#150 Manhood, Soldiers and Leading

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend of mine that raises some interesting questions about leadership.  We were talking about an article  on a website called "The Good Men Project" by Nikki Brown entitled, "Why Are So Many Good Men Accepting of Rape Culture?" You can find the link here:


This is a a post about leadership, silence, enabling behavior, manhood and culture.  It's a post about what you stand for.  And it's a post that I came by the hard way.  I read the article and was talking to my friend about it when she asked me one simple question:  "Would I talk about Rape Culture on the blog?" I immediately said, "No. It doesn't belong on my blog." That argument lasted all of about 30 seconds.  You either lead or you don't.  How can I run a leadership blog and not talk about an issue such as the sexual assault and rape of a Service member?  Especially in an organization comprised mostly of young men? How could I just turn a blind eye to that?  

Just because you may not see something as clearly as you need to right away, doesn't mean you don't have an obligation to respond and do whatever you can right now.  In an organization like the Army, where sexual assault and Soldier rape is a real concern and an often under-reported problem, and with the system and culture that we operate under almost designed to make reporting as difficult as possible, how could this possibly not be a leadership issue? But I was still resistent.  That's leadership in sort of corporate sense and for the last 6 months or so, the blog has moved away from that, away from institutional railing, and towards a more internal discussion.  I didn't think our discussion had a place here.  But somehow that didn't quite sit right with me either.  There was something here worth looking at, but somehow I just wasn't comfortable with the discussion yet.

Then the next surface argument fell by the wayside.  That one went like this:  I am a good man and I am not a rapist, so what does this have to do with me?  I hate it that people get raped and I hate it more that Soldiers get raped because of the bond of trust and inclusion that we sold to them in their recruiting contract, but in my 22 years of service, I have only known one woman who was assaulted, so it hardly seems like something that I should concentrate my efforts on. But even as I was saying those words, the fallacy of that argument was apparent to me.  Silence, my silence, leader silence, any silence, equals consent.  That's lazy leadership.  Leadership in title.  Leadership designed to protect itself, not those who would be attacked.  It's the 'I'm not a racist because I don't tell racist jokes, but I'll laugh if someone tells one.' argument.  And it is paper thin and worthless. 

That sort of left me nowhere to go.  I was still uncomfortable with the whole discussion, but now I had to look a lot more carefully at it.  I am a man.  I have a responsibility to that group.  A responsibility to help set, shape, guide, determine and state the norms of that group. Whether or not I wanted this responsibility is irrelevant.  I am a man and therefore I have an obligation to help determine the acceptable behavior of men.  To sit back and let my gender be co-opted by any other group is wrong.  To condone the sexual assault and rape and abuse of women through my silence is the same as accepting and condoning racism or sexism, or stealing, or any other behavior outside the manhood code. 

I am also Soldier.  Narrowing down the above requirements of manhood to a particular caste of society.  A particular group that operates in a particular way.  I have an obligation to outline for them, to help them determine what being a Soldier means.  What obligations they face.  What responsibilities are inherent in the oath they took and the uniform they wear.  

This is not really a post about rape or sexual assault.  Not really.  It's a post about the message we send when we tell someone that something, anything, is wrong because you might get in trouble if you get caught, versus teaching them that it is simply wrong.  Rape and sexual assault are wrong under any circumstances.  They are  wrong if you never get caught.  This is about the difference between protecting someone from themselves and teaching them accountability for themselves.  One builds sheep.  The other builds Warriors.  

The broader question here is who will lead them? Who will show young men what being a man, being an American, being a Soldier is about?  Who will teach them to rise above and accept responsibility for their actions and themselves?  Who will change the argument from "Don't do this, you might get in trouble." to "Don't do this because it is wrong. It is not what men do."?  Who will change the discussion from a fear-based protect-your-ass one to a discussion of what being a Soldier really means?  

We stand in front of our formations on a Friday afternoon and tell Soldiers not to drink and drive, not to drink and boat, not to use a BBQ grill inside, not to speed, not to drive on a suspended license, not to get arrested and anything else we can think of, but never say to them, "Don't rape.  Don't sexually assault anyone.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.  Not your wife, your girlfriend, your boyfriend.  No one.  Ever. Oh, and by the way, you are also obligated as as a man, to intervene and stop it when it happens. It's not an option.  It's part of the code." Why not?  Why don't we ever have that conversation?  Why are all the rape and sexual assault prevention strategies designed for women?  Why are female Soldiers counseled and told and required to not be alone after dark?  Why do all females learn to pay attention at all times to where they are, what they wear, the messages they send?  What does it say about men and male Soldiers that our sisters-in-arms have to be worried and watchful for the very people they joined to serve with?  Why are we not talking to men about a simple and straightforward and unassailable fact?  Rape and sexual assault are wrong. All the time.  Every time.  Under any condition. There are no mitigating circumstances.  It is not part of the code.  It is not what it means to be a man.  We really need to spend some time looking at that.  The idea that instead of putting the responsibility of women to protect themselves at all costs, we put the responsibility where it belongs.  On men. That we look at the whole support structure that sends messages every day that rape is a woman's issue.   

If you move the discussion away from rape and sexual assault the larger issue that all leaders face is determining what they stand for and to recognize how their actions and attention to something send a huge message to their subordinates. The requirement for some very overt role-modeling.  No assumptions.  No half-steps. Fully invested, bluntly spoken leadership.  "This is right. This is wrong.  This is what a man does.  This is what a man doesn't.  This is what a Soldier does.  This is what a Soldier doesn't. Not because you will get caught, or get in trouble, or cause someone to have to fill out paperwork and be inconvenienced, but because it is wrong. Because it is not who Soldiers are.  It is not who good men are.  Moving the discussion away from the fear of getting caught or punished to the very positive place of self-definition.  I do or don't do something not because I am afraid of the consequences, but because it is not part of my code of manhood.

Step back a little further and an even more difficult question pops up...Why did I not see this right away?  Why when I read the article did I not see how it applied to me immediately?  Why did my eyes pass right over the fact that I am responsible at a very basic level to care about how my culture gets defined for me? Why did I not immediately see my obligation as an Army leader to help create good men?  Not just good Soldiers, but good men.  How could that happen?  My own blindness to how I think, see, assimilate, process, and encounter my world was made apparent pretty quickly.  In short order, I could no longer sit comfortably in my own ignorance.  If it doesn't affect me, then it's not really my issue is a lazy and worthless answer. I cannot care about everything, but I can listen and care about what speaks to my heart.  I have a long way to go to fully grasp all the parts of this discussion, but at least I am beginning to see how ignorant I am.  Sometimes, knowing what you don't know is more important than knowing what you do.

So here it is.  I am responsible and accountable for my actions and my behaviors. I am responsible to educate the next generation of young men about what I think it means to be a good man.  I cannot sit back and let someone else decide that for me.  I have to take an active role, and active part, I have to stand up and state my case.  Otherwise the conversation, the roles, the rules, the norms, the acceptable behaviors all get made in my absence. I give up my right to complain and say "But that's not me!", if I do not stand up and say, "Enough."

