September 2021 Newsletter

Its September and some fall is creeping into our night temperatures in Calgary. The evenings are chilly but the day hours show some resiliency. We cant complain about the summer this year as it was really warm for almost 6 weeks. Sorry that I didn’t pen a newsletter in August, but we were in the thick of summer and planning future moves.

I need to admit that I have struggled to put life into perspective these past months. I’m past worrying about what people think of me for pursuing public health measures such as masks, restricted travel, social distance and vaccination. Most of the time I choose to ignore those who don’t adhere to public measures, thinking that my mental health is more important than their selfishness. The hospital protests in many Canadian cities last week moved me to anger and forces me to respond. I’ll do so within this newsletter as I think there are several principles worth talking about. These protests were ostensibly to confront provincial governments that have chosen to enforce vaccination passports and other COVID restrictions. The protests took place at hospitals and legislature buildings, and even at one election campaign event in Ontario. This is neanderthal type behaviour, selfishness at its height, and has nothing to do with respect and tolerance. It seems at the height of hypocrisy to ask for respect/ tolerance and then show none to healthcare workers at the hospitals where protests occurred.

May I start by saying to friends and family who read this; my tirade is not against you individually but is against the behaviour that I am seeing exhibited by some anti-vaxers. Those of you who reject the scientific assumptions about COVID may reserve the right to disagree with public health officials, but then should be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions. Democracy means providing laws and actions that allow the greater majority to live in safety. There is no modern democracy that panders to everyone’s needs or wants. For example, if you disagree with vaccination and reject the need for a passport, it should not be a surprise to you that you are barred entry to restaurants and other public places, for allowing you entry would put others at risk. The fact is that vaccinations, masking and social distancing have been endorsed by the majority of society and have been effective at stemming the COVID tide. Your choice to reject such measures is quite illogical and should not be tolerated by health officials. Since you have gained the benefits that we as the majority have provided you by ascribing to the measures, we would expect you to accept the pressure that officials will exert on you to follow safe rules, without becoming violent or abusive.

Now to non friends:- the fact that you are different isn’t at the heart of my anger; its that you are prepared to fight for the civil right to be different. Throughout the last 50 years of modern democracy there have been a multitude of issues that all us have had to struggle with. These resulted in lots of debate and in changes to laws, but few tried to topple governments or cripple society. The outcome of hospital protests such as those we saw last week could be that healthcare as we know it will be crippled. The influence of Q Anon on unrest in the US is directly linked to anti vaxers, and aims to cripple that society. We already see that healthcare workers are becoming unsympathetic to unvaccinated COVID patients who land up in hospital. That these protests are driving nurses and others into an ethical dilemma which makes them want to refrain from working in ICU or emergency rooms is a warning sign to me that what you are doing is evil. At the heart of my plea to you is this: please do not disengage from respectful conversation. It is in discourse that we enter into finding reasonable solutions. Aggressive, disrespectful, hurtful actions such as the ones we saw this week simply hurt the wrong people!

A few other observations are in order. As a recently retired physician it saddens me to see how little trust there is in the public institution of Medicine. Social Media, increased technology and the size of medical organizations has depersonalized and hijacked Medicine. This will affect the art of caring and is a catch 22 situation. People don’t trust, which then produces less caring, which produces less trust!!

So it isn’t surprising to me that anti-vaxers get away with the vitriole that they spew. The point I am making here is that low levels of trust in society makes them suspicious of healthcare organizations, which allows them to tolerate the hate they see in anti vaxers, etc. My word to all of us is that this mistrust is based on things outside our control (corruption in governments/ partisanship/ poor leadership in organizations/ lack of empathy for the weak and poor). Our anger at “the establishment” is well founded in many ways; but if we aren’t careful we will throw the baby out with the bathwater. Having been a leader in healthcare, and a physician myself I will go on record as saying that the great majority of healthcare workers really do care for you! We need to protect them if we want systems that focus on benefits to patients.

Finally, it is now almost 20 months since this all began. Many of our lives have changed; forced on us by the pandemic and it has become accepted that the virus and its mutants are with us for much longer. I want you to look deep inside and tell yourself that to thrive despite this challenge requires resilience. I want you to ensure that you live each day one at a time, and that you find time to do a little physical exercise. Hug your kids even more than before; tell your partner that you love them more frequently. As we move through into another academic year, I am concerned that our mental health is threatened in more ways than ever before. Please know that there are many who care about you and try hard to keep your head above the water.

