Something to learn

“If only there were one answer, one solution, and all could benefit from its wisdom.”

My previous article evaluated the advantages of always remaining vigilant about life’s lessons. It’s a personal goal of mine to experience at least one on a daily basis. While I never pressure or force myself to make them happen, I do remain observant and watchful. Most days they are subtle, but the momentous ones are memorable and life changing.

Ultimately, it has developed into a habit. There is no written record of sorts; however, undoubtedly I’ve written about many in the past. There’s no reward, nor a reprimand if it doesn’t happen. It’s woven into the fabric of my daily life. Since my purpose in life is to help others on their journeys of emotional healing, I equate these life-lessons to exercises which are necessary to keep me in tiptop shape.

It has been said that for many life coaches and mental health counselors, they’ve had their own transformative experiences which compelled them to follow this path. That is definitely true in my case. I recall three days after one of my biggest life lessons – the one which I refer to as “My Independence Day” – I recall thinking, “I wish everyone could have this exact same experience.” Little did I realize at the time it would become my direction, objective, and profession.

Fortunately, writing has been a joy and a passion for most of my life. During the first 2-1/2 years of therapy journaling was nearly a daily mission. 6 months after my Independence Day, I began to blog; and a year later, the ideas for my first book were outlined. Constantly being encouraged and inspired by my therapist, the outline migrated from my head to a Word document. On January 1st, 2015, one of my first-ever New Year’s resolutions was to complete the book by year’s end. The following Christmas Day, that goal was completed, and in August of 2016, the first printed copies arrived.

The book was certainly a labor of love because most days began around 3 or 4 am. My day job kept me busy and during the week, it was the best time to sort out my thoughts. Fortunately, I enjoyed writing at that time. There is something compelling about that hour. The darkness and calmness offered a tranquility which only enhanced the experience.

One of the ways which helped me succeed was my therapist allowing me to email him daily what I had written. Truly, I do not know if he read all of them but I didn’t want to let him down. Somedays were spent rewriting what was written the previous day and others were fruitful, only stopping when it was time to get ready for work.

This past week, my second book was published. Thankfully, the man who encouraged me to write the first one is now a coauthor on this one. He graciously writes in the Foreword about it being a “privilege” but I can assure you my gratitude exceeded description the moment he first agreed.

When I decided to shift my life’s purpose in this direction, my excitement was only outweighed by my zeal. Even now, looking back at that exhilaration, the words to describe it continue to elude me. I would talk to anyone about my story and there were several occasions I met someone during my day job and ended up speaking to them about my transformation.

But the lesson I was going to learn amongst all this passion and enthusiasm would soon come to fruition.

My own awakening came when I understood how shame influenced and controlled my life in many devastating and unseen ways. Consequently, this is my primary focus when helping others. Because it was incredibly apparent in my own life, I presumed it was the same for everyone else. Even meeting new connections online, there was no hesitation to talk about shame and how it may have impacted their lives.

Needless to say, some did not appreciate my blanket speculations and were happy to disconnect from me entirely. At first, I felt bad for them but soon realized it was both audacious and rude on my part.

As someone who’s dedicated to helping others, this was disappointing. However, it did teach me a very important lesson. No matter how passionate I am, no matter how many I may captivate with written or spoken words, no matter how many I may help, I cannot help everyone.

No doubt countless others have had transformative experiences and like me, wished the same for others. Mine does not take precedence over theirs. It will always remain unforgettable, but in order for it to be beneficial, it must be applied wisely.

This lesson will never slow my passion and intentions. I will always be ready to speak with anyone on the subjects of shame and emotional healing. What it has done is given me discretion; and oddly, a different kind of compassion that in my zeal, I was not able to offer.

What’s important is that people wanting help are given the needed assistance. What’s important is that others achieve the emotional stability and mindset to live a fulfilled life. As much as I’d love to be the one to provide it, it’s not imperative that I be the only one to whom they turn.

As I’ve stated in dozens of my articles, everyone’s journey is unique. My experiences may not relate to the kind of support and comfort they require. And besides, I’ve had the privilege of meeting dozens of other coaches and therapists, and being open to their ideas and methods have offered insights on how I can become more effective.

In the past, I’ve wondered why there wasn’t one direction, one resolution to find life’s hidden answers to living a happier and more effective life. Now I understand why there is not. Otherwise, I will not have had opportunities for even more growth than I believed was ever possible.

