Monday, January 12, 2015

Self-Action Leadership Variables

Have you ever faced a debilitating challenge only to hear someone say: “You just need to think positively, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and make it happen!” Over-simplifying human problems can be as problematic as over-complicating or ignoring them altogether. Self-Action Leadership does not translate into human omnipotence. Other variables, both internal and external, exist to produce a variety of human difficulties and problems, as well as opportunities and potential. There are at least 16 variables that produce limitations and benefits to your human potential. The life experiences of every human being are uniquely impacted by one’s own singular blend of these 16 variables.

  1. Forces of Nature
  2. Congenital Physical Variables
  3. Congenital Familial Environment
  4. Genetic & Mimetic Inclinations
  5. Initial Opportunities for Education
  6. Congenital Social Environment
  7. Choices of Others
  8. Time
  9. Structural Inequality
  10. Geopolitics & Macroeconomics
  11. Good & Bad Luck
  12. Supra-rational Intervention
  13. Hierarchy of Needs
  14. Self-leadership Intelligence and Talent
  15. Self-leadership Desire
  16. Self-leadership Will

In explaining these 16 variables, I should note that "limitations" and "benefits" should be interpreted primarily as potential limitations and benefits. Just because a person has a circumstantial limitation or benefit at birth, does not mean it will always exist. You have probably met someone who has, over time, either transcended a limitation or squandered a benefit with which they were born.

1. Forces of Nature

Limitations: Natural disasters of all kinds, heat, cold, etc.

Benefits: Some geographic locations have a more conducive climate to living and working than other areas. 

2. Congenital Physical Variables

Limitations: Congenital defects, disorders, and illnesses. Height, weight, natural physical appearance, lack of athletic ability, and other physical talents.

Benefits: Height, weight, natural physical appearance, athletic ability, and other physical talents.

3. Congenital Familial Environment

Limitations: Poverty, abuse, neglect, broken homes, single-parent families, no parents, etc.

Benefits: Abundance, two-parent families, love, support, safety, encouragement, guidance.

4. Genetic & Mimetic Inclinations

Limitations: Bad habits and inclinations, or learned practices (including laziness, irresponsibility, dishonesty, disrespectfulness, cowardice, bad tempered, etc).

Benefits: Good habits and inclinations, or learned practices (including discipline, focus, hard work, honesty, integrity, love, compassion, emotional control, etc.).

5. Initial Opportunities for Education

Limitations: Limited educational opportunities, uneducated or undereducated parents/guardians/role models, limited educational reinforcement at home.

Benefits: Opportunities for private schooling, tutoring, and/or extra-curricular education, strong educational reinforcement at home, well-educated parents/guardians, role models.

6. Congenital Social Environment

Limitations: Growing up amongst people who predominantly demonstrate examples of anger, hatred, bitterness, abuse, revenge, unfairness, deception, substance abuse, sexual impropriety, etc.

Benefits: Growing up amongst those who predominantly demonstrate examples of respect, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, fairness, love, emotional intelligence, good communication, conflict management & resolution skills, etc.

7. Choices of Others

Limitations: Abuse, neglect, abandonment, isolation, wasted resources, etc.

Benefits: Love, support, positive role models, well-invested resources, etc.

8. Time

Limitations: Short, poor quality lifespan.

Benefits: Long, high quality lifespan.

9. Structural Inequality

Limitations: Stifled opportunities due to race, culture, religion, or other group affiliation.

Benefits: Expanded opportunities due to race, culture, religion, or other group affiliation.

10. Geopolitics & Macroeconomics

Limitations: Residence in a war-torn or otherwise conflicted area; political/social/economic strife; economic recession; resource dependent economy.

Benefits: Residence in a stable and secure area; relative peace and prosperity; strong diversified economy.

11. Good & Bad Luck

Limitations: Unfavorable circumstances or situations (not of your making) to overcome.

Benefits: Unexpectedly favorable opportunities for action.

12. Supra-rational Intervention

Limitations: Lack of aid from a Higher Power—a Lack of Serendipity. (Open to perception and interpretation).

Benefits: Aid from a Higher Power—the Presence of Serendipity. (Open to perception and interpretation.

13. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [1]

Limitations: Circumstances that require you to focus on more basic levels of fulfillment (survival, safety, love).

Benefits: Circumstances that enable you to address higher levels of fulfillment (esteem, actualization).

14. Intelligence and Talent

Limitations: Little natural intelligence & talent in a given area(s).

Benefits: Lots of natural intelligence & talent in a given area(s).

15. Desire

Limitations: Little or no natural desire for Existential Growth.

Benefits: Lots of natural desire for Existential Growth.

16. Will

Limitations: An unwillingness to expend effort when you don't feel like it.

Benefits: A willingness to expend effort regardless of how you feel.

As you review this list, you will notice that some limitations and benefits are congenital, meaning a person is born with them. Others depend on what you do after you are born. These 16 variables can therefore be divided into three basic categories.