Peter Craighead

July 2021 newsletter

Holding onto the values of respect and integrity: the only way we will survive crisis…

As I ponder our future, I am both excited and overwhelmed with some of the events happening around us. We have seen courage and strength in the face of a harsh pandemic; yet this same phenomenon has brought out the worst in society. It has divided us across unnatural boundaries and laid bare some hostile prejudices. At its lowest ebb, Canada has also had to deal with the painful reality of unacknowledged graves in multiple first nation locations across the country. These are linked to mass graves created in an unfeeling manner by residential schools. Many of these schools were run by either the church or the government of the day. We have also seen hurtful incidents against Asians, and the death of a Muslim family because of a radical act in Ontario.

Who would think that the pandemic could catalyze such divisions? Interestingly, we have seen how vaccines have forced us to draw a “line in the sand” about risk and who we want to associate with. Whereas the vaccine was created to help and reduce risk, many have made the availability of the vaccine to be a horrific event, despite the data demonstrating how effectively this has reduced admissions and deaths. The regulations created around vaccination, restrictions and mask wearing, all done to assist public health to deal with COVID, have resulted in a divided society. Some feel that government has no right to enforce laws that impinge on personal freedoms; others comply and rationalize that doing these things will limit the impact of the virus on us in the longer term. The simmering discontent was let out of the bag as a result of COVID (my perspective).

So I come to the topic of this month’s newsletter with some trepidation, as I know many of us are struggling to understand about how to respond to these controversies. Let me be succinct and frank at the beginning- all I am suggesting in the newsletter is that we choose to enter into difficult, respectful conversations rather than throw “objects” at each other and put up walls. From my vantage point I know that some of my family have chosen to not be vaccinated; some of my dearest friends have not operated under the regulations put in place by our governments and many associates have chosen to not practise social distancing! I see a certain acquiescence to the racism that exists in the province. Has this changed my respect for them as people? – No! I may disagree with people’s decisions and their viewpoints, but I choose to respect them as individuals.

But all of this isn’t as concerning to me as the disrespect and violence towards leaders that I see happening. As an academy, our mandate is to entice and encourage young leaders to believe that they have a contribution to make. As I have watched how our differences have forced some people to take sides that have resulted in angry, hurtful actions it has created anger in me. It has taken a little time for me to form a response to what I have seen (Tyler Shandro’s family attacked at an event on the weekend; Muslim family run down by pick up truck; the burning of churches over the July long weekend), I want to make it clear that the academy believes this is the wrong way to deal with our anger.

If we want to maintain order at a time when stability is critical, then it is absolutely necessary for us to have wise leaders. It will be an inevitable consequence that good leaders will choose to remain outside of senior and political leader roles if all they see are the slings and arrows that people in these roles are exposed to with their families. It seems imperative to me that we maintain respect for those around us, even our enemies. We don’t have to like/ love people; but we do need to find ways where respect for each other is the hallmark of our society. Such respect should result in an openness to discuss matters, without resorting to violence and disrespect.

Integrity is what you do when no one is looking. If we hate/ dislike each other so much that it churns away at our innards, then its likely we will do things that are against the values we say we hold. That is what I see happening around me within the small radical fringe at the moment. Its not right that we abuse our leaders, even when we vehemently disagree with their policies. Its not right that we burn Christian churches simply because it is likely that mass graves recently found happened in Catholic run schools. Its not right that we let the pandemic restrictions and regulations split us so that we cannot talk to each other.

So, by way of this letter may I ask us all to take deep breaths when we feel disrespected or hurt. May I ask you to find a way of talking to your friends and family in such a way that you can agree to disagree. On some occasions you may find that such conversations change your thinking and modulates your anger. If we are to survive all the hurts that are happening to us and our loved ones, it will be because we choose to maintain respect for each other, to confront our leaders in a respectful way, and to be gentle in our wrath. May I choose to do the things to others that I would want them to do to me. May I choose to confront where appropriate, and to soothe where necessary. Have a great summer!                                                                                                          

Peter Craighead

June 2021

Quo Vadis?

