Monthly Archives: May 2010

Examples of Leadership and Service

 |  Leadership

The other day I read the obituary of John Finn. John Finn was the oldest surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was awarded this honor for his extreme bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor in WW2. John Finn never thought he was a hero or did anything worthy of such fuss. He enlisted at 17 to fight for his country. He saw himself like most of the others who have worn the uniforms of our country and fought and died on our behalf; he “just did what I was paid for.”

As we gather with friends and family this weekend for barbeques and picnics, and ballgames, we need to make time to remember and honor the sacrifice of so many over the years. We need to make time to say “thank you” to the men and women who are serving today. We need to reflect on the choices that we make every day and ensure that we are living in a way that is worthy of the sacrifice made on our behalf and do what we can to keep our country safe and free.

On thing I’ll do this weekend is retell the story of my grandfather, a WW1 veteran. I posted this story on Facebook last Memorial Day. For those of you who didn’t see it then, here it is:

I never met my grandfather, but I heard stories about him from my father. One story in particular stands out, as it was told every year on Memorial Day. My grandfather was an Italian immigrant who came to America as a boy. He loved his new country. When World War I broke out, he put on the uniform of his new country and fought in the trenches of Europe alongside other new Americans. He came home from the war and began a family with my grandmother. My grandfather died in 1939, when my father was 10 years old. He died of complications from mustard gas poisoning during the war years earlier. If that were where the story ends, it’d be a good story, one worth retelling to my children and to their children. It’s a story of patriotism, sacrifice, and service. But it doesn’t end there.

I grew up in Bloomfield, NJ, a small town like many other small towns that has a proud tradition of celebrating our country. Every Memorial Day, Bloomfield has a parade through town to honor those who have given their lives for our country. As a boy, I marched in that parade with my boy scout pack. After the parade there was a big picnic on the town green. I don’t know how long Bloomfield has been having its Memorial Day parade, but I do know that they had one in 1939. I know that because of the story about my grandfather. You see, he died a couple days before Memorial Day in 1939. As was the custom in those days, he was laid out in the living room of the family home for visitation before the funeral mass and burial. Something happened that day, that hasn’t happened since. The town changed the parade route. The parade went right past my grandparent’s house to honor his life and his service to his country.

My father told this story every Memorial Day. My father and his four brothers all served our country, two during World War II, my father immediately following the war, and the youngest two during the 1950s. They’re all gone now, but their children, my brothers and sister and my cousins, still tell the stories of these men who learned about patriotism and service from their father. Hopefully we not only remember these stories, but learn from them as well. And there’s a lot to learn.

We all have stories like this one. We honor those who gave their lives for our country by telling their stories and by living our lives with gratefulness for their sacrifice and a determination to do our best to live up to the example they set.

Loyalty Starts With the Leader

 |  Leadership

“To thine own self be true.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet

There’s a lot of talk about the need for corporate loyalty. We want workers who are loyal to the company and will give their all. But, what are we asking them to be faithful to? Who is calling them to corporate fidelity? Are the leaders loyal to the purpose and values of the organization? Is the leader faithful to himself?

Fidelity, faithfulness, or loyalty – whichever term you like most – begins and ends with fidelity to self. We are capable of fidelity to others or to a cause because of our fidelity to Self and to our personal values and beliefs. Without a sense of personal loyalty there is no way we can be loyal to others; it just isn’t possible. Fidelity and identity are linked. The clearer we are about who we are, the more we can demonstrate fidelity in our interactions with others.

As we progress through life we are forming our identity. There are two particularly intense periods of identity formation – when we are toddlers and when we are adolescents. When we are toddlers we either learn to be autonomous or learn to doubt our own abilities. During adolescence we experience an equally intense period of identity formation. Every thought, feeling, and action of the adolescent is motivated by the drive to answer the question “Who am I?”

As we each continually ask ourselves the question “Who am I?” ideally we will come up with one clear, comprehensive and consistent answer to this question. No matter whom we are with or what we are doing, it is the same person that people encounter. We develop a fidelity to our identity. We reach a point at which we would change our friends to match our principles rather than change our principles to match our friends. This is what Shakespeare meant when he wrote, “To thine own self be true.”

What happens if instead of one clear, comprehensive and consistent answer to the question “Who am I?” we develop a series of disconnected and inconsistent answers to this question? That is, we act differently in different situations depending upon whom we are with and what we are doing. We are not loyal to ourselves. We allow others and situations to form our identity for us.

Erik Erikson called this state identity confusion. We lack a sense of personal fidelity. We are externally defined. Existing in this way, we experience a tremendous sense of isolation. We lack companions. We may also have a tendency to become intolerant and repudiate those things, people, or values that we view as alien. Our weak and externally defined sense of identity cannot tolerate diversity. It causes too much disruption to the delicate balance we maintain to ensure that our sources of identity don’t disappear on us. In my private practice as a psychotherapist and my work as a leadership consultant I have met many grown men and women who continue to be externally defined; they’re stuck in identity confusion.

Here’s another of my little quizzes to self-check. Today’s topic is personal acceptance and loyalty.
Respond “yes” or “no” to the following statements.

I am comfortable in my own skin. YES NO
I believe I am intelligent. YES NO
I am a spiritual person. YES NO
I stick to my principles. YES NO
I am well informed politically and act accordingly. YES NO
I like my body. YES NO
I am in the career of my choosing. YES NO
I am quick to anger and slow to forgive. YES NO
I am a loyal friend and colleague. YES NO
All the people who know me would describe me the same way. YES NO
I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. YES NO

We own our own answers. If you want a different answer, what action will you take to make it real?

Fidelity to others begins with fidelity to yourself, your ideals, and your values. What do you value? Where and from whom did you get these values? Many times we incorporate the values of our parents when we ourselves become adults. Is this the case with you? Or did you search out and find your own set of values? Two questions are critical when considering this trait of Fidelity and our core values:

What do you stand for?
What will you not stand for?

Here’s an assignment I give to coaching clients sometimes:

Consider the question, “Who am I?” Write either the company communication announcing your retirement or your obituary. How will the people in your life answer that question for you? Is your legacy reflective of whom you are, what you value and believe?

The awareness we create through attending to who we are and the insight we discover by connecting with our truest and best selves are the tools we need to lead with authenticity and power. Our goal is to be able to say with confidence and conviction, “This is who I am. These are my values, my beliefs. This is the person I choose to be. I am on the path of my own choosing and the journey of my own making.”