Character: Curiosity and Humility Are the Prerequisites to Growth and Mastery

In Chapters 3 & 4 of The Citizen Leader, I guide you on an exploration of your deep truths and commitment to be an active citizen and engaging leader and alert you that this inquiry will demand your powers of introspection, reflection and curiosity. I ask you to draw on these personal powers to discern and define the guiding principles that are at the core of your being — at the core of your character.

I begin, early in Chapter 3, by having you to gather data about your guiding principles by both: stating your beliefs about yourself, and then observing your actual behaviors. That data, when closely examined, informs you more accurately of what is real and what is not. It is entirely possible that, despite what you might initially believe, your observations and the resulting information allow you to learn a bit more about yourself — and to identify the actual handful of principles that reside at your core. Good, bad or indifferent, that knowledge is essential if you are to understand your behaviors and actions, and to understand how and why the people around you interact with you and react to you the way they do.

As a next step in your growing self-awareness, I invite you — even challenge you — to find out what the people around you would say are the values or guiding principles that characterize your actions. And the best way to find out is to simply ask them: an inquiry that demands your continuing curiosity, and perhaps some courage.

This part is an exercise in humility. Humility derives from the Latin humus, meaning earth, and the Greek for on the ground. Humility, then, is a state of coming down to earth, of getting grounded in our humanity — of loosening ego in favor of finding out the truth about ourselves. Humility is the great liberator: It liberates us from the bondage of our own self-image, and it liberates others to care about us by helping us become more self-aware.

To succeed with this inquiry, it helps to suspend judgment about any beliefs you might have about yourself, or about what others are saying. It is far more instructive and enlightening when you listen, learn, seek to fully understand and be grateful for the courage and care that others are showing by agreeing to give you their feedback.

To truly find out about yourself, you must rely on both your humility with your curiosity, both when you give yourself feedback and when you ask for it from others.

This exercise is not for the weak of heart. Humility demands strength.

Excerpted and abridged from The Citizen Leader

Character: Personal Integrity and Credibility (II)

Credibility derives from the Latin verb credo, which means I believe. Our believability — or our credibility — rests in the eyes of others. It is their having faith that we will behave and speak and act in ways that adhere to the values we profess and thereby the expectations we create.

But what about those occasions when we consciously choose to ignore our principles and “make an exception to the rule”? Whether for expediency’s sake or for our own gain, believing that the ends justify the means can result in giving others reason to pause, wonder or doubt that we are who we claim to be. If our adherence to guiding principles is the bedrock of our credibility, then shedding those values — regardless of the reason — is a blow that can fracture the foundation that others rely on when choosing whether to believe, trust, join or follow us. At its most damaging, a pattern of making an exception to the rule gives others cause to say to themselves non credoI do not believe.

Consider the employer, the manager or the team leader who claims to highly value the principle of work–life balance, but who regularly texts or emails queries after hours, over the weekend or during vacation time, and expects a timely response. What message is this individual really giving about what she or he is committed to? What happens to their credibility vis-à-vis their professed principle of work–life balance?

Assess the current state of your credibility by answering two critical questions:

  • What are the promises I make about how I will conduct myself, both in private and out in the world?
  • How consistently do I live up to each one of these promises — to myself and to others? 

Excerpted and abridged from The Citizen Leader

The Citizen Leader eBooks Now Available

I am delighted to let you all know that The Citizen Leader is now available as an ebook:

Amazon [for the Kindle and Kindle app for the iPad/iPhone]

Barnes & Noble [for the Nook, Nook app for the iPad/iPhone, and Sony Reader]

The Citizen Leader is a book which invites your active participation (reading and writing your responses). Since an ebook precludes your writing on the page, I have designed and put online a writable (fill-in) pdf workbook that includes all of the questions in The Citizen Leader and allows plenty of space for your reflection and responses. Feel free to download it, and print or save it to your computer. 

The workbook is free. The instructions for access and use are in the introduction of the book: “How to Use The Citizen Leader as a Self-Directed Guide for Personal and Professional Development.” Of course, the workbook is also available to anyone who has bought a print edition.

If you’d like to learn more about the book before diving in, take a look at my more recent blog posts in which I describe the content of the chapters and applaud individuals who exemplify citizen leadership, Among Us: Citizen Leaders. You can also read almost the entire introduction for free by clicking on Look Inside! at Amazon’s Kindle page for the ebook.

Thank you to the many of you who have honored my work by ordering the print version of The Citizen Leader. And thank you for your feedback and your congrats. 

