Want to make a radical change in your life, but feel too afraid? My new book Fierce Reinvention – out 2nd October – will challenge you to create a life with real purpose. For pre-orders go to bit.ly/FierceReinventionebook
This week I farewelled my father, Eugene Leeb-du Toit, after a tough fight with cancer.
In his honor I want to share my Eulogy with you:
My father had many endearing qualities but I want to focus on two:
first, he taught me to live large; and, secondly, to be fierce.
Dad loved the ocean and boats were a big part of his life.
He built his first boat, a run about, in Durban as a teenager.
I remember as an 8 year old helping him build a wood and fibreglass speed boat.
Admittedly, I spent more time coating myself in fibres than anything else.
And then there was his most ambitious boating project:
a large flatbed trailer and crane arrived outside our house
in a sleepy seaside suburb in East London and delivered the hull and keel of a 35 foot Miura-class yacht to our front lawn; it promptly became a giant jungle gym for Alan, Viv and I as well as the neighbourhood; Dad lovingly sourced teak railway sleepers and transformed them into a thing of beauty, wood panelling for the yacht’s interior.
We enjoyed many hours sailing her in the waters of the wild coast, a stretch of ocean as feared as Cape Horn for its ferocity.
It took a special kind of courage, a fierce nature, to tackle those waters and again, to tackle the waters of life.
Dad demonstrated this fierceness in his fights with cancer:
when my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 6 he was there, fiercely compassionate in his support for her; when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer
he tackled it with a brave face and beat it down;
but it was that third time when it sneaked up on him
that he needed to muster all his strength and courage,
and he was fierce in his fight with it right up until his last moment.
Dad dedicated his life to animals and loved his profession as a vet. He told us that he never did anything to disrespect an animal and for him this was a blessing of his work.
He recognised that we are all part of the river of life when he recently said, “We belong to nature, and I respect the way nature works, and for me it is easy to be a part of nature’s system.”
Today we are here to celebrate a life well lived; a life lived large and with fierce compassion; and today we are here to commit Dad back into the river of life.
Dad, thank you for all you did for us and taught us.
We love you so much.
Can I be totally honest with you? I’ve always struggled with the divide between professionals and blue collar workers.
This week I’ve had a reminder that such pre-judging is not helpful and can be downright dumb.
Picture the scene: my parents have lived at Greenpoint on the beautiful New South Wales Central Coast for a decade. Behind their property is a vacant piece of land owned by the Salvation Army who have a facility on the other side of the hill. This piece of land has always been covered with a large stand of blue gum trees, replete with all forms of Australian wildlife: there is a Australian crane, or brolga, that elegantly wanders around on its long legs; there are the tawny frogmouth owls that sleep alongside the other nocturnal creatures and come out at night to feed, there wide eyes scanning the forest for frogs, lizards and other insects they can gracefully swoop down on from their perch in the trees. It sounds idyllic doesn’t it?
But we knew this peace and quiet couldn’t last forever. The signs are everywhere on the Central Coast: traffic has increased exponentially, there is development going on all over. And there has been gossip over the last few years regarding the Salvation Army wanting to sell off this land for development, but these remained relatively distant rumblings.
Wham! Those rumblings became real when bulldozers moved in. Within weeks the lush bushland was turned into a wasteland of wood chips and the constant growl and beeping of various forms of earthwork equipment. Change was in the air.
And then double wham! The noise level rose even higher when a team started digging alongside the cul de sac that runs out front of my parents house so that they could lay further piping to the new development.
And the clinching triple smack to the head! Change was also in the air in my parents home; my father beat off prostate cancer six years ago, but was diagnosed ten months ago with stage IV lung cancer; he was never a smoker; he was super fit all his life, running ultra marathons when he was younger and until he retired he had been active on his feet in his profession as a veterinary surgeon. Whatever the reason for his primary tumour, by the time he realised the pain in his back was not simply muscle pain, the cancer had spread into numerous other places across his body including into his bones.
Can this really all be happening to one family? Sadly this is not an uncommon story and the more I look the more I uncover similar situations. Cancer is so pervasive in our society.
At the time of writing my father is in the final stages of his battle. He is currently in hospital; he’s heavily drugged on a mix of morphine and other pain medication; he has the occasional good day, but many tough ones.
And guess what? Yep, there is more. Sadly the situation is compounded: my mother has early-stage Alzheimer’s and often gets a little confused, which is exacerbated by what is happening both outside the house and with my father. She has been increasingly concerned that he will struggle when he comes home to deal with all the noise going on around the house. I haven’t had the heart to tell her that there’s a very strong likelihood that he will not be coming home again.
