Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

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…)

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?

Narcissus Falling In Love With HimselfEntitlement and the narcissism epidemic is something that all of us as quintessential leaders have to deal with today. But where we have to deal with that may surprise us.

I’ve just finished reading Living in the Age of Entitlement: The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D.

Since the beginning of the entitlement/narcissism epidemic that started in the 1970’s, with the “me” generation that the Baby Boomers of the 1960’s morphed into, it has exploded as the Baby Boomers have moved from young adulthood to now being senior citizens. The mess they have left in their tsunami wake as revolutionaries is the mess that we, in subsequent generations, have not only inherited but have also adapted to in many respects. Parents, since then, have been the cultivators of narcissistic children from birth, and society and culture pick up that ball and carriy it after children are old enough to go to daycare or go to school.

Before the 1970’s, entitlement and narcissism were rare in the general population. It was confined to the ranks of royalty and celebrities, but even in those ranks, it was not across the board.

I think knowing that was why I was surprised by the saying that Aibeelene, in the novel The Help (published in 2011), repeats again and again to Mae Mobley: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” This is completely out of character for anybody to say in the world of 1963 Jackson, Mississippi – or anywhere else for that matter.

And yet this is an excellent example of how deeply rooted entitlement and narcissism are in our culture, in our society, and in ourselves. While this phrase would have never been uttered by anyone in 1963, by 2011, an equivalent of it would be a mainstay in the mouths of almost every parent and every elementary school teacher in the United States.

it's-all-about-meAlthough I have been keenly aware for quite some time of the “it’s all about me” attitude and belief that is everywhere in society today and is seemingly more overtly prevalent among the Millennials, there were incidents discussed in Living in the Age of Entitlement: The Narcissism Epidemic that surprised even me as to how early this indoctrination starts and how all of us, including Gen Xer’s like me and my generation (whose most recent parallel generation was the Lost Generation of the 1920’s) can be (and most have been) affected by it to one degree or another.

Narcissism is an epidemic in our society because it has infected every part of our lives and it has changed us in fundamental ways. Not all of us, but most of us. And that affects us as quintessential leaders because we’re not immune to the infection, and it affects the teams that we lead.

However, the one thing that should not be affected – and we have to get rid of any traces of the entitlement infection that we may have acquired along the way for this to be authentic, genuine, and effective – is how we lead.

If you have not yet read Building Trust and Being Trustworthy, I strongly urge you to read it. The must-have traits to build trust and be trustworthy are the core of quintessential leadership and they are the complete antithesis of – and the antidote to – entitlement and narcissism.

So you’re reading this and thinking “I don’t think I’m entitled and I’m certainly not a narcissist! I don’t need to read this because it doesn’t apply to me.” 

Keep reading. You are in for enlightenment if you are brave enough and honest enough to go on. And with enlightenment comes understanding and with understanding comes the potential to change. The choice to change is individual. And that’s on you. And that’s on me.

While not every person who feels entitled is a full-blown narcissist, most of American society has absorbed many of the narcissistic components of entitlement without even being aware of it. Everything in our culture is narcissistic and feeds our sense of entitlement if we don’t recognize it and consciously reject it.

Recognition is the first step to fighting the narcissism infection in our own lives. Pay attention to advertising (all forms of media). The underlying message is always “You’re special and you deserve this.” That idea of specialness and I’m owed this takes root and it begins the process of narcissism infection.

The reality, however, is that if everyone is special, then no one is special because the word “special” – which denotes being exceptional, unusual, singular, uncommon, notable, noteworthy, remarkable, and outstanding – loses its meaning.

We can’t all be special. In fact, we’re not all special. And, yet, that underlying notion of being special is rampant in our society. What this message of being special does is separate us from each other and it turns a blind eye to the fact that we, humanity, you and I, have much, much more in common than we have that makes us different. 

The idea of being special also causes us to think better of ourselves than we should and certainly exalts our opinions of ourselves compared to other people to dizzying heights. And because we’re inherently superior, in our own minds, to all the other lowly humans on the planet, we simultaneously turn our all attention completely to ourselves and expect the other 7+ billion people on the planet to turn all their attention to us too.

I doubt many of us are aware of how this narcissistic tendency has taken hold in our lives because we have absorbed the subliminal and not-so-subliminal messages that our culture throws at us at every turn. 

But I’m asking us to take the time to examine our lives and see where we’ve become narcissistic and entitled in our own lives.

As quintessential leaders – and as I’ve said before, we all lead a team or teams somewhere in our lives, as parents, as teachers, as athletic coaches, as pastors, as organizational leaders, as team leaders in an organizational setting, so this applies to all of us – we must be aware of how much this has infected our own lives and make an immediate and diligent effort to eradicate it, not only from ourselves, but also from our teams.

