Posts Tagged ‘character’

Hurricane Harvey Texas August 25, 2017Hurricane Harvey began pounding the middle-to-eastern part of lower Texas on Friday, August 25, 2017. A tropical storm that rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane, Harvey made its initial landfall at the small town of Rockport, TX, virtually wiping it off the map in terms of devastation and damage.

An unusual weather pattern that had a persistent low pressure system from the west and high pressure system from the east kept Harvey virtually stationary for almost five days.

Given its close proximity to the Gulf coast, Tropical Storm Harvey maintained its tropical force winds, which in turn sucked up massive amounts of moisture from the sea just to its south. (more…)

Quintessential leadership is absent without a consistently stellar reputationSeth Godin’s blog post today is about reputation. The points he makes are well-stated, accurate, and something that we who are striving to be quintessential leaders should be thinking about all the time in what we say, what we do and who and what we are.

We can never be reminded of this too often, though.

How are we doing?

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed AmericaRising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After unprecedented continuous and heavy rain storms from the summer of 1926 through the spring of 1927 along the Mississippi River, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 became the worst and most destructive river flood in the history of the United States, with 27,000 square miles along the river overwhelmed and buried by water at depths up to 30 feet.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America doesn’t just document this historic natural disaster. Instead it comprehensively looks at all the factors, many of them more than a century in the making, that coalesced over time to create not only this disaster, but the response to it, and the way it dramatically changed life, especially in the lower Mississippi, from the Mississippi Delta to the swamp country below New Orleans, forever.

This book is gripping and grabs you into the story, not only of the Mississippi River, but of America: its geography, its people, its society, its military, its power enclaves in business, government, life and the deep and fatal flaws of each of those that, ultimately led to this disaster and its aftermath.

For people like me, with a strong scientific bent, the numbers, the physics, the math, the structure, and the detailed solutions for harnessing the destructive power of the river are enthralling, but they are presented in a way that anyone can easily understand, especially when the flaws in thinking because of ignorance and/or laziness crop up along the way.

There are no heroes in this story, only mere limited humans. Some were downright villainous: self-absorbed, narcissistic, mean, hate-filled, murderous, deceitful, and motivated simply by pride, vanity, and greed. Others were products of their environments and experiences, believing they were altruistic, good, and devoted to the greater good, while in fact when push came to shove, the darkness of their hearts revealed itself as well.

Even the one man who knew the Mississippi River better than anyone else (and probably still stands alone in that intimate knowledge of the river) and had the engineering genius to know how to properly harness its power for good and did everything within his power to make that happen, James Eads, had flaws of character that emerged under pressure.

It’s often been said that we will never know how strong we are until we are surrounded by and confronted in every space of our lives with the impossible.

I believe – in fact, I know from experience for certain – that we will never know or understand how truly weak we are – where the hidden deep and destructive flaws of our hearts, our souls, our minds, and, indeed, our very nature and character are – until we are inundated at every turn with the impossible.

It is at this point where we have the opportunity to choose: to fully and humbly commit and endeavor to completely change and replace the very broken, the fatally flawed, and the intrinsic dastardly wrongs that permeate the human heart or to fully and proudly embrace them and feed and grow them to their fullest extent.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, at its core, is about the choices of America, its people as a whole, its society, its government, and, in fact, every single individual in the face of these weaknesses.

The choices disappoint. The weaknesses have continued to grow and to even more deeply become interwoven in the America – its people, its government, its society, and every single individual (including you and including me, if we have the courage and the honesty to admit it) – of 2016.

There is no concern or care for each other anywhere in the fabric of America and its organizations and institutions. Everything is about greed, power, and money. We destroy each other at every turn and in every nook and cranny of our society for our own benefit and for our own profit. We oppress. We steal. We lie. We cheat. We deceive. We hate. We destroy.

And we wrap all up in a pretty paper with a bow and sing our praises and exalt ourselves as we run the victory laps of our destructiveness and proclaim our honor and glory without end, when instead we should be ashamed of ourselves and doing something to wash away our sins.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America is as current in its indictment of us as a nation, as a government, as a society, and as individuals as the century it covers that culminated in the preventable, but humanly inevitable, Great Mississippi flood of 1927.