It starts with the Friday afternoon safety briefing currently designed to protect a Soldier from himself and to allow me to say, "I told him not to do that..."  It ends with a simple statement.  "Don't Rape." There is an entire leadership journey between those two places.   

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#149 Intention

In about 16 weeks, I will change jobs and change duty stations. I will move. This is relatively normal for the Army. People are always coming and going and the organization changes personnel all the time. What is a little significant about this change is that I will have been at my present location for almost exactly 9 years this tour, and 16 years throughout my career. That is highly unusual for most military people. To not be moving every 2 or 3 years. To have been in the same place for such a long time. Certainly, some of it has been by my design, and some has been by circumstance, but either way, I will be moving for only the 3rd time in a 22 year career. I know people who have moved 8 or 9 times by now and have boxes in their garage that still have the packing tape on them from the last move they made. For me and for my family, this is a huge change.

This will be a significant move for a lot of reasons. Professionally, my responsibilities will increase one-hundred fold overnight. The demands on my time, my energy, my judgement, will never end. The requirements of the job are endless. And that is exactly the way I want it. I have enjoyed and relished the time in my current job, but the challenges ahead excite me and have me forward focused already. It's time to go. It's time to lead troops again. Just saying that makes me feel very good. I have spent a lot of time in the past 3 years trying to justify why I couldn't, or wouldn't, or didn't need to lead Soldiers again, but the truth is that I can, I will, and I do need to do it. Most of all though, I want to. I want back in the place I was designed and built and know to be. I want back in the arena. And I want back there because I know that in so many ways, I am the right guy for the job.

Personally, this represents a lot more than just a job change or a new town to live in. This is a huge step in living authentically. About coming round again and living and working with intention. About accepting responsibility for my life completely. About bringing the full weight of my abilities, my passion, my drive, and my vision to every moment of my day. There have been many who have doubted me along the way, but I have always known that this is where I belong. This is about coming home. About coming back to where I belong but from an entirely different perspective. I actually feel differently about it now. I envision it differently than I have in the past. I am not excited about it as if I have been selected for something and then wondering how I am going to be 'successful' at it, but rather I am excited to finally be ready to accept the position as my own. There is a huge difference there. It's not about being excited about facing the challenges ahead, it's about being able to bring all of myself to the challenges. It's about leading instead of reacting. It's about a vision that is my own instead of worrying about what someone else might want for me. It's about knowing and following my heart and my gut and trusting them over anything and everything and anyone else. It is about stepping fully into the power of myself.

I have been representing this move to people as a new beginning for me. But maybe it's not actually new at all. Maybe what it is is finally being ready to step into a place that I have been working towards for awhile. And knowing it. Knowing for certain that this place is where I should be. I could not have done any of this without the journey. I would have failed again for the same reason I failed the first time. It would have been play-acting. Now I am ready. And maybe that is the new beginning. That for the first time in my whole life, I am ready to live. Ready to live fully. Ready to lead totally. Ready to accept responsibility for the totality of my existence. That, I think, is a new beginning. I am ready to take full possession of my life. Me. My family, my profession. All of it. A life to be lived with intention. A life to be lived, not to be acted upon. Choices to be made, not incidents reacted to. I am no longer a victim of circumstance, I am living a life that has offered me the fullest measures of victory and happiness and love as well as loss and sorrow and defeat. And I am all the more complete because of it. The life I have led has brought me to this place. I am grateful for the journey so far. Today, I am as happy and content as I have ever been. I went looking to find out who I am. I found out that, on the whole, I'm in pretty damn good shape.

For 2 years, I have written week after week about the reason we should focus all leader development inward. Why we should push people to study themselves. Why we should constantly be trying to strip away the layers of bullshit that most of us surround our lives with. For 2 years, I have said that the Army gets it wrong every time they confuse management with leadership. And I have been right every single time. My journey is exactly the reason why I have been right. My journey cannot be taught in a schoolhouse. All of the parts of my life that have led me to this day, to this place, to the adventure of the years ahead, cannot be taught by teaching management skills to a bunch of young Sergeants or Lieutenants. But for certain, mine is a leaders journey. A journey of discovery. A journey of insight. A journey of love and care and devotion. A journey that every single person who would call themselves a leader will take at one point or another in their lives. It will not look like mine, but the journey will certainly be taken. Mine has been an authentic journey. Parts if it have been excruciatingly hard. Parts have been joyous celebration. I have offered to you who read my work a chance to walk with me and learn with me and discover and think and question with me because I think it's important. Hopefully, I have challenged you to take a look at your own lives, your own view of your leadership and your own layers of complexity. Maybe and maybe not. What I know is that I am stronger today than I have ever been. I am more clear today than I have ever been. I am more focused today than I have ever been. I am more happy today with who I am than I have ever been. I am starting to live my life with the full intention of impacting my world. That is the purpose of leadership. I started with me. In about 4 months, that will all change quite dramatically.

When I started writing 2 1/2 years ago, I was defending some pretty sorrowful ground and doubling down on a bad bet. But I wasn't always wrong either. I was just stacking the facts in a particular order. When I started on my personal journey 10 months ago, I got a chance to see myself a lot more clearly than i ever had before. More honestly. More accurately. More authentically. Now the time has come to live a life of intention. To take my authentic, powerful leadership and apply it in the arena. Because that is where it can best serve the Army.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#148 Change

"Sometimes you have to leave the path you've laid out in order to find the one you need."

This is post about change. There has been a lot of that in my life this year and all of it has been positive and challenging and incredibly impactful. There will be significantly more change next year. I will leave my present assignment and the place where I have spent the majority of my career and the last 8 years of my life and go to a different Post, with a different type of unit, and a whole new set of responsibilities.

In many ways though, this is a post about two different types of change, internal and external. I think most people - myself included - seem to generally only focus on external change. New job, new location, new surroundings and circumstances and people. We don't pay nearly as much attention to internal change. External life just sort of eats away at us in little tiny imperceptible bites until one day we wake up and realize that we have become imprisoned by our own lives. Sheltered and locked away and closed off from new experiences. The intersection of internal change and external. The place where what you want to do when you realize how trapped you are runs into the reality of how trapped you think you really are. The feeling that even if you wanted to cast off in a new direction, that it is too hard to do. That there are too many things anchoring you to your present circumstances. The truly courageous know that that is not true.

Earlier this year, I started my journey of internal change. For one of the few times in my adult life, I listened to my gut. A person came into my life who offered me friendship and a chance to put down some burdens and an opportunity to view my life differently. Some of that journey has played out here because I think that what I have discovered, what I have learned, what I have experienced and grown from, is valuable. It is worth sharing. That my search for, and discovery of, my own authenticity, is the same journey a lot of people are on.

As I have taken my journey, I am learning to accept responsibility for my life. That I am the master of my choices. That I always retain the right and the obligation to choose and create my happiness and contentment. A happiness derived from following my instincts and listening to my heart and acting in accordance with my priorities. and it's amazing to discover how rare it is for people to do that. How rarely they listen to their heart and apply some logic, and have a faith and trust in themselves that the outcome will be just fine. God knows, that I didn't for a long long time. I am beginning to now, but sometimes I still slip and falter. I have learned that it is safe and good and right to trust my gut, but a lot of times it's still a little scary to take the first step alone. The steps to change oneself are some of the scariest ones people can take. Internal change does not come easily.