Category 1: Variables you cannot control:

  • Forces of Nature
  • Congenital Physical Variables
  • Congenital Familial Environment
  • Initial Opportunities for Education
  • Congenital Social Environment
  • Good & Bad Luck
  • Intelligence & Talent

Category 2: Variables you may have some influence over:

  • Genetic & Mimetic Inclinations
  • Choices of Others
  • Time
  • Structural Inequality
  • Geopolitics & Macroeconomics
  • Supra-rational Intervention
  • Hierarchy of Needs
  • Desire

Category 3: Variable fully under your control:

  • Will

In reviewing this list, I’m sure you noticed that of all 16 of these variables, you only have full control over one of them. At first glance, it might be disappointing to realize just how much you can't control in your life. Our inability to fully control the other 15 variables explains why bad things sometimes happen to good people. While negative events sometimes occur in life because you are at fault, it is also true that bad things sometimes happen as a result of the actions of other people, events triggered by the omnipotence of Mother Nature, or other forces beyond our control. This is the bad news.

Dealing with disabilities, bad luck, mistreatment, or structural inequality is undoubtedly difficult. Such obstacles can be so huge as to overwhelm and disillusion the best of us. But these things are largely outside of your immediate control and influence, especially with regards to the tasks of daily living. Oftentimes, all you can do is strive to make the best of what you have, and maybe improve the variables to some degree for the next generation.

In many cases, your control over other people and things is either non-existent or drastically limited. Your control over your own thoughts, speech, and actions, however, provides a perpetual opportunity for achievement and Existential Growth. This opportunity may dramatically improve your external circumstances over time, if you take advantage of it. The good news is that you can control the most important variable of all, and the one that matters most in the end--your individual will. How you choose to exercise your will often makes all the difference in the long run. It is also the primary catalyst that determines what you become in the end. Your will is the greatest power you possess for the simple reason that is the only thing you can really control; it is the one variable force that is entirely of your own making. No one else is responsible for it. For as long as you live, you must ultimately call the shots.


As a high school classroom teacher, when things would get difficult for us teachers, and especially when it came to dealing with issues that were not of our making (i.e., poor parenting, broken homes, negative peer and culturally influenced bad behavior, etc.), administrators had a mantra they would repeat to us as teachers. It went like this:

It may not be your fault, but it is YOUR problem! 

This is one of the best SAL reminders of reality I’ve ever heard. Translation: I didn’t make all of the problems in my classroom, but if the problems are in my classroom, it is my responsibility to work to try and solve them. The same principle applies to you, me, and everyone else in the world. All of your problems may not be your fault, but they are your problems. Life, therefore, is a series of recurring questions that ask the following: What are you going to do about the problems life has presented you with? You can't change who you are, where you started from, or what you had (or did not have) when you came into this world. But we at Freedom Focused enthusiastically affirm that you always have the freedom to do something about it. When the final chapter of your life is written through your actions, will your story be one of victory or victimization?

“Highly proactive people … do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling … [For proactive persons, their] honor becomes greater than [their] moods.”[2]

– Stephen R. Covey

We live in a nation and world of victimization and blame. It seems that people everywhere are eager to find a scapegoat for any and every problem life presents them with. Such people would have you believe that their problems are everyone and everything else’s fault, but never their own. It’s their parent’s fault, their spouses’ fault, their families’ fault, their neighborhood’s fault, their boss’s fault, their coworkers fault, the fault of generations gone by, their communities’ fault, their States’ fault, their Nation’s fault, the world’s fault, the government’s fault, the Republican’s fault, the Democrat’s fault, the Libertarian’s fault, the Stars’ fault, God’s fault, the weather’s fault, their DNA’s fault, the lottery’s fault, etc.

“Henry Thoreau made, last night, the fine remark that, as long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way, governments, society, and even the sun and moon and stars, as astrology may testify.”[3]

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Please don’t misunderstand; I am not saying that external forces do not play a role, sometimes a significant role, in the events and circumstances in our lives. Of course they do. Making this point explicit is the primary purpose of this chapter; that’s why I introduced the SAL variables. It is a truism that bad things happen to good people beyond their control. However, even when bad things happen to good people, good people have the freedom to choose what they are going to do next, meaning how they are going to respond to whatever bad things happen to them outside of their control.

One of my favorite high-profile examples of SAL in action over time comes from the media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is the first African American woman to become a billionaire. She has influenced hundreds of millions of persons as an actress, talk-show host, and philanthropist. Most, if not all, educated adults in the world know who Oprah Winfrey is. She is one of the most influential women on Earth.

What some do not know about Oprah is that she was born into poverty in one of the poorest states in the U.S. (Mississippi) at a time (mid-1950s) when segregation and prejudice against Blacks was still institutionalized. Oprah’s childhood in Mississippi and adolescence in inner city Milwaukee was marked by troubles of all kinds, including sexual abuse. Oprah’s start in life didn’t portend the kind of greatness she would eventually achieve. But give a determined self-action leader like Oprah a few decades of time and the freedom to direct her own thoughts, speech, and actions, and what you get is a beautiful miracle.

