LEADERSHIP IN THE LEANING REST #5: “SOMETHING BIGGER THAN MYSELF”   Leave a comment

“I want to serve something bigger than myself,” is a phrase you will hear from people as the reason why they chose a commitment of service to others and to the nation, even when and especially when that choice involves sacrfice and acceptance of personal risk. I heard this phrase from Marines in the Assault Amphibious School Battalion (MCRD – San Diego) as the reason why they chose the Marine Corps. Robert Needham (Navy SEAL) describes commitment to a cause larger than self as a defining characteristic of SEAL Team members. The conception of a cause bigger than myself, and the determination of a conscious resolve to that cause, and the commitment to take direction in my life from that cause, is an important aspect of leadership development.

My experience in working with people has been that this kind of resolve and commitment is often not easy to arrive at. Two obstacles can happen. First, is the personal statement “I don’t believe things like higher causes and things bigger than myself are real.” Second is the personal statement on the other side, “I believe in things like higher causes and things bigger than myself, but I’m not important or cut out for that stuff.”

The first person is a risky person to have on a team because when things are at their absolute worst and only a belief in a higher cause will compel that person to do what they need to do for the team, that person cannot be counted on to come through for the team because they do not feel compelled by the cause. However, I don’t write off people like that. I invite people like that to get an open mind and experiment with the idea that there are higher causes and things bigger than him or her. Try it out and see how it works for you and others. “I don’t believe in something bigger than myself, but if i did, I guess I would …” OK, that’s a start! My experience has been that a lot of people will start out reluctant but will come around after experiencing life with a belief in a higher cause and something bigger than her or him. All of the sudden life has more meaning, and the person has a more noble identity and higher esteem for self and from others. It positively creates an aura and palpable energy around the person! Some people call this process “drinking the kool-aid” in reference to a cult tragedy back in the 70’s…but in this case we’re talking about drinking something that reveals and empowers.

The second person is also risky to have one a team because when things are at their absolute worst and only a belief in a higher cause will compel that person to do what they need to do for the team they will not feel they are the “chosen one” or up to the job. Like the first person, I don’t write off these people either. The problem is that this person has a preconceived notion about what a champion or hero looks like and has decided they don’t fit the bill, or grew up with people telling her or him that they don’t have the stuff of courage and heroism in them. This is of course negative self-talk and literally not true anyway. Peruse photos and biographies of heroes and you’ll see that they come in all shapes, sizes, races, backgrounds, etc. There are the big and burly classic looking heroes, and there are just as many wiry looking bad asses out there as well. Body type, gender, race — none of that selects the solid teammate or hero. Fateful matches between hard circumstance and even harder personal commitment makes heroism happen. Right away I think of Dick Couch writing how it isn’t the big burly guys who make it through BUD/S reliably. Watch the true story of Carl Brashear in the film Men of Honor, an African-American who rose out of poverty and racism to become a hero. Look at photos and read about the Night Witches of the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment who flew decrepit biplanes against the German Army in World War II. There are many examples and it all goes to show that there is no formulaic hero or champion — it’s only about personal commitment and the brains to follow through on it. So to any person who thinks they’re too small for something bigger than him or herself, I invite that type of person to start dismantling their preconceived notions of what the higher cause and the hero looks like. They need to start looking into the mirror and considering the possibility that there’s a champion and a hero looking back at them, if they just commit to it being so.

OK, so that’s plenty of advice on how to work with people in either of those two circumstances. Where did it come from? It comes from my own personal experience of having been both of those people. Days when I didn’t have time for higher causes and things bigger than myself. Days when I thought “I’m too skinny” and then days when I thought “I’m too fat” to be of any use to a higher cause. Been there, done that. Worked through it all and now I stand on the other end and can give anyone the facts. All of this is to say that the best advice for others is once again usually the best advice for myself as well, and to never lose track of that. I can’t just state an example for others to follow, I gotta live it.

If you or your team want to engage more deeply and meaningfully with this aspect of leadership development, let me – Tom Delaney – know by sending an e-mail to greatriverfitness@gmail.com, and I will be able to share with you workshop formats and complete a planning process with you. We’ll make it happen!

Tran hard, never quit, live well!

Tom Delaney

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