Unsurprisingly the noise outside has bothered her but not overly so, she is more concerned with how it may impact my father. Twice she has ventured up the road to talk to the work crew about the level of noise and how much longer they will take. Of course I’ve tried to dissuade her from doing so but she has persisted. I was relieved that the work crew were most polite with her on both occasions and apologised profusely for the noise they were making.
Thankfully she didn’t get angry with them, but the truth is that as her Alzheimer’s progresses she may become more aggressive in her behaviour. My concern is that one day she will venture out and be met with more resistance. Personally, I imagine a disgruntled blue-collar worker sick of dealing with work issues and my mother being on the receiving end of his frustration.
And then yesterday there was an unexpected knock on the door; my mother answered; standing there was one of the workers and he towered over her; in his hands he held a gift bag which he gave to my mother; it was filled with cards that his own mother had made and he was offering them as a gesture to say sorry for all the noise that his team was causing.
Astonishing isn’t it?
My mother came rushing up to my study. The look of pure joy on her face was priceless as she excitedly showed me what had just been delivered.
And boom? My preconceptions were smashed. This gently giant had set me straight. Who was I to pre-judge the workers outside? That negative thought of one of them berating my mother was quashed. I was filled with gratitude and an overwhelming sense of relief.
Yes the noise continues, yes my father is still very ill and yes, my mother’s Alzheimers progresses. Change is constant, but that one small, unexpected gesture of kindness has spread a warmth over my parents that is extremely powerful. My father had one of his best days in weeks and my mother is filled with newfound energy and focus.
There is no magic answer to dealing with change, to dealing with ageing parents and to overcoming life’s big and small testing moments. However, there is are some things we can do to make transitions easier and that is looking for the positive, delighting in the unexpected, not judging others and not letting negative thoughts swirl around our heads. In my book, Fierce Reinvention: A Guide to Harnessing Your Superpowers for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Success I delve into how you can overcome the tendency to pre-judge and avoid the negativity trap.
This post is about growing your humanness and spirit through constant metamorphosis and reinvention.
We are ready for reinvention when we become aware of the constraints of the chrysalis we have been living in. This awakening is accompanied by the realisation that it is time for us to extend beyond the capsule of self, the pod that has defined us; it is time for us to reinvent ourselves and, transformed, take off for expanded horizons.
Our egoic thoughts, our limiting beliefs and our behaviours form the capsule’s walls. While these may serve us in our earlier phases of self-development there comes a time when we need to move beyond them; this time is marked by our exposure to an expanded reality, which may be through a single catalytic event like a death in the family, the loss of a relationship or job or even your own near death experience as was the case for me; or this widening of our reality may be a more gradual process, hardly noticeable at first, but as we expose ourselves to more and more of it we open up to a greater and more faster flowing reality, much like a small drop of water that is initially flowing on the back of a leaf down a slow moving stream and, as that stream joins the more turbulent waters of a larger river, the drop slips off the leaf into the wider waters; the drop is now far more vulnerable, but has also opened to a much greater canvas of possibility.
We take on what I call ‘fierce risk’ when we have greater and greater exposure to unknowns, to danger outside of our control and to the possibility of loss; by letting go of the familiar, foregoing our sense of security and not holding onto comfort-generating, past experiences this fierce risk empowers us to feel more and more alive. Breaking out of our chrysalis and embracing our fears takes a special kind of bravery and courage that is wrapped up in a sensitivity to our surroundings; this situational responsiveness is beautifully encapsulated in the word ‘fierce’; it is not about ferociously cutlassing through the walls of our cocoon; nor is it about blindly stepping into the future; this is about living each moment as if it were our last, without filters, zero constraints and openly aware to the risks that come with doing so and being comfortable with the uncomfortableness that may arise.
Fierce risk requires of us that we be fiercely present: we are unconditional in meeting the moment, no ifs or buts, no regrets or wishes, however small, should sway us or hold us in check. When one of your staff enters your office and you are fiercely present they can tangibly feel your focus. When your young son asks you a question at the dinner table he can feel when you are there for him, as his father, and not lost in processing deadlines, emails and meetings.
In this contemplation I want us to think about the benefits of seizing each moment gently and with the openness of fierce risk. Our creature comforts and habits make this a hard thing to do; we identify with our capsule; we are attached to the pod that we live within; our egoic nature habituates control as a counter to fear; we strive for what we think we need; we hold onto what we value and what gives us security; we forage and scramble for fleeting happiness and avoid pain; death is perennially a taboo topic.