My thanks to Cassie Matias on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

Lesson number 1

Photo by Devin Lyster on Unsplash

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

Winston Churchill

From the moment our eyes open from a night of sleep, it doesn’t take long to find some situation ready to teach us a lesson. Whether it be a trivial change or monumental shift, life at times, unfolds as a string of one learning moment after another.

This isn’t necessarily an indication you’re in any sort of trouble, but rather more of the way one perceives life. If the focus is on what can be done to improve on one’s circumstances then whatever misstep occurred will be identified as a lesson.

An expression receiving lots of attention nowadays is: “there are no mistakes in life only lessons” and while this is a very positive outlook, I don’t always subscribe to the notion that there are no mistakes. They happen all the time.

Each morning, I use a French press to brew my coffee. After the water has boiled, only enough to cover the grounds is added to the glass container. After a minute or two, the grounds swell to their maximum potential and the rest of the water is added. However, there have been plenty of times when I’ve neglected to add the water until the total time has nearly elapsed. This is a mistake. Nothing which if not remedied will cause great havoc, and my typical reaction is to laugh when this occurs. I could set two timers but it’s truly not that important. The day will continue as planned.

When it comes to the important lessons, a much different approach is considered. On a daily basis, my goal is to experience some situation which sheds light on an aspect of personal growth. Sometimes it is insignificant and other occasions, life changers. Interestingly, the little realizations can be as difficult to acknowledge as the huge awakenings.

In order to become greater at anything we do, being cognizant of these learning experiences is something we must be determined to be aware of.

At times, these situations continue for a long period. Perhaps we may have erroneously believed it was conquered, only to discover the real meaning was never fully understood – causing us to repeat the mistake. In these kinds of circumstances, it typically denotes there was some aspect we didn’t entirely understand, or never truly believed we needed to grasp. This is precisely why it’s imperative to do our best to identify and completely scrutinize everything about the situation.

The lessons we cannot see are the ones most difficult to overcome.

How does one overcome something which is not or cannot be seen? One beneficial way is to have a friend, confidant, or partner who cares about you and will point these things out for your own edification. Rightfully so, it also builds and strengthens that relationship.

If there is one expression which at times is misunderstood, it’s that others’ opinions don’t matter. In general, people’s attitudes about you shouldn’t have too great a bearing on how you view yourself. However, viewpoints of friends, close acquaintances, and partners ought to have some influence in your life. Caring companions make a huge difference in our personal growth and in creating stronger relationships.

Having reliable people around us who are willing to point out these faults, errors, or mistakes is beneficial in learning lessons. Depending on the kind of issue, it can be extremely difficult to tell a friend or partner about a problem and if not for their intervention, it may never come to light and be fully addressed.

Acknowledging our own faults or shortcomings is one of the most difficult challenges for many. Perhaps many of us have a friend, co-worker or someone we know who has an obvious flaw which that person (or persons) is not able to see. It could be an obnoxious habit or frequently repeated mannerism which makes you cringe each time it happens. Although it is blatantly obvious, it remains completely unseen to that individual. Now ask yourself, “has anyone ever thought that about me”?

The most difficult part of learning any lesson is admitting there is a problem. Particularly those matters which point out flaws in our personalities or ways of thinking. Looking into the proverbial mirror and acknowledging there is something wrong is daunting. It takes courage. Nevertheless, it’s the first step toward change.

Listening to those you trust or even those with more knowledge, experience, or wisdom is another way of becoming aware a change is in order. It’s impossible to be an expert at everything. People who are at the top in their areas of expertise also have counselors, advisors, or other specialists helping them to improve. It’s not a wise investment to have people around you only to tell you what a remarkably perfect job you’ve been doing. Anyone requiring that kind of a validation most likely is highly deficient in self-esteem.

Although there are lessons we can enjoy, everything doesn’t need to be a learning experience. Sometimes it’s best to simply relax or take our minds off any stress and take in the world around us. Life is worth slowing down and discovering the beauty this world has to offer. From the grandeur of the oceans to the splendor of the mountains, or even simply having our faithful pet at our side, these are wonderful and healing moments in and of themselves. This could be the number one lesson that I myself may need to relearn.

My thanks to Devin Lyster on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

The dawn of inspiration

Photo by Igor Kasalovic on Unsplash

“The art of writing comes from practice but its origin can come from something wonderful.”

