Personal Leadership: Energizing the American Promise at its Roots

It’s time to reach for the heart of the challenge we face in fulfilling the American Promise. First and foremost it’s about us as individual Americans. It’s also about our respective roles in shaping our nation and making it possible to fulfill the American Promise at the most intimate level: your level and our level.

What we think we’ll find when we get to the heart is a state of missing and misguided leadership at every echelon and every discipline. Once we start pulling on the threads, we don’t think we’ll find the heart to be rotten, but it will show us how far off we’ve drifted from the leadership and personal courage our Founding Fathers exhibited in the mid-1770s.

Let’s start with each of us as unique Americans. We could call this topic individual responsibility just as easily as personal leadership, but there’s a lot from the study and application of leadership as a discipline that could guide us. If we think about our individual behaviors in fulfilling the American Promise as leader behavior it helps us better understand ourselves as individual leaders. So, to be identifiable, we’ll call it personal leadership for now.

This will be about us as both Americans and as leaders of own lives…we’ll get to organizational leadership in the near future. As you travel down this path of examination with us, we should all be prepared for this assessment to show where we each lost some of our personal courage and even our way as Americans in contributing to the fulfillment of the American Promise. In fact, if we’re so bold as to compare ourselves to the Founders we can pretty much guarantee that will happen.

So, let’s start at the core of the core. We’re going to talk about each of us in our distinctive role as personal leaders of our individual lives and how our own personal behaviors are probably letting this nation down. If we step on your toes and you feel unfairly indicted for something you didn’t actually do in this particular discussion, please accept our apologies; just apply the admonition to something you did mess up on as an American…we all fall short somewhere along the line, so consider yourself admonished for that!

A friend and outstanding leadership consultant, Walt Natemeyer, defined leadership simply as the “process of influence.” In a recent two-part interview with Walt, Carl adapted Walt’s definition into what he labeled as a metaphoric “mission statement” for leadership, describing it as follows: “Influence Followers to do the Right Things.” Both have the common theme of Walt’s “process of influence.” In the latter interview, Carl also pointed out that the “process of influence” should not be viewed in negative terms, but rather the responsible use of a tool of effective leadership.

As you might have noted, this also means we know something about what the “right things” might be. This of course, presumes we all learned something worthwhile in American History and Civics classes.

In a more personal sense, this also applies to how we govern and “lead” ourselves, particularly when it comes to fulfilling the American Promise. In this instance, we should be looking for an honest self-assessment of what we really allow to get inside us and influence us. This means we objectively look at the way we live our lives and affect the lives of others as we go about doing the “right things.” That’s what we mean by the term “personal leadership.”

Walt and his colleague, Paul Hersey, wrote a lot about followership also. In fact, Hersey and Ken Blanchard built a whole approach around organizational leadership called Situational Leadership that made the follower an equal partner in designing and executing leadership styles. In other words, good leadership is at least as much about the follower as it is the leader!

This has a direct relationship to what we’re calling personal leadership in this post since each of us has the dual role of leader and follower baked into our individual behaviors. The way we individually engage in fulfilling the American Promise, as well as other aspects of our lives, must blend leadership and followership. Sometimes we follow our instincts, sometimes our training and education, sometimes our loyalty to our family, our nation or our organization, and sometimes we choose not to follow anything. That’s followership and leadership simultaneously in action. And, since the time we were youngsters, we realized that our behaviors also influence others…again, that’s what we mean by personal leadership.

Personal leadership and responsibility have consequences. If we as individuals choose to engage in behaviors that divide us a nation rather than unite us, we must take responsibility: that’s what leaders must do – take responsibility. You are the leader of your life and if you are behaving in a way that divides our nation, you are likely influencing others to do the same.

If you are behaving in a way to withholds opportunity from others rather than finding ways to share it, you are responsible for the contraction of opportunity in America rather than the expansion of it. We submit to you that that’s inconsistent with being a contributing citizen of the Land of Opportunity.

We wrote that opportunity grows when shared and contracts when withheld. That means that one of the most responsible personal leadership behaviors we can exhibit for our nation is to be involved in sharing opportunity. As a nation that has welcomed others from distant shores, we used to do that a lot. Many of those that came from other lands helped to increase American opportunity and shared it with all. In fact, that’s the way we all started.

Creating and sharing opportunity cannot coexist with divisiveness and withholding of opportunity. Personal leadership that chooses to withhold opportunity and contribute to dividing our nation through unyielding stances on issues that leave no room for compromise cannot coexist with the growth of opportunity for all.

Go back and look at the compromises and bipartisan agreements our Founding Fathers made among each other to build this nation’s framework upon which we now continue to build. The Founders made some really tough choices that exhibited great personal leadership. Some of those choices did eventually result in the Civil War…those were compromises crafted by the context of the 1770’s and 1780’s as much as anything else. The point, however, is that the Founders did discover ways to make choices…they did find ways to move America forward in a world that elsewhere was governed by despots, religious zealots and opportunists.

What our Founders did in the end was to exhibit real leadership, personal and collective, to make the American Promise and to give it the initial chance for fulfillment. They didn’t always get it right, but they did get it done. As individual, personal leaders, we have to do the same today to keep the American Promise alive. We have to keep the Promise today so our children can share in the opportunity the American Promise offers.

Originally posted by Carl and Chuck Hunt, 2/13/2014.

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