Character: Personal Integrity and Credibility

Character is the embodiment and the expression of our guiding principles and values. It is who we are on the inside, and what we show on the outside. Our guiding principles and values are the promises we make to ourselves about how we will behave, both in private and in the world at large. When we live up to those promises — when we act consistently with what it is we say we stand for, and consistently deliver on our promises (even when no one else is looking) — we are living in personal integrity.

For most of us, our personal values don’t remain a private affair, either. We often share them with the other members of our community. We make a promise to them, and we give them the expectation that we will conduct ourselves in ways that are consistent with our promises. By living up to those promises, we build our believability – and strengthen our credibility.

Credibility derives from the Latin verb credo, which means I believe. Our believability — or our credibility — rests in the eyes of others. Our credibility manifests in others as I believe you. I believe you because your actions are consistent with your promises. Our credibility is other people placing their faith and trust in us. It is their having faith that we will continue to behave and speak and act in ways that adhere to the expectations we have created or stated.

Naturally, we all trip up on occasion and do things that are against what we say we stand for. To the degree that we have built a well of credibility in the minds of others, we can ask for forgiveness and be forgiven. But, if the pattern of our actions, behaviors and words over time start to suggest something other than what we claim about ourselves, then it’s that pattern that begins to speak the louder.

Now, none of us is perfect, and we may all momentarily step on our principles or hot headedly transgress them. That’s the cost that comes along with being human, yet a basically healthy credibility can weather the missteps.

During our lives, most of us will face many challenges that will invite us, if not require us, to lead. When we step into the role of leader, the content of our character will shape the relationships that we form with the other members of our community. The ways in which we express our character will enhance or diminish our capacity to engage their willingness and their enthusiasm to want to participate, serve, act and persevere. You have the opportunity to be of such character that your partners will not only follow your lead, but will surge out ahead of you as, together, you strive to make contributions that are meaningful to everyone.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Chapters 3 & 4: Character

The value of a leader is directly proportional to a leader’s values.

– A Golden Rule from the Notre Dame Executive MBA Program

In Chapters 3 and 4 of The Citizen Leader, I ask you to conduct a rigorous, thorough examination of your values and guiding principles. I will challenge you to substantiate what might start out as a broad bundle of qualities, and then I will guide you through a process that will help you clarify and define the handful of principles that truly reflects who you are, today. And I will help you articulate and explain who and how you aspire to be in the future, and why.

Your character consists of your values and guiding principles. They are your signature. They express who you are to the world. They are the substance you have with which to build and strengthen your relationships with others, or to weaken and break them. In these chapters, I will provide you with focused exercises to help you develop and maintain a quality of character that will inspire others to willingly follow your lead and want to participate, serve, act and persevere as you pursue your worthy goals. These exercises will also help you forge a strength of character that can, and will, hold steady in challenging times and circumstances.  

Chapter 2: Conviction

It is a fundamental tenet of The Citizen Leader that citizenship challenges us to contribute to the world around us — that we act as citizens when we participate in efforts to better our community and improve life for everyone in it.

Let me propose that the caliber of our actions, or indeed even our willingness to take action at all, is directly proportional to our beliefs and feelings about our community. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American philosopher and advocate of self-reliance and personal initiative, reminds us that “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

So we begin to explore your role as an active citizen in your community by asking you to consider your beliefs and feelings about the world in which you have the remarkable opportunity to make an immediate difference — about the communities where you live, work, play and pray.

Self-Awareness: “What is Your Own Truth as a Citizen and as a Leader, Today?”

Chapter 1 of The Citizen Leader asks,  “What is your own truth as a citizen and as a leader, today?

You will find a series of queries to help you mine the answer. I ask: What do you think your strengths are as a citizen? As a leader? What are the areas that you need to work on? Why? These are the questions that will help you get started and build your self-awareness. Your responses will serve as a good base camp from which to launch the exploration of your self and your character.

The questions in these chapters are powerful tools that ask of you deep introspection and reflection. They require your curiosity and humility. And they call on you to be brutally honest with yourself and about yourself. No judgment is attached to your answers. What is important is that you be rigorous, seek honesty and own your truth about who you are at this point in time, as well as who you strive to be.

Your willingness to engage courageously in this journey of questions will help you know the substance and feel the strength of your convictions, your credibility and your courage to lead. Your responses will provide insight into the authentic content of your character and bolster your enthusiasm to engage in your community as an active citizen. And they will serve as the foundation for your capacity to rally and guide others to serve and act, make meaningful contributions and help you all create great places to live, work and play.

Your truth will reveal whether you are leading a life of personal integrity – whether you are a person you or anyone else would want to follow.