It is not easy to break down the walls of your capsule when so much of what you do on a daily basis is centered around strengthening them. These centering forces are either positively or negatively aligned: positive forces include the need to control, the desire for fame, praise, recognition, success and the unquenchable thirst for pleasure; negative forces include the aversion to being blamed, avoiding pain and not recognising failure. Our pod is reinforced by the acquisition of more and more of these positive forces and the shedding of the negative ones.
What acts as a catalyst to our continued growth beyond our current capsule? What empowers us to break through the walls of our pod? Is there an event taking place in our lives that can act as a chrysalis trigger? Where are we sensing that trigger within our lives? Where do we find the walls of the capsule closing in on us? Where is the pod weakest that we may use this as a beachhead to break through?
Are you constantly trying to overachieve? Do you resent the behaviour of a member of your team to the point where you blame them even when they are not behaving ‘badly’. Do you fear the judgment of your peers. Do you self-medicate your stress with alcohol? Has you life partner walked out on you because you haven’t been present in the relationship for ages? Are you obsessively anxious about events you have little control over? These are all examples of the walls closing in on us. We can wrap ourselves in more tightly, keeping the outside world at bay, and ultimately give more power to the walls themselves; or we can see these things as triggers for us to step up, break out and begin to build a practice of being fiercely present and gently seizing the fierce risk.
A CONTEMPLATION ON FIERCE RISK
Picture your mind as part of the fast moving river we spoke of earlier.
Take a deep breath in and pause.
Open your mind and let the initial swirl of thoughts wash through.
As you slowly exhale, find yourself eddied out of the main current. You are close to the river bank and high overhead a willow tree’s branches and leaves offer you shade from the glare of the sun.
Take another, slower deep breath in and pause at the top of your breath.
As you breath out feel the air moving through you, feel yourself being more present within your body.
Now channel your thoughts and settle on a person who means a lot to you, someone who disquiets or excites your mind either because you are anxious about how they feel about you, you worry about how they may judge you or because you feel a responsibility or a duty of care towards them.
What is it that has been said between you?
What is it that has yet to be said?
How do you want them to judge you?
How are they currently relating to you?
Visualise your most recent encounter with this person.
What part of your ego showed up in this interaction?
What was your disposition, did any of your usual habits arise?
Was any fierce risk present in this engagement with them?
How would it feel to gently seize the fierce risk with them?
Would it feel like you are uncloaking from your old chrysalis?
Would it feel more open, more present, more vulnerable?
While your focus has been on a recent encounter with this person, think now about your next meeting with them. How might this be different without your current habits and egoic limitations?
In what way would fierce risk change how you relate to them?
One of the most powerful places for us to seize the fierce risk is in relation to the delusion of disrepute: we become self-absorbed with our unworthiness, we wallow in our reverie of shame, we are absorbed by our wickedness, we feel stupid and have a myriad of other self-deprecating thoughts. This delusion is particular prevalent when we deal with people who are important to us in our lives. One small comment from such a person at work can send us into a frenzy.
And so we opt instead to remain in our pod of comfort: what if I was totally myself and they didn’t like it? What if they pierced my veil and saw my doubts and fears? What would they think of me then, that I’m not worthy of my role, that I am not qualified to take on this position? This encapsulated delusion of disrepute closes in on us and is a powerful place for us to practice fierce risk. Instead of continuing the flow of such thoughts we empower ourselves to pause, to disentangle ourselves from them as they are simply thoughts, they do not define us.
Delve into these thoughts and feel out if by fostering them you are making them more powerful; picture what it would be like to cleanse yourself of these thoughts, do you feel a draw towards extending beyond them? If you do then you are ready to gently seize the fierce risk.
Focus again on the next time you are with this person of interest to you.
Imagine the place, the smell, the temperature, the sounds; visualise their eyes looking into yours, the expression on their face, the angle of their head; picture yourself gently seizing the fierce risk and opening to vulnerably being with that person; you are present in that moment without a need to control the situation.
Don’t allow any form of predisposed bias to intervene in this scene; if any past encounter tries to surface let it pass through you just as you let thoughts pass through your mind when you are meditating.
Try to see this person through fresh eyes, empty of any and all previous experiences; as you do so take note of what you arises as if anew; seeing them as if for the first time what may you have previously missed.
As you allow fierce risk to enter this relationship and break through your chrysalis you will throw aside behaviours, filters and habits they may have prevented you from seeing the love in this person. That love is extremely powerful and can itself trigger you to find love in more and more people. This is the transformative power of reinvention at work. Let it lighten your life and the lives of all those you come into contact with.
Come back to the present moment and bring your fierce risk with you. Allow it to grow, from the size of a small, germinating seed as you break out of the bonds of your chrysalis and, over time, let it tower above and around you as you slip back into the waters of the fast flowing river of life.
