“What you do and what you tolerate in your presence best demonstrates your standards.” – Admiral Eric Olson, SOCOM
Leaders are influenced by cultural BOO, and it takes serious courage to break out of those limiting memes. Finding the courage to go against the grain takes deep integrity, and a stand to do the right thing in spite of the consequences. When leaders are focused on status, reputation and other external factors, then they will lack the courage to make the “hard right” decisions that are culturally out of favor. Many would rather look good than to be good and do good.
Let’s take a look at some of the cultural BOO that can lead to a failure of courage.
Our western culture is a Rambo culture. John Rambo was the rogue Special Ops guy of the movie by the same name. He fought against the system, alone… and the system “drew first blood.” The movie, along with countless others, profiles the staunch individualism of the American way. But the interconnectedness of our world, largely hidden to most before the advent of the world wide web, is revealing the error of this ethos. Though appealing, especially to men, this approach to life and leading has let to yet independence is a myth in our world. We depend on thousands of people for our basic daily needs. The economy is a worldwide system of inter-dependency. But many will take credit for going it alone, figuring it out and not “needing your help.” And they will credit their success to their own diligent work ethic, not acknowledging just how many others were quietly supporting their very efforts.
Attention Deficit Culture
We are becoming ridiculously distracted by our smartphones, gaming and social media usage. The jury is out… it is addictive and weakens our resolve and ability to focus by constantly checking your phone. And, in spite of the growing research around functional fitness and whole food nutrition, and the growing number of CrossFitters, Paleo, Keto and Fasters, the trend is still toward seeking a quick fix as an antidote to poor health and mental agitation. Leaders should not confuse a “hack” – such as a nootropic supplement – for leadership capacity. Training for optimal health and fitness is obviously our Unbeatable Mind stand, but the broader culture will still seek out the weight loss pill.
This is no news flash, but our culture is also ridiculously negative – IF- you pay attention to the news. So, I don’t. And most authentic leaders I know, or have observed, rarely watch network news, or much TV at all for that matter. I am not trying to pretend holier than thou with this statement. But, I can attest to how much the quality of my life has improved after removing TV from my daily routine fifteen years ago. Those of you who have stuck with the “news blackout” program have experienced this.
Never Good Enough Culture
We have an unhealthy obsession with wanting more, never being satisfied and upward mobility. My experience is that the more self-awareness we develop, and the deeper you go in your meditation, then the less you need and simpler you live. However that is the opposite of the cultural meme, which says that one must always be moving up the ladder of responsibility, always up-leveling or comparing their home, car, and university, or whatever. This is almost impossible to resist. Some unknown percentage of people at American Ivy league schools paid for a completely phony profile to get in (this is predominantly a Chinese phenomenon I understand). When is good enough, enough? The academic and professional resume has become so corrupted that it is a worthless piece of information.
In the Navy, the writing of an annual performance report card is a fine art of deception. To the untrained eye, everyone is a rock star. The nuanced selection of words hides abysmal character failures in a glow of bullshit. The institution ferrets out top performers by looking for code words embedded in the text- like a secret society. “Proven leader, recommend promotion” is code for “not much of a leader, don’t trust him.” Being ranked one out of one is better than being ranked 3 out of 20. Grades in high schools and colleges are similar. When I went to Colgate University I slaved to get a 2.8 GPA. Today I routinely see resumes with GPA’s higher than 4.0. In a culture where everyone is a rock star then no one and nothing is really good enough.
Short Term Culture
Short term quarterly earnings focus for public companies. Two and four-year election cycles. Monthly economic reports. All these create a myopic culture that forgoes long term vision and planning for the short term hit. I was bummed when most corporations reinvested savings from tax cuts into buying their own stock. The only reason to do this would be to drive the stock price up by reducing the float. But, as soon as the market got pounded, then all that economic benefit that was once cash evaporated. Only a few leaders with a long term vision invested in their people, infrastructure or R & D.
A more egregious example of our short term thinking is not leaving our “global campground” in a better state through our use. It is hard to imagine leaders knowingly destroying the Earth’s limited resources without having a way to replenish what they take. It is our home, after all.
Garbage heaps the size of Texas in the oceans, only 100 years or so into our industrialized world experiment. Will we make it to 1,000 with this mess? Not without changing our attitude and behaviors to the environment. We have already tapped an estimated 40% of the Earth’s natural resources, and the corporate-states are rushing to claim what remains. At this point, everyone is hoping for a Hail Mary techno-breakthrough to save the day–- isn’t that how it happens in the movies? This is just a snapshot of a large amount of the cultural bias leaders must be aware of.
For authentic leaders, courage is the fuel and integrity the engine of action. Leaders must be passionate about the vertical development of themselves, and their teams, and work hard to overcome not only their personal BOO but also entrenched cultural bias that traps others in weak thinking. Authenticity demands respect for ourselves as well as all others, and our planetary home. The world needs fifth plateau, world-centric leaders… you in other words… to step up and be uncommon, by today’s standards. Commit to self-mastery and service, take your eyes off of yourself and put them on others. Develop contentment and an abundance mentality. Do not hoard, or take what is not yours. Learn to nurture our communal natural resources, and ensure that we leave our world better off than when we arrived. Allow our future generations to thrive as we have, or more. Then, bring this authentic leadership capacity into your teams and institutions, one leader at a time.