Continuing to answer the questions regarding Strength of character from my previous post.
First, another aspect which defines strength of character: It is when a person does the right thing when not being seen by others.
But one of my favorite quotes regarding character is by Theodore Roosevelt in Paris in 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because their is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Using that quote as a baseline, I will try to answer the following questions I posted last week.
Why is almost everyone lacking strength of character? It appears today that no one wants to make a decision, to enforce standards (through subordinate development tools like 360 assessments and written, periodic counseling as well as doing more than just rewarding everyone), and voice opinions in order for their bosses to make sound decisions in ways that may contradict what is perceived the boss may want to hear. “If I do this, will it get me in trouble,” is the question those without strength of character asks themselves every time they go to act.
Now, the phenomenon I just spoke of may not be totally true. As my good friend, and whom I consider one of the finest military historians in the world today, Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson says, it is the behind the scenes guys, the middle person, that makes things happen. I believe this also occurs today, just on a smaller scale. Still, others, like Dr. David Abshire, founder of the CSIS, state there is a crisis in character today, just look at all the cheating scandals, corrupt CEOs, etc…going on.
I think there is truth in both arenas. That is, I am not becoming a “fence sitter” in order to satisfy everyone. I mean, there are a few that have learned, as in maneuver warfare, to avoid the surfaces while attacking the gaps in accomplishing what is right. As Teddy Roosevelt said earlier, it is to those in the arena doing, not those who are out trying to bring sunshine to them, boosting their resumes by “point[ing]s out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better” (I have had many bosses like that).
The true leader of character’s award is in the act of doing the right thing, of being a true professional, accomplishing good in their endeavor. If they get something for it, other than the joy of doing good, so be it. If not, no big deal. Their award is in the act itself, and its positive impact on others and their organizations. They seek to positively influence their own sphere and those above them.
But, also, today’s U.S. culture also puts an extreme strain on those with strength of character. The new value system is “things, time and money,” with the end state being more important than how one gets there, the end triumphs over the means. Today, most everyone expects that they are entitled. In military terms, we have produced and are producing entire generations of George McClellans (of U.S. Civil War fame) or Courtney Massingales (character in the book Once an Eagle). They are successful because they neither suffer defeat nor taste victory.
I used to criticize the U.S. Army for zero defects, but now having been in the civilian world for 2.5 years, our entire society is zero defects. No one is allowed to “errs and comes up short again and again,” while few are allowed to make decisions in case they make a mistake. It is a society where responsibility is not taken, where mistakes are not admitted, and to learn from one’s past in order to get better is to admit being human, less than perfect.
I once had two cadets, both of whom today are good leaders, come to me after the semester and say “Sir, this is the first time I have ever gotten a “B”. (both had been Valedictorians of their high schools). I looked them both in the eyes and said, “did you not get what you deserved based on my standards, outlined in your syllabus and discussed with you individually after each grade and during counseling?” To their credit, they both replied, “Yes.” “Then,” I said, “what did you learn from it?” We then spent time going over what they had learned about themselves (self-awareness).
Still, society would rather say, “you are all great, drive on and do great things,” than the harder right of having to address each individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, and as a result, offending someone, and bringing down the wrath of political correctness on one’s shoulders.
There was an excellent essay in the Washington Post Outlook section in October 2005 (after Katrina). I cannot cite it because I cannot remember the full title, but it was by a professor who wrote concerning where have all the leaders gone?
His thesis was that it is very risky for anyone who wants to lead and to make decisions, much less hard decisions (which may call for personal sacrifice as well as the sacrifice of others). He cited a manager of one of the pumping stations who had an opportunity to divert water from one section of the city and saving or minimizing the damage if he would make a decision to shut down valves of his pumping station. The problem was, regulations stated that someone higher had to give approval for such a decision. The problem was, at the time there was no one higher to take on the responsibility and make that decision for him (please excuse me I am going off memory here, but it was something like that). In this regard, like many other managers, he wanted the burden of the decision taken off his shoulders, placed upon someone else’s shoulders. He wanted to simply execute someone else’s decision.
The author of this leader essay also presented other great examples of crisis management people, as well as teachers, etc…avoiding making decisions because of the consequences of lawsuits, losing their jobs, etc…It has become better to play it safe and do nothing than to act.
I think many managers and leaders perceive that it is worst than it is, and use it as an excuse to do little. If you can look yourself in the mirror daily, and the question to yourself is, did I do the right thing, and your answer is “yes!” Then, drive on and deal with the consequences as they come along.
So, as a society, in the act of pleasing everyone, while many of us live in a fantasy world of Oz, we have all but shut down leaders that have strength of character. But, as we will further discuss, we can create the foundation for leaders of character.
What happened to everyone, where did they go all of a sudden?
Is political correctness the new rule, is that the reason for this lack of strength of character?
If it is, well I say that is no excuse, rather it is a reason to press on, take some hits, tell it like it is and move the ball down the field for the common good, using reality as your guide. Can you look yourself in the mirror every day because you did something that went beyond yourself, something you did for others that was positive?
Why then did everyone turn off, stop caring and why are they setting for a life of mediocrity?