Being Good or Living Well?

Posted April 22, 2015 by schoultz
Categories: adaptability, Character Development, heart, Hero's Journey, Heroism, Passion, Resilience

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confused face“What do you mean ‘OR?!’”   This was the response I got when I mentioned the title of this essay to a friend of mine.    My response:  When you are old and nearing the end of your days, would you prefer to look back on your life and say:

“I was good –I followed all the rules.   I was consistent, considerate, and I am proud that I never did anything to which anyone – especially other good people – might object.”

Or:

“I created my own path, was occasionally crazy, and yes I broke some of the rules, and I frequently suffered for it.  But I lived my life fully, in my own way.  I take full responsibility, and have no regrets.”

These two positions are perhaps a bit extreme, but they help define the difference between a life focused on “Being Good” and one which I consider to be “Living Well.”

Obviously, our choice is not to either Be Good, or to Live Well.  The two circles do overlap, considerably.  In order to live well, we do need to live in a community, which requires Being Good (to a certain degree) and following rules (some or most of the time.)   AND YET – many of the rules, customs, and traditions we are asked to follow are not meant to protect public safety and personal rights, but serve rather to homogenize human behavior, reduce inter-personal friction, and maintain a predictable (and uninteresting) social order.

Being Good manages risk and keeps us and others in our comfort zones.  Being Good is living in alignment with conventional wisdom and the expectations of our community.   On the other hand, Living Well demands that we assume risk, listen to our own hearts and follow our own passions – in spite of what we are told to do and how others would prefer that we act and live.

Being Good is primarily in the eyes of our community.  By Being Good, we reinforce our community’s values, traditions, norms, and role models.  The rules for Being Good are well-tested and proven; there is little risk in following them and they provide a well-defined path to respectability and “success.”  There is often much hard-earned wisdom in those rules, and we ignore it at our peril.

There is certainly nothing WRONG with paying attention to that wisdom – in fact there is much that is RIGHT in it – unless of course, that is not what we truly want to do.

Living Well however, is primarily on our own terms, doing what we truly want to do, even though the community we love and depend on may have different plans for us.  When we seek to fulfill our own dreams, we are seeking personal fulfillment as WE define it – or at least in terms that we accept and understand, rather than in the language and eyes of others.  It is listening to one’s heart and passions, more so than to the chorus of those who desire that we choose and live as they would wish.

The most courageous of us believe that a strong sense of freedom and responsibility is fundamental to Living Well.  That includes the freedom to break the rules of conventional wisdom, to make and try to live by our own rules, to learn from our own mistakes (as well as the mistakes of others,) and to suffer our own consequences.  Courageous, innovative, and entrepreneurial people for whom freedom is important, frequently choose to leave communities where there is often a stifling mandate to Be Good within very narrow standards.

When Joseph Campbell wrote about the classic Hero’s Journey, he noted that in every culture, “heroes” break away from the conventional wisdom that says, “Stay put.  Play it safe.”  It is heroic to CHOOSE to assume risk, to take chances, to be eccentric, to venture into the unknown, struggle, fail, suffer, and grow.    To me, this is Living Well.  Yes, there is risk, danger, room for mistakes, failure, and suffering – which are almost always part of the deal.   And some who break away in search of Living Well don’t come back – the stories of Chris McCandless (Into the Wild) and Pat Tillman are well known –  and yes, even Cheryl Strayed, who did come back (Wild.)    But these heroes also serve as role models – not for what NOT to do, but rather, what courageous individuals are willing to do – to break with conventional wisdom, even make mistakes, but to live their own lives.

A couple of quotes from John Stuart Mill, whose short treatise “On Liberty” written nearly 150 years ago,  makes this point much better than I:

On Eccentricity:   “In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service…. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”

 

On Freedom: “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

 

Our choice is not to Be Good or Be Bad, or to Live Well or Live Poorly.  Our challenge is to find the nexus between meeting at least the minimum demands of our community and culture, while also meeting the demands and impulses of our heart, as we struggle to create our own unique destiny and path when there is constant pressure to conform.  While we must Be Good at least to some degree, my choice is to first and foremost seek to Live Well, and to allow myself to be just a little bit – and occasionally more than a little bit – crazy or eccentric.

Finally, quotes from some great eccentrics:

Einstein, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  

Churchill: “Great and Good are seldom in the same man.”

While we can’t all be “great,” we can all aspire to Live Well – and that means being willing to venture outside the box that conventional morality circumscribes around “Being Good.”

Think outside the box

There’s a lot more to be said about moving the needle of one’s life away from simply Being Good in the eyes of others,  and more in the direction of Living Well.   I promise that part 2 will be a more playful treatment of this topic. 

