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Archive for the ‘Paul’s Paradigm’ Category

Callan … Coffee … Contemplation – For the Week of January 27, 2014

January 27, 2014 | No Comments »

Leadership Thoughts

Every day we share our Leadership Reflections on our social media pages. Our daily reflections are quick thoughts on leadership that you can quickly and easily digest over a cup of morning coffee!

Here is the collection of last week’s reflections:

MLK … Crossing Thresholds

In 1965 Martin Luther King was leading a march from Selma to Montgomery and the Edmund Pettus Bridge was on his route. King needed to cross the bridge to continue onwards to Montgomery. King’s opponents didn’t want him to cross that bridge. As King stood at one end of the bridge and peered across to the other side, he was confronted with the present danger of an angry opposition, but equally, by his own inner fear and self-doubt. This was a decisive threshold moment: Should he cross and pursue his destiny, or turn back and seek safer ground? King chose to cross the bridge, and in doing so, he pulled himself, and our society, across a transformative threshold. The bridge King crossed that day was short in physical distance but immense in terms of defining a heroic life. As leaders, we too will come to threshold decisions in our lives. And like King, we’ll find ourselves standing on the near side of that threshold—the side representing our present condition–and be confronted with the decision to cross over to the far side–a new state and new condition. Will we move forward and pursue our destiny? Will we endure the crucible to achieve growth? Or, will we turn back and seek safer ground? Such is the nature of all threshold decisions: Do we leave our comfort zone and heed the call to heroic purpose, or return home and accept something less?

Heroic Leaders Surround Themselves with Strong Teammates

When reflecting on the mythic image of King Arthur and his famed Knights, the image of the Round Table comes to mind.  As its name implies, the Round Table at which Arthur and his Knights met had no designated head, implying that everyone assembled had equal honor, a valued voice, and an obligation to contribute. This obligation to be present, to think and act, and to value strong teammates, was considered the highest order of chivalry at King Arthur’s Court. As modern leaders, we too should possess the strength of character to seek out, and welcome, strong teammates.  Attracting strong teammates requires us to have an abundance mindset where we are not afraid of others’ strengths; where we are willing to share credit and good fortune. Additionally, attracting strong teammates helps us hear contrarian voices and not fall prey to group think. Strong teammates, welcomed to our own Round Tables, help us avoid blind spots in our personal thinking.

Heroic Leaders Embrace Intuition

The acme of battlefield generalship, most often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, is the term coup d’oeil, which means the “power of the glance.” A general with coup d’oeil can arrive at a battle, observe the emerging conditions and situation, and trusting his well-honed instincts, plan his strategy intuitively. It isn’t that facts or intelligence aren’t important, they are. However, the dynamism and fluidity of the battlefield demand agile, integrated, and rapid “deep knowing.” Modern Leaders must learn to hone and trust our intuitions too, because there is no such thing as certainty in leading. The only exact science is retrospect. Our modern world prizes complex analysis, as if complex analysis automatically equates to deep knowing. Too often, complex analysis results only in decision-making paralysis. So what is intuition? It is pattern recognition! Once a leader detects a pattern, he must trust his rapid cognition, and decide intuitively. Heroic Leaders know, and value, the power of the glance.

Heroic Leaders Speak the Language of Leadership

Communicating–deeply connecting to and resonating with others—is the key distinction between great leadership and basic management. Heroic Leaders understand they must first speak to hearts
before they try to appeal to minds, and in connecting with hearts, leaders must provide answers to these three elementary questions: Who? What? and Why? Armed with answers to those three questions, followers will naturally activate their inner motivation, unleash their passion, and rally to noble purposes. The language of leadership has a unique style using basic conversational tones, an
active voice, and a personal and clear delivery. The language of leadership avoids tech-speak and mind-numbing bureaucratic jargon. Heroic leaders make extensive use of metaphors, parables, and stories to paint mental pictures and to portray galvanizing end states. The language of leadership gets us out of our heads and into our hearts—the source of all championship performance.