And now external change is about to show up. A lot of it. A lot of the things that have become routine and grounding and anchoring parts of my life are going be thrown up in the air. And the more I think about it, the more excited I am about it. Whole systems that have become comfortable old sweaters of routine and convention are going to be replaced by new discovery, new experiences, new learning. And a chance to walk into an unknown place and look at things with new eyes. As long as I stay where I am, I limit myself entirely too much. Here is safe and comfortable and warm and good. Here makes the people I love and care about happy and warm. All of that is true. But at some point, you have to just break free and live and experience and learn and enjoy and laugh. We talk in my family about having adventures now. When we do something as a family we call it having an adventure. My daughter loves adventures. It's time for my life to become an adventure as well. To strike out and discover something new. To trust my instincts and to know that all is well. Not with some pie-in-the-sky dream of my own abilities, but rather with the confidence of knowing failure and loss and knowing that I have survived and thrived because of them. Because I have been willing to face myself and to look into the darker places in my soul. Because I have looked hard enough to know that no matter what happens, I have the strength to lead myself and my family through it.

Another piece of this discussion that seems to me to be important though is that change is the constant. That's not an original thought I know, but just consider that we set about building our lives by finding a place to live. Finding a life partner. Finding a career. All binding and long term. All provide a sense of grounding and home and anchoring. A sense of self-definition. And then so many of us become trapped and bound by the very life we have built. What if instead of that, we began to think of home and family, and community not as physical spaces and locations and professions and objects, but rather as ideas and feelings and people and emotions and thoughts. What if home is where we are, regardless of where that is, simply because those people and things we love the most are there? Or because where we are most professionally happy is there? Or because the experiences we most cherish are there? What if that is where our home is? Ever thought about that? That the art of living is experiencing the world as completely as possible. Turning each day into its' own adventure. Change is the constant. Maybe what I need to do is embrace that idea first. Then the rest of it will become a huge adventure for my whole family.

So change is coming. And the choice to embrace it or fight it belongs to me. The interesting part is that my external, fear-driven me has fought it with every fiber for the last week or so. My internal me - my instinctual me - very quickly saw the opportunities that were being offered. Change is a funny thing. A year ago, I hadn't taken the steps to learn to trust and listen to myself. Now I have. But external change is hard to do. It is hard to fight against. It is hard to uproot and move and let go of a lot of the old anchors. Seems to me though that if I have the strength, courage and determination to look at the rest of my life square in the eye and embrace that journey, then the adventure that lies ahead will be awesome!

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#147 Stand Alone

"The characteristic of heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world."

R.W. Emerson, "Heroism"

Today is a quiet, rainy and contemplative day. A good day for being alone. A good day for sitting back and taking stock of where you are, where you've been and where you hope to go. To listen very quietly to yourself and check for those signs that the universe is unfolding as it should. To listen for your own authenticity.

That quote from Emerson struck me today for a simple reason. For many years I did exactly the opposite of that on a day to day level. Instead of being a persistent man, determined to figure out my own values, my own priorities, my own thoughts on a particular matter, I would, more often than not, try to "reconcile myself to the world." To wrap my thoughts or feelings or understandings into what someone else put forth. To play it safe and go along with the crowd. Not necessarily because the crowd was right or wrong about something, but sometimes just to be able to remain part of the crowd itself. There is safety in numbers and sometimes it's just plain scary to stand on your own and speak your truth in the face of any other opposing viewpoint.

Which leads me to another Emerson quote from 'Self-Reliance' that I have used on these pages before:

"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself, for better, or for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil, bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till."

Taken together these two passages are powerful for me. The idea that we can only be ourselves and it is only through our own hard work that we can become the best that we are capable of, and, that in order to achieve that, we have to have spent time actually figuring out what it is we value and then not allow any force in the universe to move us from that spot, unless and until, we determine for ourselves that it is the right time to move. Figure out what matters and then stand rock-solid still and defend those values against any attack that the world may mount.

This line of thinking started for me today on Facebook. I had no idea what I was going to write about until I came across the following quote from conservative columnist Ann Coulter in response to the calls across college campuses for a national day of action and it's comparison to the Students for a Democratic Society movement from the 1970's:

"So at the moment anyway, I mean I don't know what's going to happen in New York today, but at the moment, I'm not really worried of a movement like SDS, which really swept a lot of college campuses, taking over. Of course, if it does, just remember the lesson from my book: it took just a few shootings at Kent State to shut that down for good."

And the surrender can happen that easily. Ms. Coulter apparently isn't worried about a student movement spreading across college campuses because, after all, if it gets too bad, random violence that kills innocent people in a shocking manner has a tendency to end movements like that pretty quickly. And tonight, OWS protestors in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia face forced evictions from law enforcement. At midnight. In the dark of night.

What started me thinking about all of this is how quickly and easily my eyes passed over the Coulter comment when I read it the first time. How I just kind of read it and then moved on and then suddenly stopped and had to go back and read it again. And then again. "Did she really say that? Did she really just seem to advocate for violence in order to end peaceful protest?" I'm not a fan of Ann Coulter by any stretch of the imagination, but what struck me was how easily her words just seemed to slide by my eyes the first time. How it took a minute to register the shock to my consciousness, that that wasn't right. Had I really become so numb that I simply couldn't be moved by the level of callous disregard that the quote implied? And then slowly I could feel a sort of angry resolve coming over me. Not firebrand angry, just kind of calmly resolute. I don't give a damn about Ann Coulter or her politics. Nor in many ways, do I give a damn about a lot of the particular platforms of the various OWS movement participants. But that quote started to bring into focus something that does matter. Where is the place where I would stand alone if necessary? Where is the place inside me that says "I may be only one, but at least I am one." Ann Coulter influences tens of thousands of people a day with her writing and public appearances. I influence a tiny fraction of that. An almost infinitesimally small fraction. But it doesn't matter. Not in the slightest. I serve as a Soldier to defend the Constitution of the United States. Not for political expediency, nor fame, nor reward. I serve to protect Ann Coulter's right to say whatever she wants and for those students to protest whatever they want and for every member or participant in the OWS movement to say whatever they want. And we happen to be living in a moment when a lot of those things that are being said are ugly and unappealing and revealing to many, and unpopular and emotional and provocative. There are a lot of different people with different agendas and different positions running around right now. Each of them advocating something different. It is up to us - each and every one of us - to determine for ourselves what it is that we stand for. Where will we stand alone? Over what and for what? And for how long? And at what cost?

"...But when you have chosen your part, abide by it...."

And that is what leaders must do too. We must choose a part and abide by it. We must keep clarifying and ensuring that we know where we stand and why. We have to know it, so that our subordinates can know it. In order to know it, we have to spend time thinking about it and considering it and forming our own independent ideas about it. To become our own man or woman. To not let the Anne Coulters or the Keith Olbermans of the world determine our position for us. And sometimes we have to be willing to stand alone, or to stand in the face of seemingly great odds or to just be willing to stand up at all.