Nowhere is the narcissism epidemic more visible and more prevalent than on social media. That’s the first place that I suggest that each of us goes to examine ourselves because the volume and content of our social media accounts will give us a pretty good indication of how much entitlement and narcissism we’ve acquired in our own thinking and our own beliefs. 

Examples are constant updates that try to garner attention to ourselves, whether they are a non-ending stream of selfies or things that draw attention to us personally, or they are cryptic one or two-word messages like “Confused…” or “Sad…” or “SMH (shaking my head)…” or “Oh, bother!” that literally scream out “I need attention. I need an audience. Come talk to me. NOW!” 

Or they are simply a blow-by-blow account of every little part of our normal, ordinary, mundane, and, for the most part, boring lives, which is an unconscious way of saying “my normal, ordinary, mundane, and, for the most part, boring life is so important that you all need to know about it and pay attention to it.” In other words, my life and I are special.

If you have not read my three-part book review series on Michael Harris’ The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection, please take some time to do that because digital technology and our constant connection to it plays a vital role in the widespread, across generational lines, infection of entitlement and narcissism in our society and in our culture. 

awesome special or narcissism?
This idea of specialness is insidious. 
These two images with this paragraph look harmless enough, right? And, yet, what is the real message here? You’re special. And being special means that the rules don’t apply to self-esteem or narcissism?you. You’re above correction, you’re your own person, you deserve the best, and you deserve everything you want whenever you want it just because you want it. You don’t have to cooperate with anyone. You don’t have to think about anybody but yourself.

And, if things don’t go right for you, well, everybody else is the problem, because it can’t possibly be such an awesome, wonderful, special, fabulous, spectacular, nobody-else-in-the-world-like-you, pinnacle-of-all-the-best-that-defines-humanity person that you are.

Writing that last paragraph made me queasy. But I think my queasiness comes from a realization that what that paragraph says is not far from the truth of how the majority of people see themselves in U.S. culture and society. That majority may include you and me.

And the sad reality is that it’s not true. 

So how do we as quintessential leaders eradicate entitlement and narcissism from ourselves and from our teams? This will be one of the the most daunting processes, I suspect, that we will undertake. But undertake it we must.

We have to recognize how entitlement (and narcissism) manifests itself.

Entitled people believe self-admiration is very important (and necessary). Entitled people also believe that self-expression (“I should be allowed to say whatever I want to say, however I want to say it, whenever I want to say it, wherever I want to say it.”) is necessary to establish their identities. Entitled people don’t recognize limits or boundaries.

Entitled people believe that just showing up is praiseworthy (think of little kids on a sports team with a losing season because they either stank as players or they were too distracted to play getting trophies just like the teams that were good and actually played the sport – it happens all the time), and that any effort (we all know someone who always says “But, I worked SO hard…” while they either never actually complete anything or what they do is so lousy that it has to be redone – by someone else – all over again) is deserving of recognition whether it produces anything good or not.

Entitled people hold everybody accountable and responsible except themselves. If something goes wrong, it’s somebody else’s or something else’s fault. They are blameless and faultless.

Entitled people let other people do their “dirty work.”

I have a close friend who works at a university in a department that is responsible for auditing student records to determine who is eligible for graduation each semester and who is not.

She and her team email (several times) students who should be eligible for graduation but are missing classes they need to be able to graduate well in advance of their anticipated graduation date so the students can do what they need to graduate on time.

Every semester, just before – and I mean two or three days before – graduation, my friend and her team get tons of phone calls about why students aren’t going to graduate and why they should be allowed to graduate (because they “deserve it” is usually the reasoning). The majority of these phone calls, however, come from the parents of the students, not the students themselves. 

And more and more common are the stories of younger employees who bring their parents to their job interviews and have their parents call to request vacation time or to fight with a company that’s terminated them because they either couldn’t do the job or they actually didn’t show up.

And that leads to a final point about entitled people. Entitled people believe their time is more valuable than anyone else’s time and that life should conform to their schedule instead of them conforming to life’s schedules. 

As quintessential leaders, whether we see entitlement and narcissism in ourselves or in ourselves and our teams or just in our teams, we must proactively remove it and replace it with the opposite, which is humility.

We do this first by treating all people fairly, without preferential treatment and without favoritism. Sometimes this means that we take corrective action with team members who are not meeting organizational standards and/or performance standards.

But this corrective action develops as a coaching process that starts as soon as we recognize that issues exist. This is part of a comprehensive performance management system that most organizations don’t see nor use as a year-round tool to develop employees, which is the goal of quintessential leaders.

