gather my courage, and offer a public workshop for authentic leaders. Thus, The Other Everest Retreat was born.
I didn’t know how it would be received, but I needed to walk through my fears and listen to my voice. Regardless of how many people registered, it was vital that I kept walking on this journey. Thus far, we have filled four retreats as well as two Alumni sessions for those committed to go deeper. I have facilitated learning forums for participants who complete The Other Everest. I now have a partner who shares my passion and vision and will assist with future retreats. We are establishing a coaching program for participants to stay on track and further their leadership development. We are planning to offer more retreats and in more locations. We are also in the process of setting up a foundation, so finances are not a barrier to participation. My mother used to tell me to “shine a light on what you desire. Whenever you set a goal there is an unseen force, an energy, that moves you toward that goal.” Nowhere in my life have I come to know the truth of this statement more than from the response to The Other Everest retreats.
I hope you will join us and take this leap together to create authentic workspaces and authentic lives for those we lead and those we love. If you are interested in knowing more about this retreat or to register, please visit: www.irvinestone.com or contact us at info@irvinestone.com or 1-866-621-7008. I look forward to having you join us.
Are you ready for the journey?

CONVERSATIONS WITH AUTHENTICITY – What Makes Ordinary leaders Extraordinary?

I have the great privilege to meet and learn from remarkable leaders and incredible human beings in the course of my work. It is one of the many advantages of doing what I do, and I learn some valuable lessons from everyone I encounter.
You may be aware of my Podcast project entitled “The Other Everest.” While much of social media focuses on stories of “famous” people, the intent of my Podcast series is to shine a light on the stories of “ordinary” leaders who are making an extraordinary difference in the world – people on the journey to what I call “The Other Everest.” Along with examining their own unique philosophy of leadership and what they do to create change, I have them share their story of how they became the kind of person that enables them to make such an impact. To listen to their stories, download the Podcasts at: https://irvinestone.podbean.com/
I have found that there are four qualities that run through the fabric of the lives of authentic leaders, exemplified in the podcasts:
1)    A Compelling Humility. All the leaders on these podcasts are surprised to be asked to record their story. Their ego doesn’t drive their work. Humility opens the door to curiosity and self-awareness. They influence others because they themselves are open to be influenced. True, authentic leaders aren’t attached to titles, degrees, or the size of their office. They are keen to learn about themselves, receive feedback, and grow. You get a sense of the person behind the role, and that imperfect – at times vulnerable – person is what comes through.
2)    Courage That Inspires. Authentic leaders aren’t just humble and modest. They are also immeasurably courageous. While courage can be expressed in many ways, one voiced it as the courage to “reach in” through the diminishments and the defeats, and find a way to turn encounters with illness, failure, bankruptcy, injury, abuse, death of a loved one, or any type of tragedy – and come out the other side with newfound awareness, strengths, and gifts. The inner journey forces us to meet our demons face-to-face, to travel long miles in the dark without seeing the light at the end. But these leaders have the courage to keep walking – in their own unique human way – until they eventually realize that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually coming from their own headlamp. Authentic leadership is fueled by a voyage that takes us inward and downward, toward the hardest realities of our lives. The best leadership comes from people who have penetrated their inner darkness, men and women who can lead the rest of us to a place of authenticity that is hidden from what the world sees, who have been there and know the way, and in so doing, know the why.
3)    A Vision of Caring. These authentic difference makers are “we” people not “me” people. They choose service over self-interest, committed to a sense of purpose beyond their immediate pleasure and gratification. They care about being successful, but they care even more about being devoted – to their calling and to bring value to those they serve. Each of these leaders care enough to take the time to listen to an inner calling, a vision that lifts them during the times of being “stuck” into an understanding that such periods are really fallow periods, a time to let the soil renew itself before it can grow a new crop.
4)    An Arousing Hope. In a world where violence, terrorism, and abuse can abound, authentic leaders inspire us with hope. But hope is not naive enthusiasm. The best portrait of hope I know of is painted by the former US president, Barack Obama:
“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”
May we all be inspired by those around us who bring courage, caring, and hope through their leadership and lives. May we be inspired by the humble, authentic people in our lives who are making a difference – and let them know how valued their contribution is. And may we each know that we are those leaders.

AMPLIFY YOUR LEADERSHIP IMPACT

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The greatest challenge we face today, and upon which our very survival as a species depends, is the task of learning to live in harmony with ourselves, with each other, and with the environment. Responding to this challenge begins with taking an inner journey, a journey to what I call “The Other Everest.”
It is my intention to create authentic communities of like-minded leaders – difference makers who are committed to making a positive impact in the world. To accomplish this, I’m facilitating a three-day retreat on Authentic Leadership from December 4-7 at the Banff Centre and I invite you to join me.
In this public workshop we will create a space to pause, go inside, and connect with your authentic self. If you are committed to be a better leader by being a better person – through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence, and could benefit from a community of support with other authentic leaders, come for a renewed perspective on leadership and a life-changing experience. 
Highlights of this retreat:
  • Create a space to shut off the noise of the world to achieve a fresh outlook on your life and your leadership.
  • Take the time to reset your internal compass with a clarity of values and sense of purpose as a leader.
  • Learn how to earn the trust and respect of those you serve through authentic relationships.
  • Understand the quality of presence and how it creates more productive and engaged employees and relationships.
  • Value and model accountability and self- discipline as a trust builder.
  • Find clarity about what matters most in your life while living and leading with greater focus and alignment with your highest values.
  • Learn how mindfulness, meditation, body integration, and yoga can help you amplify your impact on others.
  • Transform the darker side of your nature into your greatest gifts.
  • Leave with your own personal leadership development plan.
I am pleased to let you know that there are still a few seats available and as a preferred client, we are extending the early bird deadline (a savings of $200) until the end of October.
Click here for further information or details about registration.
I hope you will join me in Banff!