In last weeks post, I talked about caring, about giving a damn. Regardless of what it's about. Just care about something. And care about it passionately. This week I realized how far I had slipped sometimes into getting sucked into things without giving them any consideration at all. We live in momentous times. We are truly living in a changed world and a global community. There are protests going on the world over in support of various causes and claims. There are new ideas being brought forward for consideration each day. There are new truths being revealed every moment. The world may be moving faster than we would like it to sometimes, but that does not mean that we can simply choose to ignore it.

Leadership requires a vision for ourselves and our organization. A purposeful demonstration of what matters. A choice to consider where we stand or to simply accept that which is being handed to us every day. Leadership requires that we sometimes stand alone in the face of the crowd and determine that the crowd is wrong. That the consensus viewpoint is wrong. That you alone have determined what is right and true and best for you and then being willing to stand rock-solid still in the face of the crowd, alone. Content in the warmth and protection of your well thought convictions.
Where and for what are you willing to stand alone? Answer that, and you begin a journey towards finding out who you are. Answer that and you might become a self-reliant hero.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#146 Thinking, Deciding and Caring

During a lot of conversations regarding my journey and the road back, one of the more constant themes has been that people know and recognize that I care about what I am doing. I give a damn about getting it right. I have many faults and am by no means a poster boy for textbook leadership, but at the end of the day, I do the best I can, and care about what matters and try my best to accomplish the mission and treat people well. I also think very hard about the possible consequences and outcomes of my decisions.

A long time ago in one of my very early posts, I referenced a speech given by Lieutenant General Melvin Zais to the students at the National Defense University in the late 1970's. General Zais ended his speech with a pointed reminder to the officers assembled that, "You have to care...You have to give a damn."

This is a post about just that - Giving a damn. Caring. Thinking and deciding and really figuring out what you care about and why. And not only about your Soldiers, but also about your service. What it means to you to serve. Who and what you serve and why. And how what you care about and why and how you translate that and put it into action is the essence of having a vision. A vision for yourself, your family, your squad, platoon, or company. It is also how you lead.

This whole issue of caring and giving a damn and leading came up when I was talking to someone earlier this week about the Occupy Wall Street movement that has become part of the national discussion in major cities across our country. My friend asked me a simple question. "What would you march for? What would drive you into the street to protest something that was happening to you, or on behalf of you?" That question stuck with me all week long. What would I march for? What do I value enough to stand my ground and say yes or no to? What do I care deeply and passionately about? What would move me to action? I didn't have an answer readily available. The question itself seemed to back me up for a moment. I had never considered publicly what I stood for enough to say that I would take to the streets over issue X or Y. But maybe it's time we all asked ourselves that question. As a leader, the ability to answer and settle that question in your mind and then articulate it to those you lead is critical. Folks need to spend time thinking about this now. Rolling out to some major city to respond to a threat is not going to be the time to figure out what side of the issue you are on...

What I can no longer be is ambivalent. Standing idly by while the world moves around me. Never stopping to ensure that I am not just getting swept up by the current. Taking the time to ensure that where I am standing is in fact the place I should be standing, not just some place I ended up when the current finally slowed down and dumped me in the shallow water.

I have reached a place in my journey where I can stop and pause for a moment. To reflect and enjoy the successes. To look at those areas that still need work and rest a little so that I can come back at them with a more clear vision of where I want to be. To take a breather and check my authenticity against a real live moment in time and listen closely to the reply in my heart. Times like these require a still heart that is comfortable even if everything else is on shaky ground.

What I can no longer be is apathetic. Willfully surrendering my sense of right and wrong and what I value by saying that it doesn't effect me. I don't live in New York, or Los Angeles, or D.C.. I live in Clarksville, TN. But living where I do doesn't mean that I can simply pretend that the issues in New York, or L.A., or D.C. aren't my issues as well. I have to stand up when standing up is the right thing to do.

You cannot figure out what you stand for unless you think about it in real and concrete ways. The OWS movement provides all of us the opportunity to do that. To ask ourselves what side of the issue we line up on and why. I'm not going to debate one side or the other here, but rather to implore you to take a moment and start to figure out for yourself where you stand. Otherwise, you just might end up getting swept along by the current and end up somewhere that you do not intend. And that is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. To wake up one day and wonder how the hell you got there. Each of us has the opportunity every day to challenge the way we think, to try on new ideas, to challenge the old protocols. Why would we simply roll over and never ask the hard questions that need to be asked in order to be calm about where we stand? You cannot be lazy about your democracy. Democracy at this point has turned into a full-contact game. And it requires the full engagement of each of us.

Because I am in the military people often have the mistaken impression that my belief system is dictated to me by the Government. That the Army's values are automatically my values. That I somehow surrendered my thinking breathing soul to Uncle Sam all those years ago and never once stopped and asked for it back. And none of that is true. Having said that, those values are generally not brought into question very often. Nine times out of ten, what a Soldier believes personally will be very close to the stated beliefs of the institution. But it's that one time that matters. That one time when there will be a gap between a value I hold true personally, and what the institution might declare publicly. And that is the time for thinking. That is the time for knowing, and that is the time to have settled an issue in your own heart. A Soldier has a greater need to learn about, understand, internalize and decide those things which he or she values above all else, more than most others do. He has to. It means thinking about what you are doing in advance. It means asking the hard questions that need to be asked. Consider the following little tidbit of history.

From Wikipedia.....

"The Little Rock Nine were a group of African-American students who were enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in September 1957, as a result of The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, in direct opposition to the Court's ruling, activated and deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists on 4 September 1957. The sight of a line of soldiers blocking nine black students from attending high school immediately polarized the city. Attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department requested an injunction against the governor's deployment of the National Guard from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Judge Ronald Davies granted the injunction and ordered the governor to withdraw the National Guard on 20 September.[15As a result, elements of the division's 1st Airborne Battle Group, 327th Infantry (bearing the lineage of the old Company A, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment) were ordered to Little Rock by President Eisenhower to enforce the court injunction during the crisis. The division was deployed from September until Thanksgiving 1957, when Task Force 153rd Infantry, (federalizedArkansas National Guard) which had also been on duty at the school since 24 September, assumed responsibility."

If it's 1957 and you haven't figured out where you stand on racial integration, this is no small matter. In fact, this is huge. This is the government of the United States taking on a State in order to enforce and uphold the rule of law. But if I am a bigot or racist or don't really understand the supremacy of the Constitution in America, then this is going to be a difficult time for me.

As a Soldier I have to be a thinking man. I have to have truly given consideration to the oath of enlistment I took that says "To support and defend the Constitution of The United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...."

General Zais was talking about caring for your Soldiers when he gave his speech a long time ago. I'm talking about caring as well. Caring for your country and it's Constitution enough to figure out where you stand and then to have the courage to take one. You have to care. You have to give a damn.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome...

