Trust and faith have become big words in my life lately. Trust in something or someone without knowledge of their intent or the outcome in advance. Trust that you are able to correctly view what is happening around you, and faith that no matter the outcome you will be fine wherever you end up. In even greater measure, the faithful understanding that wherever that point may be, you always possess the strength and ability, that if that place isn't correct for you, that you can continue moving forward until you reach another place that feels more true. The idea of a journey that has no fixed endpoint, but is only the journey. Sometimes it's the walking that matters, not where you get to. In order to take the first step, you have to trust that it is a step worth taking and have faith that no matter what the outcome, you will not be standing still where you're at. Holding on to your vision and then moving inexorably towards it.
Respect is another word that has come up a lot in these past weeks. Do you respect yourself? Who else do you respect? Why or why not? These are important questions. Do you have enough respect for your own views, your own narrative, your own dreams, and values, that you can singlehandedly walk alone believing only in them and their power as your guides?
As I continue to strip away a lot of old layers of debris that have been built up over the years of my life, these two words have constantly come up along the way. Over and over they have shown up. Who do you trust? Who do you respect? Why? Why not? In some very fundamental ways, I have found that often, at the core, there exists a lack of those two key things that are at the heart of many other surface viewpoints. A lot of the views I hold and the way that I interact in my world are formed by the answers to those questions. Even more basic is the understanding of where my own limits of them are. Where my self-trust, and self-respect bump up against my outside identity. It has been very difficult at times to see those limits - especially after 22 years in the Army, where, by all accounts, I have never seen their limitations before.
Sometimes, leadership requires a complete leap of faith. The leader, and it doesn't matter at what level, has to decide something. And while they gather all the information they can and try to make the most informed decision possible, when it comes down to it, they simply have to choose. To decide. And once the choice is made, there is a recognition that from that point forward, chains of events are put in motion that cannot be reversed. Once you leap, you cannot turn back. The wheels of change have already been put in motion. And it's not only in professional or operational terms either. Many times these decisions are much more basic than that. An alcoholic decides to get sober, a person decides to make a change in their life, a family decides to move in a new direction. Choices such as these are very basic and very common, but all require trust, respect and the ability to take the leap. These things are also all forms of leadership. Sometimes you lead yourself and sometimes you lead others, but they are examples of leadership nonetheless. Leaps of faith show up all the time if we are willing to look for them. They happen everyday, in big ways and small. And yet they often go completely overlooked. And it's too bad that they do, because once a leap of faith is taken, if it is done with the right amount of self-trust and self-respect, the outcome becomes a lot less scary. Just think of how many people could live happier, healthier and more productive lives if they possessed enough self-respect to see themselves clearly, and enough self-trust to enable them to make the leaps of faith that would generate more fulfilling lives.
The truth is that for the leaps of faith to be taken, self-trust and self respect will end up being baseline requirements. Ultimately, you cannot take the leap if you do not have enough respect for yourself to trust your own judgement in the face of anything else. The doubt sown by a lack of self-trust and a lack of self-respect becomes a binding chain that prohibits you from making the leap at all. You end up stuck wherever you are. Unable to break free from your present reality long enough to see any other possibility.
If you've read this far and stopped to ask yourself, "What the hell is he talking about? And what the hell does it have to do with military leadership?", the answer is quite simple. It has everything in the world to do with leadership. It is where leadership begins. You will not be able to lead anyone else anywhere without these understandings. Having gone down this road a piece, I can safely promise you that.
As an Army, we run around promoting people and slapping rank on them and call them a leader. We send them to schools and on graduation day we send them out with some rousing speech about being the next generation of outstanding leaders for the organization. We graduate them from ROTC and West Point and turn the lives of Soldiers over to them. And we do this with a development system that is designed for the masses. It is designed to build very good managers but not always good leaders.
Leadership begins with each of us. My journey right now is a personal one. I am working on leading myself and my family to a better place, a healthier place, towards achieving a vision for what our life will be like. But it's really not all that far away from a young sergeant or a young platoon leader taking over a squad or platoon. The same requirements exist in all three places. I must have a vision for myself. I work with my wife to create a vision for our family. The sergeant or lieutenant has a vision for their platoon. The vision is the constant. You have to know where you want to go. Sometimes, it might even be enough to know that you are not where you want to be. Either way, leading - yourself, your family, your platoon, your corporation, requires a vision.
In my case, I came about this by becoming aware of where I did not want to be. And in Army terms that would be the idea of coming into an organization and not liking what you see. That awareness is the beginning of developing your vision. I found myself in a place where a lot of what I thought to be true was not, and where a lot of the ways of operating that had served me so well in the past, were no longer working. I was working from the awareness that something wasn't quite right. Organizationally, this happens every time we have a change of command or change of responsibility. Something that wasn't broken or wasn't a priority yesterday is suddenly in a thousand pieces, or is the latest top thing to be fixed.
But how do you get to vision development? How does it happen and what are its' requirements? I think first and foremost, the leader has to have an overarching respect for themselves and then a trust in their own judgement. They have to value the way in which they see their world. They have to value their abilitites and their limitations. They have to value that they were given the rsponsibilitity of command because of who they are. And that they cannot be replicated exactly in anyone else. That is the very first requirement of successful leadership in any endeavor. A belief that you can make yourself, or your family, or your organization, better. Self-respect is the crucial first step. Without it, you cannot lead anything. You might have the title, but someone else will actually be pulling the strings. And if you look hard enough, you'll be able to see the puppet master clearly. He or she will be the true leader. As soon as self-respect is gained, self-trust is an almost automatic by-product. You begin to trust your own judgment, your own choices, your own decisions. It is not necessary that they be done in consultation with anyone else. They are yours. And self-trust is one of the most powerful leadership attributes anyone can possess. Self-trust and it's attendant behaviors are almost magnetic in their effect on those who follow. And once self-respect and self-trust are inherent understandings, the development of the vision and a narrative to achieve it becomes a lot easier to articulate.
All leaders will face a situation one day that will require them to make a leap of faith. To decide. To choose. Sometimes the choice will be rather clear cut and sometimes it will seem to be the choice between two bad options. No matter what though, they will have to decide. How they do that will call to the forefront every thing they are. And in order to make that choice, that leap, that decision, self-trust, and self-respect will have to be dealt with first. If I respect and value myself enough to know the importance of being in a particular place at a particular time, and then trust myself that the decision I make is the best that I know how, and have a vision for what the end-state is, then the leap of faith is not really that hard. The Army asks leaders to have a vision for their organization all the time. You can read them everywhere. What it doesn't do is ask people, Soldiers, young leaders to have a vision for themselves. Who am I? What do I value? What are my non-negotiables? Maybe we should.
Every day as I continue to learn I am taking a new leaps of faith. Some were easy and some were very difficult. But walking off that cliff is nowhere near as scary now as it once was. Nowhere near as binding. And that opens up realms of possibility that I never knew existed before. Without self-respect and without self-trust, those leaps would be impossible to make.
I am leading myself now, designing a vision for myself and for my family. Ultimately though, I will lead my organization in the same manner. The question for you is do you possess enough self-respect and self-trust to be able to make the leap when you have to?
A final thought: In the book, "Leadership: The Warrior's Art" written and edited by Christopher Kolenda, there is a section written by Douglas E. Lute. In it he states the following about successful leaders:
"From this followers perspective, the single characteristic that most distinguishes effective leaders is that they are genuine: they know who they are."
If you know who you are, possess self-respect and self-trust, the leaps of faith are not that scary. And even more importantly, those you lead will gain an abiding faith in your vision.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.