"Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it."
This past week I asked the administrators on the Army Leader Net site to post all of the blogs from 127 - 138. I had been posting them myself each week, but had fallen behind. I also wondered if this part of my journey really belonged there. Is it worth sharing with other Army leaders? Is it really an Army leadership topic at all? Do people care enough to read and consider it? Finally, I decided to do it for a couple of reasons. First, the readership and feedback here has been steadily growing over the course of the last 6 months, which told me that there are other folks out there who are relating to, and finding value in, my thoughts. I average just shy of 200 page views a week now, not including those people who I mail it to, and that number has grown since the blog took a more personal turn over the summer. Second, I strongly believe that most folks are not as self-aware as they could or should be. Especially in the Army. If sharing my journey will help them start, or possibly get the organization to take a hard look at how it develops young leaders, then it is worth it. While the journey itself is mine, there are some larger questions that I think many people in the Army are coming to grips with after 10 years of war. Plus, if you don't agree with my thoughts you always have the option to not read them or to disagree with them and form your own ideas. Ultimately, I hope that while my journey is personal and helps me to become a better man, husband, father and Army leader, if it provokes someone else to consider their own ideas and thoughts, then it has an inherent value all its own. Sometimes all it takes is a spark.
When I came across the first quote above, it struck me though how far I have to go. Because someone who has become a dear friend showed me the first step back in March or early April and has walked every inch of it with me, I am a much more complete person than I was before. At very least, I am more honestly seeing myself than I probably ever have. Being more truthful and searching harder for the answers that are truly mine. In effect, stripping away the a lot of the self-deceit and learning to fight hard to recognize the truths about myself and then grow into them. That has been the start of the journey. For example, really seeing and accepting last week that I am a type 4 Romantic and not running from it and denying it or trying to make myself believe that I am someone or something else. Seeing it, recognizing it's truth and then accepting it felt really good. It felt very true and real and comforting. I wasn't hiding or pretending. I am exactly who I am. It felt authentic. Another piece of the puzzle fits into place.
Each new layer though has uncovered something else underneath it. I have come to see that there is no real endpoint to this. And that sense of lifelong discovering fills me with happiness and joy. I look forward now to searching and looking and seeing myself more truthfully each day. It is no longer a fearful journey. It has become one of strength and optimism. That recognition that the journey itself is never complete is important. It's the part I think most leaders and leader development systems miss. There is this idea that one 'discovers' what type of leader they are and then they stay that way, never accepting that we cannot remain the same person, with the same outlooks, the same thoughts and ideas and priorities forever. We are dynamic and our lives are dynamic and we must continually fight to live in the present moment. Knowing that who we were a decade ago is not who we are today and will not be who we become a decade down the road. The key is to remain truthful to yourself in each of those places. To live each day as honestly as possible, accepting that tomorrow that honesty might be slightly different.
Importantly though, there will be some threads that bind each of those parts together. Threads that run constant and seamless through all the periods of our lives. Those are the truest parts of our core and those are the things we need to fight to find and hold onto when everything else changes. Those are the values we hold dear. I am not the same man at 43 that I was at 27, but the core values and attributes that make me me have not changed. I am still dedicated and persevering and hard working and loyal and thoughtful. I still feel the pull of obligation. The sense of duty. A sense of pride in myself and my life's work - even when it has been doubted and discounted. Those are cornerstone things. They do not change. How they manifest themselves does. At 27, I had the Army by the tail. I was a young lion, ahead of the game and making a name for myself. Brash, arrogant, smart and willing to do whatever you asked me to. No questions asked. Pure determination and ballsy confidence that no matter what I touched it would turn out right. At 43, that determination still exists. Make no mistake about that. Now though, it is brought about by a different set of influences. I am not the same man. I should not think the same way.
The second quote above is the goal. To continually discover my world - to see it as truthfully as possible - as cleanly, clearly and honestly as I can, and to recognize those blind spots that I have that prevent me from always being clear, and then to live in each day, each moment, each second with the fullest of intention and intensity. Feeling safe that where I am is where I belong right now, and that no matter what tomorrow or the future holds, I know two things will always be true. First, that I will not be 10 years from now who I am today. Second, that those things that truly make me me will never change their true nature, only their form. A lot of the journey is figuring out what they are.
Why is this important to leader development systems? Because the system itself is charged with developing people into leaders. The start point is one person at a particular point in time. The system is also generally designed to meet the needs of an organization at a particular point in time. If you see those as fixed points, then sooner or later you will lose. The system becomes too big to deal with rapid change, and the person finds they cannot adapt as well as they need to in order to keep up. The system says to the person, "Here is what we need you to become today." The person then meets that need. Neither side really looking at the fact that there is no stagnation to time. Each moment demands it's own recognition and then it passes and the next one appears. You cannot build a structured system in a dynamic environment.
Or can you? What if the entire system was designed around the person? What if the purpose of all Army leader development systems was to help you see yourself authentically at each step along your career. What if, instead of teaching management steps in what we call our leadership schools, we started the young leader down a road of personal discovery and development? What if instead of forcing me into the system, we developed a system designed to enhance me? We do this in other places, why not the Army? Why shouldn't self-awareness, self-recognition and self-regulation be the endstate of leader development? Why shouldn't we, or couldn't we really give people an understanding of dynamic change? We tell people in our manuals that they need to develop self-awareness as a leader tool, but we never really spend any time doing it. It's about time that we really focus leader development away from rigid systems and focus it only on the enhancement of the person. The Army is a huge organization, it has a place in it for each of us. Why not create a system that helps us find that place and then contribute back from there?
My life and my career are intimately connected. My journey on these pages is representative of how I got to this point both personally and professionally. The road ahead fills me with hope. As I become more authentic and true to myself, so does my capacity to lead authentically and truthfully.
I have taken the first steps on a long journey. The goal is to discover my world and then live in it with all of my heart. I have started. Now I must go all the way. There is one final quote from Buddha that struck me that I think is valuable here:
"It is better to travel well than to arrive."
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.