Most organizations, instead, use a single part of a performance management system once a year. This is in the form of a review (which, in many cases, is tied to a raise), without any action plans, improvement plans, and side-by-side monitoring and coaching beforehand, at the end of the business year to hit people over the head with regarding things they didn’t even realize were an issue or that they were being evaluated on. And that is detrimental all the way around and is not quintessential leadership.

Some entitled people won’t change, no matter what we do as coaches and mentors to try to help them. That’s the reality. The narcissism is too entrenched and too much a part of who and what they are for them to do and be anything else. And the end result is either they resign (they won’t be told what to do or have limits set on them) or we terminate them (they never even attempt to meet organizational and/or performance standards).

But some entitled people will change, and it’s up to us as quintessential leaders to help them in that process. It won’t always be a piece of cake for anybody involved, but commitment and diligence on both sides to the process and to the end results of the process will eventually bring about the desired results. I know because I’ve been involved in this kind of process several times, and I can tell you it is so worth it when both people are committed to making it happen.

Coach Dean Smith UNC Quintessential LeaderAnother thing that we as quintessential leaders need to do to counter the entitlement/narcissism epidemic is to model and foster cooperation and teamwork, instead of making individuals on our teams the center of the universe. The late Coach Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina did this with every team he coached and I discussed how this helped the 1982 team win the NCAA championship over Georgetown, which had a single “superstar,” Patrick Ewing.

We consciously build teams to bring different talents to the table, but no talent alone is any greater or any more important than any other talent. Without all the talents, the team wouldn’t exist and we could not accomplish anything. Therefore, we must model and demand respect for and among the team. While we recognize uniqueness where it exists, we must be careful not to equate uniqueness with specialness. They are not the same thing. 

And one of the most important things that we as quintessential leaders must do as an antidote to entitlement and/or narcissism is to let people fail in a safe environment, where failure equals an opportunity to learn and grow instead of equaling derision, at best, and termination, at worst.  

The greatest lessons we learn in life and our greatest periods of growth often come as a result of failure (sometimes it’s spectacular and sometimes it’s not). In this age of entitlement, failure is missing and, as a result, so are growth and life lessons we can’t learn exactly the same way any other way.  

Parents are now accustomed to swooping in to save their kids from failure by doing homework, calling the university to try to get their kids graduated, going on job interviews with them, and negotiating with employers for benefits or after termination. 

Failures in the workplace often mean delays (which mean that other projects get delayed and potential profits get delayed), more work for the team, and possible negative consequences for the team leader if a project misses a milestone or misses a completion deadline. 

Because of this, it’s tempting for people in leadership positions to want to swoop in and fix everything and save the day. As quintessential leaders, we can’t do that. We have to be willing to stand in the gap and take the heat for delays and setbacks so that our teams have a safe place to fail and to learn from those failures.  

We can never forget the bigger picture that we are in the process of developing quintessential leaders. And quintessentials leaders fail at times. They have to face it. They have to deal with it. And they have to learn how to recover from it.

The bottom line is that if someone has never been allowed to fail, they will never be successful at living life and they will certainly never be quintessential leaders.

Failure forces us to look at ourselves honestly. It forces us to change. And it forces us to get up and try again. And again. And again. In the process of trying over and over, growth occurs because our character gets sharpened, our perspective gets broadened, and our ability to think outside the box gets stronger. We think, we create, we innovate. And sometimes we simply take a leap of faith into the unknown because there are no other options available.

The other side of experiencing failure is that it creates empathy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, and mercy in us toward others when they are dealing with a failure. We can help them, we can encourage them, and we can support them, because we share a common bond with them. 

Entitled people don’t do this, by the way. They gloat over others’ failures and they use those failures to put themselves on an even higher pedestal. Entitled people also ridicule other’s failures and they broadcast those failures to as many people who will listen, often dismissing those who have failed as weak, negative, a drain on their lives, and not worth any effort because all they do is feel sorry for themselves.

When we see this, we’re looking at narcissism and entitlement square in the face. There is a complete lack of connection to anything that doesn’t make them feel good or feel special. Failure does neither.

Failure is not all doom and gloom all the time, but it has its moments and a lot of ups and downs as people who are actually trying to navigate through failures are looking for avenues to overcome those failures.

Like anything else in life, failure is a lot like success in that most of the roads you take end up being dead ends and you have to start over again, which can get real old real fast, to try to find those few roads that are not.

But the thing that entitled people will never know is that our failures ultimately strengthen us and they forge excellent character because they leave us no choice but to confront all the things we normally avoid, that we’re afraid of, that are way outside our comfort zones, and that compel us to make, sometimes, really hard choices about what’s important and what’s not in every aspect of our lives. 