Its June 1st 2021 and we’re all having a blast, not so?! Anyone win the bet with your friends that assumed we would still be arguing about when this pandemic would end, 15 months on? I certainly didn’t. These monthly newsletters have now been going on for a full year since I started penning ideas in June 2020, while still working for AHS. With that horribly dull introduction may I start this month’s newsletter by saying that I write these only because many of you have said how they have helped you through the hard times of the past year. Thank you for those kind words.

What’s on my mind this month! Today I want to talk about purpose and its importance to all of us.

As I sat listening to a pastor recently, where he challenged his listeners to consider what their purpose in life was, it dawned on me that so many I meet are unable to answer this question confidently. It then became an interesting game for me to listen for words like..”purpose in life”, “motivation”, mission, etc. When I ask around, I am amazed at how many people are talking about purpose and motivation, yet are unable to put in words what this means to them.

So why talk about this? Without a clear sense of what gives us purpose, its quite likely we will be aimless. Being aimless is a weird state to be in. Its like we know the generalities of living (eating, drinking, exercising, working, and being sociable) but we aren’t driven to do anything specific. This encapsulates the lives of so many of the people I meet. Purpose can be better defined as the thing that brings meaning to your life. I know that some religious people will argue that its bigger than this and that our purpose is to bring glory to God. Although I agree with the general elements of this statement, it seems to me that God has given all of us unique talents that He expects us to use to bring glory to him. Its these things that can become our purpose.

How do you find what gives your life meaning? I usually start by asking people to look at their past to see what has shaped them. In those experiences are negative and positive elements, and the positive experiences (if they occur frequently) usually are connected to purpose.  For example, when I looked at my past I found experiences that related to my joy of training and mentoring; I also found joy in family and in relating to God. So I came away feeling confident that purpose was centred on these three things for me.

Let me end by asking you a few questions: What gets you up in the morning? Is it the sense that you have skills that can make a difference, or that you are responding to your passions? If so you will probably already know what gives you purpose. If you are simply getting up to do the work that gets you a paycheck, or doing something that you hate, then eventually this will wear you down. We can only change towards something more fulfilling if we know what that is in our lives.

I challenge you to find purpose in your life. If you do this it will change how you feel and how you think about your future.

Best of luck, and have a great summer!

Peter Craighead

Information versus Knowledge

Hierarchy of data: a progression worth considering

I don’t know whether any of you have noticed the increased rate of information exchange over the past year, but I have to say that without being an ostrich you have to have seen a huge increase in dissemination of useless information. Remember the videos of Floosey the cat with a hat; or the one showing someone sleeping in front of the TV?!

When you look at Google statistics it seems as if we have doubled the volume of internet searches during COVID. As I tried to dissect why, and the impact of this information tsunami, I recognized that something significant had occurred. People seem to be more interested in the volume of information they access (i.e. websites/facebook/social media) rather than the depth of the material they are prepared to read (such as newspapers/books/journals). The exception seems to be an interest in COVID science, but the rest of us are flying at low levels in what we read.

What does this mean? The online experience is usually one of reading mounds of superficial information and forming your best opinion from them. For those of you who are reading newspapers/books and discussing how this informs you, I say kudos to you! I also know that there are discerning individuals who use the online approach, but most of the ones I know are using online searches as well as printed material/newspapers or anything they can get their hands on. Such individuals find a balanced opinion using online searches because they start from a discerning viewpoint. The opposite is also true: the undiscerning searcher feeding from multiple sources of superficial information, is easily led astray by forming false assumptions; the most worrying one being that that information is knowledge. A huge volume of superficial information is no less believable than a single piece of superficial information. Unfortunately, multiple pieces of unbalanced information usually exaggerates the falsity of the claim.

There is an important distinction here, one that we sometimes miss. The discerning reader is prepared to take all opinions (even those that challenge their assumptions) and form a new opinion. If we aren’t prepared to change our opinions then its likely that online searches or any other sources we read will not result in discernment. When we fail to filter this with life experience and discernment, and a healthy regard of those who know better than us, its likely we wont change our opinions. If this is the case society is doomed.

How would I argue this in a court of law? The first premise I would make is that there is a hierarchy of data. Information on its own is simply data. Information that is filtered by life experience becomes knowledge – which ultimately should enable us to make reasonable choices. Ever wondered why someone thinks the way they do? First look at their life experiences and that will inform your answer. Making the right decision is at the highest end of this hierarchy, and it requires a second filter. Pure data that is unfiltered is information; data that has been filtered by discernment is knowledge; knowledge that has been filtered by discernment and understanding allows for decision making. This is called wisdom.

