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No One is Coming...It's Up to Us

There is no lack of philosophies and prescriptions about leadership on any given day…at any given hour…from corporate, non-profit, and military leaders, scholars, practitioners, theorists and even gurus, about how organizations-public, governmental and corporate-should be led.

Certainly, the goal is to better serve their customers and members. Whether it’s the “knowledge worker” management philosophies of Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming’s Total Quality Management or Motorola’s Six Sigma. This is not to mention every other retired executive, military leader or commando who is demonstrating his or her experience and expertise to organizations and individuals. There is certainly room for everybody. We can all learn from each other’s experiences.

This is one kind of leadership: organizational leadership. Some may even ask: “Is there any other kind?" Yes, there is: individual leadership. Another way of saying this is:” You must touch each base to make that home run, even if you knock it out of the ballpark.” Bottom-line: A growth mindset is the path to all kinds of leadership, and to get there, you must know yourself first. How are you going to lead anybody or any group if you can’t lead yourself? The fact is that effective leadership can be very lonely and it’s not for the faint of heart. Neither is living authentically. Every one of us can be brave; each one of us can contribute to others. If you are breathing, you can lead-especially yourself.

The Leadership Crucible

Our work at the Leadership Crucible teaches us that everyone can lead. The people we work with demonstrate and relate what it’s like ‘walking through their own fire.’ ’Living is leading. Many people equate leadership with getting things done through people or influencing others to achieve worthwhile results. I wouldn’t argue with these definitions from an organizational perspective, but I would ask: where is the individual? We are human beings, not human “doings.”

I believe most of these definitions are one dimensional and glossy. They sound good. But if they are so good, why do we have such a crisis in confidence in leadership today? I believe that this view of leadership is flawed because it suggests all kinds of prescriptives for organizational leadership without considering the individual first. As my mother told me so many times growing up in Oklahoma: “charity begins at home, Benji.” If we do not know ourselves, how can we profess to know others so that we can, not only lead them, but give each person the tools to lead themselves individually? How can we earn the responsibility to lead others? Self-awareness is essential for effective leadership.

Understanding our strengths, weaknesses, emotions and, especially our values allow us to lead with authenticity and empathy, inspiring and guiding those in our charge toward shared goals. Knowing oneself helps build trust and fosters better communications within a team. The American writer, Kurt Vonnegut, said: “the most stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man is a fire truck.” No group of people, or single individual has a monopoly on the leadership equation. But the nature of the landscape for the fire firefighting profession possesses some unique environmental characteristics. Regardless of the situation when the alarm comes in, you are going as quickly as you can to deal with the situation whether it’s a 9/11 or one person with a mental issue who needs a “hand up.” It’s up to you and no one is coming... but us. Should it be any different for any of us in any situation? We don’t have to be a fire fighter to possess the personal awareness to lead or, once we do lead, the situational awareness to decide what to do with the situation confronting us.

Understanding ourselves so that others understand us can give each of us an unvarnished view of our strengths and weaknesses so that we can develop a growth mindset. Now, some may say that they really don’t want to “grow,” that they are happy with themselves as they are. No argument there, but sooner or later, a kind of dissatisfaction, even a kind of quiet desperation can set in. That’s your soul demanding a bit of growth. And that growth can benefit so many others besides just you. Where to begin? There are a few instruments that can give each of us an idea of our character traits-strengths and weaknesses-and especially our temperaments: Myers Briggs (initiated by the psychiatrist Carl Jung) is one of these enduring personality tests which also provide insight into strengthening weaknesses.

Temperament is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of personality and one of the most important. Edger Schein’s Career Anchors is an excellent guide. If you just take the time first to understand yourself, then sharing your traits with others on your team, you can have a solid foundation for a team that thrives on character, clear values, strength, bravery, and empathy. Then, perhaps, each of us can live that Hebrew charge: “tikkun olam:” “repair the world.” When we help others-even one person- through the gift of who we are, we help to repair the world.

Join us, one step at a time, one individual at a time to “repair the world” through The Leadership Crucible.


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