#154 A Fork in the Road

Dear Readers -

After much consideration and internal debate, I have decided to stop writing Fen's Thoughts here on blogspot and to move the discussion over to Facebook. This post will be the last one that I publish here. From this point forward, I will publish Fen's Thoughts on it's own Facebook page as notes that will start with #155.

I want to thank each of your for stopping by and visiting the blog here. I sincerely appreciate it. I hope that as I have shared my thoughts and my journey over the past 2 years or so, that it has caused you to think or reflect every now and again on your own life, your own journey, or your own understadning of leadership.

Fen's Thoughts has been a very nice companion for me over the years. Sometimes it has been a well reasoned argument from someone trying to match the reality to the rhetoric, and sometimes it has been the petulant rantings of someone looking to blame the world for his life, his choices, and his circumstances. Regardless of what showed up here each week, the time spent typing and thinking and considering was well-spent. I enjoyed the solitude and the opportunity to think and form an idea and then build it and share it with others.

And that is another reason that I am moving it to Facebook. The format here never really did foster the discussion that I had hoped it would. The place for people to come and share ideas and thoughts and understandings. Something we could all grow from in some small way. The Fen's Thoughts Facebook page is already doing that.

So, it is time for my good friend and trusty companion of the last 2-plus years to part ways here. We have come to a fork in the road. And finally, and with a heartful of gratitude for everything these pages have provided me, it is time to shut this down and move the dicussion in new direction. Looking forward to Chapter 2......

#153 Taking Ownership

A few weeks ago I received the following paragraph from a friend of mine that has been on my mind ever since. It part of a paper entitled "The Problem of War, C.S. Lewis on Pacifism, War & the Christian Warrior", written by Darrell Cole. There is a section of the paper entitled, 'The Demands of Chivalry' that caught my eye and is the focus of most of my thoughts today.


"Lewis's essay on chivalry is an exemplary argument about Christian just war-making. Lewis saw what few of our contemporaries do: that just war requires just people to wage it. Chivalry is, properly speaking, the character that enables human beings to be 'fierce to the nth degree meek to the nth degree. Thus, the medieval ideal brings together two things that do not grow together naturally in a human being: fierceness and meekness. To acquire such a character is no easy matter. As Lewis reminds us, the knight is a work of art, not nature. Those who are naturally fitted to war-like pursuits will have to acquire the virtues of humility and mercy to supplement their inherent fierceness. Those who are naturally meek will have to acquire the virtues of courage and valor to supplement their natural humility and mildness. "

The beginning sentences of the next paragraph almost stunned me in their clarity and simplicity and truth.

"Nations who wish to fight just wars must produce just commanders and soldiers to fight them. If we cannot produce chivalrous persons, then we end up with people who are useful in battle but useless in peace, or who are useful in peace but useless in battle."

As my journey has progressed, I have become aware in very tangible and real ways of my own power. My own capacity. I have learned to listen very carefully to my self and to pay attention to when I am most calm and focused and centered and clear and thoughtful and complete. I have learned to listen to that and to seek it out in times when I lose sight of it. When something seems to knock me backwards a step or when I have a moment of doubt. I am learning to pay attention to that uncomfortableness and then trace it back to a cause. When did I leave the powerful and clear and calmly sure place and start to drift? Why? When? And I have learned to fight my way back. Back to the place of calm, confident, control. I have learned, to a degree, to channel and keep hold of that powerful place inside me. Every single day, I can feel myself moving further and further away from my fear-based past and towards this place of deep strength and true comfortable power.

What the hell does all that have to do with C.S. Lewis, just war, and chivalry? A lot I think. A hell of a lot. Ever since the holidays, my writing and thinking has been consumed in one form or another with the idea of responsibility and accountability and ownership of your life, your decisions and your behavior. That you make choices and you are responsible for those choices. That you make decisions as a leader and you are responsible for those decisions. That you make just and right choices, or unjust and wrong choices and you have to live up to those decisions. That you must find, develop, and then listen to your code.