On Hardship and Suffering

Posted February 26, 2015 by schoultz
Categories: adaptability, Character Development, Hardship, Hero's Journey, Reslience, Stoicism, Suffering

Though our natural inclination is to avoid hardship and suffering, we know that most things of enduring value demand at least some hardship and suffering to achieve them. We know we must learn to struggle, suffer, and overcome hardship, if we are to forge the character necessary to succeed when faced with important challenges in life. A truly fulfilled life must include its share of hardship and suffering. Otherwise, what would we have to be proud of?

suffering2Hardship and suffering have many dimensions. Sometimes we actually choose to undergo hardship and suffering, in order to achieve something we want, such as participating in an endurance event, or developing a difficult skill or craft, or going through SEAL training. Other times, we must accept responsibility for having unintentionally caused our own suffering because of a mistake in judgment, or some carelessness or misstep.

But the most difficult suffering to accept, and the aspect of hardship and suffering that I will focus on in this essay, is that which is thrust upon us, by fate, or the negligent or intentional actions of others, or as a result of “acts of God,” such as disease or illness, or the hurricanes and tornadoes we frequently see on the news.

Hardship and suffering can come in the form of physical pain, discomfort, and debilitation, or, most difficult to bear, in the form of psychological stress, sadness, grief, or shame. And when we are in their grip, whatever the source or form, we do all we can to put them behind us, in hopes of finding greater comfort and equilibrium.  In so doing, we have some important choices: How do we view and understand our suffering? How do we reconcile ourselves to its cause? How do we choose to get it behind us?  How we answer these questions is key to our character, and to defining who we are.

Hardship and suffering are always a test. Whether we choose them, cause them, or they are thrust upon us, they test us – and as such, present an opportunity, to strengthen and shore up our dignity, our self-respect, and our honor – even if it is the last thing we do on this earth.

Suffering that is thrust upon us by fate, or the actions of others often seems “unfair” – we believe we do not deserve it. Our indignation is born of a sense of entitlement to justice in this world, to our just rewards for hard work, good intentions, and good behavior. And yet, we don’t have to look very hard or very far to see that this sense of entitlement, beyond a fairly narrow scope, is an illusion. The story of Job in the Old Testament has much to teach us, as do our daily newspapers, crowded with stories of “undeserved” suffering.

Viktor Frankl’s short classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells us that if there is meaning in life at all, there must be meaning in suffering, and it is up to each of us to find it. In his account of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, he describes how those who chose to find meaning and purpose in their suffering, survived in much greater numbers than those who succumbed to despair, or saw themselves as simply victims of gross injustice. “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task…..His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.” He wrote of seeing some who knew they were dying, embracing this last opportunity to live and to die with courage, dignity, and honor.

It is certainly inspiring to read of how role models such as Viktor Frankl, or Ernest Shackleton (Endurance,) Louis Zamparini (Unbroken,) LCDR George DeLong (Kingdom of Ice) or Tori McClure (Pearl in the Storm) struggled, persisted and were able to rise above seemingly insurmountable hardship and suffering.  And of course, Christ’s stoic response to his suffering with and on the cross continues to inspire many. Each of us however, is faced with our own challenges and hardship on a smaller scale, every day. When a key appliance breaks at home, or someone at work undermines us or our objectives, or we are in a traffic accident – such challenges provide us an opportunity to manage our emotions, maintain our perspective, and to strengthen our will and inner resolve to accept and move on. The Serenity Prayer offers us profound, and simple guidance:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….”

Additionally, we can purposely choose to get out of our comfort zones and take on hardship, to strengthen our resilience in the face of new challenges. In so doing we take a step toward preparing ourselves to respond with strength and dignity to the inevitable crises and hardship, or perhaps even epic suffering, that life will eventually deal each of us.  Resilience and willpower are like muscles, that become stronger with exercise and training.

I recently interviewed Dan Cnossen, a Navy SEAL LCDR who lost both his legs above the knee from a land mine in Afghanistan. He very nearly died of his wounds, and spent a year in Bethesda Naval Hospital in physical and psychological therapy. He said his recovery was often one step forward, two steps back, but he persisted. He still struggles, but he is looking forward to a rich life – without legs – and is now a Paralympian, training to compete in 2018 in the biathlon.

And yet, Dan had unknowingly prepared himself for what became the greatest challenge of his life. He had chosen the crucible of the US Naval Academy; he had spent years participating in grueling endurance events; he had chosen and succeeded at SEAL training; and he had served for years as a SEAL officer. He had learned to accept failure as never final, to find dignity in his unremitting efforts to deal with and overcome hardship and suffering. These lessons served him well when fate gave him the most intense suffering of his life.  He was forced to call upon reserves of strength and resilience he didn’t know he had.  Then he became a leader in Ward 5-East at Bethesda Naval Hospital, coaching fellow patients who had not “trained” as rigorously for their suffering, helping to guide them in their struggles to not succumb to despair and hopelessness.

Hardship and suffering can also teach us how important our fellow man, friends and our community are to all of us in times of great difficulty. We must learn when and how to ask for and receive help, when we’re truly struggling. For many of us, that can be very difficult, but it is a very important lesson to learn, and it can be very powerful.

