Authentic leadership is predicated upon the personal commitment of the leader to seek to develop fully first while seeking leadership roles appropriate for their development, AND in alignment with their 3P’s and Stand. So, your path has two, not one, imperatives:
- Are you on the right developmental path? I would say that since you are reading these words, the answer is yes. Stay the course.
- Are you on the right path of service? That answer depends on the clarity of your purpose, passions, principles… and how that defines your One Thing Mission and Stand. Doing the daily work of #1 helps to define #2.
Let’s review what is looks and feels like as an authentic leader, then at some things to watch out for that can take you off your path.
The Character of an Authentic Leader
- Authentic leaders learn to win in their minds before they seek to win on the battlefield. This requires a commitment to alone time for silence, contemplation, meditation and visualization.
- Authentic leaders don’t whine. They embrace the suck; get the job done, and then move on to the next task. They don’t suffer the whining of their teammates either; rather have strategies for bringing the team to a higher level of positivity before the suffering destroys the team spirit.
- Authentic leaders truly love their fellow teammates like their brothers and sisters. It is a feeling, not a concept.
- Service comes naturally, it is about character and not a lesson taught in the classroom.
- Authentic leaders respect their enemies (competitors) as much as their fellow soldiers.
- Authentic leaders display integrity in their thoughts, words and deeds, alone, with their teammates and within the “system.”
- Authentic leaders do today what others won’t, so they can do tomorrow what others can’t. They tackle the hard stuff now to build confidence and successes in a virtuous upward cycle until they are unbeatable.
- Authentic leaders don’t shy from the hard leadership roles, but also will step back effortlessly when it is someone else’s turn. They do not lead for the power, glory, money, resume or fame. They lead because they are called to serve in alignment with their mission and stand.
- Authentic leaders are humble about their success and give credit to the team.
- Authentic leaders seek the severest training for themselves and their teams, desiring to forge mind, bodies and spirits. They will earn their “trident” of respect every day.
- Authentic leaders never quit. They never quit their teammates. They never quit training or the mission.
- Authentic leaders are innovative. “Failure is not an option” means that failing is required to learn faster.
- Authentic leaders train realistically, master the basics and come back to those basics often. They take nothing for granted and work tirelessly to master their tradecraft.
- Authentic leaders can always answer the questions ‘WHY” they are doing what they are doing. It is this connection to their purpose that keeps them focused and motivated when things get shitty.
- Authentic leaders never see themselves as having mastered things, they are always learning and growing.
- The authentic leader is balanced and will include the three spheres of “I / We and It” in their decision making.
Ways to Miss Your Path
“It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” –William Henley
When considering the totality of the above list, you can see that it requires courage to live to those standards. Many external things can cause us to veer off path, such as sickness, injury or moral outrage. Those are relatively easy to deal with. But, there are four other ways that you can miss your mark that can only come from self-sabotage. Let’s look at them each.
Aiming Poorly at your Path
You can make the mistake of doing something that’s inspiring that doesn’t align with your stand. Or you can choose to do something you stand for but the world doesn’t need much or, and you can’t get paid for. You could aspire to be the best at tea ceremonies in the world, but you could find it difficult to make a living, or a difference in the world, by doing just that.
When I was 30, I thought that maybe I could be an astronaut. I had some SEAL teammates who that went that direction and space has always inspired me. After a lot of time researching how to align with this idea, I realized that even though I had a Masters degree, I would have to go back to school for at least another 10 years to get the right education. NASA wasn’t hiring MBA’s for Mission Specialists! And, statistically, I had less chance of becoming an astronaut than I did a Navy SEAL. I had to admit that though it was cool and inspiring, in this lifetime it was not my calling. I had aimed poorly in my youth, and by that point in my life, it didn’t fit. It would be like trying to get to the Olympics at forty. Tough to do. Your aim has to be on target, and early enough in life for some things to work.
Denying your Path
You might see or feel the path you need to take, but deny it to please others (usually your parents). A classic example would be someone who’s musically talented and loves music. Maybe they’re even a prodigy. But their parents say: “get serious, get practical, you need to be a doctor or lawyer.” So you follow orders and deny that music was your calling and you figure out how you’re going to earn a living following the heard instead.
Another example would be growing up in a New England family where one boy is supposed to be a priest and one a police officer. Maybe you’re the non-athlete, so you get picked to be the priest, all the while denying your love of music. You go into the priesthood, only to realize 30 years later that it’s not who you are. It’s never too late to change, but it gets harder and harder the older and more rigid you get in your chosen profession. You can still have success in what you’ve settled for, but you’ll feel no fulfillment.
Quitting your Path
It’s possible to choose the right target but to aim too high, or have such low confidence that you can’t ever get there. If your chosen path exceeds your actual capacity, you won’t have the patience and humility to master it. Many want to go from zero to hero, only to find out how difficult it is. After failing once or twice, they quit.
A great example is wanting to be an entrepreneur and serve the world. You think, “I’m supposed to start the next Uber and make billions of dollars.” So you try it, it flops, and then you retreat. You go back to what you were doing before. If that was your calling, you missed by overshooting. Start in a more practical manner and take it one step at a time.
The other side is when your lack of confidence holds you back. You have the sense that you should do it and want to do it, but you haven’t done enough emotional work and still have low self-esteem and negative dialogue. As a result, you either don’t start or shoot the arrow half way.
Closing the Door to Your Path
This is the idea of staying where you are because your current benefits are a sure thing. You have invested too much time and energy in your current situation, so you sell out your dream calling for the sure thing. You stay even though you know you’re not happy, serving or fulfilled. You become the walking dead, just marking time. You’ve closed yourself off from a life of purpose, passion and principles because of position, money or age. You can’t see how to do something else.
An example would be you staying in the military for 10 years longer than you want to get the retirement package that vests at twenty. This obstacle is common in large, safe organizations like government bureaucracies. Or you could be a financial services professional earning good, or obscene amounts of money, afraid to chase your dream of being an artist due to what you would “give up.” Or age could cause you to close the door… you could feel you are just too old to start afresh.
But, there are so many examples of people in their 60’s, 70’s or 80’s who changed their lives to align with a calling. Nelson Mandela was 72 when he was released from prison, 76 when he became president of South Africa. Colonel Sanders started franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 65. Doing something new, aligned with your calling, is never impossible. Remember our friend William Henley’s words on this matter. We are in control, we are the masters of our fates, the captain of our souls.