The written word has played a critical role for the human species. It’s believed to have begun a little over 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians and has evolved from scratching marks into wet clay, to typing on our portable devices. Throughout the millennia, it has memorialized everything from triumphs to tragedies, and played witness to a host of noteworthy events.

Writing down thoughts offers a distinct advantage of carefully considering your precise meaning and point. Wouldn’t that be nice if the same were always true with the spoken word?

I’ve often wondered where my love and enjoyment of writing had its roots. I do recall exercising my imagination as an elementary school student writing various stories. In the seventh grade, diagraming sentences became a fun, mental challenge. However, the most enjoyment came from expressing myself through poetry.

It never really dawned on me to pursue writing as a career; my college degree was in music and I’ve spent most of my working adult life in sales. But as the desire to write became more prevalent, it brought satisfaction on many levels. Sometimes, it actually feels compulsory.

In September of 2013, I began writing articles which were intended to benefit any who invested their time in reading them. It’s a daunting responsibility and one which I take quite seriously. It is also with the deepest gratitude and appreciation that I realize this gift was given to me and I must uphold a sacred duty to do it justice.

There is one person whom I would like to heap lots of praise for inspiring and perhaps even initiating my love of writing, and that person happens to be my mother.

This past week, she celebrated her 88th birthday and it was important for me to sing her praises – rather than only sing her happy birthday. Some of you may already know that for a majority of my 200 posts, she has been my editor-in-chief. Each Saturday morning, I send her the finished draft and then call her to make the final corrections. The best part is when we are finished, we spend a few mintues catching up on the week’s happenings. This, too, is a blessing and one for which I am extremely grateful.

My mother’s affection for the written word has been more from the grammatical aspect. There’s a personal story which I love to share and while it wasn’t funny at the time, we often laugh about it and I’m confident it brought me great awareness of the importance of proper grammar. My oldest brother was in 7th grade and she was helping him with grammar homework. I was watching TV with the kitchen door closed so my brother could concentrate.

Not paying much attention to what they were doing, I suddenly heard my mother say in an elevated voice, “No, it’s a preposition”!

Now there would be no reason for a fourth grader to recall this story. However, shortly after, my mom repeated it again louder. I don’t recall how many more times she yelled it but I can certainly remember thinking to myself, “I’m going to remember what a preposition is.”

Full disclosure, my brother did eventually catch on and much more. He ended up getting his degree in the Classics: Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit and taught Latin to high school students.

In some ways, I believe that my mother’s interest in the written word has positively influenced her bright mental state. She loves word games, doing crossword puzzles, and even reading the newspaper just to see how many errors she can catch. Sometimes during our conversations, she’ll apologize for repeating herself but I assure her by reminding her that I, too, have been guilty of that as well and that she’s not showing any signs of forgetfulness.

One of the greatest blessings I could have never imagined is being in your sixties and still having the privilege to reach out to your mother. I do realize many have not been as fortunate with their own experiences; however, I wanted to share my thoughts for the incredible gratitude I feel.

It couldn’t have been easy raising 3 sons and a daughter on her own. We buried ourselves in school activities which translated into ignoring chores and family responsibilities. Sunday mornings, she wouldn’t start to make breakfast until the yard was mowed because that was the only way it would get done.

If there were anything I could change, it would be the times when I ignored her or didn’t appreciate all she did for me. Thankfully, she persuades me it wasn’t as bad as I’ve remembered. I do, however, chalk that up to a mother’s love.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with blessings and gifts is they’re never fully appreciated as much as they ought to be. Perhaps the lesson here is to honor that gift by honoring the ones who’ve inspired and cultivated it within us. Indisputably, my mother has been one of those major contributing factors.

For those of you who were never able to share in this kind of experience, there are other ways, and no doubt people, to honor and appreciate. Gratitude is worth acknowledging. It leads to compassion and a greater awareness of everything around you. Each of our journeys follows a different course but it’s up to everyone of us to find our own ways of expressing thanks, acknowledging our responsibilities, and lovingly pass it on to other eager and enthusiastic minds.

This is how we leave our greatest legacy.

My thanks to Igor Kasalovic on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and of course, my deepest gratitude toward my mother.

A better place

Photo by Anna Goncharova on Unsplash

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

Knowledge isn’t overrated. The lack of it can be a hinderance but most would agree it’s best to be overstocked with this asset rather than it be in short supply. However, knowledge is not simply the ability to retain, remember, and recall information quickly and accurately. The dictionary defines it as: “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

The ability to amass data on an array of subjects used to be the job of an encyclopedia. With nearly universal access via our personal devices, many can quickly retrieve access to an abundance of information, making those once omnipresent volumes now relegated to libraries and other institutions of historic learning.

