Habits of Leadership – Courage – with Perry Gruber

From the second half of the show:

After taking my own angle on Courage, my belief that it’s a behavior, a skill, and something that can become a habit, and getting I think some agreement on that belief from Praf Pande, I had my beliefs challenged — very effectively and positively — by Perry Gruber.

What is leadership? Perry believes it’s a process by which an individual understands what he or she is in the world, and then takes action from that place of recognition.

Courage is a process where you behave from a place of recognition — where you recognize what you are in relationship to other people and to the rest of the world, and to yourself, and you take action from that place.

I believe that self reflection and self-awareness are indispensable in developing leadership skills. And Perry largely agrees with that.

Perry suggests that spirituality — in a broad sense, and as it relates to leadership — is a process by which individuals, acting in groups, develop themselves in ways that allow them to develop to their maximum potential, recognizing that we are all connected.

To me, that sounds a lot like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the top layer of which consists of the ideal of self-actualization, of self-realization, of becoming who we were meant to be.

And Perry adds that, as people age, they become more aligned with the top layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

One of the social dysfunctions that Perry perceives is that, at least in America, people very frequently act in the workplace from a mental model of rugged individualism and from a place of “lack” or “scarcity” — which leads them to act in ways that are zero-sum.

If one is to get away from that kind of zero-sum thinking, that path almost certainly has to lead through a greater awareness of, and sensitivity to, the interconnectedness of all people, and certainly the interconnectedness of all the people you work with.

Zero-sum thinking in the workplace means that I am in competition with my teammates — meaning they’re not really my teammates, they are my competitors — which in turn destroys any sense of team spirit or cooperation.

Perry then related a story that I can’t begin to do justice to, illustrating his point and ending with the manager in question saying “I’m not here to make this workplace a better place — I’m here to get mine.”

The good news is that this manager was at least somewhat self-aware, and was very honest. The bad news is, this manager was clearly operating from a place of poverty and scarcity and lack. And by taking this adversarial posture with her own coworkers, she was guaranteeing that she was not going to reap any of the rewards and synergies of teamwork and cooperation.

It seems clear to me that the only way for her to move out of that negative place, and actually get the things she wanted, was with courage.

Perry believes very strongly that courage is not a behavior at all, but an understanding — it is an understanding of a fundamental truth that there is nothing on this earth that can harm who you truly are. Once you recognize this, you simply take the right action. Once you are tapped into your true self, you naturally behave rightly, even in the face of fear.

Here again, we see the importance of self-awareness and self reflection. This struck me as very Eastern in spiritual orientation, however Perry contends that all major religions have spiritual traditions that are in harmony with this view.

And, this question of “what’s the worst thing that can happen?” is exactly the right question. Most fear is at core a fear that somehow we’re going to die. Once we accept as true the spiritual teaching that even our actual death isn’t really our death, then it really becomes possible to transcend fear and act with courage and integrity.

I offered the suggestion that Japanese samurai were trained to accept the possibility of injury and death in battle, and through acceptance of it, lose their fear — and by losing their fear, they reduced the likelihood of that happening. The weight of the beast of fear crouching on your chest goes away.

At this point in the interview, I’d completely forgotten that Perry had spent nine years in the Marine Corps, so I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed — and he added something I didn’t know, namely that the modern Marine Corps uses non-religious meditation training to prepare Marines for battle and to help them deal with the aftermath of battle. This isn’t just age-old wisdom, it is timeless wisdom. And it’s not just for life-or-death situations, it’s for all sorts of stressful situations.

Preparation, and self-awareness, are crucial for developing courage. And that’s very true in the workplace — as a leader, you are responsible for the well-being of the people on your team. You need to be able to communicate with them that the world is a safe place.

Perry related another story about a woman who faced her fear, moved through it, and end up in a better place. At how could it be any other way? Any time you move forward through fear, isn’t it inevitable that you’ll end up somewhere better?

One way to achieve a high performing team, then, is to develop in the team an awareness of interconnectedness, and to develop in the team leader that awareness that results in a natural and effortless courage. From there, the leader is able to encourage the rest of the team in the same direction.

How does one achieve this level of consciousness?

One is a website called the Headless Way, at www.headless.org. This is based on the work of Douglas Harding.

Another is Eckhart Tolle’s work.

Another is the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. They help you develop the ten attributes of the servant leader. Servant leadership is an ages-old approach that is just now coming into the business world.

Because leadership really is about service to others.

So, what if I’m doing this self-work and I hit a wall — I get stuck, and I call Perry and say, “Help, I’m stuck.” What would he suggest for me?

It depends on the circumstances — and in fact he would remind me that there is actually nothing wrong. Hitting a wall may be part of my path.

Secondly the idea of a wall is itself perhaps an error — I could accept the moment for the perfection that it is.

And thirdly, resistance is a kind of fear. By resisting this moment, I may be making it last longer than it would if I simply accepted it for what it is.

So, Perry might recommend that I not do anything about the wall, and rather look inside myself to figure out what’s happening inside of me, basing that on the belief that everything that happens in the world is a reflection of what’s happening inside of me.

And again we return to the concept of self-awareness — and using mindfulness to get away from reacting, and embracing instead a deliberate choosing or responding. Reactions are automatic, thoughtless, and we usually only have one reaction to a given stimulus — whereas responses are chosen, thoughtful, and we have an infinite number of responses we can choose when presented with a given stimulus.

One of the hallmarks of fear that is not being conquered is a state of being paralyzed.

Perry related that he had felt a great deal of fear when transitioning out of the US Marine Corps and into the private sector. The military provides a lot of things for you for free, that you have to provide for yourself when you’re out in the world. He decided he wanted to get a job with the Bonneville Power Administration. He researched them, and he sent in his resume, and when he got a phone call for an interview, he went down and presented himself.

When he got there, they said they had no record of any appointment for any interview, and they didn’t know who he was, and they were not expecting him.

That was a profoundly embarrassing and potentially discouraging moment. And yet, Perry chose to interpret it as a challenge — the world was testing him, was testing his resolve. And he chose to see it as proof that he was destined to work there, and he left with an even firmer conviction that he would.

Six months later he was hired by the Bonneville Power Administration.

In sum, find out who and what you are beneath your labels, at the core of your being, and then act from that place — and courage will flow naturally from that place of realization.

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