[November 29, 2014] You would think it obvious that leaders seek to better themselves. Yet I find in my work with leaders that this is often not the case. Over the Thanksgiving Day holiday period I reached out to a number of junior leaders worldwide (mostly military) to encourage them but also to find out what were their priorities in life and how this tied into them bettering themselves.
As expected, many told me about their appreciation for “God-Country-Family” and this told me good things about them. But, a few told me their priority in life – the thing they appreciated that they most valued – was their “perspective.” Perspective, I thought, what a weird response. I dug a little deeper to try to figure out why someone would tell me this.
They were telling me that they are thankful that they had a mature, well-informed perspective on the world and what’s happening politically in the United States. In my opinion, they don’t have such a perspective on the world because their views were narrow in scope and based on limited experiences. They told me that they’d discussed their thoughts on perspective with their friends from college (a red flag should have gone up here). All believed deeply in their personal views of the world and were a bit miffed – insulted being a too strong of a word – at my questioning of their views.
No truly good leader is willing to box themselves into a narrow understanding on any topic by limiting their learning from like-minded individuals. Leaders seek to broaden their views by engaging ideas, concepts, and experiences that differ from their own; those ideas they do not like are to be studied closely and with an open mind. My junior leaders have not done this. I’ll keep an open mind about these folks because I have seen them in action and was impressed when they lead teams on difficult and dangerous missions and projects.
The assumption we’ve all made is that leaders always seek to better themselves. My recent experience suggests otherwise. Yesterday, I was fortunate to get some of my Flag Officer buddies to talk about this potential problem. Most agreed with me and a few did not, that they also had observed this among junior leaders.
Leaders do seek to better themselves and the best often take the harder road to learning to gain invaluable perspective that can be obtained only through exposing themselves over a long period of time to uncomfortable ideas. From this leaders grow intellectually and emotionally. It makes them more resilient and ultimately better leaders. They do this through a balance of formal education, relevant experiences, professional reading, seminars, and good mentoring from the right person.
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