#145 The Core and the Chili Champion

"There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." ~ Nelson Mandela

Whatever you think of my journey toward self-awareness, whether you think it has any real merit or not, it has always been circling around looking for something. Stumbling a little in the dark a lot of the time, but searching for something nonetheless. Something I could never quite put my finger on. Something I could feel much more than actually see. What it was, I wasn't really sure, but each week another little piece of the puzzle would show up, or another question would pop up, and I would catch another glimpse. Was it leadership and followership? Was it self-awareness and self-deceit? Was it OODA loops, Black Hearts, Kill Squad, or Toxic Leadership? Forgiveness and redemption? What was it each week that was flirting with me? Teasing me? Taunting me sometimes? Every post became a new variation on the same theme:

That you have to know who you are really are and be able to lead yourself before you can successfully lead others. You have to find the truth of yourself, and have the courage to live it without false pretense, or self-aggrandizement, every day. You have to live your life intentionally and with your full power and strength. You have to accept responsibility for yourself and your actions. You have to honor yourself and demand of yourself that you live in the fullest expression of your truth every single moment. And to do that honestly and fully, you a have to search for yourself. You have to find your core.

Two and a half years ago, I started writing this blog. Nine months ago it went in a whole new direction. Sixty-five hours ago, the game changed permanently and some important parts of the core became evident to me. Every day, every step, every moment leading to this time. Perseverance sits at my core

I have been trying to rediscover and uncover the core of me. That's what this journey is about. Me as a man. Me as a husband and father. Me as a Soldier. Me as a leader. A me that was hidden away, cloaked in false modesty. Covered up by fear and doubt. Not believing that I could show the full power of my intention every day. Accepting being a loyal Two because it was safe and secure. Being afraid to risk. Being afraid to speak my truth honestly and sincerely. Being afraid to step fully into my vision. Maybe all of that has been painfully obvious to you, but for a long while it wasn't really all that clear to me. You can believe your own bullshit and hold onto your old patterns for a long long time.

A lot has changed along the way....

There is a portion of the Ranger Creed that says: "....I accept the fact that my Country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other Soldier." Change the context a little and it is certainly true of my journey....I have moved further than I thought I would (or even knew I would have to). I have moved faster than most once I gained enough clarity to see where I needed to be. I have fought harder for my soul, my independence, my freedom and to take possession of myself than many will ever understand. I have a mental toughness and tenacity that serves me well. They are core things.

Dear Ranger Creed guy - I went to your school a long time ago and I earned your piece of cloth. Over the last 9 months, on a whole different battlefield, what those words really mean has come home to live in me. Trust me, brother, I have lived up to the tenants of your Creed quite well.

I saw a poster the other day that said "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great." It comes from the movie "A League of Their Own". The challenge is to never stop looking for the truth. To continue to strip away and find those core beliefs that truly speak your truth authentically. And it is hard work. Hard work worth doing. If people are going to place their trust, their respect, their lives in your hands, you'd better have spent hours doing the hard work to ensure that they are well-served by your leadership. I didn't do that once. I will not make the same mistake twice. That willingness to take a hard, honest look sits at my core.

Saw another poster that said: "Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you needed." Yup. Crucible moments matter. What you do in them says a ton about who you are. If it took Black Hearts to get me to this place, then I am grateful and thankful to that time and that place as painful as it was. In the end, it led me down this road and this is the road that I needed to walk down. I have not done it alone, but the journey has certainly been mine. The journey has had it's crucible moments as well and arguably they are more important than Black Hearts could ever be. The willingness to take a leap is at my core. The willingness to keep pushing until I find the answers I need.

Another poster said: "You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughta be." You cannot be a spectator in your own life. There is a time to stand up and state plainly what you want and what you need and what you desire. State it without fear, without worry, without guilt, and without shame. Sometimes the Universe just lets you know when it's time to move.

Two and a half years of writing and three years before that of drifting and losing my way....Nine months of some of the hardest work, the most challenging work, the most rewarding work anyone could ever do. All to find the core. It's time to move. It is time to no longer settle and to start living the life I am capable of. It's time to live with passion again. Sixty-Five hours ago, I became a former smoker after 27 years. Last Thursday afternoon I was voted the chili cook-off champion at work. There is a lot more of my journey wrapped up in the chili than there is in the quitting smoking folks. That part was easy. That strength is at my core. I had to take the journey to get to the chili....And every moment so far has been completely worth it.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#144 Love and Leadership

There are two different but related things nudging at my brain this week, and I need to get them out on the page and kick them around a little bit. I really don't know where they will lead me, but like most weeks I always end up where my brain and my heart need to be, so I'm just going to write and see what happens....

The first is part of a response from a colleague of mine on an Army forum called Leader Net. RS introduced me to Leader Net and was influential in getting me a place there for my work. In his reply to a question entitled, "Who's Example do You Follow?" he wrote:

"I no longer consider leadership the mere ability to influence a group of people to "accomplish the mission" because the mission may not always lead the people in a constructive direction. Such an approach to leadership is little more than Machiavellian manipulation that may succeed in a temporary mechanical efficiency but ultimately sows discontent and anger once the true motive is revealed."

" There comes a point when a leader's job is greater than simply keeping our 'eye on the prize,' showing empathy/sympathy, or being the example the organization expects us to be. There comes a point in time when a leader must be willing to stand and say no."

"Leadership must stand on behalf of those it leads. It must not merely acknowledge truth, it must speak it to power. It must inspire people from within for the betterment of themselves and others. True inspirational leadership articulates a higher vision, evokes a deeper meaning, and demands the absolute best from both the led and the power it challenges."

The second is from the Servant Leadership Blog and is an adaptation of a presentation given by Will Keepin in 2009. The post is called the "Principles of Spiritual Leadership" and the second principle is the following:

"Non-attachment to outcome. To the extent that we are attached to the results of our work, we rise and fall with our success and failures, which is a path to burnout. Failures are inevitable, and successes are not the deepest purpose of our work."

What struck me about both of these inputs is that they require something even more fundamental on our part in order for both to be true. They require a full, deep, complete, and comfortable understanding of ourselves. The require an acceptance and recognition of who we are. They require a detachment from the bonds of simple labeling and expectation. They require us to live fully and completely and faithfully to who we are. They require us to accept ourselves honestly - speak our power and goodness with the same ease and recognition of the truth as we accept our failings and weaknesses. They require the most truthful and authentic parts of us be known to us.

Leadership cannot be tied only to a measurable metric. That is not leadership, it is management. It is a model of efficiency and production. It merely requires a person who can figure out the need and then produce the most effective way to fill it. You are not leading if that is your purpose. To simply build a better mousetrap. That definition is much too limited and leadership is something much more than mission accomplishment by providing purpose and direction and vision for the organization.

Leadership is something more than the way you treat people. It is more than the ability to be kind or understanding or fair or just or nice. Those things will make for a happy and content workplace most of the time, but they are only methods, a way, of expressing yourself. They are not, in and of themselves, leadership. Empathy and sympathy are powerful and effective tools that all leaders possess, but their exercise is not leadership. Their exercise, in most cases, is behavior manipulation.

Leadership is more than the ability to say no. There are a million people running around who are saying no to a lot of things right now. A very tiny portion of them are leaders. Most are simply arguing for their way of thinking. Defending or protecting themselves against change and perceived threats to their way of life and thinking.