Manufacturing Wins & Leveraging Success

Great leaders create positive momentum for their teams. Be they in sports, business, or the local community, great leaders create opportunities for “small wins” and, once achieved, the leader publically celebrates these team achievements to create a centrifugal force of positive energy, optimism, and confidence. In this sense, great leaders serve as catalysts—or maestros—orchestrating wins by expertly applying pace, flow, and tempo. When leaders manufacture wins and leverage success in this way, they create an organizational affect we can think of as “patterns of achievement.” This is what in sports is often referred to as “learning how to win.” Once we master a pattern of success, we come to expect it, and we know how to achieve it. Success, like heroic leadership itself, is both a mindset and a habit. By paying attention to small things and small rules, great leaders create a rising tide of success. Why? Because great leaders understand that the accumulation of small things, done well, has big consequences!


Check back next Monday for a round up of this week’s social media shares. Or check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Pinterest to see our posts every day!


Finding Ethos Everywhere (If You Look)

September 17, 2013 | No Comments »

By Paul Callan

My travels recently took me to Asia for business and a bit of leisure. I find during these extended journeys that my mind is more open to seeing the larger picture; to moving beyond the surface level at which I often feel restricted in my work-a-day life at home and to seeing important things that are right there, in plain sight, if I am available to those things.

For example, over the past few days, I’ve engaged in some insightful discussions with a local Singaporean and a Kiwi (a citizen of New Zealand, for those stumped by the nick name).

The Singaporean mentioned that iconic national symbols–such as Singapore Airlines and Changi International Airport–were created with a deep sense of capturing the allure, mystery, gracefulness, and promise of Singapore. These iconic images were created to represent a perennial, deeply-rooted sense of what it meant to be Singaporean.

The Kiwi talked about the adventurous nature of her countrymen. Though geographically isolated, New Zealand nonetheless reflects a soaring spirit of embracing nature and encouraging young Kiwis to leave New Zealand and see the world. My Kiwi friend referred to this adventurous spirit as a truly bedrock element of what it meant to be Kiwi.

In retrospect, I recognized a common theme in these conversations, and it was ethos (ethos is an ancient Greek word meaning “the essential character of a people”). As a student of leadership, I long ago concluded that ethos is the most essential cornerstone of organizational excellence. With ethos, groups remain vibrant and thrive. Without ethos, groups wither and decline.

So, what is the lesson in all this?   I believe there are three key lessons:

  • First, ethos is the essential cornerstone of excellence in all organizations, be they large or small, profit or non-profit, private or public, start up or legacy, sports teams, or universities.  Even families and communities need an ethos;
  • Second, all leaders must be accountable for creating a thriving ethos in their organizations. A healthy ethos should provide to its members answers to these “elementary ideas:” Who are we? How do we define ourselves? What do we do that brings valueWhy does it matter?
  • Third, armed with an ethos that answers those questions, a climate of unity, elevation, passion, commitment, cohesion, and perseverance will be fostered and it is this sturdy foundation that enables long-term excellence.

Once built, ethos must then be sustained, because like all forms of mastery, ethos is a perishable asset if not constantly renewed. Here are a few ways leaders can rejuvenate ethos in their groups to promote a wellspring of vitality and strength:

  • Explain symbols, icons, and archetypes. Every flourishing group has symbols, icons, and archetypes that point to deeper truths and enduring wisdom within the organization—what one might call the “collective unconscious” of the group. Leaders should weave symbols and icons into their speeches, stories, and gatherings to cultivate shared identity.
  • Teach Traditions. By incorporating rituals, rites, and ceremonies into the organizational fabric, leaders can leverage powerful tools to teach traditions to emerging generations and reinforce traditions with older generations. Healthy rites of passage reinforce expectations and bolster affiliation.
  • Celebrate customs and courtesies. By celebrating customs and courtesies, leaders can publically express shared values, promote shared beliefs, galvanize group identity, and create a feeling of positive exceptionalism—a hallmark of championship performance.

Now that I’m home, I am again prone to falling prey to the busy-ness of life, to moving automatically from task to task, mission to mission. When I find myself sliding into such a mode, I recall my recent time overseas and try to recapture my ability to stop, look, and appreciate key elements of leadership in action, where ever they may present themselves. We can all find ethos, and see its powerful unifying effect, if we are willing to look.


The Language of Leadership: Why Knowledge Alone is not Power

September 3, 2013 | 1 Comment »

By Paul Callan

I’m sitting here on Singapore Airlines Flight SQ12, mid-way between Singapore and Tokyo. I’ve just completed the normal chit-chat with the lady sitting next to me in row 24, a discussion ripe with pleasantries normally encountered when settling in for a long flight. At the tail end of our conversation this woman used an axiom so common in our daily lexicon that it almost always goes unnoticed, or un-questioned, and that axiom is “knowledge is power.”