We are all in the arena – our own personal arena – and we experience different challenges every day when things don’t go our way. We should realize that how we respond to routine frustrations and challenges today sets the stage for how we will respond to greater challenges tomorrow.  As I watch my parents and their generation deal with the hardship and suffering that accompany moving into old age, I realize that as the Buddha said, to live and to choose life ultimately, is to suffer.    We define ourselves by how we deal with our own hardship and suffering.

It is for us to ask ourselves: Do we suffer as victims?  Or do we accept our day-to-day hardships and suffering as challenges and opportunities to help us prepare to rise above whatever life has in store for us?

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity to a deeper meaning to his life…..Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.” Viktor Frankl, from Man’s Search for Meaning

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NOTE: There is an important caveat to this essay. This approach to dealing with frustration, hardship and suffering may not apply to those who suffer from severe depression, PTSD, or other psychological afflictions that significantly impair a person’s will, rational processes, or emotional functions. In these cases, professional help is almost always an imperative.

Suffering

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A “special” Special Operation – at the conclusion of World War II

Posted November 7, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: Ethics in Warfare, Hero's Journey, Heroism, Naval Special Warfare, Professionalism, SEALs, Values, Warfare

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I wrote this story for the Naval Special Warfare Magazine Ethos, and it was published in Issue #26 in  November 2104.

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It was 1945, and he was a 22 year old ensign in the Navy, swimming alone in a small bay off the coast of Japan, looking at the shoreline through his face mask. He had been trained as a member of one of the US Navy’s very special units – the Scouts and Raiders – and had been recently deployed to the Pacific Theater to do amphibious advance force operations against Imperial Japan in World War II.

Just two weeks earlier, he had been doing reconnaissance missions to prepare for an amphibious landing in Mindanao, the Philippines, expecting fanatic resistance from entrenched Japanese forces, when his superiors were told of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender of Japan. His task force was directed to cease all operations, pick up Army troops in Luzon, and make haste for Japan. After nearly 4 years of brutal and vicious combat, the war was finally over, and Japan had been defeated.

And now here he was, in the water, off the coast of Japan, and this beach was one of the planned sites for putting US forces ashore to begin the occupation of Japan.

It was early in the morning, the sun was out, and it was a beautiful day. The water was clear and calm, the bottom of the bay sandy, and the beach he was observing was fairly small – only about 150 yards wide. There was a small Japanese fishing village right next to the water’s edge, and though he saw some fishing boats on the beach, the village appeared deserted – no signs of activity or life.

He was on a one-man hydrographic reconnaissance mission, outfitted in the equipment that was standard for our frogman of World War II and many decades thereafter: fins, face-mask, web-belt with swimmer knife, lead-line and slate. His mission was to determine whether there were any natural or man-made obstacles, or any other impediments to an amphibious landing to put troops ashore. He had been dropped off several hundred yards off-shore by an LCVP – a small motorized launch – which was waiting just a few hundred yards away. His ship, the USS George Clymer, APA 27, was at anchor approximately a mile away, clearly visible.

The water was warm – for it was late August, 1945. The beach he was looking at was in front of the village of Wakayama, Japan, not far from Osaka. The beach was perfect for a landing – no surf, white sand, a perfect gradient. But as he was looking for potential obstacles and recording the gradient, he looked up and was startled to see three men approaching the beach from the otherwise deserted main street of the village. They had clearly seen him and were heading in his direction.

This could be trouble. He had heard reports that fanatics in Japan would never surrender, would never tolerate an American occupation, and would fight to the death. As a frogman, he felt very much at home and safe in the water and he had the LCVP just a few hundred yards away, but he was still concerned. As he looked hard at these three men approaching the water’s edge, he noticed that they all appeared to be elderly, dressed in coats and ties, and he saw no weapons. But he was still on his guard.

They came to the water’s edge and stopped. The young American officer carefully swam in to get a little closer, to see what they were up to. He slowly approached to within about 25 yards of them, staying in shoulder deep water. Then he stopped. For several seconds, the Japanese men stood on the beach and looked at him, and he looked back at them.

Then one of these elderly Japanese men stepped forward and spoke.

“We can see the ships off shore, and we can see what you are doing. We want to assure you that your occupation will be unopposed, and that we will cooperate peacefully. We are glad the war is over.”

From the water, the officer responded: “I want to assure you that we too are glad the war is over. We also hope to have a peaceful occupation.”

At that point, he did not sense a threat, and trusted his instincts. He decided to take a chance and came out of the water and approached the three men. It was indeed a bizarre scene: Three elderly Japanese gentlemen in coats and ties, standing on the beach in front of their village, facing a young American naval officer, representing the country that had just defeated them in war, dressed in nothing but a swim suit and his simple frogman equipment.

The Japanese man went on: “Whatever we can do to cooperate please let me know. Feel free to contact me if I can help.”