As my journey has progressed and I have uncovered and looked at myself I have found that almost every definition of leadership I can find falls somehow short of the mark. Is in ways large or small, incomplete for me. And I started to wonder why. And slowly, sometimes painfully slowly, it has occurred to me that leadership is being yourself so much that who you are totally disassociated from the outcomes, or the consequences, or the judgments, or the comparisons and stand fully and totally and completely in who you are. It is a faith that you can discover and live authentically at all times. It is a letting go of worry and fear, and a thoughtful consideration of why you act, feel, behave and see the world the way you do. It is deciding for yourself what is right and wrong, good and bad, comfortable and uncomfortable for you. It is an acceptance of yourself that is free of anyone else's judgment. It is the strength to stand alone and the strength to empower others to do the same. It is trusting your soul completely. And then living in accordance with it.

I have been also been thinking about love a lot lately. Love is an abstraction that is personal to each of us. It cannot be defined and must be taken on faith. We each see it and feel it in our own unique way. You cannot say to someone, "I love you." and have them feel it in precisely the way you feel it. It is ethereal and present everywhere at the same time. It is the ability to transcend behavior and emotion and day-to-day and see something more. It is not the words or the actions, it is the depth and measure of you that fills them. When you tell someone you love them you are choosing to give yourself completely and openly to them. It is beyond definition and beyond decision and beyond reason and words. Love is the power of being, and force of being, completely you. Love is not attached to the outcome or the payback or the comparative return. It is not open to judgment.

Love and leadership seem much the same to me right now. Both are bigger than the small words used to describe them. Both defy quantification or comparison and complete definition. Both are as unique as the person who is loving or leading. Both evoke feelings of empowerment in others and the fullest expression of us in ourselves. Both can never be tied to measurable outcomes. To be successful, both must be given with every ounce of us that we have. They both demand living and giving completely, with all of our energy, passion and force. You cannot define leadership simply by the metric of numeric success or efficiency. Nor can you define love by some barter system of give and take. You cannot define yourself or your leadership by success or failure anymore than you can define your love by good days and bad days. True love and true leadership both generate from the most authentic sense we have of ourselves. The purity and fearlessness and force of who we are. The complete awareness that to lead purely and to love purely we must know and follow our heart, our instinct, our most pure selves. To lead completely I have to open myself up completely to my authentic self and then give all of that, every ounce of my authenticity, someone else. Funny thing is, we have to do the same to those we love.....

People have commented to me that at some point the blog moved away from leadership and moved down another path to self-awareness. That once I stopped talking about the Army leader development model or complaining about this or that part of the Army, that it ceased to be a leadership blog and started to become an online diary of sorts. Those people are wrong. My journey has always been about leadership. Those who sell it short or do not understand it are getting caught up in the management model we sell. My journey of self-discovery is a journey of love for me and for those who love me, but it is also an important journey in leadership as well. I cannot lead and love others if I cannot lead and love myself. The journey is leadership. By searching for and discovering and loving my authentic self, I am able to step fully into leading as well.

It is often said that to lead them you must love them. And that is true. You must lead them with the same intensity, the same passion, the same completeness - with every ounce of the power of love that you have. In order to lead big, you must love big. Keep searching for love and you will inevitably find how to lead.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#143 Priorities, Values and Leadership

I learned a powerful lesson yesterday in priorities and values.  And in leadership.  In investing in something and sharing something and caring for and protecting something that is important to me.

Like many people right now, money is tight in my family.  This is a not new for us, we just ran into a tight spot this month and things are down to the wire.  The lights will stay on, and the house will have heat, and there will be food on the table, but there will be precious little extra until payday rolls around.  No different than millions of other people, even in the best of economic times.  And, quite honestly, better off than many others who will slip through the cracks and fall just a little more behind this month until they cannot keep their heads above water any longer.  

However,  there were 3 different things that all took place in one day that had a large impact on me and form the basis of this post.  First, my original reaction to how close things would get was one of anger, frustration, and hurt pride.  I have been in the Army for 21 years, I have rank and position and a stature in the organization.  I have responsibilities and obligations.  Things that need get done and people who rely on me.  My Army stature is part of my identity.  A large part.  And yet, I find myself now in a position that I see many Soldiers in.  The wallet is a little light at the end of the month and there will have to be some juggling that goes on.  The dollar amounts are larger, but the margins are still the same.  Slim and none.  I had been equalized and my pride didn't like it.  How could this happen?  How could I run two Division level programs and yet not be able to ensure the security of my family any past the next paycheck?  Tough sort of spot to be in.  Sort of a 'role of man' place to be.  The idea of provider and caretaker.  Something I do for my Soldiers every day.  How then could I have not done it in my own life?

A friend of mine though asked me two simple questions that unraveled a lot of that.  "What do I value?", and "What is enough?" In 7 words, she made me consider my position and look at my priorities.  She turned the feeling of worry and inadequacy into one of power and strength in about 3 minutes by pointing out some compelling competing truths that I didn't want to see.  My home is safe and secure.  My daughter will eat a healthy meal and have clean, warm, dry clothes and a soft bed to sleep in tonight and play in a youth soccer league.  We will not wonder where our next meal is coming from or where we will sleep tonight.  In fact, beyond merely making it, we are actually a thriving and healthy family.  We might not be financially secure, but we will have done the very best could this month, and will certainly make it until the next paycheck comes in.  

Which drove home the question about figuring out what I value.  Do I value amassing a ton of money and keeping up with the neighbors to see who can have the newest car or who is putting a pool in their yard, or rebuilding their deck?  Or do I care about raising my daughter in a healthy and complete, and safe home?  A home that protects and nurtures her?  A home where she knows that she is loved and cared for?  Sometimes choices have to be made.  Right now, the choice has to be that my daughter is raised in a healthy and happy home.  If there is budgeting to be done, then it will have to tilt in that favor.  

The second event stems from the first.  The realization that I was looking at my situation from one point of view and there was an equally powerful one available to me that I originally could not see, nor give any credence to.  It was a powerful demonstration of how my emotions affect my behaviors and my views.   It showed me in a real way that I have to learn to stop, recognize where my filters and point of view are affecting the outcome of something, and then actively look for another way to view the situation. In essence, the see a problem as either a problem, or an opportunity to check in with myself and reaffirm my values and priorities against my reality.  I wasn't leading my family through a tough spot, I was allowing the tough spot to dictate how I would feel and then react.  I wasn't separating myself from the emotion enough to see alternative solutions.  

The final piece of this puzzle fell into play last night as my wife and I were putting our 4 year old to bed.  Every night, part of our routine is to state what we are thankful for that day.  We call it the Gratitudes.  We all take a turn and it reminds us to be grateful and to keep looking on the bright side of things.  Last night, my daughter told my wife and I that she was grateful to live in a house of love. She's 4!  But the force of her words nearly buckled my knees.  Everything else aside, a little girl, tired at the end of an adventuresome day, managed to help me keep my priorities straight and concentrate on what really matters.  She told me all I needed to know.  Broke or not, we have built what we needed to build.  A family where a little girl feels loved and safe and happy and secure.  