Partly to fill some time on my long flight, and partly because I was naturally inquisitive, I decided to question that axiom. Is knowledge really power? The more I wrestled with this question, the stronger my conviction became that the answer is, no—knowledge (alone) is not power.

Real power is the ability to convey knowledge! Real leadership power is the ability to project what you have gained…to give away that knowledge. Having gained and retained knowledge is a first and vital step, yes; however, if a leader cannot effectively share and project that knowledge to others, then what real value is knowledge gained other than one’s personal benefit?

And if my assertion is correct that conveying knowledge is real power, then this next point is especially critical for all leaders: To effectively convey knowledge, we must learn to speak what I call the language of leadership. Why? Because it is through the language of leadership that leaders best project vision, describe end states, inspire action, strengthen resolve, and galvanize unity of effort.

To speak the language of leadership requires a certain style—a “leadership vocabulary,” which I have distilled into the following six points:

  1. Be authentic. As leaders, what we say must be fully in accord with who we are. Our words, our aspirations, and our projected vision, when conveyed publically to our followers, must align fully with our core character and core virtues. As leaders, we must always remember that we are at once both the message and the messenger.
  2. Connect with hearts before minds. Humans are ultra-social beings, and as such, we respond first, and most powerfully, to meaning and purpose (matters of the heart). Matters of the mind– logic and rationale—come second. Therefore, to galvanize top performance, leaders must first inspire the hearts of those they lead, and leaders can do so by publically, and regularly, answering for their followers these three key questions: Who are we? What do we do? Why does it matter?
  3. Present big ideas…but explain them simply. People respond to noble purposes, worthy causes, bold missions, and honorable aspirations. It is the leader’s job to explain, and clarify, big and compelling ideas to unleash passion and inner motivation from their team. However (and this is important)–though the idea may be big and soaring, the language we use to explain the idea should be simple, concise, brief, and action-oriented. Big idea, simple explanation.
  4. Use a conversational tone. Let’s be honest; no one ever charged up a hill or rallied to a cause in response to technical or bureaucratic language. Here’s the simple truth: people respond to vigorous speech. Therefore, leaders should speak in simple, concise, and conversational tones. No clutter, no million-dollar words, no flowery vocabulary.
  5. Use an active voice. Leaders—make your spoken communications count! Why? Because leaders are always live, on stage, and on the record. Therefore, the language of leadership should be built on sturdy nouns, action verbs, and spoken in the active voice.
  6. Tell stories.   I’ve come to believe that stories are a leader’s greatest tool for conveying deep meaning and illustrating high purpose. Stories convey moral and ethical principles in a non-threatening way. Moreover, stories form a close and authentic bond between the storyteller and the listener. Stories thus are the most effective way to get us (both the leader and the led) out of our heads and into our hearts and souls—the source of all great performance and all true teamwork.

Let me use an analogy to summarize the difference between speaking the language of leadership compared to speaking technical or bureaucratic language. The language of leadership is like jazz music:  powerful, vigorous, upbeat, penetrating, and elevating. When you hear jazz you naturally tap your feet and come alive. Conversely, technical and bureaucratic language is like supermarket Muzak:  subdued, passive, mellow, superficial, and vanilla. When you hear Muzak you want to take a nap.

To lead, one must resonate. To lead, we must project perfect tenor, pitch, tone, and key with the goal of harmonizing peak performance. Our choice as leaders is this: Do we play jazz or play Muzak?

So yes…knowledge is important. It is a first step. But possessing knowledge alone is not enough.   Real power comes from conveying that knowledge; real power comes from effectively articulating vision, end states, purposes, goals, and objectives. Real leadership constantly conveys the answer to who, what, and why—connecting with hearts before minds. Real leadership projects big ideas explained in simple terms. Real leadership speaks in vigorous, active, and action-oriented language and uses stories to move followers out of their heads and into their hearts. So turn off the Muzak, and turn on the jazz—and speak the language of leadership!