Secondly, this issue is at the heart of the debates around COVID: the internet has made huge amounts of data available to everyone. This has made us all feel that we are well informed, with superior knowledge to those around us. We quote numbers left right and centre as if to say that knowing data makes us experts. This has led to a significant trust challenge. If the data we use doesn’t jive with our governments/employers/societal opinions, we distrust them and propound our own theories!

My hypothesis is that many of us are unable to look deeply enough to realize what is happening to us within this pandemic. Life around us has changed that radically that we are being pushed to the brink. Our brains tell us (helped by social media) that if such a mess can happen so easily, we cannot rely on the people in leadership to get us out of it. They seem to be part of the problem! We conclude that they should have been able to see that this was going to happen; and that their efforts are not taking this away. We were prepared to give our public health officials some grace at the beginning and support our governments and frontline workers; but why haven’t the restrictions worked?! We despair as we lose jobs, our economy struggles, and we aren’t able to live normal lives. Our minds tell us to look for some “saviour” in the answers we have available to us on the internet- hence the natural cures that are heralded, our belligerence towards lockdowns and our disdain for public health measures.

By now you have either thrown this aside or begun to wonder why I am so passionate. Let me give context to the topic. Over the past year I have watched people who are dear to me struggle with all of this, and resort to identifying things that make sense to them. Take QAnon for example. This movement has become popular especially during the past 6 months? It has taken unrelated data points and connected them in an easy way. As a result it has reported that liberals are pedophiles, that the “black lives matter” groups are evil, that big pharma is complicit with government corruption, that the Chinese government planned the pandemic, and that the 2020 US election was rigged. Furthermore it says that there will be a day of reckoning where all will be revealed. Many of us know that there is some truth to many of these assertions; but to link them and come up with a plausible explanation requires more than simply connecting stories. It requires knowledge and wisdom, and discernment. I see little of the latter in the QAnon assertions.

The movement has attracted much attention recently from baby boomers, who are tired of the establishment and the unfairness of societies. With the depression/anxiety/economic hardship being experienced many of these individuals are prepared to hear conspiracy theories based on partial truths. Those of you who know me also know how dogmatic I am about the dangers of social media. The majority of you will likely tell me that you don’t share my views on this and will ask what this has to do with the subject at hand? I submit that weighing up the importance of this topic as it relates to social media has a significant bearing on how we get through the next few years.

As we deal with multiple crises globally it seems important to remind you that all of us need to strive for wisdom. COVID is still with us; vaccination programs are debated till the cows come home; US is politically losing ground to China; Canada is struggling to understand climate change and the consequences of carbon pollution. When used to share information (whether its numbers, connecting with friends/family or photos) these platforms are invaluable. In fact this is one of the reasons many of you have survived COVID. However, such media platforms do not purport to share knowledge. They base their merit on the neutrality of the messages within their software.

I have sat by patiently when friends have quoted the next conspiracy theory, or touted the benefits of an ill proven therapy. We shrug when the next conspiracy theory about the vaccine hits the airwaves; and we hope that our politicians have it together in dealing with China and climate change. Many of us have chosen to not do anything, other than grumble when we see misinformation. I think the time has come to challenge those who use misinformation to change opinion, because our societies depend on it. 

Why be concerned now; aren’t we already too late? I believe that our societies are caught up in a multitude of mind games, and that reliance on social media has created an entire community of unhappy people. The answer is in front of us – this COVID experience needn’t destroy the generous society that western countries have worked hard to create. We have to rely on what we know is right, trust in the benevolence of our government and public health authorities and do more for each other. Cloistering ourselves in a cocoon where conspiracy theories make us feel superior is not the way we will get out of this crisis.

Its my opinion that we shouldn’t let misinformation rule our societies; institutions that have taken centuries to form. Fortunately, it only takes a few to turn this madness around. Fight for a wise, generous and knowledgeable society – be one of those few!

Peter Craighead

April 2021 newsletter

It’s April and the sun is trying to shine; which means that “spring” is here and all of us are fathoming how to start gardening without putting all our plants at risk! I recently had a socially distanced visit with my ex-department head (thanks Lisa and Ron for coming), bringing the department’s retirement gift to me. In the process of receiving the gift I was asked to think of the one piece of leadership advice that I felt needed to be shared with others. Whew, what a question!