In Post 150, the message was simple. "Don't rape." Not "Don't rape because if you do I will put you in jail and you will have XYZ happen to you.", but simply "Don't rape. It's not what good men and good warriors and good Soldiers do." End of story. Anything more than that, anything that lays out potential punishment etc should not be necessary. Rape is against the code. In Post 151, I came to see the true power of me in a very clear and concise and pointed and sharp manner for, quite possibly, the first time. I truly saw the implications and gained an understanding of my own power. My own strength. My own truth as a man and as a leader. I have never in my life felt so authentically alive as I did when I wrote that. Believe me, it was like a veil was lifted from my eyes and I could finally step into a place that was totally and completely mine. I am now making choices and decisions because they are right or wrong for me, not because of what I think might happen to me if I choose incorrectly. In Post 152, that authentic power and decision making and choice acceptance suddenly came with consequences. I am accountable for my choices, my decisions, my actions. My life is not an accident. It is mine. I choose it and I make decisions in it that have outcomes and I am responsible for those outcomes. That is what self-leadership is about. And for a man who spent many years trying to make sure he wasn't wrong, so he didn't get caught, the idea of stepping into my powerful self, making my own choices and accepting that no matter what, I am responsible for those choices, is a very very big leap forward.

"Just war requires just people to wage it...."

"The Knight is a work of art, not nature...."

"Nations who wish to fight just wars, must produce just commanders and Soldiers to fight them."

"Chivalry is....the ability to be fierce in the nth degree and meek in the nth degree...."

In response to Post 152, a friend of mine said it was a "Swing and a miss". I understand now that he was right. I was refusing to bring all of me and my power to that place to affect change. I wanted to expect that you knew what right looked like and would automatically do it, instead of realizing that I have a responsibility to demonstrate the Knight's code by my total immersive demonstrated powerful self. That it is not the position I hold that commands the respect of those who are below me on the hierarchy, it is me. It is me that they will or wont follow, me they will or wont respect, me they will or wont want to emulate and learn from. It is not the rank I have or the title I hold. It is Fenlason. That is who they are ultimately following. And I am responsible for him. No one else. Without excuse or worry. You are not responsible for my decisions, I am. And once made and once chosen, using all of my power, all of my authentic self, I will move the organization in the direction of my vision.

And so justice and justness become critical considerations. Those we choose to fill leadership positions must possess the judgment to be just. To be fierce and to be meek. To be chivalrous. To step into all of their power and fully realize and accept that it is they who are the role models and mentors and leaders. It is they who have to set and establish and demand adherence to the Knight's code. It is they who have to establish and enforce and teach chivalry. It is me.

I keep coming back to the quote that the Knight is a work of art, not nature. Today, right here and right now, that feels so very true to me. I have come along way on my journey. I feel like all the chipping away and sculpting and starting over and missed brush strokes and erasing and missed steps have finally shown me what i needed to see. It finally feels like a lot of it is starting to come together.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#152 Accountability

Just before the holidays, I wrote post #150 and sent a version of it to an online publication called The Good Men Project ( www.goodmenproject.com). It was selected and published under the title "Who Will Show the Young Men How to Act?" It was the first piece that I have written and had published outside of Fen's Thoughts. I am very proud that they considered my writing worthy of publication.

Out of that place though a series of questions about responsibility and accountability and how we live and lead have been kicking around in my head. And that's where this post is headed.

On a very personal level, I have spent the past year slowly and painstakingly taking control of my life. Unraveling it and defining it and looking at it and changing it and struggling with parts of it and finding ways to see my 43 years more clearly. Ultimately, I have been claiming it...taking responsibility for it. Becoming accountable for it, and to it. It is my life. The set of days I have been given. It is my responsibility to live them well. I have gone from being a passive bystander in my own existence to an active leader of myself and my family. Slowly I have released blame and fear and worry and about how I should act or be, and just learned to see myself, and accept myself and and decide for myself where I need to be standing. I have taken accountability for myself. Learned to say, "Here I am. Accept me or don't. That choice is yours." I have started to live an intentional life. And living intentionally means actively deciding what is right for me and my family and then living with the outcomes of those choices. I am responsible to make the choices and accountable for the decisions. It is active living. Intentional living.

