Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A True and Short Story

Any definition of leadership raises semantical issues, as the terms leadership, management, and command overlap widely in military (and) civilian usage. To many military personnel the terms leadership and command are synonymous. Likewise, industry frequently makes little distinction between leadership and management.

The Study of Leadership

P 1-3, Introduction, Volume I, PL 401 AY 1971-72


Chapter I - The Dinner

I had dinner last night with a friend of mine - a former Marine Corps Major helicopter pilot. He's a great dad, loving husband, good teacher, very good manager, and gentle in his demeanor, always looking carefully for the nuances about how others are feeling, what they might need from him to move forward in the direction of their goals. I've observed him working with people under stress. I've noticed that he's almost always paying attention to others and simultaneously monitoring his own internal reactions and what these might cause. When he senses a need in others he artfully delivers a word or glance or gesture that creates an opening into which people move for their personal betterment, and for the betterment of all. When riled, which from my vantage point is rare, he stays in that state for only a moment and then lets that energy pass away.

The Marine Corp might take credit for him being this way, "He's an example of our fine training." Others might say, "He's a pilot and pilots take their lives and the lives of others into their hands on a daily basis." I think these are both valid perspectives, and you know the old sayings - Once a Marine, Always a Marine - Once a Pilot, Always a Pilot. But what I really think is that somewhere along the line in the life of my friend he got clear that:

#1 - Attitude, the way one views something, is paramount;

#2 - Attitude influences both short and long term behavior and action;

#3 - Attitude affects environment - the people and things that surround a person;

#4 - His attitude is solely his responsibility;

#5 - He attracts people and things into his life, or repels them from his life.

We talked about leadership over our meal, and the need for people in positions of power - fathers, mothers, teachers, managers, CEO's, presidents of companies, heads of organizations, principals, VP's, sole practitioners, executive assistants, etc. - to be able to shake off negativity when it occurs; the kind of negativity that accompanies stress, strain and the pressures that you may find yourself subject to given the current and almost constant attention to negative or uncertain financial news, fear based advertisements, or sensationalism focused on violence or hype.

We talked about our shared practice - one that places physical, emotional and intellectual demands on a person who is being struck, grabbed and physically attacked. Our conversation revolved around how that from our beginnings in this practice (nine years ago) to today the seemingly key ingredient to successfully developing and unleashing it is learning to relax under pressure. We agree that the same is true for leadership.

Midway through dinner he said, "People have to learn and know why an ability to relax under pressure is so important. And it's the responsibility of a leader to show them."

Chapter II - The Book

The 1972 US Military Academy (USMA) senior class course reader on psychology and leadership provided some great distinctions between leader, manager and boss - or in the later case - commander, reflecting the language of West Point and the military. Those who read that introduction back then (I was one of them) were advised to pay attention because an embodied understanding of the distinctions would effect the lives of real people.

I broke with my normal approach and read that introduction rather than skip past it to chapters that I was sure would be on the end-of-semester exam. I'm not the only person who has rushed past necessary foundations to get to what they thought was more important stuff. Those days I was short sighted; I wanted to get a grade and graduate.

Selective reading in order to pass a paper exam is akin to rushing into a business opportunity to make a quick buck, no matter the long-term consequences; or like disregarding someone's temperament at the beginning of the dating scene and then somehow hoping for a happily ever after relationship.

I passed the semester exam and the course with a good grade, and graduated. But the data regarding distinctions wasn't knowledge - at least not yet. It remained only a scrap of information. Fortunately, a year and a half later, someone with real-life experience cared about me enough, to point out my past lack of vision. He did so by getting in my face about how I was being, which with him wasn't very good.

That was a risk for him because I held higher rank. Rank, position, title and office are important in some social, professional, familial and other structured environments. Disregard for rank can have severe consequences under certain conditions. But his risk caused me to think about what had become valuable to me (my status, position and opinions - all temporary) rather than what should have been vital to me (the people I served and a healthy understanding of myself - a life-long endeavor). His risk brought me back to the fundamentals.

The distinctions that follow have appeared in past Allied Ronin newsletters and blogs, but they certainly aren't carved in stone and solely definitive. West Point doesn't have license on the English language or opinion. But long-term experience and on-the-job real-world case studies - real life and death stuff - support the importance of these. At minimum, they might be worth pondering again if you are already aware of them. Some things are like that. So the purpose for mentioning them today is for the sake of encouraging action.

Management. The planning, organizing, directing and controlling optimum use of money, human resource, energy, time and material to accomplish something. A Manager is a person who holds a position created by a system. This person is often identified by a title, someone, whose job (a do function) it is to optimize the use of those things listed above. The system that created the position and identified the person with title can take many forms.