Having instant availability to practically unlimited information at our fingertips has not always been advantageous either. It provides more options, more choices, and more time processing information and the added worry of its accuracy. This underscores the importance of having both the experience and the skills to apply it.

As was discussed in last week’s article, another negative impact from knowing that you are right is what I’ve identified as, “Benevolent Ignorance”: the presumption that what you know or believe is the only right answer, and entertaining something different is futile, a waste of time, or perhaps a corruption of values.

After cautioning against this kind of leaning and admitting that I, too, am careful not to fall prey to its trap, some comments were kind enough to mention that I would never fall victim to it. While I am most grateful for them, by choice I will always remain vigilant. And perhaps that is the reason why these sentiments can be made in the first place; because of the decision to always be on guard against a buildup of arrogance. It will be part of my lifelong journey.

However, is that really logical? Should it be a requirement for everyone to be this diligent against not falling prey to their own values and beliefs? Is there not a moment when we’ve reached a point where we’re fully convinced we will never be guilty of being a know-it-all?

Clearly there is precedent for constant vigil. Many professions force a heavy demand on improvement. Athletes continually train. Artists tirelessly practice. Certifications of continuing educations are a necessity for many professionals so why shouldn’t one who professes personal opinions not have some minimum standard to uphold?

The opening quote was attributed to one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. His advice was to “not stop questioning.” Curiosity can be a good thing, but I don’t believe there is anything wrong in questioning a belief. It doesn’t mean that particular belief is wrong because the conclusion may only strengthen that belief.

The damage comes more from not questioning. And, an even greater destruction occurs when you demand others accept those same viewpoints.

The more zealous one becomes because of the “rightness” of one’s views, the more propensity for “Benevolent Ignorance” to be at hand. When someone presumes they know what’s better for you than you, corruption, exploitation, and dishonesty have an easier chance to initiate. It often begins with honest intentions – hence the “Benevolent” portion of the saying. But the benevolence quickly devolves into a strain of arrogance fueled by all of the perceived opportunities for power.

Now more than ever, we need people to question and not swallow every morsel of a polished message. Questioning doesn’t denote an ambivalence in your beliefs, but rather a willingness to be open. It demonstrates a willingness of inclusivity and a regard for others’ views and needs. The current headlines frequently demonstrate how divisive and discriminatory the world is becoming due to lack of engagement and unwillingness to listen to anyone being perceived to question their benevolence.

The momentum seems to be flowing in the direction of the dividers who willingly segregate others because their views differ. The tide is flowing so swiftly that it seems we’ve nearly past the point of no return.

But hope is never lost. The remedy is not easy. Medicine is often difficult to swallow.

Each of us needs to become that pillar. If there are no role models paving the way, it’s time we get our own shoes dirty. It’s a difficult decision and not something eagerly anticipated nor producing immediate rewards or benefits. But it’s time we stand up simply because it’s the fair action to take and not what we’ll get from taking that action.

It takes practice. We don’t just wake up one day and decide to change these behaviors. But we must begin to change the process. Try listening to one another and get a better understanding of another’s points of view. See if there is someone this week with whom you’ve disagreed and try to be patient and understanding. Let’s see if we can wipe out this pestilence that is slowly degrading our world.

In some ways, we all have a responsibility to make this world a better place and the best place to start is with ourselves. As for me, one decision I make is to perpetually be on guard against discounting the opinions of others. And there’s no better remedy than being open to questioning the thoughts of others… and my own.

My thanks to Anna Goncharova on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.

It's all right

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

“Those who think they know it all have no way of finding out they don’t.” – Leo Buscaglia

The insatiable thirst for knowledge may very well be one of the most notable attributes setting the human species apart from any other in the animal kingdom. Although it may be difficult to prove in non-humans, it is perpetually evident by the copious amounts of ways to gain knowledge. Whether it is in a classroom, from a book, online browsing, or basic curiosity, we are constantly drinking from the fountain of knowledge which seemingly has no end.

Scholarships are offered to those exceeding in this endeavor and the ones with a propensity to retain and recall information quickly are marveled and held in high esteem. Many take pride in their ability to recollect facts and recount remarkably trivial information.