This got me to thinking about a whole slew of things, some of which I thought were worth sharing with you in this newsletter. They all relate to leadership in one way or another; are the product of many years’ making mistakes; and involve the lessons I have learned about being a leader. I want to debunk some myths about leadership; and provide three life lessons worth considering….

Myth #1: Good leaders are born that way. This is poppycock! Most great leaders become leaders. Their paths are scattered with hard lessons, and crises. Many of them had no aspirations to be a leader and most were surprised when they found that they enjoyed helping others succeed. Yes, good leadership is all about helping people around you be successful, and can be learned!

Myth #2: There is a shortage of leaders. This is simply not true. Although you constantly hear gripes about “the vacuum of leaders”, I would challenge the assumption that this means we cannot fill positions. It’s far more appropriate to state that many of us are concerned with the quality of leadership. The good news is that skill development helps improve the quality of leaders. If you agree with me, then make it your job to be the best at leading that you can.

Life lesson #1: If you don’t know who you are, then its likely you wont know what you stand for or what you’re willing to fight for. The best leaders are those who are authentic – they can be counted on; you can trust them; and they communicate what they stand for by living out their values. This life lesson means that all of us need to spend time knowing how our past has influenced us, what we value and what really gives us purpose.

Life lesson #2: If you want people to be loyal to you and to follow your leadership then you have to connect with them in a deep way. The most effective way I know of doing this so that people feel you are genuine is to “create a circle of safety” around them. What, you say?! Especially at times like these, namely during a pandemic, people want to know/feel that someone is looking out for them while they go about doing their business. This circle of safety allows a group to have confidence that their peers will nurture them and will have their backs. Such a circle results in everyone in the group having respect (not affection) for each other. Your job as leader is to bring those who feel like outsiders back into the circle.

Life lesson #3: The top competencies of being a leader are calmness under pressure and inspiring hope for the future. You can demonstrate great resourcefulness and command a great budget but in my experience these competencies are nought if a leader cannot show resilience or belief in the future. Becoming unhinged when the heavy winds are blowing results in followers finding someone/something else they can trust in. This truism is consistent for your job as leader in the family or in your job. People want to believe that you can take the hard blows and still be the person you claim to be.

So, as I complete my list of myths and life lessons, I am mindful of the funk that many of us have fallen into as a result of the news about escalating COVID numbers. It is so critical that we find strength during this time, as many are watching and evaluating how we crumble under the pressure.

Knowing yourself is key to continued inner strength; and the other life lessons mentioned above are important elements that will demonstrate your concern for others at this time. We have just come through Easter as I write this and the symbolism associated with the celebration are worth contemplating.

We need to put our old habits as leaders aside and assume new ones that will provide guidance and hope to the people we lead. Some of you reading this will shrug and say that this doesn’t mean anything to you, because you aren’t in a titled leadership role. I remind you of the roles you all of us play in our families, communities and smaller groups at work. Though you don’t possess a title to these roles they definitely constitute leadership. It is in all this activity that I ask you to consider the life lessons mentioned above. Keep well and keep safe.


Peter Craighead

March Madness

It is March 1st and the academy is running along well. Through the work of the academy we now have a website, we are formally coaching two clients, and we are connecting with others. The latter includes several bona fide development groups; and individuals who reached out after the website went live in February. Additionally, I reconstructed my linkedin page, seen from the viewpoint of a retired leader who wants to stay connected to whomever is interested. But enough about me. How are you doing?

March is an odd month. It heralds a changing of the weather in Southern Alberta and though we often have a dump of snow during the month temperatures seem to move upwards. As I write today the temperature is supposed to go to 10 degrees Celsius above freezing point. This is also the month we start to think about the coming summer, and what we might plan for. On the negative side, March is a grim reminder that one year ago COVID started to be taken seriously. In the UK, Italy and Spain the virus was hitting hard and deaths accumulated. In North America this was the month when we experienced our first lockdowns, and the scope of the pandemic began to hit home. March 2021 will be a tough month for many of us, because it is a reminder that we are one year into this madness…

What should I say that would give hope and instill a sense of stability?  To be frank, few words describe what I see you experiencing. And so, it would be inane to try and make light of all that is happening around you and to you. I too feel the pain of separation from my friends, family and colleagues. I too feel that I have no control of events and experiences. Although that is how I feel, my alter ego wants to disagree with my perception that I have no control. You see, how we react to still being in lockdown, is very definitely influenced by our self control. All of us rightly feel as if we have no control of the events around us. However, we do have control over how we react to these events. I want to encourage you to see through this madness and control your reactions, because:

  1. We need you to be the leader you should be. The most sought after quality that others look for in leaders during crisis is “calmness in the storm”. This is true of leadership roles in organizations/families/churches and other groups. People want to follow and trust leaders – but they will be nervous if they don’t see you being prepared to think through the issues and provide some solutions that give hope. Our reaction to crisis events says a lot about who we are as leaders.

