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.