What does my little story have to do with leadership?  A lot I think.  It has to do with self-awareness, a recognition of the power of attitude, a constant evaluation of priorities and the values you lead by, and the impact expectations and roles can have on your thought process.  Yesterday reminded me that my personal pride, and some vision of where I think I should be at this point in my life, was affecting my ability to actually lead my family out of our current financial location.  My attitude, my hurt feelings and my sense of failed obligation were only going to continue a cycle of tension that would never actually confront and face the reality of my situation.  I was contributing to it instead of seeing it honestly.  I never considered for a second that what was really important would be brought to me by a 4 year old.  I may be broke for the moment, but my daughter and wife are living in a house that is built solidly with its priorities in order.  The rest, while important and needing to be addressed, are not critical.  My family having a solid foundation of love and joy and well-being is.

It also reminded me that one's Values have to be constantly considered.  What are they?  Why do you hold them?  What standard are you using to judge them good or bad?  How do you make your choices and decisions about what's important to you and why?  How do you set those priorities in motion in your organization - be it your family or your platoon?  Most importantly, are they being done actively or passively - are they your choices, or are you simply accepting those of others by default?  We live in a world where many many men define themselves and their personal worth by their profession and their paycheck.  So much of their identity is comprised of what they do and their net worth.  And that was the starting point for me yesterday. A passive acceptance of what the world says is important, not an active evaluation of whether that is the right answer for me and my family.  I discovered that I had my priorities wrong and they weren't in line with my values.  7 words helped me see that.  

You lead yourself first.  You lead yourself by gaining self-awareness, figuring out what you value and why, and then aligning your priorities to support your Values.  In the course of one day, I learned a lot about each of those things.  I learned to see how little attention I was paying to the impact someone else's idea of what or where I should be at this point in my life.  How I was passively following instead of actively checking.  I spent some time affirming my values and those of my family.  Making sure that we all understood clearly what really matters to us.  What this family will ground itself in.  What will define us as a group.  Now my wife and I can get our priorities straightened out and begin to work collectively on supporting our values and our vision.  All of which equals leadership, no matter how you cut it.  And the only benchmark for success that matters is that a little girl grows up in a house where she feels loved and safe and secure.  Because that is what I truly value. Now to get my priorities in order.

As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#142 Coaches, Mentors, Friends and Choices

I am a fortunate man. I have the very good fortune of having people in my life who truly care for me and about me. People who love me enough to tell me the unvarnished truth. Even when that truth is not pretty. People who love me enough to let me find it out for myself, to come to it on my own, no matter how long, and how many missteps it takes to get there. People who invest themselves, their love, their powerful talents, and their time to walk parts of my journey with me. Some I interact with every day, other are less visible, but no less present. They are blessings. They are treasured gifts. Friendships like these are what excite me and make me get out of bed in the morning. They are the reason that I wake up and rush to get my coffee and wake my brain and start to think.

I have few friends and generally don't do surface relationships, so the friendships I have tend to take on a lot of significance for me. Some people need to be surrounded by a lot of folks all the time and people slide in and out of their lives easily. I would rather be surrounded by a few folks for a long time and cultivate whole conversations that never seem to end and pick up right where they left off the time before. Sitting around a fire bowl with one or two others and having a serious conversation. To hear the ideas, explanations, thoughts, opinions of people I trust and respect. And strangely enough, in this technological world of instant communication, the two people most on my mind as I write this, are folks who I either have never physically met, or have spent a very limited amount of time with a long time ago. And yet, with either one of them, I can pose a question and tell my truth and it is received as openly and honestly and is as carefully considered as if they were sitting in the room with me late into the evening. Funny how the world works these days...

This post generates from that place. The intersection of friendship, coaching and mentorship. Where does one end and another begin? Are they all present in one form or another all the time? Why do we all need them at one point or another in our lives? Do we all need them?

All of this is prompted by an article I received yesterday from a colleague that caught my eye. He sent it to me to solicit my thoughts on professional development and mentoring and coaching for Army leaders. You can find the link here:

Essentially, it poses the question why professional athletes, musicians, singers, actors etc have coaches, but teachers, doctors and others responsible for some critical areas of our lives do not? Coaching professional athletes is a lucrative business for what essentially equals about a 10 year career in the life of the athlete. The education of our children is infinitely more important than that and yet we just leave it to the teacher in the classroom to figure out how to reach each child by themselves. Why not have coaches and mentors for them as well? And why does the Army leave coaching and mentoring to whoever is senior in rank or position to the person being coached. Why are the lines drawn as straight as they are? I am senior to you by time in service or by title, so therefore I automatically become a mentor or a coach? Why? What makes my ideas, thoughts or opinions any more important than yours? My best friend is 3 years younger than I am and has never served a day in uniform, but has arguably changed the course of my life. My most powerful professional mentor right now is only a few years older than I am but has an understanding of the profession far greater than I do. I get coached daily by my daughter on how to be a better Father. The main influences in my life come from all over the place.

The other day, I was having a conversation with someone who told me that my writing about leadership would always be suspect until I got back into the game. Sitting on the sidelines and throwing my ideas out there doesn't get it. Especially in the Army. In a culture where the expectation is that the more senior you are, the better you get. The expectation that leaders can do anything and everything that their subordinates can do. That you lead from the front and inspire people to accomplish the mission at hand. And he is right. There is no good reason that anyone should take anything I put out here as gospel truth until I put myself back into the arena and try it on for size. Take all these ideas and put them into practice. See which ones pan out and which ones don't. He challenged me as a mentor. He also challenged me as a friend. He knows the cost associated. He understands the demands. He knows what I am doing in my family. He knows I have the talent, skill and ethic to do the job well. That is without question. But while I have focused most of my writing and ideas at the upper end of the Army spectrum, the senior NCO and officer side of the equation, his contention is that it has to be taken down to the pointy end of the stick. To the 22 year old Corporal with 2 combat tours under his belt and the absolutely well-earned arrogance of someone who has faced huge challenges early in life and now believes very strongly that the way he sees his world is exactly the way it is. To stand in front of that young man with an equal assurance that I can lead him, motivate him, educate him and develop him. That I can take him to combat and bring him home alive. To do that takes passion, and a commitment to the long haul.

And deciding whether or not I want to do that is the turning point for me. It is the fork in the road. If I go down one path, I can have a successful career and retire with a decent pension and find my post Army career and provide for my family well. The only sticking point is that I will not have gone back into the leadership arena since I left it 5 years ago. If I go down the other path, I will have all those same things at the end but will be presented with another choice as well. To see whether or not what I believe leadership is all about is true. To see whether or not the journey I have taken really does make me a better leader than I was in 2006. I will have to confront and face the fundamental question that I have been avoiding for a little while now. Can I lead troops in combat again? Do I want to? Because that is what it comes down to. Is the pull of proving to myself that I can lead stronger than the pull to provide what other parts of my life need right now. Tough choice. A choice I can feel coming and will have to be made soon. A fundamental choice. One that, once made, will impact a lot of other things in my life.

Honestly, I go back and forth on it. As I sit here now and write this, I want back in the game. I am feeling the pull to go do what my whole career tells me I should do. To go back and settle the question. Yesterday though, I told another friend that what I do best, where my true talent lies is with planning and thinking and operations. I might just serve the Army best not by being at the pointy end of the stick, but by making sure that the plan, the resources and the situation are as right as they can be for the executor to go do their work.