    Don’t get me wrong- people are not looking for optimists!. However, all of us want to believe that with the right plans in place there is a future to be had, whether we still have COVID or not. Its our job to work constructively to show others that we believe in planning, and will help them move through this so they have hope for the future. Pandemics don’t change the need to have hope, though they push us to think differently about the future.

  2. It is critical that we plan for a future. It may have seemed okay to tread water for 12 months while we waited for the vaccine, but life is proceeding. We are starting to see changes in the right direction. There is a vaccine, numbers are definitely down, and the health system seems to have worked out techniques that mitigate the affect of the virus. All of us need to be thinking beyond September 2021. Doing this will give you a competitive advantage.

  3. We need people who can apply thinking to how pandemics will influence our daily lives in the future. This is no longer a game. Pandemics are here to stay and it behooves us to find strategies that allow our economies/societies to adapt and change. We need people like you to help the world deal with this risk proactively so that we are not paralysed in the same way.

I want to end this newsletter with an epilogue. My life was dramatically impacted by COVID. It had been my intent to work part time after 2020; helping do locums in the regional cancer centres where needed. COVID stopped me from visiting regional centres and helping them get a vision for 2030. It stopped me from being able to complete the planning for these centres. It also cancelled several vacations with special people.

However, the pandemic gave me tremendous opportunities that would not have occurred had this not occurred. I built a wooden strip canoe with my son, a powerful experience. I worked closely with several people to move into retirement – an incredibly important step in life. I also found new hope in simple essential truths relating to friends/family/God. My reactions to the pandemic could have embittered me and disappointed me, but I choose to see this as an opportunity for me to build up my role in peoples’ lives.

May you find hope this month. Stay safe,

Peter Craighead

Me and my experience of the pandemic

Thanks so much for the multiple positive comments about the new website. I am sure you’ll be interested to know that having the site has enabled a few to connect with me and express interest in coaching. But that’s not why I am adding a post other than my monthly newsletter. As a result of comments from a few of you, I want to clarify some of the things the Academy wants to do about resilience.

I know my January newsletter spent some time describing the things I feel are connection points to remaining strong through crisis. As some of you pointed out, this doesn’t cover some essential elements of switching away from negative thoughts. A major one that was pointed out is the ability to hope in the future. Some of you will laugh at the thought you might find hope again, but that is actually what resilience is all about. Somehow we need to be able to believe enough in our immediate steps to be able to get over the hump of immediate despair; that is why I provided you 7 steps that were focused on things you can do today (express feelings/focus on today/control moments/rein in your emotions/find meaning/become physically active). I remind you that the way we feel about ourselves and the future influences our attitudes/relationships and ability to motivate ourselves.

Nevertheless, let me be clear – I think that hope should be the long term outcome of taking short term steps that help you be resilient. It may not be possible to think long term during this pandemic; but resilience will allow you to eventually see hope for the future. Find a bridge that takes you away from despair so that when the time is right you will see hope for the future. If this is doing the steps, go for it. If it means watching youtube/netflix/doing jigsaws/etc. so be it! If you can bury yourself in work that allows you to feel better, then this is what is necessary.

My message is simple, find a way that makes it possible to put your disappointment on hold, and work on finding the positives around you. Maybe then you will be ready to see some of the good in all that is happening, and hope will spring eternal!

January 2021: Implementing Change

Greetings to you all.

As I write the January 2021 newsletter, I am aware of the big changes to all our lives over the past year. For me these events consolidated in my retirement from clinical medicine at the end of 2020, ready to take on another, different challenge. If you asked me how I felt, I’d probably reply: “No different!” Deep down, however I would have to admit that I feel as if my umbilical cord has been ripped away from my belly, and people around me expect me to now be independent…

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to use the newborn baby as a metaphor for what I want to say in the letter. My first observation would be that newborn babies haven’t worked out the social nuances of their worth to others yet. They simply demand to be recognized as is. When hungry they agitate; when they want to relieve themselves they just do it. When they want to sleep or wake that seems okay to them. What does that tell me? I want to assume now that I am retired that I have a place in the cosmos. I think I know where that is, and I think I know what it might look like. Just like the newborn baby, I will choose to not fret about it; and try to make sense of this new world around me.