“Thank you,” our American officer said. “I will report your offer to my superiors.”  And then there was an awkward pause. The officer then asked, “How is it that you speak such excellent English?”

The Japanese man replied: “As a young man many years ago, my education included getting my baccalaureate degree from Harvard University.”

To which the American officer chuckled and replied: “Well, I went to Yale, and we used to kick your butt in football every year!”  At that, both men laughed.

That seemed to break the ice.

The other two Japanese men never spoke, and the American assumed it was because they probably spoke no English. The Japanese gentleman from Harvard then asked if the American officer might be able to join him and his wife for dinner. The American replied that he didn’t know what his schedule would be – that he and the American Navy were going to be very busy putting troops ashore over the next days, and he’d have to check with his superiors. That was a Monday. The Japanese gentleman suggested that the American try to meet him at that spot at 5PM on Thursday to accompany him to his home for dinner, and if the American couldn’t make it, that was fully understandable. The American responded that he would try, and then returned to the water, finished his reconnaissance and returned to his ship.

Back aboard ship, the American officer reported this encounter to the commodore of the squadron who encouraged him to go to dinner with the gentleman, noting that it would be great experience. Over the next several days, the task force was indeed very busy, but on Thursday afternoon, the American officer was at the appointed place and time, and the Japanese gentleman met him and took him to his home, where his wife had prepared a lovely meal.

As was and still is the custom, the American officer arrived with a gift. He was not a smoker, but had saved his ration coupons, and he had been able to purchase two cartons of Lucky Strike cigarettes, which he presented to the Japanese gentleman upon arrival. To see his reaction, you would have thought he had been given two bars of gold bullion! Japan was a nation of smokers, as was the US at that time, but in Japan, cigarettes had become extremely hard to come by. The Japanese gentleman was very pleased.

That evening, they didn’t talk about the war, or about politics, or about anything controversial or unpleasant. The Japanese gentleman said he had a son who was in the Army and he believed he was still alive, but wasn’t sure. They mostly talked about Yale and Harvard, the Japanese gentleman sharing his experiences in America from many years ago, and they discussed other pleasantries.

When it was time for the American officer to take his leave, the Japanese gentleman offered him as a parting gift, a folder with 23 appliques of Samurai Warriors with ancient Japanese writing on them. They were exquisitely done on rice paper, appeared to be quite old, but in excellent condition. The American officer was stunned, and replied that he just couldn’t accept such a gift. But his host insisted, saying that he would be insulted if they weren’t accepted. So, out of courtesy, the American officer accepted the gift.

The two never met or communicated again.

The American forces were very busy getting on with the occupation of Japan. The American officer was transferred shortly thereafter to Shanghai, where for nearly a year, he worked as an intelligence scout attached to Commander 7th Fleet, tracking the progress of a nasty insurgency in the countryside of northern China, led by a man named Mao Tse Tung. In 1946, the American officer was released from active duty, and like most American service men, returned to the States to begin a new, post-war civilian life.

The American officer from the Scouts and Raiders was Dick Lyon, now a legend in the Naval Special Warfare community. Upon returning to the States and Southern California, he eventually entered Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. When in 1951 war broke out in Korea, like many men in his generation who had fought in WW2, he was recalled to active duty. Dick was one of many former Scouts and Raiders, UDT men, and NCDU swimmers who volunteered to join the Underwater Demolition Teams to fight in Korea, and Dick became an officer in the newly commissioned UDT 5. He and his teammates trained up and deployed to Korea in late 1951, where he found himself swimming in the cold waters off Korea, again doing amphibious advanced force operations, and other new missions that were being devised for the UDT frogmen.

At the conclusion of that war, Dick returned to the States and was again released from active duty to continue his career in business. He remained active in the Naval Reserve, and over the next 26 years, commanded seven Naval Reserve units. In 1974, he became the first officer to be promoted to Admiral from the Naval Special Warfare community, and was recognized as BullFrog 1 – the longest serving UDT or SEAL on active duty.

Now, as an old warrior 91 years young, he enjoys looking back on his very full and rewarding life. He frequently looks at those appliques of Samurai warriors that he received from the old Japanese gentleman of Wakayama, which he now has prominently displayed in his living room. He recalls how nearly 70 years ago, as a very young man, he had the opportunity to serve on one of the great stages of world history, and to be one of the first American servicemen to set foot on the mainland of Japan after the dropping of the atomic bombs. In his meeting with the Japanese gentleman from Harvard, he also had the opportunity to do his own small part to begin healing the wounds from that very nasty war, and begin building the friendship that connects our two great nations to this day.

He still regrets that he didn’t stay in touch with the Japanese gentleman from Harvard. Though that old gentleman has certainly long passed, his Samurai Warriors still live on in Dick Lyon’s living room. As Dick fondly looks at them, he often thinks to himself, were the old gentleman alive today, “Ah….what a great conversation the two of us could have now!”