The key is effective Self-Action Leadership and time—usually a lot of it. In the meantime, you—like Oprah—must remain persistent, consistent, and determined. In the words of Napoleon Hill, “when defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit, [and] that is exactly what the majority of [people] do.”[4] If someone has the opportunity to learn about Self-Action Leadership and the cognizance and health to exercise it, yet ends up in the same place—or worse—at the end of their life, they ultimately have themselves to blame.

“We are responsible for our own effectiveness, our own happiness, and ultimately, I would say, for most of our circumstances.”[5]
– Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Notice that Covey says “most of our circumstances.” Not all, but most. It is true that you can’t change where you started out in life. You can’t always avoid every bad thing from happening to you against your will or desires. Life often isn’t fair, especially in the short run, and that’s just the way it is. There is nothing you can do to change your life's beginning—where you started out in life, and with whom. But there is much you can do to shape your life's ending.

Two choices remain after birth for you, me, and every other self-action leader on the Planet. You can do nothing and complain about your lot in life and blame others for your misfortune, or you can choose to take advantage of any and every opportunity you have to learn, and then act on your newfound knowledge.

I eagerly encourage you to take the latter route, even if you have been unjustly treated by individuals, groups, or society-at-large in the past. Oprah didn’t transcend poverty and abuse by merely cursing her abusers and condemning the injustices of American society; nor did Gandhi secure freedom for the Indian people by cursing and condemning King George the 5th and 6th and the rest of the British Raj and Empire. While both could have easily felt justified in doing so, they both were also smart enough to realize that treading the pathway of the complainer would not lead to a better life. The pathway to a better life was in education, personal growth and development, and the cultivation of their unique skills, talents, and leadership capacities. They both chose to work extremely hard, avoid making excuses, and never, ever, ever gave up. The result? They both changed the world in positive ways and left indelible impacts on society that generations to come will admire and learn from.

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
– Sir Winston Churchill

“But,” you may say, “Oprah is an outlier. You, Jordan, are simply cherry-picking an unrealistic example to try and make your point. Oprah has ten times the natural talent and ability of most people!” You are right that Oprah is indeed an outlier, and you are also correct in recognizing that Oprah was born with an unusually gifted talent and skill-set. You must consider, however, two essential facts. The first is that, existentially speaking, Oprah is no better than you or me. As such, you have as much freedom to direct your own thoughts, speech, and actions as Oprah. Second—and this is good news—Existential Growth does not mean you are competing against Oprah. You are only competing against your own potential for growth, which (like Oprah's potential) is limitless. This idea of competing with your own potential instead of against other people is called "intrapersonal competition," and will be addressed in greater detail in BOOK THE THIRD.

“Before success comes in any man’s life, he is sure to meet with much temporary defeat, and, perhaps some failure…. Remember that all who succeed in life get off to a bad start, and pass through many heartbreaking struggles before they ‘arrive’”[6]
– Napoleon Hill


Next to life itself, the greatest opportunity each of us possesses is the freedom to direct that life.[7] There is no more important information than the knowledge that empowers you to effectively lead your own life. It is wonderful beyond comprehension to have such liberty and potential for freedom. But as is usually the case, freedom come with a price—a price that must be paid for in taking responsibility for your thoughts, speech, and actions. Whether you like it or not, or know it or not, natural consequence will flow from each thought, word, and deed you ever think, speak, or act out. And regardless where you start out in life, or what happens to you along the way, you are ultimately sovereign over your individual choices along the way. This means, therefore, that…

Nothing goes until you go;
       Nothing works until you work;
            Nothing happens until you start happening.

What will you choose to do with this, the greatest opportunity that Life has endowed you with? I invite you to go to work by reading this book and applying its principles and practices in your life. If you will do that, you life will start to happen in ways you never, or only, dreamed possible in the past. So, with the introduction to Self-Action Leadership now completed, let’s dive together head first into BOOK the SECOND where you may being a serious study of the SAL theory.

SAL Mantra

Nothing goes until you go;
Nothing works until you work;
Nothing happens until you start happening.


[1] Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs refers to a model of human progress developed in the early 1940s by the American psychologist, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow’s famous theory states that all human beings are motivated by a hierarchy of needs, and that lower needs must be met before higher needs will motivate. His hierarchy is often presented visually as a triangle model with basic human needs forming the base and higher human needs forming the point. His five basic needs include Survival needs (Level One), Safety needs (Level Two), Love needs (Level Three), Esteem needs (Level Four), and Actualization needs (Level Five).
[2] Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside. Pages 71 & 92.
[3] From his personal journal, October 1842. Ibid
[4] Hill, N. (1960). Think & Grow Rich. New York, NY: Fawcett Crest. Page 23.
[5] Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, NY: Fireside. Page 93.
[6] Hill, N. (1960). Think & Grow Rich. New York, NY: Fawcett Crest. Pages 23 & 39
[7] This principle was taught in a spiritual context by the religious leader David O. McKay, who, in an April 1950 address entitled, Free Agency … A Divine Gift, said: “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man.”

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