My second observation would be that newborn babies grow fast and mature quickly from month to month. I truly believe that these next 6 months for me will look different from those that follow. Eventually, when I have understood what is expected of me during this retirement phase, I will move on to different challenges. But for now, it will be eat, poop, smile and sleep! All of this is to reassure you that I am in a good place.

So why continue to write a newsletter? In the light of where our society is at, and how the pandemic is affecting all of us, I feel compelled to maintain contact with those who want it. Most of us are struggling with just how different the world around us looks and feels. Many of us are profoundly uncomfortable; some angry, some depressed, some just out of sorts, some hanging on by their fingernails. My primary purpose for continuing to write a newsletter is simple- if I have the time and skill to put words on paper that bring some comfort to you, then I will continue to do this. If I sense that what I say has little relevance to you then I will stop.

My second reason for writing you, is to provide contact information that you can use (or provide to people who may want to make contact with me). In essence, I have committed to a few people that I will be there for them; whether in the form of personalized coaching or mentorship. Because there are those who have expressed interest in maintaining this contact with me I have maintained the Journey’s Academy framework that was developed in late 2019. It provides me the vehicle to tell you what I stand for and what I offer. Take it or leave it.

How will this work? I offer 4 discrete packages: cohort leadership development skills training (through Zoom); organizational strategic planning; personalized coaching/ mentorship (including career development for early individuals); the building of resiliency during crisis. Just to be clear: this is NOT a new career! This is NOT a money making enterprise! However, it has been my experience over the many years I operated as a leader/ mentor/ coach that things that are free often are regarded as “value-less”. Therefore, I have asked for a nominal fee in exchange for the work that I do with you or with other groups. I do it to challenge those who might want help to invest in themselves. The investment in yourself is worth the small fee that I will ask of you.

Finally, I want to focus our attention on the stream that I have called: “Building Resilience during crisis”. I do so because I think there are many who are lost and don’t know what to do. During uncertain times we become uncertain! We find it difficult to make decisions; or make bad decisions. This impacts our marriages/ relationships, our ability to work with colleagues, our stress level, and our enjoyment of work.

There is no tome that has been written about how to build resilience, and so I will use Nelson Mandela’s life to demonstrate how he was forced to be strong when everything around him appeared hopeless. I will humbly use my own experiences to validate some of the principles he embodied. This stream will be a dual pattern: group work that allows attendees to share with others (Zoom); and individual support to those who need this. Some of you will have experienced profound sadness during the pandemic, either as a result of death in the family/ friend, or feeling that so many of your traditions have been taken from you. I deal with this in my individual sessions.

What are some of the areas I want to address?

  1. The essence of what you are feeling – in uncertain times we are brought to our knees, and feel helpless. What does this look like, and is this you? We talk through this and offer tips on what to do.
  2. The first step to building resilience is to commit to dealing with one day at a time. Being focussed on what you will do and completing these activities help you to feel some control. Get into a habit of thinking of “one-day-at-a-time”. Nelson Mandela talked about forcing himself to think only about today.
  3. Learn to stay in the moment. Its too easy to adopt a doomsday approach to living; and social media allows us to become addicts of the quick news that is constantly thrown our way. Several important lessons are connected to this: reduce your use of social media; try to stay connected with others; and refrain from getting angry about what others are doing. Staying in the moment says that if you are to thrive, you need to focus on what is critical for you and your family; NOT on how others are failing themselves.
  4. Focus on what you can control. During the 20 odd years that Nelson Mandela spent on Robben Island, often in isolation, he developed rhythm in life. He had control over so few things, but those he did have were powerful: they included his thoughts, his relationships with his prison warders, what he wrote about, and what he did during the labour days that were his lot. What will we spend our time doing? Will we do things that make a difference in our lives, and those around us? Is it time to change a career, write that manuscript? Etc.
  5. Rein in your emotions. That’s easier said than done. Anxiety in uncertain times often controls us and makes us feel sad/ angry/ depressed. It seems to me that one of the premier struggles with being resilient is that you don’t feel resilient. You feel controlled; and at the butt end of a bad joke. Teaching techniques that allow you to overcome extreme anxiety, and to become self aware is a critical piece of this resilience.
  6. Try to find meaning. Self awareness teaches us that there is deep meaning to why we do things/ feel about others. For example, some of us find participation in groups difficult because this threatens us. Others become compassionate because they have experienced love and care from someone else. In practical terms, it is my experience that we fail ourselves when we only try to make sense of positive feelings! Exploring why we react with anger helps us control that emotion. Exploring why we react tearfully or positively to something helps us coral this when we need it.
  7. Force yourself to remain physically active. Our minds often are ruled by our bodies. When we exercise, we release endorphins that make us feel better. Taking our bodies for granted during uncertain times makes it easy to eat too much, drink too much alcohol and not spend any time in physical activity. Committing yourself to a regular amount of physical activity is a critically important area in your life