Bossing(commanding, in military terms). Exerting authority over others. A Boss (commander) is a one who holds a position given by a system. He or she is someone who, because of a system, tells others what to do, and when and where to do it. The system that creates their position and title can take any form - autocratic (I have the biggest hammer or knife so we do it my way), democratic (we elect you), committee appointment (a bunch of us want you and we'll put you in charge), historic (because I'm your father or mother, and I say so), etc.

Leading. The influence human behavior. A Leader is one who (regardless of position or title) influences human behavior. Leading is not a function of job position or title or status. Systems do not create positions called leaders. People move in and out of states of influence regardless of, and sometimes independent of, systems. If you have had children, you know this, because you know what it's like to hear your baby cry in the middle of the night, and then you get up to change the diaper and rock him to sleep. In those moments the infant was Leader; you were Follower. With mindful practice one can become an effective leader, regardless or age, rank, title, position, looks, gender, amount of money in the bank, status, etc.

Leadership is an art. It is learned, embodied and practiced over time - sometimes without awareness. As an art practiced purposefully it carries power. If the practitioner's influence is constructive, she or he will be known by others as a positive leader. If the practitioner's influence is destructive, he or she will gain a reputation as being a negative leader.

One can be a Good Manager and not a Boss; a Good Boss and not a Manager; a Lousy Boss and a Great Manager; a Good Manager and a Lousy Boss - or both Boss and Manager and good at each. One can be a Powerful Leader and never ever be a Manager or a Boss.

The fact is at any time anyone can be a leader in any circumstance. This is important to remember.

Chapter III - The List

My Marine Corps former Major helicopter friend got me thinking. So this morning I began making a list:

A relaxed mind lowers blood pressure. A tense state of mind raises it.

A relaxed mind makes for good digestion. A tense state of mind creates constipation.

A relaxed mind calms agitated people. A tense state of mind increases agitation.

A relaxed mind attracts people. A tense state of mind repulses them.

A relaxed mind is creative. A tense state of mind hits the same nail with the same hammer.

A relaxed mind is cooperative. A tense state of mind looks for a fight.

A relaxed mind sees opportunities, that otherwise are invisible to a tense state of mind.

A relaxed mind sleeps well. A tense state of mind tosses and turns.

A relaxed mind bends and rebounds quickly. A tense state of mind gets brittle and cracks.

A relaxed mind learns new behaviors. A tense state of mind repeats old mistakes.

A relaxed mind grows. A tense mind decays.

A relaxed mind is youthful. A tense mind grows old before its time.

A relaxed mind finds things that are lost. A tense state of mind walks right past what is missing (often repeatedly) and doesn't see it.

A relaxed mind is hopeful. A tense state of mind is depressing.

A relaxed mind attracts abundance. A tense state of mind denies abundance even in the midst of it.

A relaxed mind can hold and operate on many thoughts at one time. A tense mind squeezes the power out of many thoughts and has a hard time dealing with just one.

The rest of this chapter is up to you - continue on with the above list by adding to it and create one of your own. No limits here. You can make this a month long process - and work on it every day. You can paste your list on the refrigerator door, on coffee room bulletin board, or your night stand. This exercise might actually help any condition you find yourself in, because the act of writing things like this will effect your attitude. I promise you - you're not immune from being human. Or you can skip over this and do nothing, like I used to skip the introductions of the assigned course readers given me at West Point, looking for the stuff that would be on a test in order to get a short-term good grade.

But before you do either, skip the list or work on it, here's the news for this month's newsletter. Allied Ronin is a loose alliance of a few people scattered around the globe and listed at The primary mission of Allied Ronin is to serve human beings by developing leaders. (ß- that's a period right there, subtle but important point.) These individuals have their own firms and businesses. We look anywhere and everywhere to take on this mission and we do it, often on our own, with all kinds of people who find themselves in all kinds of circumstances. Most of the people served are not formal managers or bosses. But every person served is a leader, and that's a fact. Sometimes we charge a lot of money. Sometimes we serve for free. And sometimes it costs us a lot of money to provide the services we do, and we pay prices for that. Regardless of this, our alliance is bound by each individual's understanding of this mission, a mission we feel is important. To a person, everyone on the list that you'll find on the website has a growing and embodied understanding that being able to relax under pressure is important, and a growing understanding of why this is so.

Here's some advice - and perhaps a challenge. To whatever degree you are doing something to purposefully enhance your capacity to relax under pressure then continue that practice. Consider increasing it and influencing others to do likewise. If you are not currently engaged in doing something to purposefully enhance your capacity to relax under pressure then the time to start is today - right now. It's worth the investment in time, energy and money to do so no matter what else you are committed to or have on your calendar. Don't wait. Your today will be traded for something. Might as well make it something worthwhile and useful for a healthy future.

Mind is the master power that moulds and makes

And Man is mind and evermore he takes

The tool of thought and shaping what he wills

Brings forth a thousand joys, or a thousand ills.

He thinks in secret and it comes to pass.

Environment is his looking glass.

- James Allen

©Lance Giroux, 2009


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