The lessons here are instructive if we’re willing to learn them.

For those of us striving to be quintessential leaders, we must learn them and we must change as a result.

Otherwise, we have no claim at all to being quintessential or being leaders. We, instead are just pretenders, merely giving lip service to something that we know nothing about and want nothing to do with because doing it is infinitely harder – and requires so much more, and more than we are willing to give – than simply talking about it.

Are we merely talking a good game or are we doing the hard work?

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Dr. Ned M. RossThe first – and one of less than a handful of people whose lives have intersected with mine in which I’ve seen an unwavering commitment to quintessential leadership – quintessential leader in my life was my dad, Dr. Ned Moses Ross. He modeled quintessential leadership  in everything he was, he did, and he said. (more…)

Authenticity is Who and What Quintessential Leaders AreA discernible trait of quintessential leaders is that we are continually striving for authenticity in every part of who, what, and how we are. It is an easily-identifiable part of our character which is borne out by our behavior.

One of the easiest aspects of behavior that shows us what both unquintessential leadership and quintessential leadership looks like is in our verbal and written communication with others.

Whether we are authentic or unauthentic is plain to see by what words we say and write and how we say and write them. 

The words we choose and the method we use to convey those words provide vital insights into whether we are striving for authenticity or whether we are, at the heart, core, and soul of who we are, either struggling with inauthenticity or we are truly committed to being inauthentic as a matter of course.

I make the distinction between struggling with inauthenticity and being committed to it because it’s important for all of us to understand that quintessential leaders will struggle at times with inauthenticity, while unquintessential leaders don’t struggle at all with it because being inauthentic is a committed way of being for them.

So what makes the difference between struggling with inauthenticity and being committed to it?

Awareness is the difference.

Quintessential leaders who are being inauthentic are not aware of being inauthentic, but as soon as they become aware of the inauthenticity, they commit to changing it immediately.

Unquintessential leaders, on the other hand, are fully aware of being inauthentic and are determined to remain inauthentic.

How do I know this? Because I’ve struggled with inauthenticity at times and not even realized it. However, once it hit me between the eyes, opening my eyes to an area of inauthenticity, I immediately made and fulfilled the commitment to change it.

Not being aware of inauthenticity is a part of the growth cycle for humans and the mature development of quintessential leaders (if all of us were already perfect, we’d have absolutely nothing to do and no place to go and life would be interminably boring and meaningless). 

However, it is often the case – to our shame and discredit – that as we who are striving to be quintessential leaders are unaware of our own areas of inauthenticity, we are eager to and constantly pointing, in public venues and in condemning language, out the areas of inauthenticity in other growing-into-quintessential-leaders who are unaware of their own areas of inauthenticity. 

This is unquintessential leadership behavior. Quintessential leaders examine themselves and they focus on changing what they need to change. They do not constantly exalt themselves as paragons of virtue and continually look around at everyone else and proclaim, for the whole world to see, their faults and shortcomings.

Instead, they work diligently to be an example, in every area of their lives, of what quintessential leadership looks like. They know that action – their own work on themselves – can be a powerful motivator and teacher for everyone with whom their lives intersect.

They also know that constant and public criticism and condemnation is not only a powerful demotivator, but a lousy example for anyone to follow and emulate (unfortunately, human nature tends toward this kind of behavior, so there are always plenty of admirers and supporters in criticism and condemnation of other people).

So before we look at what authenticity in communication looks like, let’s first look at what it doesn’t look like.

Vladimar Nabokov wrote, “Words without experience are meaningless.” I would clarify this to say that any words spoken or written without experience or empathy (literally the ability and choice to walk in the shoes of someone else’s experience and understand that experience from their perspective) and compassion are meaningless.

Inauthenticity in communication says and writes words that are empty and hollow because the person communicating them either has never experienced what they are communicating about or they lack empathy and compassion, choosing to assume they know something they don’t or choosing to pass judgment without facts, without understanding, and without knowledge.

This is unquintessential leadership because pride and arrogance are behind the communication as well as a total lack of kindness and gentleness. In other words, the communicator believes, even though they don’t have clue nor do they care what they’re talking about, that they are entitled to say or write the words as well as being harsh and condemning in the process.