Why Technology Will Never Replace Leadership

August 19, 2013 | No Comments »

By Paul Callan

There are people who believe that leadership in the future will be dominated by technology. Likewise, these same people question whether a classic philosophy like heroic leadership, with its focus on timeless principles and the cultivation of a rich inner life, still matters in our increasingly technology-centered world. The core reasoning of this belief seems to be this: Why take the time to gain self-mastery when technology can give us instant information and instant knowledge?

Well, I’d like to refute this line of thinking. I do not think technology can ever replace or even dominate leadership. For me to effectively support my position, it is necessary to first distinguish between leadership and management, because what I hope to show is that technology’s impact will be quite different between the former and the latter.

So let’s start with definitions, and let’s keep it simple. Here you go:

  • We lead people;
  • We manage things.

So, accepting this distinction between leading and managing, here’s what I believe, and why I believe it, distilled into four key points:

Point one: Technology can never replace or dominate leadership because leadership is an art, and in its execution–a “master craft.” And like any master craft, the ultimate output is an affect that must be cultivated throughout life and this affect must be felt, intuitively and personally, by the receiving audience. Consider for a moment other master crafts and craftsmen: A dancer, a concert pianist, a champion athlete, and a master chef. Technology may help them manage their training, speed up administrative details, improve processes, but once they are live and on stage, the performance is now reduced to its most raw and basic level: resonance between performer and audience. This is why a live performance, viewed in person, is always substantially more powerful as an affect than that same performance viewed on a recording. When we are there, in person, we feel and hear what is called “the word behind the words.” We experience deep meaning. We experience true resonance.

Point Two: As a master craft, excellent leadership also results in a resonance affect. As leaders, we are always live and on stage in the same way as the dancer, pianist, or athlete. Therefore, leadership will always be a deeply human interaction, achieved best in a personal, physically present, and communal setting. Human beings are ultra-social beings, responding to a complex and deeply nuanced admixture of social and group dynamics. The interpreting and processing of these dynamics occurs intuitively, and rests to a large degree on reading body language, sensing emotion, and detecting intent. Physically standing in front of the group you are leading and generating affect cannot be fully duplicated or replicated virtually. It is as simple as this: Being there matters!

Point Three: We must always remember this key fact: Leadership at its most fundamental level is resonance—human influence. And human influence rests on discernment; judgment; empathy; emotional intelligence, and wisdom. Leadership’s ultimate end state is human effectiveness, created through resonance between the leader and the led.

Point Four: Management is a different story. Here’s where technology has its role.  Recall the definition I provided above:  We manage things—such as processes, procedures, policies, equipment, metrics, and measures. These things can be influenced through and even somewhat replaced by, technology. So yes, technology has an expending future role in management because management deals in efficiency and enhancing production. Management is thus a means to an end, and technology can certainly improve that means.

But let me close with a cautionary note. We must always remember that no matter how greatly technology improves management, at some point, we will have to engage personally, in a physically-present manner, to create deep human influence.  At some point, we will have to put down our phones, tablets, and laptops, climb on stage, and perform. As leaders, we are the master craftsmen.  Our followers are our audience. The affect we seek is resonance…the ability to create the ideal tenor, tempo, pitch, and key to harmonize feelings, convictions, purpose, and passion. This deep resonance can never be replaced by technology.

Bound Up

July 31, 2013 | No Comments »

By Paul Callan

I had dinner the other night with a business acquaintance I had just come to know. When I mentioned I was a retired US Marine, he asked “What is it that makes Marines feel such fidelity to the Corps and to each other?” Not wanting to seem overly philosophical, I said “Oh, it’s a spirit thing,” to which he nodded politely and we moved on to discussing the night’s business.

This weekend, I revisited that question and decided to take a crack at a more thoughtful answer.  Why? Because I think it is important for all leaders to understand how to create true faithfulness, genuine companionship, within our groups. So let me start by explaining how the Marine Corps achieves this effect and then we can apply those lessons to our own situations.

The reason why Marines feel such fidelity to the Corps, and to one another, is because the Marine Corps creates a genuine feeling amongst its members of being “bound up” in something that is elevating, and yes—even mystical. Marines feel bound up to noble purposes; bound up to honorable aspirations; bound up to right action; bound up to a mission greater than self; and bound up to traditions that richly animate its culture.