Radm Dick Lyon in 1976

Radm Dick Lyon in 1976

One of the Samurai Appliques

One of the Samurai Appliques

Leading from Behind

Posted October 10, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: Businesss Leadership, Executive Coaching, Hero's Journey, Leadership (general)

being differentLeading from behind? Isn’t that an oxymoron, like organized chaos, or a genuine fake? “Leading from behind” normally connotes a leader reacting to and being led by events rather than getting out in front of problems, setting objectives, and inspiring his/her organization to achieve great things.

I will make the case however, that the best leaders of the best organizations know that they are often more effective leading from behind, and “letting the dogs run.” They can, and do, lead from the front, when that is what the circumstances and the team demand, but they often prefer to plant themselves back in the crowd – watching others lead, and employing more subtle approaches to influencing events, rather than trying to always be in total control.

If a team is new and still defining itself, or if it is facing an urgent task, or if it is confused or struggling with internal conflict, there is clearly a need for strong lead-from-the-front leadership to develop positive forward momentum. But once the team is on track and performing well, leading from behind can increase momentum and develop long term and sustainable success.

When a team is “humming,” and everyone knows their job, when everyone is committed to a common vision and holds each other accountable to the mission, THAT’s when the best leaders exercise lead-from-behind leadership; they step out of the way and let things run. That doesn’t mean they disengage. They remain extremely engaged – by watching carefully, staying in touch with what is happening, providing support and insight as necessary, and making command decisions when command decisions are called for. They understand that it is easier to assess whether the team is moving out on the right azimuth when they can view the entire field.

When the team is working well, a lead-from-behind leader is able to look out beyond the next couple of ridgelines, consider how best to prepare the team for what might be coming, and how best to take it to the next level, when it is ready. And when it is ready, the leader knows it will probably be time to get out front again, to help the team create a new direction, a new vision, new commitment, and establish a new momentum, before once again, stepping to the side.

Letting a well-oiled team run, frees up the leader to serve the team beyond the boundaries of the team, to build credibility with other teams and higher headquarters, and to spend more time and energy looking at the broader context of the team’s mission. Management is left to the well-functioning internal mechanisms of the team.

Great leaders train and prepare future leaders. Lead-from-behind leadership allows the leader to look up and out, while giving junior leaders opportunities to lead, learn and grow. One of the best ways to build other leaders is to let them lead, and when designated leaders step out of the way, others can spread their wings, use their judgment, make decisions, and make mistakes. The lead-from-behind leader remains engaged by being available to coach, to make sure mistakes don’t take things too far off track, and to provide constructive feedback after the fact. Only by letting others lead can the leader effectively judge who has the most potential, and who is most ready to assume increased responsibility within the organization.

When I was younger, I made the mistake that many young leaders make: I believed my role was to always be out front. And like many young leaders, I enjoyed the spotlight, the authority, and the ego satisfaction of being in charge and “making stuff happen.” For most of us, this is probably a necessary phase in our development as leaders, but I’ve seen far too many leaders never get beyond this phase. When the leader is always out in front, others who might be very capable and ready, are not leading, and opportunities for them to grow and develop are missed. The team becomes completely dependent on the leader’s energy, drive, and ambition. That is not good for the long term development of the team and its people.

Later in my career, I struggled to back off my tendency to always jump out front, and I tried to step back more, and let the organization evolve. I realized that if my team expected me to always take charge as problems arose, they would simply sit back and wait to see what I decided. That was not what I wanted. I had to learn that it was not about me – it was about them. I was THEIR leader; they were not MY troops. There is a big difference.

Through trial and error, reading, and watching other leaders succeed and fail, I discovered that in great organizations, great leaders are often leading from behind. To outsiders, it is not always clear how great leader’s influence with subtlety, insight, and example. In his seminal work Good to Great, Jim Collins describes these leaders as “Level 5 Leaders.” Harvard’s Joe Badaraccco praises such selfless leaders as “non-heroic” leaders. One key NSW leader speaks of leading with “humility, integrity, and transparency.”

Great leaders like to step out of the spotlight and put the spotlight on others in their organization. In doing so, they become more a part of the organization’s collective “We.” They use the collective “We” and “Our” in most discourse, and avoid excessive use of “I” and “my.” When the leader is constantly saying “We,” and acting in a “We” way, those on the team begin to believe in ‘We” and commit to the larger “We,” rather than simply, to the leader.

“With the best of leaders, when the work is done, the project completed, the people all say, ‘We did it ourselves.’” (Tao Te Ching)

Great leaders know how to balance leading from the front and leading from behind. While they certainly know when and how to get out front and push, they also know when it is best to step to the side, let things evolve on their own, let other leaders emerge, influence subtly, and lead quietly, from behind.