And that sense of intention and accountability is important. In fact, it is critical. Personally and professionally. It took me most of my adult life to see how much I had been trying to shift those two to others for things that happened to me. To make excuses, to cover up the flaws and cracks, to find a million ways to not have to face the truth when things went badly or turned out differently than I expected. And I think that most people do the same. I am not alone here, folks. A lot of people are living exactly this way every day. I was just fortunate enough to have the chance to look this deeply at my life after a few important people prodded and poked at me enough to start me on the journey. If they had not, then I would likely still be living the same sort of half-life / half-lie I was before. Still daily trying to convince myself that I was 'in-charge' of my destiny and my life, when in fact all I was doing was running from any sense of responsibility for it.

There is a difference between doing or choosing something because it is right for you, and simply following the rules because you might get in trouble or something might not turn out right and you might come up short. We live in a world right now where too many people are deluded into thinking that following the rules without consideration equals living.

We live in a culture where nothing is anyone's fault. Ever. Whatever the issue, whatever the problem, whatever the scandal, when was the last time you ever heard someone stand up and say, "I made that choice. It was a poor one. I am responsible for the outcome that happened. "? And not in a 'mea culpa' sense either. When? And the answer is rarely. We lament the loss of the Harry Truman 'The Buck Stops Here' motto, but we also systematically fail to recognize that we have removed decision making and responsibility development from our children, our Soldiers and our society as a whole. Think about that. It matters.

The part of my article on Good Men that seemed to grab a lot of people's attention was the idea what we call leadership is often nothing more than glorified babysitting. My point was that what most of us fail to recognize at all is the extent to which all of our lives are based upon the fear of something going wrong or having a bad outcome and then being blamed for that outcome. In the article, the idea that if I as a leader don't explicitly tell a Soldier not to do something over the weekend, then I own part of it if they choose to do it and it has a bad outcome. Once you start down that slippery slope, there is no ending.

No. I am not responsible for every act of stupidity and senselessness and recklessness that my Soldiers participate in. They are. My job as a leader is to provide them the opportunity to exercise judgement that develops a positive sense of responsibility and accountability. To paint the picture of what a Soldier is. Not what you shouldn't do in order to not get in trouble but rather to paint a picture of what accountability in action looks like. To demonstrate and develop and guide young men. To accept them from whatever station in life they come to me, find their talents, develop them, and nurture them and ultimately, provide them with a strong sense of who they are and the values they espouse. That is my job. That is my calling. That is why I lead. My job isn't to worry and try to prevent them from doing every stupid, reckless, or wrong thing. That is leading from fear. My job is to paint a picture of how honorable and right and true and dedicated the profession of arms is, and then give my Soldiers the chance to live in that world. There is a huge difference between the world of "Don't do this because you might get in trouble or hurt", and "This is what a professional Soldier looks like and acts like. This is who we are and this is what I expect you to live up to." There is a world of difference between those two places. And in that space is all the accountability and responsibility in the world.

Earlier this week, there was a sensational story about a video which surfaced showing U.S. Marines desecrating the dead. And immediately the response mechanisms went into place. As the week progressed, I saw a lot of different comments regarding the rightness or wrongness of the action. But the one that struck me the most was someone asking the question, "Where was their Squad Leader?" Really? Does it really take a Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps to tell you that urinating on dead bodies is wrong? Are we now going to hear leaders stand in front of their formations and read them the list of do's and dont's before each mission? Sadly we will. And many of you know it.

There is no one to blame for this act except those who took part in it. Where we have failed is that we are no longer raising people to accept and embrace and want responsibility and accountability. We are too busy babysitting them and hoping to God that they do not go do something stupid that we hadn't considered. It's time to change the model from babysitter to leader. Instead of setting the bar for excellence, we find ourselves having to defend against stupidity and barbarism. Apparently the Army is looking into cruelty to goats...You can already see where that one is headed...