Take my own journey, for an example. As a typical selfish, me-centered twenty-something back in the early 1980’s, what inspired me to willingly leave behind my self-interest to join the deep communal wellspring of the US Marine Corps was not money or material reward. Instead, it was a feeling of being part of a greater pattern, being immersed in a collective memory, and being awash in deep perennial knowledge that, like a tree’s underground root system, nurtured all who fed from this enlivening source. This feeling of being bound up was the alchemy that converted me from self-centered to other-centered.

So, how can leaders today create this same feeling of being bound up to something that is equally elevating for the groups we lead? How can we create the same level of faithfulness and elevation in our vocations? I offer four ideas:

  • Create Meaning. Our minds are drawn to reason, but our souls are drawn to meaning.  Enduring excellence—true championship performance—comes from the soul, not the mind. It is a leader’s obligation to create meaning for the group, and we can do so by founding our lives, our leadership, and our missions on noble purposes and honorable aspirations. By doing so, we will create meaning and an elevated sense of purpose. And when we create meaning, we release inner motivation that needs no carrot or stick to entice.
  • Instill Ethos. Ethos, an ancient Greek word that essentially means “the character of a group,” is THE essential requirement for long-term organizational excellence. A healthy ethos answers for its members these three crucial questions: Who are we? Why do we exist? What do we do? It is the leader’s foremost obligation to create a thriving ethos to bind generation-to-generation. Think of ethos as mortar that binds the individual bricks into a strong wall, and that mortar is made of élan, esprit, the love of companions, and camaraderie.
  • Celebrate Tradition. US Marines create a bound-up feeling by retaining a healthy respect for, and exercise of, tradition. As a Marine, I was taught with excruciating detail all aspects of the Corps’ customs, courtesies, and traditions. These were taught not as history, but as living, vibrant touchstones of what it meant to be a Marine. Look around your organization today and see if, and where, you are celebrating your traditions. And here’s why this is vitally important:  healthy traditions, rituals, and rites get us out of our heads and into our hearts—where all true greatness resides and where all bonds of community and companionship are built.
  • Teach Greater Patterns. Today, we are increasingly enmeshed in episodic living.  We have lost sight of the greater patterns. Today’s leaders can provide a bulwark against this tendency by returning to simplicity….by regaining a still point on the ever-spinning wheel to see the greater pattern of wisdom that is always there in plain sight if we can just pause to see, and hear, correctly. What heroic leaders have always done in the past, and we need to do now—is to re-connect with the larger patterns and to the deeper wisdom. For example, I do this in my teaching through stories, parables, and heroic tales. It helps me see, and show to my students, that others have walked this path before us. It helps us see that the way is known, we just have to move forward with confidence.

Leaders must create these conditions of fidelity and companionship. This is soul work, not head work. This is cultivation, not engineering. This is hard, intentional, deeply personal work. But when leaders do this well, magic happens. People will abandon self-interest and undergo a conversion allowing submission to something greater than self. People’s focus will shift from my feelings to our common good. When leaders create this vibrant ethos enabling people to feel bound-up in elevating and grand purposes, well–that is the stuff of champions. This is the alchemy of a thriving team.

Crossing Thresholds – Martin Luther King Jr & The Edmund Pettus Bridge

January 17, 2013 | 1 Comment »

By Paul Callan

Like all great leaders, Martin Luther King’s life was characterized by an alternating pattern of high and low, a dualistic mosaic familiar to all whom have walked the hero’s path. In King’s life, soaring achievements were offset by bitter defeats; sun-lit days of unbridled optimism were contrasted by ink-black nights of deepening gloom; distant visions of a promised land were blocked by un-scalable walls of opposition and doubt. This rhythm of loss and victory, death and rebirth, despair and hope, desert and oasis, seems to be the essential cauldron needed to produce transformation and the necessary crucible to attain greatness. It is the basic pattern in all heroic pursuit. Martin Luther King’s quest, Like Odysseus’ 10-year voyage to Ithaca generations before, would be determined by King’s ability to cross thresholds and move forward, onward, towards home.

One such threshold presented itself to King in 1965 in the form of a small bridge, whose crossing would constitute, symbolically, the ongoing transformation of King and the evolving manifestation of his vision. In that fateful year King was leading a march from Selma to Montgomery and Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge was simply on his route. He would soon discover, to his dismay, that the bridge was more in his way than on his way. You see…King needed to cross the bridge to continue onwards to Montgomery, but more so, to continue on in his mission. King’s opponents didn’t want him to cross that bridge. A line had thus been drawn and the bridge represented that line. Viewed symbolically, the bridge was like a mythic dragon whose slaying would either make or break King as a man, as a leader, and as a champion.