And this is where the intersection of coaching, mentoring and friendship come together in the most meaningful ways. One friend challenges me professionally, fully understanding the nuances and requirements of the profession. Another challenges me to learn and grow personally within the totality of both my personal and professional life. Both are brutally honest and will disabuse any pretense on my part pretty damn quickly. Both are committed to, and care about me. I can turn to either of them and solicit their ideas, their thoughts, their opinions. And with the ultimate respect that the decision is mine, they offer those things as plainly as they can. And that is the essence of the coaching / mentoring piece. To help clarify the choices. To remove the confusions and help clarify the situation. To help weigh the pro's and cons. Not to decide, but to challenge the assumptions.

No matter how talented or professional or secure we might think we are, we all need mentors. We all need coaches. We all need friends. When all of those are brought together in the same person, you might well consider yourself as blessed as you can be. I am extremely grateful to have two such people in my life. Go find yours and cultivate the friendship. You will be a better leader because of it.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#141 Three P's

"Life isn't about waiting for the storms to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain."

If you follow my writing at all, you know that awhile back the work took a decidedly different turn and started to focus inward, on me. A look at myself, my life, my history, and how all of that has come together and helped form me into the type of leader I am today. Prior to that I spent most of the time here either trying to justify/explain my actions during the Black Hearts period, or ranting about the gap between what senior Army leaders were saying, and life down at the lowest rung on the ladder.

Then someone came along and told me that my writing lacked my soul. She told me that the writing was good, but that it was missing me. Together, we went looking. Very slowly. Very carefully. With deliberateness. We have looked at every part of my life and slowly unlocked a lot of doors that have freed me to live a much more productive and powerful and purposeful life. I have learned to laccept responsibility for, and be accountable for my whole life. There are no accidents and things do just happen to me anymore. There is always a choice to be made. A choice to respond, or not. A choice to engage or not. A choice to live with passion and purpose - to follow my heart, or to lay back and let others dictate the terms of the engagement. A choice to work through the darker places and honestly look at myself, or hide away in the false protections of self-deception. I am no longer a victim of circumstance. I am responsible for me. I have taken possession of me. I have found my soul.

Along the way I had to confront some things, and in those confrontations I have found some qualities that surprised me a little. I can and will persevere. I have and can display my passions. I am learning to keep my perspective. These are powerful life defining qualities and I am glad to make their acquaintance. I am glad to finally recognize them in myself. They have changed my perspective on a lot of things and where I was, and where I am, are all brought together in the quote at the top of the page.

I used to spend all of my time worrying about the next storm. Slowly robbing myself of the happiness of today simply by overlooking it and concentrating all of my energy on the potential storm of tomorrow. And, importantly, some of that thought process comes from my Army experience. The Army plans in great detail. It develops multiple courses of action. It tries to predict the outcome and control the inputs. It makes people think 3 deep. It trains cause and effect. And after 21 years of being in the environment I have developed a deeply ingrained sense of how to think beyond the immediate, and to continually look for the next storm. What will I do if X? How will I react to Y? What happens if Z occurs? All of this training and developing almost naturally leads one to be forever looking over the horizon and anticipating the next impending storm. On a personal level, it stopped me from being able to live in the moment and enjoy that moment for all of it's own unique glory. I was always asking myself, "What next?" And often times being afraid of the answer.

When the Army started talking about focusing on developing adaptive leaders, there was a ton of pressure from within to stop that. Adaptive meant creative. Adaptive meant exercising personal judgment. Adaptive meant making the best decision you possibly could and then living with the outcome of it. It meant being able to see a moment clearly and then make choices and decisions accordingly. It implicitly accepted that something that is a good choice in this moment, might not be in the next. And we figured out that living and seeing and appreciating that moment is critically important when you are in the fight. It means sensing and knowing when a situation is at a tipping point. It means trusting yourself and your judgement. Personally, it means learning to listen carefully to my heart and letting it dictate the course of my life. In a sense, it's a letting go because I already know that I cannot always control the outcome, but that I can accept it and work with it when it arrives. It also means not always asking for permission or acceptance. Adaptability in the Army sense is developing the ability to dance in the rain. Dancing in the rain for me means not fearing the next storm, but enjoying the feel of the rain on my face.

To get to dance though, you have to be able to persevere. You have to be able to see the bigger picture. You have to understand that there will be storms and that no plan survives first contact. And there is a huge difference between perseverance and endurance. I have persevered through many painful days along this journey in order to get to this point. I have endured some incredibly hard and some incredibly painful moments, but I have persevered. Endurance seems short term to me. Perseverance seems more permanent. Someone endures a tragedy. They are characterized by their endurance. From my perspective, perseverance has meant taking very honest and sometimes incredibly unflattering looks at who and what I am, but holding onto the essential goodness of me. From the Army's it might mean enduring the loss of a battle and holding onto the value of the fight. There have been times along the way where I could not see what needed to. I could feel it, or sense it, but could not understand it. I only knew how to persevere. That sense that I had to keep pushing, no matter how painful, and that one day the understanding would come. Being able to persevere has been an important strength in my journey. It also that for an Army at war.

The journey has brought me something else as well. Something critically important to my well-being and that of my family. It has brought me back my passion. It has removed my fears. It has filled me with a trusting hope that what I do matters, and that it's sometimes important that only I do it. There are some parts of living and leading that just cannot be delegated to anyone else. They belong with you. They are yours alone and you must stand in the breach and make the best choice you can. Acting in full volition and with a full sense of responsibility for the outcome. It has taken me a long time to get to this place. It is a powerful lesson in leadership. Without a passionate belief in who you are and what you value, you cannot lead yourself or anyone else. Who you are matters. People, Soldiers, anyone follow you because you have a clear sense of who you are and what your passions are. Where your priorities lie. Having those things allows you to have a vision of the outcome. It equals the Commander's Intent. I now have a vision for myself and my family. It is flexible enough to withstand the storms and permanent enough to be able to dance in the rain.

The combination of perseverance and passion come together in perspective. As a friend of mine put it to me on many occasions, the ability to step outside the emotion and respect both sides of the argument equally. The ability to offer others the respect they deserve for their differing opinion. To respect their perspective and their passion as equally as out own. In essence, to allow for dissent. To allow for an opposing view. To value the argument as much as the outcome. To learn and see and appreciate how to live outside of your own views. To truly learn COIN. To suspend your own filters and judgments long enough to hear and see another way of being. To respect yourself enough to respect others.

The Army is constantly re-looking the attributes it requires of the profession. Perseverance, Passion and Perspective might just be some to consider. I want my leaders to have the ability to keep their perspective, the perseverance to stay the course, and the passion to learn to dance in the rain. I want to surround myself with that kind of professional. I want to fill my life with that kind of person. I want to embrace those qualities in myself. I want to be led by people who are passionate about what they do. I want to be led my people who I know will persevere. I want to be led by people who can keep their eyes looking towards the future without surrendering the joy and pain of the moment. Don't you?

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.