Sunday, October 19, 2014

Author's Preface

Self-Action Leadership:
The Key to Personal & Professional Freedom

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." [1]

We lived in wonderfully troubled times—wonderful as they are troubled, and troubled as they are wonderful. In the midst of unprecedented medical, technological, communication, and creative wonderment, deep social, cultural, and character problems abound all around us. The biggest problem of all, however, is not the problems themselves, but our collective misunderstanding of what the problems really are, and where real solutions lie. Ever searching for short-term, externally based solutions to human challenges and dilemmas, collective society continually invests their energies hacking at the leaves of problems rather than focusing on, opening their eyes to, or even recognizing, their roots—which almost always originate on some level inside ourselves.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. [2]

This book champions an inside-out approach. It recognizes that macro organizational problems can only be addressed by confronting the micro issues plaguing individuals—namely you, me, and everyone else on the Planet. It focuses your concentration on the only things you can actually control—your own thoughts, speech, and actions. The message of Self-Action Leadership is that simple; it is also that difficult. [3]

One of the most difficult phrases for many, and perhaps most, people to utter is: “I have a problem.” An even more challenging admission is: “It is my responsibility to fix my problem by changing the way I think, speak, and act.” The practice of blaming external forces and other people for personal problems is epidemic in our Nation and World. This trend must stop if we are ever to get a handle on the menacing menagerie of problems we face both individually and collectively. It is time to end the blame game. It is time for all of us to take complete personal responsibility for everything in our lives— whether our present circumstances are our fault or not. It is time to stop abdicating our self-sovereignty to the whims of fickle fads and the mercurial desires of our innate carnality. It is time to start reigning nobly as the ruling monarch of our own lives and destinies.

Throughout the ages, individuals have always been part of solutions or part of problems. So it is today. No one is perfect, but ultimately, we each end up either starting and compounding problems, or creating and contributing solutions to personal problems, family problems, organizational problems, community problems, national problems, global problems, and universal problems.

This book has been written to educate and inspire individuals to develop the self-awareness and will power to become part of the solution to the many, varied, and deeply entrenched problems we individually or collectively face in the United States of America and throughout the World.

A quarter of a century ago, Dr. Stephen R. Covey introduced his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His first three habits focused on self-leadership—the theme of this book. His message called for the abandonment of the Personality Ethic in favor of the Character Ethic. Knowing that “Techniques” alone cannot create lasting results or engender authentic change, he effectively communicated the timeless truth that real success that lasts is always predicated upon principles of focused hard work and integrity practiced consistently over extended periods of time. He taught us the Law of the Farm to emphasize that principles cannot be cheated; they must be respected and obeyed. He taught us that Private Victories precede Public Victories, and he reminded us that there are no quick fixes to authentic achievements and personal growth—that in the end, such things must be earned.

When Covey published his 7 Habits in 1989, I was only 10 years old. My self-leadership journey had begun a few years earlier when I attended a time management seminar taught by my uncle, Hyrum W. Smith, who, along with Stephen, co-founded FranklinCovey. That seminar, and other experiences like it, provided me with profound experiences in personal development at a young age. These experiences planted seeds of Self-Action Leadership (SAL) in my mind, heart, and spirit that have forged deep roots in the intervening years. Consequently, I have—for the past quarter century—dedicated my life to earning Existential Growth through the study and practice of SAL.

Since the publication of the 7 Habits in 1989, nothing has changed about our Nation or World’s need for enlightened instruction on self-leadership except that the need is even greater now than it was then, and for two reasons.

First, technological advancements and the advent of the Information Age have dramatically changed society to make “techniques” and “quick-fixes” more seductive, accessible, and affordable than ever. Such developments have made it easier to fall prey to self-deception and procrastination by providing seeming alternatives to old-fashioned hard work and self-discipline. Moreover, ours is an age of illusion where individuals increasingly inhabit virtual bubble-worlds bearing little resemblance to the real one.

Second, collective SAL capacity in the United States has, despite the noteworthy efforts of Dr. Covey and others in the 1990s and 2000s, continued to atrophy such that the United States—the greatest nation in our Planet’s history—increasingly resembles a nation in decline. This dangerous digression must stop, and YOU can play a role in its retardation and reversal. This book will show you how.

Twenty-first century families, schools, and organizations generally understand the importance of education, including soft skills training. What they often misunderstand is what actually needs to be taught – and how often – for children, students, and employees to become fully actualized individuals who make the world a better place by virtue of their brief habitation thereon. Families may teach their children to go to school; schools may teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and how to take tests; and businesses may teach various hard and soft skills relevant to their industry. What they often don’t teach their children, students, and work force, is how to effectively lead and operate their own lives. 

