“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing” – Abraham Lincoln
I remember it was back in May 2007. I sat in a room with nineteen other colleagues from various divisions of my current company. We were all in a training known as “Project Team”. This is where newer employees came together to learn about the company, meet the executive management team and engage in four days of intense training and team building. One session that I will never forget was led by one of our senior vice presidents. He started out the class, which focused on leadership, with a question. He asked, “What does every leader need to have?” As I thought for what seemed like an eternity, I blurted out what I thought was an intelligent and logical answer. I yelled out “FOLLOWERS!”, with some initial confidence mixed with a little uncertainty afterwards. To my delight, he affirmed my answer was spot on. Not that I necessarily required his affirmation, but after all, it was his class and there are many accepted interpretations for the word leadership. The knowledge that I acquired from that training, along with what I already knew and continue to learn about leadership today has helped me to check and recheck my own capabilities as a leader and to glance back periodically.
The most significant fact that I took away and frequently use to this day is to reflect often, look back to see if anyone is actually following me. If there is no one there figuratively or literally then can I still call myself a leader, or have I simply become a lone ranger? Perhaps I still have a mission, but the message may no longer provoke others to change, or my stance on life has become so commonplace that no one longer hears me or chooses to listen. Or maybe you have lost credibility with your audience, family or circle of friends that once believed in you, due to specific circumstances. There could be a host of legitimate and illegitimate reasons why people choose to not listen or adhere to your once influential message. One thing is for sure, you would be in great company (well maybe great is not the correct word to use in this case) if you fall in this category. In the recent past, names like politician Anthony Weiner, Tour de France competitor Lance Armstrong come to mind, just to name a couple. As I write this post, and research names, the list could would range in the multi-thousands if I were to go back in time. From TV evangelist, famous athletes, celebrities, noted politicians, and other prominent people, including everyday folk like me, or perhaps like you. The point is many have fallen from grace for a host of reasons and returning to that place of prominence is almost impossible depending on the circumstances. So what about those that do rise again? How did they do it and what are the steps to restoration of what was once seemingly broken? What causes someone to be worthy of following, even after experiencing obvious failure?
Although I cannot place my name in this category of people, they are nonetheless worthy of mentioning. People like Steve Jobs, who was fired from his own company; Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison before becoming the President of South Africa; and Maya Angelou, poet, author, speaker and civil rights activist, who had turbulent beginnings as a nightclub dancer. How do these individuals and people like them persevere through the storms of life and cause others to want to follow them? As a Christian and person of faith, it would be easy for me to say it was God, and although I do believe that is true, I must dig even deeper and expose tangible facts or truths about how we start over after calamity has hit our lives. After all, if faith is the substance of things hoped for, I want to clarify the substance piece. The “things” we must all hold onto when facing unrelenting doubt, troubling adversity and overwhelming unbelief. How do we rise from the ashes of destruction and believe again?
Have loyalty for yourself
One of the hardest things for us to do is believe in ourselves after we have failed, experienced major trauma or turmoil. Although there should be a time for recovery, many times we will place ourselves on an overextended timeout. We will position ourselves in the corner of life and place a muzzle over our once grand ideas, explicit plans and expressive descriptions on what we were going to achieve. How quickly we lose our confidence and become reluctant to share words of encouragement, although in times past we were someone else’s cheerleader in their time of need. Why do we fail to take our own advice during this time? I believe the same type of loyalty we will convey to a best friend in their time of need we must apply that same love and loyalty to ourselves. Lick your wounds, cry, get therapy, but by all means quit punishing yourself over things you can no longer change. And recognize what you can change is what lies ahead of you.
Owning the outcome
At the end of the day, the results are ours to own. Nothing spells R-E-S-P-E-C-T like a person that takes responsibility for their actions. Whiners and complainers fail to win support, especially when it is apparent they are primarily the ones at fault. This is not the time to seek out sympathy or attempt to build an alliance, however you may gain an alliance by taking the right course of actions. Prior to owning the situation, we must first fully understand what we are taking responsibility for. This means we must carefully study the facts that led to the outcome and distinguish the role you played in the situation. Even if you find you’re one of many that are at fault, when you own the part that is yours, the steps for corrective action will not be so convoluted. When we make the choice to own something, we inevitably are making the distinction that we are leaders.
Develop a game plan
How will you rise from the ashes of your expected demise? One of the greatest teachers in life is failure. It’s precise, direct, unforgiving and unbiased, but one thing it is not is final. In the famous sermon from TD Jakes, “Failure is not Final”, Out of failure a better and more cohesive plan can be birthed. Lessons learned are critical parts to starting over. So the important question to ask is how will you approach the mission this time. Whether pursuing a career path, higher education or a personal relationship, developing a game plan that includes an improved process will prove to be a critical piece to the overall plan. Since you cannot afford to repeat the same errors from the past, be strategic by listing all of the reasons why the plan failed in the past. Understand what will be different this time around and more importantly know why it will be different.
Be ye transparent
No, this is not a quote from the Bible, however you should take it as gospel. Being one that fully understands firsthand the impacts of choosing a seemingly easier path that is far removed from authenticity, my warning to others is do not go down that path. The truth will find you out and expose you when you least expect it, leaving you vulnerable (in a very weak kind of way), embarrassed and less credible to everyone. The best thing you can do is be honest., no matter what it is. Perhaps all the facts should not become privy to the entire world, but make certain those that matter are fully aware. Everyone respects honesty especially when you are swearing to your pain, versus attempting to accomplish selfish gain by looking good. I admit the temporary fix (of lying) can be tempting, but at the end of the day it will serve you nothing but more setbacks. Even if the truth creates inevitable delays, at least what your building on will hold up under the test of time. So speak your truth.
At the end of the day, none of us are perfect so we will inevitably make poor decisions. Some of these decisions will hurt only us, but most will unfortunately hurt others as well. So the goal here is not about living an impeccable lifestyle, (although strive to get as close to this as you can) but rather one that is worthy of following. Whenever I heard a person telling story about how they overcame a situation or pressed through something very difficult, I was rarely moved by their lack of mistakes and poor judgement, but I was more influenced by what they did after they found their face on the floor. This is the person that I can relate to. I believe that he or she can really tell me how to get to the next step and improve on my life, with tangible steps that are far removed from ridicule. But are rich in thoughtfulness, sincerity, empathy and honor. This is a person(s) worthy of following.