Earlier this week, a friend of mine introduced me to a document by Ralph Waldo Emerson entitled "Self Reliance". It's a tough read and it takes more than once to work your way through it, but some of the central themes are pretty easy to discern. The web site I found it at is:
Many of you may have already seen or read this, or had to study it in school, but this was my first time having read it and I found it spoke to me very clearly in many ways. I also think it has a great deal of relevance to leadership these days and the very real need for leaders to spend time figuring who they are and what they will or will not stand for. Where is your line in the sand? Where is that place where you will defy all types of pressure and stand alone if necessary? How do you figure out how to develop yourself to be able to do those things when they are required? Reading and pondering Emerson might just help...
"I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius"
"A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his."
To believe your own thought....To listen to yourself first. These are incredibly important ideas, and often not what most people do. In the past, I certainly did not. I took what was told to me as gospel truth without much consideration for how I felt about it deep inside. That is beginning to change now, and, while uncomfortable at times, is very calming and fills me with a hope and confidence I did not have before. Form your own opinion, totally separate from anyone else. Your own research, your own thoughts. Original simply because they belong to you. Original because they come from you and are then sent into the world for testing and offered for consumption. Finding, and then listening, to your own voice. It is not so much what you think that matters, that can be debated from any and all sides. Arguments can just a surely be put forth from one viewpoint as another. It is that you are actively thinking, actively evaluating, and actively considering your world. That is the critical step. Not blindly following anyone or anything just because. Rather, seeing an issue and listening very hard for those parts of it that speak to you. This is a critical leader development requirement. It has to happen. Without it, we all become lemmings being led off the cliff by someone who has a title or a rank or a position. And while they might have all of those things, what they cannot have is your point of view. That is impossible. And your point of view is as valuable to understanding as theirs is. We often hear of disconnects between a Private at an outpost somewhere and his or her leadership further up the chain of command. And we all assume naturally that the person further up the chain has more knowledge, more access to information, more something, than we do. And while all of that may be true, they still cannot see the situation in front of us exactly as we do. That makes listening to yourself and listening for your truth a critical part of the discussion. It makes you an equal part of the plan. It imparts upon all of us the responsibility to speak clearly and calmly and present our understanding with the same measure of conviction as the person further up the chain.
"Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events."
I found this sentence to be incredibly powerful for me. Trust thyself. Trust you above all others. Trust your judgement, your thoughts, your spirit and your views. Trust them and defend them. Stand by them, whether others do or not. They are yours, and because they are yours - simply because they are yours - they have merit. Take the time to develop your sense of self-trust. For me, it is my biggest challenge. To listen closely to what my gut is telling me and not be swayed by the worry of a differing opinion and some irrational consequence that might develop from an opposing thought. A long time ago, in post #73 "Risk, Trust, and the Future of the Profession", I linked to a video by LTG Caslen where he spoke the need for candor to return to the profession. The need for Soldiers to be able to tell their superiors - at any level - when they believe the superior's assessment was incorrect. The key is to trust that your assessment is as valid as theirs is and to not be afraid to express it due to the fear of some unknown consequence. There are a lot of people running around with a 'go along to get along' mentality these days and our unsettled world seems outside of their ability to make sense of. I may know that something doesn't look, sound, or feel right to me. I know that I should express my concerns because they could affect the outcome of the mission. I know and should do these things, but don't because I'm afraid of the consequences of telling my truth to someone else. Afraid that they won't approve of my reasoning, or my judgement, or my thought process. Maybe I don't trust my own reasoning, I don't say anything and then slowly accept whatever viewpoint is being offered. Principally because I haven't taken the time to form my own, and even if I have, don't trust it. We need to develop leaders who trust themselves and their judgments and will defend them against all comers.
Why do these things matter so much? The answer is both incredibly simple and incredibly complex at the same time.
"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world."
Listening to yourself and trusting your own judgement will inevitably force you to stand alone. To not immediately accept the popular view of the moment. To take an opposing view. And the strength to do that - the willingness to do that - can only come from the integrity and freedom of thinking for yourself. And then trusting those thoughts in the face of opposition. In the face of popular opinion. In the face of a lot of criticism. Learning to listen and hear, but not be swayed, by the arguments of others, regardless of station. To face family and friends and peers in order to follow what you know to be true, that is the mark of self-leadership and that is the key to developing your truth. To developing the way to speak, quietly and clearly - with all the conviction in your soul. To face the unknown reprobation that might accompany your thoughts with the confidence of all of your being. That is self-leadership and self-leadership is an absolute requirement for leading others. The greatest leaders we study throughout history all had one thing in common...they were extremely sure that the course they had chosen, was exactly the right one for them. In the face of anything else, they placed their ultimate faith in themselves.
Learning to listen for the grain of truth in something that you hear or see amidst all the other noise and light is the first step toward developing true independence. Trusting that your internal judgement of the veracity and truth in what you heard is supreme and equal to all others helps develop self-trust. Self-trust produces a calmness and clarity that 'ring chasers' and 'flavor of the week' people cannot possess. And that calmness and clarity and honesty - that true conviction in what it is that you believe in - that allows you to speak your truth quietly. To think originally. To dream endlessly. And to lead completely.
When I take possession of myself, my thoughts, my words and my deeds - when I accept responsibility for them and stand by them in the face of all pressures to conform - when I do these things, then I am free of the worry of accusation or attack or reprobation. They no longer bind me to a thought process that is not my own. That is self-reliance, it is self-leadership, and those two are the keystone of building solid leaders. You cannot effectively lead others without them.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.