So the questions I leave us – you and me – with are simple.

Are we part of the entitlement/narcissism epidemic?

If we have been infected with entitlement/narcissism, are we going to do anything about it?

If we are going to do something about it, then what are we going to do and when are we going to do it?

Talk is cheap, my friends. Actions always speak louder than words.

The majority of articles and blogs about leadership talk about a single aspect – as if it exists and operates in a vacuum – of leadership. It is the public face of leadership: businesses, religious organizations, political organizations, social organizations, schools, and non-profit organizations.

Except for this blog and these books, I have not found any other resource on leadership that discusses it in terms of the whole of spectrum of our lives: it’s who we are, what we are, how we are everywhere in life.

That’s what makes this blog and these books unique. Most people don’t think a blog or books about leadership apply to them: to their lives, to who they are, what they are, and how they are.

They are wrong.

Because they’ve bought into the mainstream idea of what leadership is in a public sense, and since they’re not in one of those positions, then any discussion of leadership doesn’t apply to them.

(And most of the mainstream ideas of leadership are actually “management” instead of “leadership,” which fails time and time again because there are very few people strong enough and courageous enough to get outside of the MBA-fueled tiny, uninnovative, rigid, and constrictive box that confines them to failure).

The reality is that quintessential leadership applies to everyone who lives and breathes. No matter where we are in life or what we are doing, we all lead at least one team, if not several.

Everything we do, we say, and we are is setting an example for the others in our lives, and that, my friends, is leadership. How we do that determines whether we are quintessential leaders or unquintessential leaders.

It is that simple. And that hard.

A close friend and fellow blogger, remarking on “The Quintessential Leader Perspective: Expressing and Showing Genuine and Authentic Appreciation,” said “A tall order! It’s difficult to be thankful towards those who are difficult, yet it is the only right answer.”

Becoming a quintessential leader is the road not taken. It is the hard way, the difficult way, the way that demands that we look at leadership in terms of every and all aspects of our lives, not just a single part.

It requires rigorous self-examination without excuses, justifications, or blaming others. It requires constant, continuous, and momentous change from the inside out.

It requires a complete metamorphosis and transformation at the very foundational core of who and what we are, our intents, our attitudes, our motives, how we think, what we think, how we speak, what we speak, how we act, what we choose to do or not do, and how we set that example for others.

It requires fearless commitment and unwavering fortitude.

There is no room for the pretenders, the wannabes, the half-hearted, the sometimes-maybe, for the lackadaisical, and for the here-but-not-there.

We are either all in or all out.

One of the tests – of veracity, of genuineness, of authenticity – for whether we are quintessential leaders or not is how we consistently handle the good, the bad, and the ugly in life.

All of life.

From our most private internal lives to our most public external lives.

It is important to remember that this is the ideal, the goal that quintessential leaders strive for and to. None of us will execute this perfectly all the time, but there must be aggregate and continual evidence in our lives that this is who and what we are committed to – no matter how many failures, setbacks, and falls along the way we make and encounter -becoming.

Quintessential leadership is hardest to see when life is good. Humanity, in general, tends to be at its best when everything’s going well and life presents no challenges, no upsets, no hairpin turns in the road. We all, at least on the surface, can seem to be charitable, thoughtful, caring, concerned, kind, generous, gentle, merciful, and magnanimous.

It is in the good times, though, that the inner character of quintessential leaders separates them from everyone else.

One component of that character is humility.

Quintessential leaders never elevate themselves above others, nor do they constantly talk about how much they’ve accomplished, achieved, acquired (and, by extension, how much wealth they have by enumerating the amount of money those acquisitions cost), and how awesome and great they are.

Instead, quintessential leaders continue to live life modestly and quietly. They realize that the good times are part of the cycle of life and will not last.

Quintessential leaders also understand that the good times are a gift they did not earn, do not deserve, and are not entitled to, so in an attitude of service and thankfulness for them, quintessential leaders use the blessings of good times to help and assist others, often anonymously, and always silently and without any fanfare.

Another three-pronged component of the quintessential leader’s character that you’ll see in the good times in life is understanding and sensitivity combined with empathy.

Quintessential leaders are always cognizant that although they may be experiencing good times in their lives at that moment, many of the people with whom their lives intersect – and for whom they are examples and, therefore, leaders – may not be.

Quintessential leaders are excellent and accurate observers of life by nature. Because they listen more than they speak and watch more than they engage, they miss virtually nothing about what people say (or don’t say), do (or don’t do), and are (or are not), although they seldom, if ever, say anything about it.