The weightier matters of courage, character, and conscience—and the other virtues, habits, and skills that money alone can’t buy—are only peripherally addressed, if they are addressed at all. Worse still, many executives, managers, teachers, coaches, mentors, and parents set a sorry example for their subordinates. Many power hungry leaders live greedy lives of profligacy and duplicity and then wonder why their folds are folding right before their eyes. Discerning the consequences of morally bankrupt leadership is not rocket science. The Father of English poetry [4] understood this cause and effect relationship over 600 years ago when he eloquently penned:
Geoffrey Chaucer
This fine example to his flock he gave,
That first he wrought and afterwards he taught;
Out of the gospel then that text he caught,
And this figure he added thereunto-
That, if gold rust, what shall poor iron do?
For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,
What wonder if a layman yield to lust?
And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,
A shitty shepherd, shepherding clean sheep.
Well ought a priest example good to give,
By his own cleanness, how his flock should live.
He never let his benefice for hire,
Leaving his flock to flounder in the mire… [5]
Yes, good leaders are essential in creating good followers, and both are needed to create lasting success in families, schools, organizations, and nations. But we must never forget that organizations are, and always will be, nothing more than synergistic conglomerations of the individuals that make them up. In the words of M. Scott Peck, M.D., it is, therefore, “In the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil [and success and failure] is waged and ultimately won or lost.” [6]

"The effort to prevent [human evil and organizational corruption & malaise] must therefore be directed toward the individual. It is, of course, a process of education … [and I have a dream that] Children will be taught that laziness and narcissism are at the very root of all human evil, and why this is so. They will learn that each individual is of sacred importance. … And they will finally see it as each individual’s responsibility to continually examine himself or herself for laziness and narcissism and then to purify themselves accordingly. They will do this in the knowledge that such personal purification is required not only for the salvation of their individual souls but also for the salvation of their world.” [7]
While knowledge, skills, and techniques are important and valuable, their long-term utility depends on the character holism and SAL capacity of individuals. Yet it seems like everywhere you look, self-discipline, self-restraint, self-awareness, and integrity are being abandoned. The consequences are sad—and often tragic.

The good news is that no matter how deficient a person may presently be in his or her SAL, it can be learned, practiced, developed, and improved. Moreover, SAL is not only for those in management positions, or those labeled with “Type A” personalities. In the words of Dr. Charles C. Manz—the Father of self-leadership in the academe:

"Effective self-leadership can be learned … [It] is not restricted to people we describe as “self-starters,” “self-directed,” “self-motivated,” etc.… Self-leadership approach[es] are relevant to managers and nonmanagers—that is, to anyone who works." [8]
Leaders, educators, and parents from all corners of society have largely failed their constituents, employees, students, and children by putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Endless training on facts, skills, and techniques cannot replace the teaching and modeling of character, integrity, self-leadership, self-management, and emotional intelligence. Even worse than these educational omissions, many leaders fail to exemplify the attributes themselves. World-renown leadership expert James G.S. Clawson, Ph.D., of the Darden School of Business Administration (University of Virginia), underscored this point toward the end of a decorated academic career when he wrote:

"I have come to believe that one of the biggest leadership issues [throughout the World today] is the inability of people – even and especially managers and executives – to lead themselves." [9]
SAL is as important a topic to presidents and principals as it is to kindergartners and entry-level employees. Furthermore, the onus of responsibility for modeling effective SAL, mature emotional intelligence, and circumspect character should weigh most heavily on the minds of those at the top since trickle-down character is inevitable in organizations.

Organizations obviously need to teach facts, skills, and techniques in the same sense that schools need to teach English, math, science, and history, and parents need to teach how to feed one’s face and tie one’s shoes. But if that is all they focus on, they are building mansions upon the sand. [10] If all parents and teachers taught their children SAL, and sent them into the world at age 18 ready to be “built upon” with facts, skills, and techniques, we wouldn’t have such a profound problem on our hands. But of course, not all parents and teachers do so, and not all children listen to their parents and teachers. Moreover, even those who do enter the work force with strong SAL foundations must continually cultivate their character and conscience to keep them sharp. Repetition is the key to reception, recollection, and internalization for even the best self-action leaders. In the words of G.K. Chesterton: We need to be reminded more than we need to be instructed.

No amount of natural talent, personality, or intelligence can compensate for the failure to build a proper foundation of character, integrity, conscience, and emotional intelligence. It is time that organizations and educational institutions of all kinds (including and especially families) put First Things First when it comes to what, when, and how often we teach our children, students and employees.

