"Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life."
"If we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living."
If you are a regular reader here, then it should be obvious by now that the tone of the postings has shifted quite strongly over the past 9 weeks or so. From #113 "The Invincibility Myth" forward to today, there has been very little focus on the Army or the problems or issues I see in it or any of the the things that occupied my brain for many posts previous to that. The focus has instead turned inward. Looking at myself and hopefully prompting you to do a little of the same. To take some time and start asking some hard questions. To challenge myself to look beyond what I think is true about how I move through my world and to look for my true self - my authentic self. I have not done this alone and it has taken the wisdom, faith, friendship and guidance of a very special friend to help me identify and then confront myself honestly. The journey so far has been instructive and illuminating. I share parts of it here to hopefully prompt you to start thinking about yourself earlier than I did. To really work hard to discover the authenticity and truth of who you are. As my understandings grow, I share them with you as a gift. A gift of friendship. A gift of the potential for authentic leadership. If something here rings true to you, then take a moment to dig a little deeper. In the end, what you discover will be a more complete understanding of who you really are. And people follow leaders who know who they are.
As I continue to uncover my own authenticity, one of the most impactful discoveries I made is that, in every critical way, I have lived my life in fear. Personally and professionally. Fear of loss...Fear of failure...Fear of judgment...Fear of trust...Fear of living fully. Most importantly, though I have feared loving other people completely. For all of the outside appearances, fear is a defining characteristic of my life. It is both troubling and incredibly emancipating to see that. Now I know. Now I can recognize it. Now I can begin to put it down.
It has been amazing to see how powerful fear is as a controlling influence in my life. Fear has built an entire behavior system and emotional response system to protect itself and perpetuate itself in my life and without realizing it I often let it define and color almost every aspect of my interaction with my world and with other people. Fear became me.
Fear will define how you lead. It certainly did for me. It is such a powerful force that it will craft entire response mechanisms to protect itself. Fear is a parasite inside of all of us and if left unchecked, will sooner or later devour us without our even knowing it. You cannot fully interact in your world and with other people if you always have one eye out looking for those things that you fear most deeply. I cannot lead others fully if I am always afraid of my bosses' judgment. I cannot ensure success if I always have one eye peeled looking to avoid failure. I cannot love and care for others if I am always waiting for the day when they leave me behind. Fear shuts off at least half of living fully.
True and authentic leaders do not face this problem. The are not paralyzed by fear. They recognize it as no more than an emotion passing through them and then ask themselves the single most important question possible, "Why am I feeling this way?" They do not react to the fear, they become aware of it and then seek to understand its' origin. Other than that, they give it no merit. Once they understand the origin, then they choose a response. They choose to give it merit or not. They choose to alter their actions because of it or not. They control it, it does not control them.
What are your fears? What things silently control how you perceive your world? Ever spend any time thinking about that? If you want to lead other people in any endeavor, I am finding out that seeing and confronting your own fears first is a critical step in the development of authenticity and authenticity is the absolute key ingredient in successful leadership. People instinctively follow those who have an authenticity that resonates outward and pulls others in. An authenticity that sends a message of strength, understanding, confidence and a belief in the outcome of any mission. The perception from others that you are acting out of fear eliminates those positive attributes completely, no matter how hard you build systems to hide it from them.
In a lot of my earlier posts, I wrote about COL John Boyd and the OODA cycle. Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Over and over, in post after post, I said that the 2nd O, Orient, is the absolutely critical piece to making the loop work. Without a proper Orientation, you cannot know that your Decide is correct and the Act is affected by that choice.
I have been turning the OODA cycle sharply inwards over the past 9 weeks and am now finding out how powerfully fear has affected all of my Decides and most of my Acts. Even though I couldn't see it clearly in earlier writing, I instinctively knew that my Orientation was the critical piece and that there was an understanding deep inside of me that there were gaps and holes there that weren't allowing my authenticity to reveal itself. I just couldn't sit still long enough to listen.
How many leaders do you know who are truly authentic? Think about it....What is it about those few people who you know who are truly genuine, who seem to move effortlessly through their world, who seem to be the most stable and balanced and true? What is it about them that you find so attracting? If you look very closely, what you will probably find is that they are comfortable in their own skin. They accept themselves fully. They understand who they are. Maybe instinctively, or maybe with some help, but either way they exude a comfort as they navigate their world. Ever stop and think about why they are so attractive to the rest of us? Ever stop for a moment to consider what it is that they possess that we don't? One of the key pieces to answering that will be to look at how they handle fear and how we do.
Natural leaders have a healthy understanding of themselves. In fact, they love themselves as whole, complete and worthy. They live in a balance. They accept consciously or not that they have an inherent value separate from anyone or anything else. They accept and value their own worthiness. They can laugh as easily as cry, they feel every emotion completely but do not give them any more weight than they actually deserve. They hold themselves to healthy standards and no more so than they expect of others. They do not live in fear of judgment. In effect, they control themselves. They see themselves clearly. Do you?
For me, fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear of losing love, fear of being alone, all of these are symptoms...they are not the true problem. They are how the true problem makes itself known to me. Once you see a fear as an objective thing, giving it no emotional weight whatsoever beyond a recognition that it exists, then it becomes much less paralyzing and controlling. I can now work on the larger underlying problem. Solving that will allow a lot of other things to slip away. Once they are gone, authenticity and the power of being truly me will shine through. That is authentic leadership. That is the leadership that people react most strongly to. In some ways, it is as simple as being who you are. In order to do that though, you have to know who you are first. That is the hard work I'm doing now and trying to share with you.
This blog is about leadership. Specifically about military leadership in the Army. And while the Army and it's development systems produce some very good, very powerful and very impactful leaders, the truth is that those people likely already possessed all the attributes needed for authentic leadership. That is something the Army and most organizations never think about. They think they are providing the answers to how to be a leader. Authentic leaders already know it. They live it everyday. It resides within them.
As I begin to see the truth of who I am, a more complete picture, the need for artifice and pretending and posturing seems to melt away. And as it does, the fears that bind me also leave. I still have one last large step to go, but at least now I know what the hell it is I'm looking at. At least now I can Orient myself correctly.
In order to lead others, it is critical that you can lead yourself first. Think about that for a moment and the purpose of these last 9 posts will become abundantly clear. This still is a blog about military leadership. In fact, with each post these days, it feels like it is actually getting one step closer to achieving that aim. To helping people understand that in order to lead Soldiers on the battlefield, or anywhere else, you first must be able to lead yourself. And in order to lead yourself, you have to have a very clear picture of who your authentic self is. Without that, ultimately, sooner or later, fear and failure will pay you a visit. And when they do, if they slip into your system and get embedded deeply enough, it will be very hard to root them out.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.