They learn to understand and to relate to others in a tangible and meaningful way that includes the rare quality of being able to empathize by putting themselves into the situations that others are experiencing.

As a result, quintessential leaders are acutely sensitive to the circumstances of other people and how their behavior, words, and actions could affect them, not because they are inherently wrong, but because of what other people may be experiencing (for example, if someone is going through a relationship loss, quintessential leaders would not be talking on and on in bubbly, bouyant, and bouncy conversations with this person about all the great things in their wonderful and fantastic relationships).

Anything other than this kind of understanding, empathy, and sensitivity – deep awareness of others and genuinely and authentically relating to them – would be out of character for quintessential leaders during the good times of life.

Why?

Because quintessential leaders always have the big picture in the front of their minds. Good times come and go. Anything that’s happened to someone else could or may happen to us. How would we want to be treated when we are walking in those shoes?

It is always an others-perspective, not a me-perspective, that defines who, what, and how quintessential leaders are. In the good times in life. And in the bad and ugly times.

It is in the bad times and the ugly times in life that quintessential leaders become more apparent, because the bad times and the ugly times in life are the times that try our souls, our hearts, our minds and our character to their outermost limits.

The bad times and the ugly times present ample opportunities to be unquintessential leaders, to set and be bad examples for the people with whom our lives intersect.

The bad times and the ugly times in life can give rise to unfair criticisms, harsh and inaccurate evaluations and condemnations, rejections, resentments, mockery, stinging and hurtful putdowns (usually guised as “jokes” or followed by smiley faces), spitefulness, jealousies, pettiness, and defensiveness – all of which are not intrinsic character traits of quintessential leaders.

The reality is that we all have to deal with these kinds of attitudes, motives, words, and actions during the bad times and the ugly times in life, whether we are quintessential leaders or not.

They are hard-wired into our human nature and it is in the worst of times that we either fight and subdue them or we embrace and use them.

Unquintessential leaders embrace and use them.

Quintessential leaders fight and subdue them.

In other words, quintessential leaders exercise self-control (and, at times, this is the most exhausting work in the world, because it literally takes every ounce of energy and effort we have) and choose what is right instead of what seems easy, justified, and, at least temporarily, very self-satisfying.

These are very often epic behind-the-scenes battles that end in victories or capitulations, character developments or character destructions, good or bad choices, and wise or unwise decisions.

The outcome of what goes on in the private and inner workings of our hearts, souls, and minds is only apparent in what we do (or don’t do) and say (or don’t say) out in the open.

And it’s in the outward manifestation, in bad times and ugly times, that we can truly distinguish between quintessential leaders and unquintessential leaders.

Again, in bad times and ugly times in life, we all experience failure in being quintessential leaders.

There is not a human being who has ever lived, who lives, or who will live – except for the Son of God – who has, does, or will get it right 100% of the time. It’s impossible in our current configuration.

However, the hallmark difference between quintessential leaders and unquintessential leaders is that quintessential leaders are actively living – consciously and deliberately thinking, practicing, being in every part of their lives all the time – with the goal always directly in front of them.

It is a way of life – an integrated part of who, what, and how they consciencely (that’s not a misspelling – because the state of our consciences is directly related to quintessential leadership) and consciously are and are becoming.

In other words, quintessential leaders are well aware when they fail. Nobody else needs to point their failures out to them. The consciences of quintessential leaders are so finely-tuned and sensitive to what they should and want to be – the ideal – that their consciences are immediately stricken when they fall short in any way.

Quintessential leaders are devastated when they fail because they know that not only have they missed the mark of quintessential leadership, but they have failed the people whose lives intersect with theirs by setting a wrong and bad example.

Quintessential leaders, again, stand out in this area from unquintessential leaders.

Quintessential leaders first admit they failed, to themselves and to their teams. They then apologize and ask for forgiveness.

Quintessential leaders will next immediately undertake an exhaustive post-mortem on what happened and why it happened. In the process, quintessential leaders identify tangible and definitive steps to correct the failure, from the inside out, and actively start taking those steps.

Quintessential leaders often do one more thing: they use their failures and the process of identifying the causes and the corrective actions as teachable moments for their teams.

Unquintessential leaders can’t do this because they don’t even recognize a failure (and if someone pointed it out to them, they’d deny it and get defensive and start attacking the poor, unfortunate soul who dared to say anything), so their bad examples are all their teams get.

And their teams perpetuate those bad examples to their teams, and so it goes until we find ourselves in the world in its present tense surrounded by an overwhelming majority of unquintessential leaders.

But we are not them. Or are we?