Inauthenticity in communication is also evident in the common behavior of simply parroting cliches, “conventional wisdom,” and idioms because it seems like the right thing to say or write.

There is no thought or depth that goes into these utterances. In fact, this is the cheap and easy way out: we throw a well-worn phrase that sounds good and we’ve heard all our lives at someone else, check it off our list (while patting ourselves on the back for our generosity and benevolence toward the poor souls we communicated with), erase it permanently, and go blissfully on with our unimpacted lives without missing a beat.

Parroting as a method of communication is unquintessential leadership for a couple of reasons.

The first is motivation. We’re communicating something we’ve always heard – but most of the time have not had to put to the test of veracity through experience – because it makes us feel better, not because it will make the person we’re communicating with feel better.

The second reason parroting is unquintessential leadership is because we are not taking the person we’re communicating with into account at all. We don’t seek insight and understanding by taking the time to really listen to them – we may hear them, but there’s a world of difference between just hearing and really listening – nor do we take the time to think about the kind of communication we would want from someone if we were in the same or similar circumstances. 

By simply parroting something we’ve heard but have no evidence or proof of its value and/or truth, we effectively complete dismiss the person we’re communicating with and we tell them we don’t care about them and they are not important enough to us for us to waste our time with them.

So now that we know what it doesn’t look like, let’s discuss what authenticity in communication – quintessential leadership – does look like.

Unfortunately, as Nabokov stated, experience is often how we gain the ability to be authentic in our communication with other people. However, whether we have authenticity in our communication with others still comes down to us making the choice to be authentic.

Choosing authenticity in our communication with other people requires an investment from us. In them. In time. In effort. In carefulness.

In a society where unquintessential leadership abounds, as well as entitlement and “it’s all about me,” the selflessness required for this kind of investment has all but disappeared.

The difference between empathy and sympathyBut quintessential leaders know that they don’t have to have experienced something to be authentic in their communication with other people. And because of their commitment to developing unimpeachable character, two of the highly-developed traits they have are empathy and compassion for other people.

Empathy, like most of the other traits that make quintessential leaders trustworthy, is very rare and getting rarer. Most people believe that sympathy and empathy are the same thing and they are not.

Sympathy takes no long-term investment in another person: it tends to be a hands-off, “one-and-done” event.

Empathy, on the other hand, is a hands-on, long-term, hand-in-hand walk through the journey of – and with – another person. It is seeing through their eyes, understanding through their thoughts and emotions, and listening with interaction to know what is really behind their communication (often the words that are said or written have something else entirely behind them).

Compassion is always a by-product of and a companion of empathy. It is understanding, encouraging, invested, gentle, kind, and patient. It can be – and should be – the result of our own struggles, setbacks, and hard times in life. 

But because compassion and empathy are so interrelated, many people choose a lack of compassion because they offer only sympathy as a one-time-shot to other people.

These same people also, ironically, do everything in their power to evoke compassion toward themselves, including constant manipulation, self-exaltation, and telling everyone how they are not like all those other poor slobs in the world who don’t deserve anyone’s compassion.

This is the Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind) syndrome, because like Margaret Mitchell’s infamous anti-heroine, in the end, everything is all about them and they refuse to share the stage of life with anyone else.

Another area that demonstrates the authenticity of quintessential leaders in communication with other people is that quintessential leaders do not parrot cliches, “conventional wisdom,” or idioms. Instead, quintessential leaders consider carefully the impact of their words and how they use them.

Because quintessential leaders are invested in other people, they understand and are sensitive to the needs that exist.

Words have power and weightThey are also profoundly aware of the power of words, the impact of words, and the effect of words. 

They are not cavalier with words, simply letting whatever comes immediately to mind come out in their speech and writing. They always spend a considerable amount of time looking for ways to deeply and encouragingly communicate and avoiding hurt and offense. 

They know and understand that even words that may advocate a course correction should build up and not tear down. That can’t be done with parroting something someone else has said or something they’ve heard all their lives. It can only be done with original thought combined with empathy and compassion.

This is just one aspect of behavior that makes quintessential leaders rare in society today.