The one characteristic which is unfortunately not a side effect from increasing knowledge is the ability to be discrete. It doesn’t take much effort to spot those who are unencumbered to “share” their knowledge with you and even let you know when your understanding is erroneous; eagerly anticipating the first opportunity to remedy your misconception.

If only these know-it-alls were aware that this behavior is more often interpreted as obnoxious rather than helpful. These actions are rarely done to benefit anyone other than to promote the brilliance of the perceived omnipotent.

Truthfully, this is a concern running through my mind each time I compose these articles. It’s the classic conundrum of wanting to sound authoritative without being conceited or condescending. Am I encroaching on the arena of arrogance even as I fight to expose its cruel consequences? How much do I struggle for what I believe in without becoming a victim of my own teachings? The subjects are highly subjective; my hope is the writing is highly objective.

Knowledge obtained in virtuous ways is intended to be shared for the benefit of humankind; not to be traded on the exchange of corruption, greed, or indignity. Researching thoughts from educated people typically leaves one understanding that the more one knows, the more one realizes there is so much more to learn.

The opening quote points to this very idea. I’ve often made a similar claim which states: The problem with always needing to be right is that you won’t know when you’re wrong. Knowledge frequently sheds light on what’s mistaken about our beliefs and opinions. It can expose fundamentally incorrect values or viewpoints. Initially, this awareness may feel embarrassing, but changing and accepting this new knowledge should now become a moment of growth. Rather than be humiliated, we ought to embrace this new knowledge.

As with countless other philosophical topics, being “right” is always a complex issue. Certain facts will always be a given, such as 2 + 2 will indisputably equal 4. However, there are certain subjects which at their slightest suggestion, bring complete strangers to fisticuffs at a moment’s notice.

In regard to these heated and controversial subjects, what is the conclusive factor on who is right? And, it’s not like this question hasn’t been asked before so what makes my view any more credible than the next one?

The approach I’ve learned is to ask questions and frame them in a way which demonstrates an eagerness to get to the truth. For instance, beginning the question with, “which of you ignorant people out there believe….(fill in your controversial subject)” This is no endeavor for truth but rather a brazen attempt at making someone feel poorly about what or how they believe.

This style of questioning is frequently used by those in a position of power; many who are unfortunately highly practiced in this art of duplicity. Employing this kind of rhetoric is both a sham and shameful. Undoubtedly deceit was the key to their rise and sharpening this devious skill is what aided their ascent to treachery.

Shame is a profoundly ominous tool and those who’ve been its worst victim learn to manipulate it so they won’t have to look inside themselves and become aware of how awful they actually feel about themselves. Their denial to reflect upon their own lack of virtue is outweighed by the shame in their own lives; leading them to believe they are owed much more than others. They will not believe for one moment they are wrong nor entertain any idea of being remotely incorrect.

Being in this state of delusion is what I call “Benevolent Ignorance.” When the notion that what you believe is without debate and indisputable. Anyone who would consider anything otherwise is also worth less than the air they breathe. Those are the kinds of people whom I will never hesitate to vex.

Here’s a little test which may help you reveal if you have any benevolent ignorant tendencies. If your only answer to why a question is correct is “because,” you may want to reconsider your belief. Additionally, if you refuse to listen to an alternative view to your “because,” this is even a greater cause for concern.

Beliefs don’t always require an answer since sometimes it takes faith to move forward. However, it borders on arrogance when you’ll only accept “because” for an answer and refuse to listen to other points of view.

Benevolent ignorance is often exploited by those in positions of power. Its use is shrouded with threats and horrific consequences. It is shame at its highest level. Nothing wields more power than:

A. Making others feel terrible about how they believe.

B. Usurping the ability of others to think for themselves.

What gives these despots even more power is when it’s coupled in groupthink. Thankfully, there is a defense; which is not to concede to demands. However, even if you have been guilty of this concession, I believe most still have the power to recapture their own reasoning.

This week try to become aware of any unseen need to be right or benevolent ignorance. Awareness is the first step toward setting it straight. Next week, we’ll talk about some of the remedies and replacing it with self-confidence.

My thanks to Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

The Leader of the Pact

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.’ “

— Lao Tzu

I never thought that embarking on a discussion about what comprises a leader would be such a troublesome and diverse subject. Perhaps for some, its definition is too vague. There are many kinds of leaders as well as countless ways to lead. However, tackling this in the present day is not something which should be reflected upon lightly.