As King stood at one end of the bridge and peered across to the other side, he was confronted with the real and present danger of an angry opposition, but equally, by his own inner fear and self-doubt. This was a decisive threshold moment: Should he cross and pursue his destiny, or turn back and seek safer ground? To move forward would be risky, of uncertain consequence, and would move King into new territory that would forever change him. To turn back would be safer and would reunite him with firmer ground.

King chose to cross the bridge. The structure he crossed that day may have been short in physical distance, but it was immense in terms of social and historic significance, and in the making of a heroic life. He stared into the abyss, fell into it, and then emerged on the far side….stronger.

As leaders, we too will often come to such thresholds in our lives. And Like King, when we reach these crossings, we’ll find ourselves standing on the near side of the threshold—the side representing our present state and our present condition–and be confronted with the decision of whether or not to cross over to the far side–a new state and new condition. Will we move forward and pursue our destiny? Will we summon the courage to move into an uncertain future? Will we endure the crucible of risk and trial to achieve growth? Or, will we turn back and seek safer ground? Such is the nature of all threshold decisions: Do we leave our comfort zone or return to it?

In my own experience, and when confronting such threshold decisions, I’ve often referred to this quote from Father James Smith, in which he uses a desert metaphor, in much the same way I used a bridge, to describe the necessity of facing our demons on the ground they inhabit:

It is very tempting to avoid the desert. But we avoid the desert at our own peril. You are less then you could be. But if you survive the desert, you come out a different person. The desert is not something you do; it is something you endure. It isn’t something you make of yourself; it is something that makes you.”

I am glad Martin Luther King crossed that bridge back in 1965. I am glad he didn’t avoid the desert. As leaders, we must all meet challenge in its own lair, and on its own terms—where ever it presents itself. This is the only path to a heroic life and towards heroic leadership.


Public Dreams

January 10, 2013 | No Comments »

By Paul Callan

Years ago, societies and cultures seemed far more attentive to, and animated by, healthy rites, rituals, and symbols that defined “us”—the group. In traditional cultures, these rituals taught individuals, and the larger groups to whom they belonged, crucial things like: Who are we? Why do we exist? To what do we aspire and measure ourselves? To whom are we responsible and accountable? How do I become a mature man or woman in society? How do I fit into the greater world and contribute as a productive citizen and member? The unifying product of these rituals was this thing the Greek’s called Ethos, what I like to call public dreams.

I am wondering if, in our rush to modernize, technologize, and pursue individual rights and intellectual mastery, we’ve somehow forgotten the need for public dreams and ethos? Have we lost the deep and vibrant tapestry, woven of communal bonds, perennial knowledge, and wisdom that is the indispensable backbone of healthy groups? And if so– at what cost to modern society?

Here’s the cost. When a society loses its ability to re-initiate, re-galvanize, and thus transform the whole group, it then loses the opportunity to firmly anchor the group to a life-giving ethos and rekindle the deep perennial knowledge that, when present, binds generation-to-generation and builds a solid bridge between past and present. Myth, legend, and lore used to do this for us. Today it seems we’ve traded these powerful mythic symbols that rightly pointed to “us” and substituted those unifying symbols with a far inferior gruel comprised of feel-good creeds pointing mainly to “me.”

When groups fail to revitalize a shared ethos—to celebrate a public dream—the by-product of that failure is an inability to consistently produce these three things that are crucial to enduring greatness:  (1) mature elders; (2) people willing to sacrifice for the greater good; and (3) a trusted foundation of wisdom. That is a heck of a price to pay, for minus these three things, groups become prisoner to living solely in a present-tense life, no longer able to feel their past in the wind.

But all is not forgotten, or lost. For example: As a Marine I had the good fortune to be constantly immersed in the cultural waters of an organization still possessing a vibrant ethos and a working mythology. As a Marine I became accustomed to healthy annual initiations, rites and traditions, mythic symbols, legends and lore—all magically conspiring just under the surface to create a trustworthy inner compass and deep fraternal bonds. The Corps’ ethos guided me, shepherded us Marines, to nobler communal purposes and a life distinguished by élan, esprit, and camaraderie. It was to us, the perennial group, not to me, the singular individual, that we were expected to remain Semper Fidelis–Always Faithful. I would imagine Firefighters understand and experience this, too.