Talk to any effective executive, and he/she will tell you the single most important organizational asset is not tools, technology, or cash, but human capital—the people. If you have great people, you can overcome temporary obstacles to, or shortages of, resources or capital; but no surplus of cash can compensate for a dearth of character, integrity, and emotional intelligence. You cannot put a price on the value of an employee who is honest, trustworthy, dependable, capable, teachable, cooperative, punctual, loyal, intrinsically motivated, hardworking, and emotionally and socially savvy.

Some would argue that while these points hold merit, they are ultimately naïve. Sure, you may surmise, “Teaching character and integrity would be nice in a perfect world where we were not bound by constant deadlines, fierce competition, and finite amounts of time, energy, and training capital. But in the real world, we cannot afford the luxury of such training.” My response to this concern is simple: “If you are a leader who is serious about long-term success, you cannot afford not to provide this training and modeling. The greatest naïveté lies in the notion that you can achieve lasting success by neglecting the only foundation capable of supporting it.

Any principle taught repeatedly will influence a student or employee. To illustrate, my wife works for a Fortune 100 Company that prides itself on its safety record, and their results are stellar. Who or what can be credited for creating such a sterling safety record? It was training, training, and more training about safety. With an almost religious fervor, they ceaselessly drill the principles and practices of safety into the minds and hearts of their employees. As a result of this seemingly simple training, my wife—a highly intelligent engineer—has been significantly influenced to conduct herself at work, home, and in between more safely than she did before. She has particularly been influenced when it comes to safe driving practices; I know because my own wayward lead-foot has received many a loving rebuke.

What I speak of may sound like brainwashing, and if you are teaching incorrect or nefarious principles, it is. But when you are teaching correct principles—ones that lead to practices that result in lasting benefits to self and others—rote learning is simply an indispensable part of the pedagogical process. If we are to educate individuals to create company cultures that reflect character, conscience, integrity, and emotional intelligence, we must teach and model these things early and often. There is no other way. It is that easy; it is also that challenging.

In the long run, character always trumps personality and technique in the same way that actions speak louder than words. Don’t get me wrong; techniques and personality are essential. Their magnification or diminishment, however, depends on the foundational strength of the weightier matters outlined in this book.

Mohandas Gandhi
It is important to remember that traits of character are not developed solely at work. Effective self-action leaders cannot separate their personal lives from their professional lives in terms of who they are. One’s decisions in one life arena inevitably influence other areas. Duplicitous lives never pass the test of time, and those attempting such discover in the end that the pursuit of two incompatible pathways—morally or otherwise—eventually bears the bitter fruit of failure in both. In the words of Gandhi: “[You] cannot do right in one department of life whilst … occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” All real and lasting success requires the harmonious integration—or Self-Oneness—of all parts of your nature (mental, physical, social, emotional, spiritual, moral, etc.).

Though many external forces influence your life’s journey beyond your control, it is your internal thoughts, words, and actions that ultimately shape your life’s unfolding story. These three things represent the key building blocks of your future. Directing your destiny ultimately boils down to disciplining these forces over which you do have control. It is that simple, and it is that difficult and complex. It is simple because it is easy to intellectually conceptualize the point. It is difficult and complex because the effective leadership, management, regulation, discipline, and control of self is the most difficult challenge that any of us will ever encounter. In the words of one great leader: The greatest battle of life is fought within the silent chambers of your own soul. [11]

Perhaps the SAL theory, model, or one of the success stories shared in this book will somehow benefit you and those you lead. I sincerely hope so, because at the end of the day, and despite whatever differences may contrast our individual experiences, we are all human beings whose intrinsic Existential Worth and value is not only equal, but equally great in terms of our ultimate existential potentiality. Of this I am certain. 

What will you choose to do with yours?


[1] Opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859.
[2] Thoreau, H.D. (2001). Walden and Other Writings. New York, NY: MetroBooks. Chapter 1: Economy. Page 62.
[3] This phraseology was influenced by Warren Bennis, who said of team leadership: “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.”
[4] Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400).
[5] Quote from The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales (The Parson). URL:
[6] Peck, M.S. (1983). People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. New York, NY: Touchstone. Page 252.
[7] Ibid. Page 252-253.
[8] Manz, C. C. (1983). Improving Performance Through Self-Seadership. National Productivity Review (pre-1986). Volume 2, Issue 3. p. 288-297. Page 289.
[9] Clawson, J. G. S. (2008). Leadership As Managing Energy. International Journal of Organizational Analysis. Volume 16, Issue 3. p. 174-181. DOI:10.1108/19348830810937943. Page 175.
[10] A reference to a line of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem Upon the Sand: “All love that has not friendship for its base, Is like a mansion built upon the sand.”
[11] David O. McKay (1873-1970)

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