I’ll admit that when approaching this subject, I jump right to the front and discuss those leaders whose responsibilities are greatest. For example, the ones mainly found in political and military arenas – where one decision can affect the lives of thousands of people. This kind of leadership comes with the most solemn and earnest responsibilities.

Even at this level, there are different styles of leadership. Some are quiet and deliberate; speaking only when required. Others may take a more vocal and demonstrative approach. It is a fine balance of understanding yourself and knowing how to inspire others to do more than they ever believed they could.

In the opening quote, Lao Tzu wisely writes when the best leader’s work is done, those being led say they did it themselves. This is precisely the way I’d love to see every description of leadership be depicted. While it may not be possible in every situation, it surely is an outcome all great leaders would be thrilled to have purported about them.

I hadn’t known much about this Ancient Chinese Philosopher but while researching this quote, there were several others which he characterized leaders as being in the background and focusing more on the people being led. Another of his well-known quotes states: “To lead people, walk behind them.”

When the attention is being focused on the flock rather than the leader, it shows those very same supporters they are important. Their efforts are going to the betterment of so much more than only to the one in charge. When leaders walk behind, it allows them to see progress and more importantly, foresee any grave concerns which may lie on the trail ahead. It may not always be possible to lead from behind but when it is, it’s a definite sign you truly are hoping to earn the trust of those in your care.

Is it possible that many of us are assessing leadership from the wrong perspective? Certainly it’s up to each one of us to decide what a leader can do for us, but is this really the best way to determine who the next person in charge ought to be? If this were the case, wouldn’t it place far too many arbitrary demands on the person vying for this position?

A leader is not defined on what that person can do for us, yet so many take the position that leaders are more of a savior or rescuer when that is not their objective. We should not anticipate or expect one person to snap his or her fingers and everything is changed. Life will be better and all the hurdles on our journey will be no more difficult than stepping over a pebble. This is possibly the worst illusion anyone could formulate.

Of all the leaders who have ever snapped their fingers and created such a dynamic change it was probably due to the fact they were monarchs or authoritarians. People only have this power when we give it to them, or it is unduly taken away from us.

Distinct leaders throughout human history are remembered for various reasons but first and foremost, it was for interceding for those who were oppressed. The vulnerable people who were deceived by others claiming to be leaders while taking away those very freedoms they lied to protect. Regrettably, leadership is also a position where with only a small, concerted effort, it can be used as a force for tyranny just as easily as a tool of fairness and justice.

Every person wants those in authority to be fair and impartial to their best abilities; providing equal opportunities as much as possible for the entire group. By choosing someone who is partial to you, how much responsibility and work are you hoping to alleviate for yourself? The purpose of a leader is not to make your life better while at the same time more effortless and advantageous for you. Imagine for a moment if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot, how badly duped you would feel.

Any aspiring leader should not tell you they alone can only do the job. Most who step into a leadership position hesitate and are nervous because they grasp the enormity of the position. One unintended mistake could negatively impact or even cost a life, and no one wants to have this scenario weighing heavily on their minds.

What may be a better way of looking at leadership is to be or live that kind of life you would expect from anyone leading you. Walk in those same steps and command from yourself the same ideals you’d expect from leaders. It’s an effective way to begin to understand the kinds of demands a leader must surmount. If you believe a leader ought to be held accountable for his or her actions, then live to that same standard yourself. If integrity, honesty, and fairness are what you demand from a leader, then command those very same traits from yourself.

Each of us has opportunities during the day to lead by example. From the smallest acts of kindness to large acts of charity, being a living example is the best reminder to yourself of the kind of leader you hope to see.

This week make a pact that you’ll exude and emanate the qualities you want to see in a leader. Search for those experiences when you can lead by walking behind others. It’s possible that others may see you as the potential leader you can become.

My thanks to Dev Asangbam on Unsplash for the wonderful photo and I look forward to your comments.

In the lead

“If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others’ possessions” -Leonidas’ response to the Persian King Xerxes.

In 2018, there were over 1200 books published with the word “Leadership” in the title. No one needs convincing of the importance of a good leader and the prodigious results which having one accomplishes.

However, in today’s headlines, it appears its concept is being conflated with a host of attributes which refute the true meaning and purpose of this word.

In all fairness, I hesitate to comment on such a powerfully significant topic when the extent of my leadership experience has so far peaked at leading a high school band. But this subject is an issue which touches each one of us. Whether it is at home, work, or in the world at large, leadership influences many outcomes every day of our lives.