But each of us is striving to become a quintessential leader, so this must be a behavior we develop, grow, and exhibit everywhere in our lives and model for all the teams we lead in our lives. 

I say this often, but it cannot be repeated too much. If you breathe for a living, you lead at least one team in your life. Quintessential leadership is not confined to organizations, and can, therefore, be dismissed by everyone else. 

Somebody in your life is looking to you and depending on you to model leadership for them. It might be your children. It might be your students. It might be your family members. It might be your spouse. It might be your coworkers. It might be your friends. It might be the sports team you coach. It might be the volunteer groups you are involved with. It might be anybody.

So, as always, we must look in our own mirrors and conduct a thorough, extensive, comprehensive, and fearlessly honest evaluation of what our communication with other people looks like.

Are we inauthentic anywhere or everywhere in our communication with other people? 

If we are, is it because we lack awareness of our inauthenticity in our communication with other people?

Or is it because we’ve deliberately committed to a path of inauthenticity in our communication with other people?

If we find authenticity in our communication with other people, are we committed to preserving that and developing it to the point where it is literally a part of who and what we are all the time?

I can only answer these questions for myself. Each of you can answer them only for yourselves. Do we have the character and the courage to look, to see, to answer, and to change where and if we need to?

How are we doing?

Dr. Ned M. RossThe first – and one of less than a handful of people whose lives have intersected with mine in which I’ve seen an unwavering commitment to quintessential leadership – quintessential leader in my life was my dad. He modeled quintessential leadership  in everything he was, he did, and he said.

When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate it as much. Now that I’m older, I appreciate it – and my dad – more and more with each passing day.

My dad’s been gone almost 17 years, but his example and the lessons he taught me about what quintessential leadership is and what it looks like in practice have taken root over the years, with those roots getting more deeply entrenched and stronger with time and practice, and have now begun to blossom and bear fruit in my own life.

I wish my dad were here to see that, although it was hard to tell then, I watched, I listened, I absorbed, and I took everything to heart. His experience, his counsel, and his wisdom have permeated my mind, my conscience, and my life as I’ve tried them, tested them, proved them, and found them to be true.

The older me would tell my dad that he was right (the younger me had a hard time admitting that anyone else was ever right) and would never stop expressing my gratitude and my love. That, for my dad, will have to wait for another day, one that I am looking forward to very much.

In the meantime, though, I have the opportunity to pass the lessons on in developing other quintessential leaders. I don’t claim to have mastered them nor to execute them perfectly. But that is a front-of-my-mind-always goal and nothing I think, say, or do isn’t within the context of that goal. That, my friends, is the first step to becoming a quintessential leader.

One of the ongoing lessons my dad taught me was to show respect to everybody. In my words. In my actions. In every area of my life. I can still hear him saying “Be nice to everyone you meet on the way up, because you’ll meet the same people on your way back down.”

Respect can be a complicated thing for us as people and us as quintessential leaders. It shouldn’t be, as I hope to show, since respect is an outward manifestation of our understanding of the brotherhood of humanity and of the integrity of our character, but it can be until we understand the essence of what respect is.

Respect is not tied to our likes or dislikes, our feelings and emotions, nor to what we agree or disagree about.

Instead, it is an acknowledgement that each of us has the exact same value in terms of our humanness – at our most basic structure, each of us is just a little dirt and a little water mixed together, and when death, the great equalizer, comes that is what we all return to, minus the water – and in terms of our purpose and our potential.

Most of the people in leadership positions today lack respect for anyone else. They may show favoritism to their lackeys as long as they support and help them and push their agendas – which are power, greed, and control – but favoritism is fickle and disappears when lackeys are inconvenient or no longer useful.

Respect is not fickle, nor is it tied to what someone else can do for us. That is simply beyond the grasp of most people in leadership positions today. 

respect quintessential leaderDisrespect is in vogue. It is wrapped up in the forms of tearing others down, name-calling, and put downs. It is characterized by people exposing the “weaknesses” of others, ripping those weaknesses – and those people – to shreds, and then the disrespecters exalting themselves to show how superior and better they are than the lowlifes they just called out.

As shameful and as disgusting as this conduct is, those who do it have no shame and no remorse. In fact, with social media, they’ve found a bigger and more public venue in which to flagrantly disrespect other people. As a result, disrespect has become the norm, while respect is becoming harder and harder to find.

