Have you ever felt like everyone around you wasn't hearing you? Co-workers, your spouse, Soldiers, your children? That they were so busy moving that they didn't understand what it was that was that you were really trying to tell them? That what you were saying and what they were hearing were worlds apart even though the words were said clearly? We've all been there. Conversations and exchanges like these happen every day and only lead to confusion and frustration throughout our families and any organization.
More importantly though, do you think you have ever been the person who did that to others? Are you the type who is always chasing something so hard and so fast that you never stop long enough to hear what others might be saying? You keep moving from one place to the other, scampering here and there, trying to capture whatever is being dangled as the important brass ring for the moment? It's something worth considering. I was like that for a long long time. Someone would tell me what they thought was important and almost without consideration, I would move towards it. I kept running from one thing to the next, always following the flavor of the moment. My happiness and sense of self worth was being determined not by me, but by others outside of me. The Army is an easy place for that to happen. As you grow up in the environment it becomes easy to get sucked into the game. Almost the entire structure and order is designed to support that way of acting and thinking. Ultimately though it is a trap. It is interesting - and I've mentioned this before - that the only folks in the Army that really do any critical thinking about the Army seem to be those at the very top. Ever wonder why that is? I do. A lot. It seems counter intuitive to me that each of us isn't spending any time considering our world and why it unfolds the way it does. But the Army, and many huge organizations, all seem to have systems in place that encourage movement and ring chasing and perpetual motion. There isn't a lot of respect for the contemplation and hard thought that leadership requires. Just keep moving....follow the maze.
Even more dangerous than all of the above though, is asking whether or not you are running so fast that you cannot hear yourself? Have you ever thought about just standing still and answering your own questions first? Just stop. Just stand there. Just listen to yourself for a moment so you can figure out what it is that truly matters to you. What you want, what you don't, what is critical to you and what is not? And why? Why is one thing chosen over another? Why do you lead or act the way you do? Are you being authentic and true to yourself or only chasing the latest brass ring?
Think about this. Who are the people who have most affected you in your life? Who are the people who have become mentors and lifelong friends? Who are those people you most admire? What are their common characteristics? My guess is that you will find them all to be supremely sure of that which they know and that which they don't. They will be comfortable standing still. They do not chase brass rings or follow the latest trend just because it is new. They have a considered opinion. They do not deny you yours, but theirs will almost always be more complete. Have you ever asked them how they got there? How they formed that idea, opinion, or thought? Once you boil it down, their answer will likely be that they stopped and thought about it for a minute. They stopped and listened to themselves. They heard what their brain and heart were trying to tell them. They developed a true self-awareness and then used that to quietly navigate their world. They do not fly all over the place. They stand still and let others come to them.
Leadership in the Army is defined principally by action. By doing something. By moving about. By effecting change or influencing the plan by being critically involved at the perfect moment. Almost every iconic hero we have was a man of action. Inactivity is perceived as a flaw in many organizations. Why don't we have any heroes who were men of contemplation? Why aren't the quiet, contemplative, people in our history books and larger than life stories? By setting up action as the only valued solution, we have affected the behavior of the entire organization.
And leadership does eventually require an action of some sort. But before you can do that, before you can put yourself in motion, before you can influence anyone else, you have to listen to yourself. You have to know what you are leading, why you are leading it, and what the intended result of your leadership is. That can only be done after you have given plenty of consideration to what it is that you understand to be true about you and how it plays out in your leader actions.
Taking the time to stand still is critical to leader development. It is only through thoroughly examining yourself and what you know to be real and true about you that you can find the unequivocal truths about you. Standing still allows you to find your authenticity and your authentic self is what people will follow. People want leaders who have strong sense of where they stand, who are actively involved in their world in a calm and purposeful manner. Who know who they are and what they want.
Over the course of the last 8 weeks or so, as my own journey has progressed, I have discovered a lot about my authentic self. Things that I thought were important have become less so. Things that I believed to be true before have shown themselves to be false. Things that seemed disconnected have shown their connectedness. It has been a very instructive journey. I no longer find myself chasing so many things at once hoping to find something that wasn't really there to begin with. I find myself a lot more calm during a storm because I know that I will be fine no matter the outcome. I now speak a lot more definitively than before about what I want and need in my life. All of these things provide me with something else that is critical to my leadership. They provide me peace. They provide me the clarity to see what is truly important. They provide me the ability to hear others clearly because I am not as focused on my own running and scampering about. They provide others a chance to find me, not always run after me. I can hear them and their needs more clearly because I am standing still. We are both not running all over the place. Me chasing something and them chasing me. I am learning to see those things that truly matter and ensure that they are always present in my life. I state them clearly after having determined that they are, in fact, something I value or need or want or feel.
A friend of mine sent me this quote today and it has a lot to do with keeping perspective and knowing what is important versus what isn't:
"When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality." Henry David Thoreau
Think about that in your day to day life. A boss is jumping up and down about something. Your spouse is critical of something you did or didn't do. Your Soldiers come to you with a crisis of their own. Are those your crises? Do you have to get spun up over them? Are they moving you off of your truth? Do they affect where you stand? Or do they present a place for you to stand still? For you to focus on what is truly at the heart of the issue. By knowing and feeling sure of your own authenticity, the situation is not being seen through any artificial filters put in place by your own running for the brass ring. You are standing still on solid ground. There is one less person clamoring and hollering and expending energy to sew confusion and doubt.
The most respected leader is the one who has taken stock of themselves clearly, and who knows exactly who they are and why. They know what they do well and don't do well. They cannot be moved by the judgement of other people. They have a clear understanding and confidence that no matter the outcome of the current crisis, they have the ability to overcome any challenge, to thrive in any environment, and to be calm in the midst of change.
The Army spends very little time on conversations like these. There may be a paragraph or two in a manual, or a piece in a professional magazine about the importance of self-awareness, and knowing exactly who you are, but the institution doesn't really spend much time forcing leaders to face these things in their development. Three months ago, I would have used this space today to rail against their failings and then waste energy telling them where they got it wrong. Today though, I have no time for that. Having found a place to stand, and then solidly standing there, I remain focused on what is critically important - my understanding of me and the way I lead. Ultimately, that is what will make me a leader who people seek out. I will become correctly self-aware by standing still and listening very intently to me. I will lead others by being firmly planted in my knowledge of who I am. No more running around being defined or affected by others. I am standing still. Are you?
As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.