Posts filed under ‘humility’

Don’t be the Battleship

A battleship had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. As night fell, the captain noticed the patchy fog and decided to remain on the bridge.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light bearing on the starboard bow”. “Is it steady or moving astern”, asked the captain? The lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant the battleship was on a collision course with the other ship.

The captain called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: You are on a collision course. Advise you alter course 20 degrees.” Back came the answering signal, “Advisable…YOU change course 20 degrees.”

The captain said, “Send another message: “I am a senior captain. Change course 20 degrees.” “I am a seaman second class,” came the reply, “Change your course at once.”

The officer was furious. He spat out, “We are a battleship. Change YOUR course 20 degrees.” Back came the flashing response: “I am a lighthouse.”

As a boss…or a manager…a parent…or a spouse, have you ever been the battleship? The better question might be, “how many times this week have you collided with reality…when you were sure you were right and that you knew everything there was to know! You immediately jumped in and began coaching or correcting, only to find that you were woefully uninformed and on a collision course with disaster!

Habit 5 of Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Unfortunately, this habit doesn’t come naturally – most good habits don’t! As human beings, we often don’t see the world as it is, but as we are. We act as if it’s all about us, that the world revolves around us until a startling encounter with a “lighthouse” shakes us to the realization that we’re not bigger than the realities and natural laws of life.

Some examples of the “lighthouse” include: The free-will of others, circumstances beyond our view, limited resources, others’ perceptions and attitudes, natural laws of human behavior, and universal principles…principles that can’t be broken. As Dr. Covey said, “we cannot break a principle, we cannot break a natural law; we can only break ourselves upon them.”

None of us are bigger than life, and so we cannot just will the world to bend to our whim and accommodate our “reality”.

Truly successful leaders seek first to understand, and allow that understanding to light the way to safer waters and effective relationships.

Lead on…

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July 23, 2018 at 2:35 pm Leave a comment

Character Matters Most

James Thurber wrote, “There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” As a leader it’s important to know the difference and to be able to help others understand as well.

To me, the “glow” that illuminates represents those things that are sure, timeless, and everlasting. Things like truth, trust, and integrity. They are real; they are dependable, breeding confidence, peace and calm. They light the way and warm the soul. They are “the glow that illuminates”.

The “glare”, on the other hand are those things that are temporary, superficial, or meant to deflect, cover up or distract. Things like perfume, styling, presentation, even clothing can be helpful in covering or “prettying up” what otherwise may not, on its own merits, be attractive. The “glare” obscures what we’d rather others not notice.

Both glow and glare have their place and their utility. Interestingly, one can draw the same distinction between character and personality.

Character relates to deeply held values, principles and beliefs, such as integrity, humility, courage, fidelity…and to one’s performance relative to those values and beliefs. Like the “glow that illuminates”, character comes from deep within and is enduring and guiding to the extent one acts in alignment with one’s defining values. They are the “glow that illuminates”.

Personality on the other hand is more external, superficial, and relates to the way one presents himself to the world. The way he dresses, communicates, negotiates, and moves within social and business circles. Much of today’s self-improvement literature focuses on these temporary strategies, skills, and quick fixes aimed at advancing one’s success in any number of settings…by putting on a “better” face. These are “the glare that obscures”.

Again, like the “glow” and the “glare”, character and personality both have their place and value. However, if one compares the resources (time, effort, and money) spent on the one versus the other, there is, it seems, a significant imbalance today. Prior to the twentieth century most literature focused on character development. Since then, the emphasis has tilted heavily toward personality, with nearly all of today’s career development and “self improvement” books, seminars, and programs focusing on behaviors related to personality. Selling more, winning friends and influencing people, getting rich, deal making…

While there’s nothing wrong with improving skills and looking the best we can, there is danger in doing so at the expense of one’s character and those things (values and principles) that are of highest priority. One of the great challenges in life is finding the right balance of character and personality. The secret in successfully doing so lies in [always] putting character first and never compromising one’s character on the altar of personality.

Great leaders encourage others to put character first, even ahead of things that might bring tempting short-term gains. But that’s part of true leadership. In fact the act of encouraging character development over selfish interests itself takes on a glow that illuminates the path for others rather than a glare that may cause them to lose their way.

Lead on!

Cliff

April 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment


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