A recent example of this pervasive disrespect – and this is a pattern of behavior with this individual – from someone in a leadership position, but who is not a quintessential leader, brought this back to the forefront of my thinking.

Here are a few excerpts from an email this person in a leadership position wrote to somebody he disagrees with:

“…that you remain a congenital liar incapable of telling the truth.”

“You seem to fail to grasp that you were used as a useful idiot…”

“…you were too stupid to realize that you were being used.”

“I have no time for lying fools whose mission in life is to slander and spread division…”

“Take your vomit somewhere else and don’t waste my time.”

I disagree, for different reasons, with almost all that the recipient of this email says as well. However, I would never communicate with this person – or anyone else on the planet – in a disrespectful manner. The person in a leadership position, though, had absolutely no qualms about it. 

As quintessential leaders, each of is responsible for showing respect to everyone and to modeling that to the quintessential leaders we are developing. Since that’s our responsibility, what does it look like in practice?

Not everybody is going to like everybody else. That’s a fact of life.

My dad, I think, came the closest of anybody I know to liking almost every person he ever met. I can think of two people I know for a fact that he didn’t like, and there may be two others, but he never said one way or the other.

I, on the other hand, have a longer list of people that I don’t care for and would rather not have to be within 300 miles of on any given day (and, frankly, the same is probably true for them with me). It’s not that they are awful people or bad people, but our personalities and temperaments are so different that we just don’t sync up on any kind of tangible level.

Given the choice to spend any kind of extended time with them or face a firing squad, I’d most likely choose the firing squad. Both are excruciating, but one is fast and one-and-done. Social pain is difficult for me, so quick elimination – my own – is generally my preference.

However, whether we are more like my dad and there’s almost nobody we don’t like or we’re more like me and have a pricklier personality and temperament, we still are responsible for being respectful to everybody.

We all have emotions and feelings and sometimes we get hurt, we get angry, and we get sad at what other people do to us and say to us. Disrespecting them – revenge and getting even – is our default response tendency as humans.

But quintessential leaders never forget their responsibility to be respectful and to be reminded that we have also hurt, angered, and saddened other people in our travels through life, and we’ve been shown respect, along with mercy and restraint, at times along the way when we didn’t deserve it. We pay that forward. It’s that simple.

As human beings, it’s often easier to find things we disagree on than things we agree on. That, too, is part of life. Sometimes those disagreements are deep and intense. Sometimes they are so fundamental, moral-wise, character-wise, and principle-wise, that they force a relationship between or among people to break – at least for the rest of this temporary existence of physical life.

However, no matter how strong the disagreement, even to the point of breaking relationships for the remainder of our physical lives, we may have with other people, we are still responsible for showing them respect.

I suspect that when this life is done and the next iteration occurs that we’ll all find that all the things we thought we knew were in fact next to nothing (and that little splinter where there was a minute bit of understanding and insight was more wrong than right) and all that we argued over, disagreed over, and fought over was basically a waste of time because none of us got it right.

If that’s the case, then our responsibility for being respectful to everybody else – even if they disrespect us – should weigh even heavier in who and what we as quintessential leaders are.

So how do quintessential leaders show respect? What does it look like?

  • Never personally attack anyone else. You can disagree and be respectful. You can dislike and be respectful. You can experience negative emotions and feelings and be respectful. You can break a relationship, because it’s the healthiest thing to do, and be respectful.
  • Never tear anyone else down. You are not anyone’s judge and jury. You have never value purpose potential equals respectwalked in their shoes, so whatever you think you know about them is not even close to their whole story. Show mercy.
  • Never badmouth anyone to anyone else. This an emotional response to anger, frustration, and impatience with other people. It says a whole lot more about you as a person than it does about the person you’re badmouthing.
  • Silence can be a form of respect, especially when it comes to anyone that we are hard-pressed to find or see anything positive about. Just because we don’t see it or haven’t found it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Silence ensures that we recognize that everyone has value, even if we don’t know personally what it is. It is often the better part of wisdom.

What would you add to this list of what respect looks like?

More importantly, how are we doing?