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J. D. Pendry
There is so much good in the worst of us.
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us. - Edward Wallis Hoch
We spend much time assessing others. All of us do that because it's human nature. It's also an important part of being a leader. We assess them then make decisions about their worth, their intellectual abilities, their work ethic, their morals and just about any other human attribute you can think of. What's unfortunate is that our assessments are usually flawed. Why do you think that is? It's because we assess others by looking at them through our own set of values and experiences and at the end of our assessment the only thing we can accurately conclude is that they are not us.
Another problem is that we assess them by looking through our values while claiming to use another set of values. It's the set of values we claim live by, the Army's core values. We claim these values as ours because it's the norm; it's what's expected. We also evaluate leaders on how well they live by the values. I won't bore you by listing them all and discussing the catchy acronym. But, I will ask you, are they your values? Can you answer that question with certainty? Are these the things you value most, want to give up least? Do your actions prove that these are your values or do they demonstrate different values? Are these values a part of your leadership decisions? If you cannot answer those questions affirmatively and with conviction then the values are false ones for you. Maybe it's time for a little self-chat - some introspect.
Start by giving your self an honest answer to this question. What is at your center? We all have something on which we are centered. The answer we want is that we'll find those chosen values at our center meaning that they are the center from which all of our actions derive. The problem is that many of us have never asked ourselves such a difficult question and for those of us who have we didn't always give ourselves an honest answer. Instead, we settled for the expected answer that we are values centered - or more specifically our center consists of the Army's core values.
My friend Paul will tell you without hesitation that his religious faith is at his center. The thing about Paul, however, is that he would never have to tell you this for you to know it because his actions speak for him. Therein is the point.
Your actions tell everyone what is at your center. The tough question is do you know or are you ready to admit to yourself what's there. I, as you do, meet people everyday whose actions show that they are self-centered, career-centered, money-centered.... This is an important thing to understand because whatever is at your center drives what you do - every decision you make and how you deal with and treat others. Every life move you make filters through your center.
So I ask again, what is at your center? If you insist that you're value centered as an institution such as the Army that claims to be values based would want you to be then I have some more tough questions for you. You didn't think I would let you off that easily did you?
What meaning does each of the Army's core values hold for you personally? In your own words as they say. Take pen in hand someday and capture their personal meaning. You may discover that they are a list of words that form a catchy acronym, each of them has a field manual definition, and they make a great set of feel-good posters. You may also discover that you are past due in giving them some critical thought.
My next question is what are your personal values? Sorry, not interested in hearing about the C's (candor, commitment, courage, competence, compassion) because those are the personal values the institution wishes you to have just as it wishes you live by the core values. Are you not sure what your personal values are? If you insist that you are values centered then isn't this something that you must know? How do you figure out what you value personally?
Have you known any physical fitness fanatics? Everyday they manage their lives around when they can go for a run or get to the gym. Every meal they consume must meet certain requirements. In other words, every action they take filters through that thing they value personally - their fitness. I didn't use that example to imply that concern for ones fitness is a bad thing, but to point out that we all have things we value personally that affect how we conduct our lives and if it comes to it how we lead. If we do not understand what we value personally, then being in concert with the institutional values isn't possible.
If you are still having some trouble understanding what you value personally try this. What is it about others that makes you uncomfortable or that you dislike? Whatever it is that you dislike about others speaks volumes about your personal values.
This brings us back to the beginning of this discussion. We cannot use our personal values to assess others, because when we do that the only logical conclusion we can reach is that others are different from us and that doesn't make them bad, it just makes them different.
If you asked a room full of people to close their eyes and form a mental image when you say the word dog, each of them will have their own unique image of a dog. The image they get comes from their experiences. People also form their values based on their experiences.
The period of time in which a person developed into an adult often determines what they value. What values are today's recruits coming into the Army with? They are coming in with values that our great American society has provided to them. Here's a couple for you: They've learned that if you degrade homosexuals and women, glorify drugs and violence and advocate attacking police officers you'll be rewarded with a Grammy and the associated millions of dollars. Or, a murder charge this year does not prevent you from being hero-worshiped next year as the Super Bowl MVP.
I think you get the point. But, think about this. The influential era in my life was full of drugs, rock and roll, anti-military, anti-government, anti just about everything. I enlisted into the Army looking for something else - and I found it. So, it isn't hard for me to accept that many of today's youngsters are coming into the service looking for something else - some direction and values that make sense.
So, what's the point? It's this. First, if we claim to be leaders or aspiring leaders we must understand ourselves and assess how we live up to the institutional values. We must know what drives us, what is at our center. The most difficult part is placing our deep seeded personal values aside if they do not compliment the institutional values. Only then, will we be able to assess another on how well they live up to the values. And, only then will we be able to mold today's youngsters into the people we want serving.