FORGET YOUR PERFECT OFFERING

Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
Every leader has cracks,  imperfections in their personality. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela – all had cracks. All the great contributors of our time had flaws. Why? Because they were bad leaders? No. Because cracks come with being human.
I often speculate that some of these great leaders would never have made it in the age of the internet, where their imperfections would be magnified and scrutinized in social media. They may never have stood a chance of earning credibility or making an impact.
With modern news access, especially in an economy when fear sells, the rarity is the reality, and the reality is the rarity. One murder in a million, amplified in the news reels, suddenly makes a whole city feel afraid. The action of one employee, magnified by social media posts, can color the perception of an entire organization. If we aren’t careful and judge the many by the one, the behavior of a single person can taint an entire race. If we fail to understand the context and the means by which news is fed to us, we run the risk of naïve prejudice when we turn on our devices. It is both difficult and essential to a civil, sustainable society to expose ourselves to competing perspectives and exercise our freedom to choose – to “screen in and screen out.”
So how do you work with the flaws in yourself and others? Here are three strategies to deal with the imperfect offerings we will inevitably bring to the world in our leadership:
1)    Be sincere. Sincere is derived from the Latin ‘sine’ meaning without, and ‘cera’, meaning wax. According to one popular explanation, dishonest sculptors in ancient Rome and Greece would cover flaws in their work with wax to deceive the viewer; therefore, a sculpture “without wax” would mean honesty in its imperfection. Sincerity means being honest with yourself and aware of the impact your behavior has on those around you. It’s about being open to seeing your inevitable cracks. You don’t need to shine a light on all your defects in public, but honesty and realness in the spirit of acceptance and a commitment to grow and change goes a long way.
2)    Start with the person in the mirror. It is human nature to see the flaws in others more readily than it is to see them within ourselves. Those in the public eye who risk daring greatly in the arena of critics, provide us with a great opportunity to look at ourselves before pointing the finger. Whenever you see arrogance, unethical behavior, or any other crack in a public figure, resist the human impulse to judge and instead take a close look at these potential blind spots within yourself. Get some feedback from trusted people in your life and listen carefully to what they tell you. Get some coaching. Grant yourself and others some grace. Reflect upon the notion that our judgement of others is often a defense against looking at our own flaws and a lack of courage to change.
3)    Find your gifts in the cracks. It’s within our flaws that the light of consciousness is able to see its way in and its way out. It is within our wounds that we are often able to use our gifts to make the world a better place. A huge part of my Authentic Leadership retreat focuses on how to transform the shadow side of our nature into our most important contribution to the world. True authentic leadership is fueled by a voyage that takes us inward toward the hardest realities of our lives. To attain the capacity to influence in today’s changing and demanding world, along with the depth to lead with a strong authentic presence requires an inner journey, a journey to one’s heart, a journey to what I call the “Other Everest.”
In my retreats we create a space to pause, go inside, and connect with your authentic self. It is an opportunity to understand your cracks and flaws and learn how to re-frame them through increased self-awareness and a stronger, clearer purpose and presence.
Remember – no one is perfect and it is through the cracks or imperfections that the light shines upon our gifts!
If you are interested in a journey to discover how your imperfect offering can make a greater contribution to the world, join me in Banff for “The Other Everest Retreat”. There are still seats available at the early bird price at until mid-October.

CELEBRATE AUTUMN With THE OTHER EVEREST

It’s been many years since my daughters were returning to school in early September. But I still get nostalgic this time of year. Maybe it stems from the years I started back to school as a child or taught university and looked forward to returning to the classroom. Or maybe it’s because my corporate year-end comes in August and I’m starting a new fiscal year. Or maybe it’s the incoming cooler weather and the crisp smell of harvest and hay as I drive through the country and reminisce about my formative years on the farm.
For whatever reason, I love September. It’s a time for a new beginning, for moving into something fresh, for starting over. We all need times during the course of our lives when we give ourselves permission to reset and begin anew. September is a great time for this. It’s important to turn a corner and bring a renewed energy into our lives and our workplace, especially if we have taken time over the summer for rest and renewal.
What renewed vitality are you bringing into your work this September? What compass are you resetting? What restored resolve are you bringing to your life?
What I’m especially excited about this September is the release of my latest book on authentic leadership that arrived on my doorstep this week. I am immensely proud of this book. Over five years in the making, it is a culmination of my learnings and teachings gleaned over a lifetime in the personal and leadership development field. Encyclopedic in its insights and teachings on authentic leadership, The Other Everest is a book designed as a resource you can come back to time and again for inspiration and ideas. The sheer volume of information and tips it contains cannot be fully digested and applied all at once, and that is not the intention. Everyone creates and takes their own pathway to authentic leadership. Use the knowledge in The Other Everest as a source of support and replenishment that you can draw upon over time at your own pace. Getting started can be as simple as taking one or two concepts from the book that resonate with you and building time into your life to reflect and let them help shape your journey.
You can find a complimentary white paper about The Other Everest, and a preview of the book on this website. You can also order it now!
If you are interested bulk purchase prices, contact val@irvinestone.com