A Leadership Journey

Posted September 1, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: Businesss Leadership, Character Development, Executive Coaching, Hero's Journey, In the wilderness, Nature, Resilience

Tags: ,
Moving through spectacular terrain

Moving through spectacular terrain

I just returned from my annual Executive Leadership Expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School. As usual, I am filled with inspiration and humility before the mountains, the people I was with, and the totality of the experience. And I feel inspired to share a bit of that with those who honor me by reading my posts in Bob’s Corner.

There were eleven of us: Two “instructors” of whom I was one, and nine other expedition members – six men and three women. The three women were all Navy Admirals, which says something about the intrepidity of the women the Navy promotes to Flag rank. The men included a retired former leader in cable television, the president and founder of an international business consulting firm, a financial advisor, a founder of a ground breaking international non-profit, a former test pilot now aeronautics professor, and a retired naval officer, now engaged in humanitarian work. Youngest 37, oldest 70, average age: 56. Our expedition also included 6 llamas, whose names and personalities we all got to know well.

Over seven days and six nights, we moved in a loop of close to 20 miles, between 9 and 11 thousand feet, climbed through two 11,000 foot passes, struggled with steep terrain, off-trail navigation and route-finding, managing ourselves and our llamas, both during our travels and in camp. We cooked and tented together, planned and adjusted our plans together, and when two of our llamas were injured, we adjusted paniers and load-weight accordingly. As an expedition, we dealt with whatever came our way. One of the members of our group reminded us that “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” God definitely chuckled a bit during our expedition.

We had a lay-over day during which some of us climbed a 12.3k peak well above the tree line, others stayed in camp and read and rested, some swam in the ‘almost cold’ mountain lake, and some successfully tried their hands at fly-fishing. They caught 35 trout, which made for quite a dinner that night.

We took care of each other, our llamas, our gear, and the environment, and left very little ‘trace’ when we departed our various campsites. Our goal was to Leave NO Trace, but we scattered the llama droppings, rather than packing them out!

That is what we did. But that is NOT what made the expedition special.

I have rarely, if ever, seen a group of people come together, and create an integrated team as quickly and as well as this group did. Working and solving problems together, we built trust within the group, all day, every day. Late in the second day of the expedition, Rick Rochelle, our very experienced expedition leader, and I were trying hard to make things flow just right. One of the women admirals pulled us both aside. “You guys need to relax. We’re having a ball out here – don’t sweat the small stuff!” The shoe was on the other foot- the students were mentoring the instructors. It was perfect – and just what we needed to hear. They were owning the expedition.

Every night, two of our expedition members shared their story – a “who am I” that focused on the key experiences that had shaped their own leadership journey. This was special and powerful – especially from such an accomplished group. It was a challenge and an opportunity for each of us to identify and share what experiences have shaped who we are. Some were light hearted and informative, others very personal and moving. All were provocative and inspiring. These stories connected us to each other, and opened doors to on-trail discussions that went deeper, and migrated to a wide variety of topics.

And all the while, we were living in and moving through some of the most spectacular mountains and valleys we’d ever seen.

It wasn’t all work – we also had fun and laughed a lot together. Our favorite source of amusement was the confrontation between Will, one of our members, and the amorous porcupine! I’ll not go into it, but it is a good story….

It was the longest period most in this group had ever gone without the accoutrements of civilization – bathrooms, showers, climate controlled buildings, kitchens, bedrooms, beds with clean sheets. We were unplugged from our computers and the daily barrage of emails and solicitations. We were without access to news, cell phones, music or the media. We were disconnected from the wider culture that nurtures us all.
We found that we were doing just fine without those things which we often consider essential to living well in the front country. We realized (again) that these things are in fact NOT essential. Without the niceties of civilization, each of us experienced a dimension of ‘quality of life’ that we rarely feel in our civilized, front-country lives.

How so? you might ask.

First, we experienced that special connection that arises when good people live together, support each other, and work toward a common purpose in challenging circumstances. A lighter version of what draws troops together in combat.

Second, we experienced a special and intimate connection to nature, in its grandest form. The eons of geologic time were palpable in the glacially cut walls and valleys we were traversing in the Wind River Range. In the face of such grandeur and magnificence, each of us experienced our own version of awe and spiritual humility, often leaving us speechless.

By choosing to get out of our comfort zones and out into nature with other similarly motivated leaders, we were taking care of our own personal well-being. Good leaders take care of their personal well-being; this enables them to better help others take care of their own well-being.

“Leadership” is a big word, with lots of nuances and meanings in different contexts. The “Leadership Journey” on this expedition was different for each of us. We all chose to take a chance, and quite simply, put ourselves out there. Each of us had our own concerns – old injuries, aches, pains, and insecurities – but we all chose to go for it, to trust each other, and set our own comfort aside in order for our tent group, our hiking group our expedition to succeed. We worked together, took care of each other, grew to trust each other, and experienced something special, something amazing together.

What does that say about “leadership?”

At the top of one of our passes, we stopped for a group photo

At the top of one of our passes, we stopped for a group photo

If any experienced leaders reading this might be interested in participating in this expedition next August, please contact me.

