In John 10:10 Jesus promises His followers abundant life. This blog is about my life as His follower.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Leadership and contentment

I'm about 2/3 through this book I've been reading entitled "Duty First" by Ed Ruggero. The subtitle is "A year in the life of West Point and the making of American Leaders". I'm reading it because my oldest son is in his second year at West Point.

Repeatedly, throughout the book, you get this theme of how things are structured at West Point to put the cadet through hard times. To ensure that cadets are in stressful situations where their environment is outside of the realm of their experience. To put them in situations where they may very well fail. For superiors to allow underlings in their chain of command to make decisions; perhaps even the wrong one. The belief being that we learn most when we're out of our comfort zone and that we learn just as much, if not more, from our mistakes. Of course, since West Point is a USMA, there is also the belief that these experiences will allow these young people to become competent soldiers.

What initially hit me was how much I agreed with the fact that to ever lead we've got to get past the fear of making a mistake. To learn to make decisions in an imperfect world where the choice we'd most like isn't one of the options. I was blessed once to have a boss who really invested in me and taught me in a similar fashion. Purposefully structuring stressful situations, letting me take charge and make decisions (even if they were the wrong ones). For me it was a three year period of time on my career path, before I took my own facility, and it was the hardest three years of my life. Yet it was the best in some ways and I grew the most I can ever remember. But I was 40 years old. What hit me like a ton of bricks is that my son is learning this way in an intensely-structured-to-build-a-leader environment and he, like most of the cadets there, was only 18years old when he started at West Point!

Perhaps the thing that most profoundly moved me in this book so far is what the author says about Major Rob Olson (throughout the book there are interviews with cadets and professional staff at West Point):

"Olson's comments sound a lot like the aphorisms with which the cadets like to decorate the barracks. But he lives this way; it is the source of his calm demeanor and confidence: He has found a job he loves, he has taken the time to figure out what's important to him."

Interestingly enough the author wrote this about what Olson said of himself:

"I love the Army." he says. "I'll truly regret leaving when the time comes, but the Army doesn't define me. It's the thing I do. My family, my relationship with my wife, they define me."

It's so simple, but not easy - finding out what's important to us and living with those priorities paramount in what we do, and finding a job that we love. This is the stuff that contentment is made of.

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