So, I write this to you to encourage you to stay strong. Be vigilant about your thought patterns, and your physical activity. Try to remain focussed on things you can control. Let me know if you want to be part of this first cohort group that will deal with resilience as an issue.

Blessing to all of you, Peter Craighead

February 2021: Communication

It’s February already and we now have a functioning Journeys’ website! During the setting up of the site, I was reminded vividly how important is the skill of communication; especially if we are helping emerging leaders to influence others around them. I have made it no secret that I believe the academy’s main focus should be to help young career individuals, making this an important conversation.

A major skill that we take too much for granted is the ability to connect with people, with a major objective that we create an environment where others can trust us. This connection can be explored through verbal articulation (telephonic or physical); writing; social media posts; and through websites. As we all have been reminded, communication is certainly as much a physical interaction (where we see and experience others one one one) as it is an auditory/verbal experience.

It could be said that everything about leadership can be boiled down to the ability to communicate, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that! Good leaders know that one of the most critical elements surrounding their success relates to this ability to communicate, because positive interaction allows them to develop trust. Trust allows people to feel comfortable when you want to make change. Oft times we focus on the quantity of messages (do it regularly they say). I would have to say that in my experience it is much more complex than that!

My experience with current leaders/young career individuals is that they communicate a lot, but that this doesn’t always mean they are building trust or forming deeper relationships. There is constant traffic using texts, facebook/twitter/ instagram, etc. As we dig deeper into what this has created, I would suggest that these vehicles allow technical information to move across, but it doesn’t resonate as a tool to enable deep connections to develop. I would hypothesize that one well crafted message written/spoken in a calm manner (or a 10 minute conversation) will generate more trust than a score of social media messages. The latter are generally intended to keep things at the surface. It is for this reason that I have resisted using social media as my primary communication tool.

What am I trying to say? If trust is at the heart of being able to move people forward through difficult times; and trust is in short supply when commuication is poor or absent, then we need to find ways of connecting with others through vehicles that allow deeper conversations. Covid has swung a huge curveball at leaders: at this time. It is especially important we be seen to care, but the pandemic restricts us from being visible. So we resort to forwarding messages from senior leaders, hoping that this will tell others around us that we care.

I want to suggest that all of us spend some time thinking through how we intend to communicate; especially during the pandemic. It could be said that Donald Trump lost the recent US election because of what Americans perceived him to be. They saw superficial tweets; radical comments, an irate person who seemed to reject the opinions of people all around him (all of which resulted from bad communication strategies). It wasn’t always the policies that drove people away. What they needed was a calm, stable communication from somebody who seemed to care. What they got was someone who seemed to care more about himself.

I will offer a few practical suggestions:

  1. Try and use a virtual technology that allows you to see others when you discuss matters with them. We humans get something out of seeing people and interacting with them.
  2. If you cannot meet people and are limited in technology elements, then send them something to prepare a conversation. When we arrive on a phone call with no preparation for the discussions, this is a trust killer for others.
  3. Be honest with people. Even if something you have to say is likely to hurt someone, its more likely you will garner trust by being transparent.
  4. Try and develop skills that allow you to be brief and clear when you communicate. Others respect people who make an effort to bring issues to resolution.

    During the pandemic I have put more attention on communication within the academy programs. Speak to me about how we can do a better job at connecting with each other and especially how leaders should enable trust in their followers.

My regards,

Peter Craighead