Chapter 1: Self-Awareness

I begin The Citizen Leader with an appeal to your curiosity and candor as I ask you to take stock of the qualities you possess as a citizen and as a leader. I also ask you to be forthright about the qualities you hope to strengthen as you set out on this exploration of character and active citizenship. Chapter 1 is an exercise in self-awareness. It is your point of departure and sets the tone for the caliber of reflection, inquiry and honesty that will serve you well and enrich your experience as you journey through the rest of the book. 

It is my core belief that we are all co-creators of the world in which we live. Our families, schools, places of work, places of worship, neighborhoods and towns — all these are the communities that make up our world. Through our daily behaviors, words, actions and choices, we contribute to the character of these communities, and we shape the world in which we live and work, for ourselves, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our coworkers and our fellow citizens. The prerequisite, as you take on any role of leadership in any one of these communities, is your having a strong sense of who you are, first. The foundation for your building strong bonds with and leading others begins with your building a strong bond with and leading yourself. That is the essence of this book and its focus. The Citizen Leader is devoted to diving down to the deep truths about yourself that respond to this challenge:

Who are you, that you or anyone else would want to follow?

The Citizen Leader: Citizenship and Leadership Lessons Made Meaningful and Designed for Practical Application

I have written The Citizen Leader to be usable by and accessible to everyone. Since most people won’t have an opportunity to participate in an organized, company-sponsored or costly seminar on leadership, I have designed this guide to be your de facto workshop. It provides rigorous, thorough, thoughtful (and thought-provoking) leadership guidance and training, with the goal of helping you to grow personally and professionally. For your part, in order to gain the most from the investment of your time and energy as you read through The Citizen Leader and work through the exercises, you will need to be both reflective and actively engaged.

The Citizen Leader is not leadership made quick or easy, nor is this leadership dumbed down. There are no such things. Rather, this is leadership learning and lessons drawn from the experience of real people, designed for practical application, and intended to benefit anyone with a commitment to being more of a leader — regardless of their title or position, and regardless of the size of their staff, supporters or followers. I draw on two decades of consulting, coaching, teaching graduate students and facilitating leadership seminars in business, government, the military, academia and the not-for-profit world. My audiences have included men, women and young adults, with identities and titles ranging from corporate CEO to entrepreneur to local shop owner, from sales executive to sales associate, from scientist to service industry and social worker, educator to engineer, banker to beautician, construction worker to caregiver, admiral to ensign, lawyer to legislator, Ph.D. to M.B.A. to middle school student, and many more. This guide draws on the wealth and wisdom of their experience, exploration, example, struggle, success, breakdown, breakthrough and sheer determination.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

The Citizen Leader: Be the Person You’d Want to Follow

Over the course of this next week and next, I will be posting short commentaries on the essential elements of The Citizen Leader: Self-Awareness, Conviction, Character (Credibility and Personal Integrity), Courage, Contribution, Community, The Common Good and Gratitude.

The Citizen Leader: Be the Person You’d Want to Follow is a guide to help men, women, young adults and teens explore and respond to the questions: Who am I? and How do I want to be in the world? The book challenges people at all stages of personal and professional life to deepen their commitment to being authentic and courageous so they can say with conviction: I am a person I’d want to follow.

The book is structured for the readers to venture through on their own and at their own pace. It is also designed to let the readers partner with others — peers, coworkers, family, or friends, in school, at work, at home, in a seminar, in a book club — so together they can use its guidance, exercises and tools to create a forum for reflection, sharing, sharpening, learning and growth.

It is my hope that the insights my readers derive from The Citizen Leader will both enrich their lives and help them lead others in efforts to create great places for us all to live, work and play.

I have written The Citizen Leader in the hopes of making leadership education understandable, meaningful and actionable for adults, young adults and teens alike. I draw on the twenty years of teaching leadership seminars, instructing graduate students and coaching executives.

The first half of The Citizen Leader dives deeply into character, to help readers discern and define who they are today, and who they aspire to be tomorrow and well into the future. The second half provides a tutorial on citizenship in which I frame questions and suggest a process of inquiry to prompt and coach readers to ask themselves: What are the causes that I care about in my community? What initiatives could I champion that would contribute to my community? How can I harness the courage to follow through with the actions that will move the initiative forward? I call this line of inquiry and application active citizenship. It is my belief and experience that a candid assessment of character, a conscious commitment to be the person you’d want to follow and a courageous resolve to be an active citizen are preparation for, and the prerequisites of, engaging leadership – that is, leadership that would inspire other members of a community to want to follow your lead.

In my wildest dreams, the inquiry in my book will become standard fare in high schools and colleges — not the academic curriculum, I recognize, but in orientations, life skills, leadership programs and the like. Beyond that, I also trust that my book will make a meaningful contribution to the personal development electives at professional schools and in corporate leadership programs.