The American Idea

Posted June 24, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: American idea, American idealism, Innovation, Passion, Resilience

I was recently asked to sit on a panel discussing the Future of the American Idea, hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation.  I shared the panel with three very distinguished speakers in American political discourse: Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol, and Gary Kasparov.   Thanks to my good friend Michelle Van Cleave for nominating me to be part of such a distinguished group.  The below essay is essentially what I offered to the discussion.

Meb Vietnamese kids1military

I believe that the American Idea can be expressed in four key values: Courage, Idealism, New Beginnings, and Community. These values are epitomized in two very different, but quintessentially American communities – recently arrived immigrants, and the US military.

The story of Meb Keflezighi is a great example of how immigrants continue to embody the values of courage, idealism, new beginnings and community.   Meb spent his childhood struggling to survive with his family in a village in war-torn Eritrea. After many years of courageous effort and persistence, his father succeeded in bringing Meb and his family to America, and with the help of the Eritrean-American community and their new American friends, Meb and his family were able to make a life for themselves in San Diego. Meb was 12 years old when he arrived, and speaking little to no English had to step up and adapt quickly to the new language and culture in San Diego. In school, he found that he had a talent for running, and after stellar performances at San Diego High School, he went on to attend UCLA and become an NCAA champion in multiple events. In 1998 he became an American citizen and represented the US in the Athens Olympics in 2004, bringing home a silver medal in the marathon to his adopted country.  He has since become the first American in over 30 years to win the New York City marathon, and then, though given little chance for winning, became the first American in three decades to win the Boston Marathon in 2014.

When people claim that Meb is more African than American, he responds forcefully and proudly  “I am an American!” When a friend of mine accompanied Meb to an Eritrean-American gathering in his honor, he was struck when the event began with the pledge-of-allegiance to the American flag.  Meb’s ten brothers and sisters have all attended college, to include some of the best institutions in the United States, a tribute to the courage, hard work, love and dedication of Meb’s father and mother, and the support of their community.

My good friend Kim, a second generation Vietnamese-American has shared with me much of her life growing up in the very tightly knit Vietnamese-American community in Atlanta and Southern California. When new immigrants arrive from Vietnam, the Vietnamese-American community rallies behind them, with a strong sense of shared obligation to support new arrivals, and help them get on their feet and adjust. The Vietnamese American community holds new arrivals accountable for making their own way with the help they receive. They are expected to become contributing members of their communities and to represent the best of the values of the Vietnamese culture, while respecting, and adapting to the values and customs of their new country.

To Meb and Kim, and to the Eritrean and Vietnamese-American communities, America is still the land of unlimited opportunity, not of unlimited entitlements. The American Idea is still fresh, inspiring, and real – it hasn’t become infected with disillusionment and cynicism.  The stories of Meb, Kim, and so many other immigrants follow the pattern of many of our European-American forefathers who left “Old Europe” to begin anew in America. Our immigrant forefathers, and immigrants coming to America today, have all exhibited the courage and idealism to break from the old and venture into the unknown, to start over and build strong communities that reflect and embody the American Idea.

Similarly today, members of our military represent those same values. All have courageously volunteered to leave their old lives, to make new beginnings, and to accept the dangerous mission that serving in the military on behalf of America entails. The military culture is demanding, but it is also infused with idealism and optimism as it seeks to embody the values of honor, sacrifice, and service-above-self that represent the best in America and the best in its service members. Each of the military services actively strives to create a sense of community which holds its members accountable for pulling their own weight, for contributing to the greater good, and for representing the values that continue to make America a place where courageous idealists from around the world want to come to make a new beginning and build great communities.

The American Idea recognizes that some have not always been treated well on its behalf. African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and others have legitimate grievances regarding how some have interpreted the American Idea. Past abuses cannot be undone, but they can be acknowledged, and lessons taken from them to help new generations to do better in the future as the American Idea evolves and becomes more inclusive.

The American Idea is not about looking backward with regret– it is about looking forward with optimism.  It is about proudly proclaiming “I am an American!” and boldly stepping into the future, striving to live up to high ideals that make strong and vibrant communities, communities that sustain the American Idea that sustains us all.

Gary Kasparov, Bob Schoultz, Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol, and Jimmy Kemp at the Jack Kemp Foundation Conference.

Gary Kasparov, Bob Schoultz, Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol, and Jimmy Kemp at the Jack Kemp Foundation Conference.

 

A Bias for Bold Action

Posted May 27, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: Businesss Leadership, Character Development, Executive Coaching, heart, Innovation, mediocrity, NOLS, Passion, Resilience, Uncategorized, Values

Tags: , , , ,

audacity-augments-courage-hesitation-fearI was recently invited to provide a Navy SEAL’s perspective to a conference on risk management.    As I was preparing my remarks, I realized that throughout my career in the Navy, “risk management” had been inherent in my duties as an officer and leader of audacious men in high risk operations, but I had never given the concept of risk management much thought.  I felt a little like the fellow who was amazed  to learn that he’d been speaking prose all his life and didn’t even know it!

