Friday, September 30, 2011

Creating Experiences, Accumulating Memories

The last couple of weeks have been filled with phenomenal experiences that leave me with wonderful memories. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the memories that remain are far better than the experiences themselves. That might sound odd, but it is a sentiment that seems to ring more true with each passing year. I am a long time believer in living in the moment and enjoying the journey. But as time goes on, I believe more and more that the experience is just as much about accumulating memories as it is enjoying the moment.

Within the past month I have been able to experience some things that I may never again have the opportunity to. In fact, I find myself creating experiences in a continual quest to accumulate memories wherever I can.

- I may not have wanted to go parasailing with my son (not a big fan of heights), but I cherish the memory that is him floating carelessly through the air as he tries to get me to relax

- Staying up all night with the Chiefs during their "Night Of" tradition may not have been the optimal way to spend my time during this month's reunion with my family, but the visuals I now have of the proudest fraternity alive today help me to better understand a brotherhood of which I will never truly be a part

- Standing up for four hours (and driving six hours to get there and back in the same day) to watch a premier college sporting event in person may not have been as comfortable as the view from my couch, but the memories that came with experiencing that with my parents will bring me smiles for years

- Hearing the pitter patter that comes with my son making a midnight visit to our bed may not make for a restful night, but it's a sound I know I will come to miss in time

- Life at the Naval Academy was not nearly as fun as other college experiences, but it wasn't the fun that kept me there

Time flies and with it so goes the opportunity to experience many of the things that our current life situation permits. Make no mistake that I firmly believe that we should all live in the moment, but at the same time we must do so with the end in mind. Are we making it a point to fill our memory bank with the things that will truly make us smile down the road? Are we so caught up in our stresses (perceived or otherwise) that we fail to help others to accumulate memories of their own? When it comes down to it, memories will bring us far more joy than any possessions and the memories will be with us far longer than the actual experience. Maybe Kevin Arnold (Wonder Years) said it best...

"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose."

With each passing day, so passes an opportunity. And as those of us in the military experience with each deployment and change of duty station, so goes our time with people we have come to love. Here's to hoping that we choose to create experiences and accumulate as many meaningful memories as we can, while we can.

I must admit that though I have been making living in such a way a priority, the true inspiration comes from my brother. Some talk of new adventures, he takes them; some witness others do interesting things from the sidelines, he does them and is often at the center of the action; some wait for certain criteria to be met (i.e. monetary, health or familial milestone) before truly living life, he lives.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mistakes, Yes; Accidents, Never

Of the many life lessons I was taught as a child, there is one that keeps coming back to me. That simple lesson is...

NOTHING HAPPENS BY ACCIDENT

I am not speaking in the spiritual sense of "Everything Happens for a Reason". Though I also believe that to be true, it doesn't account for personal ownership of the "thing" that happened. I was brought up with a clear understanding of the concept that I was responsible for my own actions, that there was no one else to blame for the mistakes I made, and that mistakes were a means of learning. Mistakes are not accidents, but accidents are almost always results of mistakes. The biggest difference between those two words is that we use the word "accident" to absolve ourselves of any personal responsibility, but when we acknowledge our mistakes we are taking personal responsibility. That might be the reason we are far quicker to categorize unfortunate happenings as accidents vice mistakes. The concept of personal responsibility has become so basic to many that we have little patience for those who have yet to "get it" (Click here for a humorous video on the subject).

- That car crash didn't happen by accident, mistakes made lead to it
- Earning Sailor of the Year didn't happen by accident, deliberate performance allowed it to happen
- Failing to finish that marathon didn't happen by accident, improper training and/or poor raceday decisions prevented us from realizing our goal
- The 15 pounds gained this year didn't happen by accident, poor diet and laziness made sure we bulked up
- Not being selected for promotion didn't happen by accident, the jobs we took and/or our documented performance made sure we were overlooked
- Spilling fruit punch on the couch didn't happen by accident, not paying attention to our surroundings made sure it happened
- Fumbling the football didn't happen by accident, not holding onto the ball with both hands allowed it to
- A failed marriage didn't happen by accident (neither does a happy one), a lack of commitment to each other opened the door for divorce

Simply put, I do not believe there is such thing as an "accident", at least not in the way so many of us use the word. Instead, we contribute to the creation of the conditions that allow these things to happen. All too often I hear people talk of the situation in which they find themselves as if they don't know how they got there.

I am not saying we have complete control over our lives, such logic is equally flawed. I am also not saying everything that happens is intentional or that we purposefully sabotage ourselves. I am merely acknowledging that "things" (good or bad) don't happen to us, we allow them to happen. There are many things in life that didn't turn out as I had intended (even with the support of friends, family and shipmates) despite my (our) best effort; though, the result was never an accident. Unfortunate, yes, accident no! I may have turned left, when I should have turned right; I may have asked a question when I should have made a statement; I may have said "No" when I should have said "Yes". Regardless of the result, we must own the outcome and show the person in the mirror (and anyone else who truly matters) we acknowledge our responsibility and ultimate accountability for the mistakes we make.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Authentic Followership

I have heard the term "authentic leadership" used frequently of late, and each time it is used in such a way as to describe one of the many people I have come to admire. So, it must be a positive behavioral trait, right? what does it really mean to be an authentic leader? The term leader is a gimme, but what about authentic?

Authentic: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character

The definition of authentic tells me that encouraging authenticity amongst leaders isn't always a good thing. Not all individuals in leadership are effective when they are truly authentic. Numerous leaders have been fired for being authentic, many junior Sailors have terminated their service in the Navy because poor leaders were authentic, many parents have done irreparable damage to their children because they chose to be authentic, and many bad people are in jail because they a demonstrated their authentic conduct. Evidently, this is another case where the adjective is far less important than the traits that make up the noun.

Before we applaud authenticity, we better have a good appreciation for the true personality, spirit and character we are encouraging the individual to demonstrate. I am of the opinion that it is far more important that we invite authentic followership. And, in doing so, elevate those individuals whose authentic selves represent the best of the best.

Personally and professionally, I want to spend time with people who are authentic, but only after they have revealed their true selves. I see it all too often where poor leaders are authentic to their juniors, a little less genuine to their peers, and a complete fraud to their seniors (one of the reasons I am such a fan of 360 degree feedback). Unfortunately, they are given positions of increased authority and responsibility based purely on the perceptions they have created in the eyes of their seniors, their inauthentic self. The problem for these inauthentic individuals (and the teams they lead) comes when they have little choice but to demonstrate their authentic self for all to see.

With the increase in Commanding Officers failing of late, I can't help but wonder if these poor leaders are finally revealing their authenticity after fooling the system for years. Then again, might these be great leaders who are making some poor decisions? I don't have the answer. Though, I do believe that by encouraging a culture of authentic followership we would minimize any meaningful speculation that the former is the case.

As long as we agree that authentic leadership (and followership) is about acting with passion and integrity, having respect and love for others, and inspiring each other to achieve greatness, we should encourage authenticity. For those of us in leadership positions, we might consider creating opportunities for all to reveal their (good, bad or indifferent) authentic selves and honestly document what we observe. In doing so, we would know for whom we should be blocking, while identifying those whom we should encourage to leave the team.

Let's continue to lead, follow, and parent authentically, but let's do so based upon the agreement we just made.