Are the values that define us creating a leader worth following?
At the core of every human lies some set of values. In some cases, it takes a lifetime of experiences for one’s personal ethos to form. In the case of a veteran, it takes 10 weeks.
A young man or woman steps off a bus and has an entirely new identity forced into their DNA. They will spend the next 10 weeks of their lives forgetting what they were, and adopting a completely new concept of what success looks like. In the Army, the Drill Sergeants hammer the 7 Army Values into every new recruit’s mind and heart:
I remember giving that “DAY ZERO” speech to groups of 80 new Privates. I would tell them right off the bat, “I don’t care where you’re from. I don’t care who you were. I don’t care what you think your values are. I am going to issue you all everything you need to succeed and if you make every decision based on these 7 Army Values, 90% of the time, you’ll be right. The other 10% will be muscle memory and I’ll teach you that too.”
Experiences vary, of course, but the one thing you can count on with ALL veterans is that they have a shared set of values that our civilian counterparts, whether they know it or not, trust in when they look at us.
When I joined the Army at 22, I hadn’t spent a single second of my life considering enlisting until the day I walked into the Recruiter’s office and signed up. I had spent the few years prior to that day failing at everything: college, probably two dozen jobs, relationships, family — all failed. I had nowhere else to go. No one was there to save me again, and I knew I either had to accept that I was going to continue to fail, or I had to fix it. When I reached that decision point, I felt confident I could identify the things that were leading to this failure. The ONLY thing I knew about the military was that those few things I was lacking were going to be forced into my life while in uniform. I didn’t think — I acted.
From that very first day at the Recruiting Station, I always approached my service as a mechanism of growth or “tools for my toolkit,” as they say all the time in the Army. It didn’t take long for me to realize the internal success I was going to find in uniform. Fast forward 10 years and I came to another decision point. I sat down and acknowledged, based on a lot of different stressors, that the Army was no longer “adding to” my life and goals, but it was starting to “take from” them. In a similar fashion to my enlistment, I abruptly went to the transition office and made the commitment to transition out.
Fortunately for me, it was only a month or so later when I was introduced to FitOps. As I observed my first camp, I was gifted the opportunity to sit back and reflect on this new language that the organization used to help transitioning veterans bridge the gap between service and a continuation of that service-driven life out of uniform. I was witnessing a snapshot of what I was about to experience myself.
I was terrified. I did the only thing I felt natural doing. I leaned on those 7 Army Values. I tried my best to listen to myself, “90% of the time, you’ll be right.”
In the Army, you’ll hear the question frequently, “which of the 7 Army Values mean the most to you?” or “what Army Value is the most important?” The typical answer is “Well, Sergeant Major, I believe they’re all equally important to being a good Soldier.” Yeah, ok. Spoken like a good Soldier, not necessarily an accurate answer to being a good anything else. I had the opportunity to spend some time with some amazing people over the next two years, and have some of the most authentic, provocative conversations I have ever had. I met a man that had just retired after 34 years of service. At his retirement ceremony, every man and woman that took the podium to speak on his behalf, mentioned his “6 P’s of Leadership.” This supremely successful Soldier and leader, when asked which Army Value was most important to him, decided to answer authentically and say NONE. He stepped back and said that for him to be the best version of himself, these “6 P’s” are what defines him.
Well, crap. I spent 10 years never once considering the power of defining my own mission and simply conforming to someone else’s set of values. Don’t mistake me though, I am not implying that the 7 Army Values aren’t part of my story, but they’re not what makes me, me.
Conveniently, I spent the following few months going through guided brand discovery workshops that would help guide FitOps forward and through this process was able to apply the same thing internally. What words lie at the very core of Harrison Johnson? If I had to be my own Drill Sergeant and give that “DAY ZERO” speech, what are the values I’d issue myself?
At any given moment, I had to control what was driving me to be successful. What was the fuel I was using to execute the mission at hand? I was perpetually obsessed with understanding how to stay motivated. I was never good at doing things I didn’t feel passionate about, and growing up meant I either had to get over that completely or create a life that I woke up to every day and couldn’t get enough of! As a Drill Sergeant, I used to lap back to the rear of the formation during the 2 mile runs on the PT test and find a group of Privates that always seemed to just accept failure. Just a bunch of kids quitting on themselves. I’d ask them who meant the most to them in this world. Mom? Dad? Kids? Then I’d tell them to close their eyes and picture them. In that moment you either look that person in the eye and tell them you’re giving up or you picture them at the finish line, proud of your grit and success. That was always my own motivation – would I be willing to give up in front of my two kids? Hell no. Keep going.
Once I figured out the values that defined me, I had to ask if the man I saw myself as was the same man that other people saw. Was who I wanted to be and who I actually was the same person? My time observing the team at FitOps early on felt like a revelation. The team, along with the veterans themselves, authentically embodied the mission of the organization in every instance on camp. The purpose of FitOps aligned seamlessly with the purpose of everyone involved. The FitOps Family was exactly what they said it was. Authenticity breeds success. The lack of authenticity destroys integrity, and consequently leads to failure.
Are my mind and heart connected? Was the energy I emitted reflective of my values? I had the opportunity to become very involved in the mission of FitOps shortly after service. My wife and I were joking around, and I said, “well if you can’t play, coach.” The words shook me. I unconsciously acknowledged that I was setting out to work for a program that I needed just as much as anyone else. I had let my mind and heart stray so far from each other that my mentality was, at that point, going to lead to my failure. How do I reconnect them? I used another quip I regularly shared with the Privates at Basic Training. “Take every step of every day deliberately. Take them with purpose, direction and motivation.” Your own mission must be at the forefront of everything you do. Finding your calling in life relies upon your mission aligning with what you do every day. Your mentality will dictate your ability to find the mission and hold onto it.
I might know my mission, but do I own it? Am I capable of committing to a goal and letting nothing stand in the way of accomplishing it? Do I possess the tools needed to accomplish my mission? I had failed, time and time again, in life. I was unwilling to commit to anything and, until the day I enlisted, never saw true success, at least as I define it. Webster defines accountability as: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s own actions. Have I ever done that? Not until I had no choice but to do exactly that. The success found in true accountability, not only to people in your life but to yourself, is immeasurable. If you take every step deliberately, then there is no question of your accountability. Once I accepted that every action has consequences, I understood that everything I do creates my reality. This allows a person to deliberately create the conditions necessary for true success.
I said it often in uniform, the hardest thing a leader will ever do is develop their own leadership strategy. I simplified it as a Non-commissioned Officer and said you either lead with respect or lead with fear. People will follow you because they respect you or because they fear you. In the Army, the easy way is to rely on fear. There’s a rank on our chest and those with less rank are required to follow your orders. Unfortunately, though, a lot of leaders don’t even realize that even though they are following your orders, they aren’t following you. Leading through respect is the challenge. It takes continuous work to earn the respect of the people around you and that work, for me at least, can be defined by commitment to the four tenets above.
If someone is motivated in life, authentic to themselves and those around them, has a mentality of success and commits to true accountability; who wouldn’t follow them? LDRSHIP is more than a set of 7 values. True leadership means embodying the values that define your own success and being the person that you would follow to the end of the world without hesitation.
Saved by the FitOps Family