In order to define the values of leadership, one ought to first examine the various levels of significance its role plays compared to each circumstance. Some leaders who stand in esteemed regard are nothing more than high forms of entertainment; while others, with one decision, can decide the fate of millions of souls. This leaves little debate that the latter holds a greater need to faithfully execute and exude the qualities of true leadership.

What is the ultimate goal of a leader? This is not a one-word answer and demands a clear understanding by the one looking to fill those shoes. I do not believe that winning alone should always be the final objective for any leadership role. As important and substantiating as it may be for some, it can be a major distraction for others.

There have been many whose ability to lead has been prodigiously displayed in different arenas. Some of those battlefields have been in athletics while others on the battlegrounds of war. Each producing and setting precedent for defining future attributes of leadership.

Undeniably, there have been world-class athletes who’ve demonstrated leadership skills which surmounted unbelievable odds and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Those moments have and continue to inspire potential leaders. Success is most often identified with winning in this realm but what really does victory mean and to what end does it matter?

I do not wish to downplay the efforts, talent, or countless hours of hard work which athletes must produce to reach this level of leadership. Ultimately, however, what does it produce? Someone who can throw, kick, shoot, or bounce a ball with utter precision and stifling the opponent?

What defines leadership at this level is doing something beyond their athletic prowess. It is taking those same talents which inspired teammates to perform at their highest levels, and putting them to use in their own communities; motivating those who once cheered for them, to reach their full potential in the game we call life.

Winning, at the level of sport, is the ultimate goal. But outside the gridiron, ballfield or stadium, winning can distract leaders from their purpose. Competition, by its own nature, requires knowing your opponent, maneuvering strategically and attacking those weaknesses while stretching the boundaries set by the rules of the game.

If this strategy is deployed by a community leader, competition amongst the constituents, perpetuates favoritism, promotes discrimination, and frequently turns its back on integrity. If the one in charge only helps those who are likeminded, it limits equal opportunity for the entire community. It also establishes what I frequently describe as “Benevolent Ignorance” which is the idea that your way of thinking is the rule of law and any thought or consideration of an opposing view is worthless and a waste of time.

Even on the battlefields of war, some of the most heroic efforts upheld honor more than the objective to win. The opening quote was attributed to Leonidas, the leader of the legendary 300 Spartans who fought bravely against the Xerxes and his 70,000 soldiers. According to the Greek philosopher Plutarch, Xerxes offered Leonidas to be the “sole ruler of Greece” in return for his surrender at Thermopylae.

Being a Leader meant more to this fierce warrior than simply winning. It was about honor and the individual decency of every Greek citizen. Not only did Leonidas stand up for the dignity of the people of Greece, he also told Xerxes, “but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race.”

He knew full well the likelihood of victory was slim. With all odds against him, he inspired and led his army to repel the onslaught for days. It was only by the deception of a fellow Greek – whose honor Leonidas also pledged to protect – which turned the tide and ultimately terminated one of the most lopsided standoffs in the history of wars.

The pendulum of Leadership in today’s world appears to be leaning toward winning, especially in the political arenas of the world. No doubt candidates must win the election before having an opportunity to promote their agenda, but the emphasis on winning fuels all kinds of dubious actions which abandon important qualities such as integrity, honor, and fairness and after all, aren’t these the authentic values we seek in a leader?

Besides the afore mentioned traits, we may have our own thoughts on what makes a great leader. But are these tainted by our own voracious need to win? This is the question I constantly ask myself. Are any of the characteristics I promote giving me an unfair advantage? Am I a victim of my own blind ambitions?

True leaders display humility and don’t describe themselves as “flawless” nor their actions as “perfect.” There is always room for improvement and at times, may feel disappointment if they were not able to do more. Winning is only part of the strategy if it first benefits those who are being led.

An author and friend, Kees Van Der Ent, frequently ruminates on the subject of leadership, and once wrote, “Real Leaders make common people feel special.” What I love about this quote is that it’s not immensely poetic, but it strikes at the core of what we aspire from any person in authority. Leadership is making the ones being led to feel better about themselves.

The next time you think about the kinds of behaviors you want to see in those whose care you will be found, remember to ask yourself if you strive to reach those same qualities. Endeavoring to reach those same goals may give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a true leader.

My thanks to Larry Clarkin on Unsplash for the fitting picture and I look forward to your comments.