Grow your humanness and spirit through constant metamorphosis and reinvention.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I do appreciate your continued interest in my work at EXOscalr and I love sharing my thoughts and insights with you.
The website for my upcoming book, Fierce Reinvention, is taking shape at https://www.
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Over the last few decades there has been an accelerating growth in self-centred, exploitative management and dehumanisation in the corporate workplace. Recently there has been a silent revolt against this unprecedented epidemic as evidenced by the astronomically high levels of corporate disengagement, particularly amongst the newer generations entering the workforce. How can leaders reinvent themselves and adopt a more humanistic management ethos to counter this epidemic? It requires nothing short of becoming a fierce leader: creating an embodied practice of management that includes qualities such as respect, empowering leaders to influence for better rather than worse and ultimately this will create a magnetic attractor for top talent who reject outright working in degrading environments.
What does it mean to be fierce as a leader?
We know it when we see it in action: when I stood on the Grand Parade in Cape Town as Nelson Mandela gave his presidential inauguration speech in 1994 my eyes filled with tears. He embodied fierce leadership in every fibre of his being; his presence and poise in the face of decades of dehumanising behavior was unforgettable. But we also know it when we see it in the mannerisms of a board member or the attitude of an executive running a team meeting: they are fully in the moment.
The four critical elements to being a fierce leader
Fierce leadership requires us to train our minds. This training creates a formidable practice so that we can deal with modern day business and our susceptibility to the following situation: as a result of being constantly subjected to the 24 seven pressures of work and despite our best intentions, our resilience can break down even in noncritical situations and we can revert to bad-management-autopilot.
However, there are four critical elements to building a fierce leadership practice that help prevent this type of autopilot from kicking in. We do need to constantly tend to our practice by nurturing and supporting these elements. We should see these elements as both aspirational and practical and use our best efforts to work on being stronger at each one individually as well as together.
1. Altruism and humanity –
Seeing beyond our current office and role and being aware that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and our organisations gives us a capacity for much deeper understanding. It also increases our capability to take a serving stance through which we treat others as human beings rather than exploiting them as objectified resources.
2. Lucid clarity –
Dealing with what is showing up in the moment, what is here now as opposed to what happened in the past (“this is the way we’ve always done things around here”) or what is projected to happen (“if we can close this deal we will sell our products and more parts of the world”).
3. Imaginative openness –
Considering all angles and holding diametrically opposed points of view in our heads as we work through the implications of the choices we make is crucial. This requires both a highly developed imagination and ensuring there is sufficient spaciousness in our minds within which to explore, over and above all the clutter of a busy daily executive life.
4. Core focus –
Determining what we want to focus our attention on and maintaining that focus despite a myriad things trying to take us off task.
The benefits of a fierce leadership practice
As our practice grows we find ourselves:
* influencing more often for better than worse in not only the big impactful decisions we make, but also every minute of every day;
* becoming more focused and this lucidity of thought gives us the opening to deal innovatively with situations based on our efforts to deeply understand what they mean for us and others and compassionately realising the consequences impact of our choices;
* shifting our stance to lead by inspiration rather than expectation;
* finding ourselves considering others in their positions with more openness and respect
* becoming aware very quickly when thoughts aren’t true to ourselves and having the ability to redirect before we react
* more often exuding qualities that engaged people look for such as kindness and humour, and being more highly communicative – as fierce leaders we do this despite these qualities not necessarily being reflected in our organisational KPIs;
* finding ourselves getting more stuff done because we are more confident, have increased emotional intelligence, are more collaborative and have a greater ability to influence others;
* rejecting the negative narrative we may form around not being on 24 seven and being able to control when we communicate to only those times when we can be more actionable, considered and effective – this in turn frees us up to be more present in our daily non-work related activities such as exercise and family time and also frees up our people from following the bad precedent we were setting by, for example, emailing them at 11h30pm and expecting an immediate response;
* more able to be resilient and pause in any situation, no matter high pressured, and check in with ourselves how we are feeling about that situation before reacting – are we subject to any biases, is our response going to have unintended consequences, are we being mindful of all the variables at play;
* and at times of uncertainty when it feels like taking any action would be like stepping off a cliff, we are able to comfortably take that first step because we are capable of listening to our inner wisdom and trusting more completely in the unfolding without needing to always control or force what will happen.
Individual fierce leadership can also rapidly activate a culture of being fierce across an organisation which creates a strong magnetic attractor for top talent.
In subsequent posts I will go into more detail on how to build a fierce leadership practice and realise its benefits.