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

#151 Look In the Mirror and Listen

The new year is always time when people start to reflect on where they are and what happened in the past 12 months and what they hope to have happen in the coming year. Mot of us make resolutions to change this, or adjust that and promise ourselves that we will make a more concerted effort to do X or Y this year and then for the for the most part it dies away in the next couple weeks after the euphoria of the holidays wears off. Maybe some tinkering around the edges, but nothing substantive.

But occasionally something different happens. Sometimes you are just travelling along your path and in an instant, or the turn of a phrase, something seems to fall into place, another layer of film gets removed, and the picture becomes much clearer. Then your resolution has a chance.

This past week my leadership style and the core behaviors that make up who I am as a man came together in a perfectly clear way. Who I am as a person came into perfect concert with how I best lead. Instead of being aware of a title, or a label or a set of responsibilities etc, there was a seemelss feel that who I am is so inherently connected to how I lead that I could not feel any separation between the two. You could not have one without the other. You could not have the Jeff without the recognizing the Leader, and you don't get to the Leader without having Jeff. I was leading from my core.

What became clear to me is that I lead best by calm and reason and patience. I lead best by meeting you where you are, and moving you where I need you to go. Where the organization needs to be. Yelling, screaming, dictatorial leadership models don't work for me. Might sound really cool on tv, but it doesn't work for me.

It is really important to recognize and figure out how you lead so that you don't end up just play-acting. So that your leadership is you writ large. It's not a title - 'Leader' - it's who you are. Your leadership is one of the many parts of your core. This may seem apparent to a lot of people, but I assure you it's not. If it were, we wouldn't have 8 zillion books printed about leadership. We would simply teach people to recognize and listen to their truest selves. To accept themselves as whole and complete. As a palette of infinite colors. People would stop buying the next self-help book and learn to see themselves accurately.

Those are two big paragraphs actually. The first a recognition that I am not a typical or even a prototypical Army leader. That I am unique. And that uniqueness stems solely from who I am. As a person, as a man, as a Soldier, husband, father. Not some cardboard caricature creation pumped out by a leadership school to look exactly like every one who has come before. No. I am uniquely me. My truest leadership flows from a calm and centered place that is at the core of me. The essence of me is the essence of my leadership. Discovering, uncovering, finding, naming, understanding...all of those things that it took for me to see me are also the exact things it takes to see my leadership. I have mentioned over and over that we need to turn the leadership model inward. I am right. I will be a better leader in 2012 than I ever have been because I am a better man. Not because I went to a class or took a new job or got a new title. I will be a better leader because I have found a core truth.

That core truth is simple. I am most comfortable when I am in charge. I can certainly follow someone else's lead, and will gladly do so when I really recognize that they, too, are operating from a place of pure clarity, but it is not my natural place in the Universe. My natural place is to lead. Not in a dictatorial manner, but lead nonetheless. I prefer to guide and teach. Calm and focused on the outcome. I am patient and willing to listen and be flexible. Focused and not easily distracted by the small things. I want you to grow. I am willing to hear your ideas. I want to share ownership. There are times when I need to step in directly and firmly and without equivocation or debate, but they are rare and not generally my style. I will listen and hear and consider, but ultimately, I will decide.

2011 was an incredible year for me. I transformed my entire life. Literally. There is not one aspect of it that wasn't pulled apart and studied and adjusted. Not a stone left unturned. And on New Year's Eve, the only thing I could find to make a resolution about is to listen very closely to those core things that make me, me. And to never waiver, apologize, nor forget the essence of who I am. If I can do that then I lead from a place of comfortable peace. That should be our goal.

Sometime during the last year, I came across the following quote:

"To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing it's best to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and to never stop fighting."

e. e. cummings

So here is my first post of 2012. I would like to invite you to fight too. Take a look in the mirror and listen.