In thinking about it, I realized how important risk management can be to proper planning and success, but also how, if given too much emphasis, it can inhibit bold action and throw sand into the gears of progress.

Risk management is certainly an important aspect of good planning and decision making – an organization should go into any endeavor with its eyes open, understanding what could go wrong and how to manage potential impacts.   Careful consideration of risk can help determine whether a plan has a reasonable chance of success, and whether potential benefits justify likely or even unlikely costs. All of that is indisputable.

But an over-emphasis on risk management can torpedo one of the most important factors in any plan’s success:  Bold, confident commitment to a plan. Too much attention to risk management can focus an organization on all that can go wrong, rather than on what should go well and what bold action is required to ensure that it does.

A focus on risk can infect a team’s confidence, and over-caution can lead to inaction, or taking half steps, or playing not-to-lose.  We’ve heard the catchphrase to: “Always hedge your bets,” and cautious admonitions to be prudent, play it safe, don’t expose yourself, leave yourself a way out, never over-commit.  This can be practical advice – especially to ensure you get at least “half a loaf.”  But, while the careful approach may sometimes be wise to ensure survival, it won’t promote bold, audacious action.   And it won’t inspire subordinates to truly commit to a plan.

In their seminal book, In Search of Excellence, Peters and Waterman repeatedly found that great corporations had what they called “a bias for action.”   They noted that “The most important and visible outcropping of the action bias in excellent companies is their willingness to try things out, to experiment…..Most big institutions… prefer analysis and debate to trying something out, and they are paralyzed by fear of failure, however small.”  This was true 30 years ago, and it remains true today.

When I was serving at the Naval Academy, I presented an out-of-the-box proposal to then- Superintendent Vice Admiral Rod Rempt, to create an opportunity for midshipmen to participate in National Outdoor Leadership School courses during the summer.  He responded that he didn’t think it was a good idea, that it didn’t fit, we’d never done anything like this before, midshipmen already had more options than they could manage, etc, but then he said (and I’ll never forget) “What the hell – let’s give it a try! How can I help?” Ten years later, over a quarter of midshipmen choose to challenge themselves for 24 days in the wilderness with NOLS every summer, and I give Rod Rempt a lot of the credit for his willingness to take a chance and support a subordinate leader’s initiative.

The bold leader inspires subordinates to believe in themselves, their team, their strategy, and their ability to get results.   Subordinates know a risky plan when they see it, and it’s important that they trust that their leaders have competently weighed the risks involved, and share in that risk.  But it is more important that they know their leaders are confident and committed to the success of the plan, and are ready to commit boldly to its execution – in spite of the risks. History is full of examples of committed and confident teams succeeding where success was deemed unlikely or impossible; there are also innumerable examples of timid leaders and teams snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Napoleon pointed out that in war, morale is to material as three is to one.

But there can be a fine line between being bold and audacious, and being blind and fool-hardy.   The motto of the Navy Seabees is “Can Do,” but they also say “Too much ‘Can-Do’ can do you in.”  John Wayne once said, “Life is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re stupid.”   But I’m arguing against risk managers injecting too much “Can’t Do” into vision and planning.

Great leaders have a bias for bold action, but prudently manage risk. Excellent managers on the other hand, are expected to be the voice of prudence and caution, to be their organization’s risk managers, while still leaving room for experimentation and well-calculated audacity.   In my own career, I have played the role of the cautious manager, raising red flags when (what I perceived to be) irresponsible and dangerous ideas were being proposed and considered.    I have also been the bold, aggressive leader who my team routinely had to rein in, to make sure we didn’t get out in front of our own headlights.  When the balance is right between bold but prudent leaders, and cautious but confident managers, there are few limits to what an organization can accomplish.

I was recently asked to speak on how great leaders and teams respond to chaos and uncertainty.  In my remarks, I noted that bold leaders know that while chaos and uncertainty are dangerous and warrant caution, they also present great opportunities.  The bold, aggressive leader will carefully watch chaos, staying alert, agile, ready to neutralize threats, but also ready to strike when opportunities present themselves. While the bold leader is wary of the danger inherent in chaos, s/he keeps the front site focused on opportunity.

When the going gets tough, the bold leader stays focused on opportunity.  Chesty Puller, when told that the Chinese had him and his Marines surrounded in Korea, is reputed to have responded: “That simplifies the problem.  The bastards can’t get away from us now!”   He didn’t  (as far as I know) then ask his staff for a risk management plan. But a good chief of staff would have prepared one for him anyway!

“The credit belongs to the man <or woman> who strives valiantly; who spends himself in a worthy cause… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid <risk managers> who neither know victory nor defeat.”  (Teddy Roosevelt, adjusted slightly…)

Manage risk, but always with a bias for bold action.

 


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