My hope as a leader is that we might remember, and thus recapture, our public dreams, for the groups, families, communities, and larger societies to whom we all belong. This is hard work, but it is precisely the kind of necessary soul-work that is the sacred obligation of leaders. Can you—can your group–still feel the past in the wind?


Another Year Sheds its Shadow

January 4, 2013 | No Comments »

By Paul Callan

New Years is traditionally the time we devote to self-reflection and for making personal resolutions for a new beginning. During the coming days we’ll all try to summon the conviction to correct past errors, take stock of our behavior, and try to harness the motivation to seize new opportunities.  All of this well-intended activity will be wrapped in the earnest intention to shape a better self, and a better year, ahead. As the old year relents and sheds its shadow to the emerging light of the new, this metaphor perfectly represents what we, as leaders, seek to do in declaring New Year’s resolutions: out with the old, in with the new. But before beginning this annual tradition of resolution-making, I wanted to share a few insights I hope will refine my approach as a person and as a leader, and maybe yours too.

As I look at the word resolution I cannot escape noticing its root word—resolute. I have long valued the word resolute because I believe it is one of the qualities most emblematic of great leaders (think here of Lincoln, Gandhi, MLK, Churchill, Helen Keller, among others). Additionally, the ability to remain resolute, to show resolve, is perhaps one of the most difficult virtues to master because, to be resolute, requires one to possess courage…both of the physical and moral kind. The fact it is hard to be courageous, and therefore resolute, makes the attainment of these virtues all the more gratifying.  If it were easy, anyone could do it—hardly the recipe for a heroic life or heroic leadership.

I am now wondering this: why has the act of simply declaring one’s resolutions (what we usually do) somehow eclipsed the far more important behavior of being resolute (what we usually don’t do)?  I think the answer to this question also reveals the root problem: resolutions are easy to say, but hard to do.  In conceiving our resolutions, we often fail to appreciate the enormous personal resolve required to actually attain them. This deficiency is what Abraham Lincoln long-ago chastened us to when he spoke of “the silent artillery of time”—the fact that initial passion and conviction, once exposed to the withering cannonade of time, usually recede in intensity unless they are buttressed by deep internal fortitude.

Seems to me Abe was right. Motivation and inspiration–the handmaidens of all resolutions–share an unfortunate flaw: they are highly perishable attributes. When we awake on 1 January, cloaked in the warm robe of our new resolutions, we soon realize we’ll now have to attend to that pesky task of actually executing our plans. Those once white-hot flames of motivation born on 31 December have already started to dim just a day or two removed from their ignition

So this year, my New Year’s resolution is simply this:  I resolve to be resolute. Yes…dream big.  Yes…set heroic aspirations. But… execute in small 24-hour steps. My goal is to hold myself accountable to be resolute one day at a time. Show resolve– today.  Get up each day and repeat.   And to help retain my resolve I will keep close to me this maxim attributed to Native American warriors in greeting their sons each morning:  “Today is a good day to do great things.”


Following Ariadne’s Thread- Discovering Clues on the Path to Heroic Leadership

December 6, 2012 | No Comments »

By Paul Callan

In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, king of Crete. Minos put Ariadne in charge of the labyrinth housing the dreaded monster–Minotaur. She helped the hero Theseus slay the Minotaur and then find his way out of the labyrinth by providing him a ball of thread as a means to navigate his way out. Ariadne did not tell him the way out, provide him a detailed map, personally guide him, or magically relieve him of this burden. Instead–she simply gave him a clue in the form of thread.  Theseus thus had one choice: Grab the clue provided to him to undertake the challenge and find within himself the courage, wisdom, and resolve to master both the labyrinth and his own inner limitations.

I have always found this story of Ariadne and Theseus to be a great metaphor for the challenges we all face in our pursuit of a heroic life and in our quest to become heroic leaders. Like Theseus, we all start at the center of a metaphorical labyrinth—a place of uncertainty and risk. Like Theseus, we will not be magically relieved of our burden nor given any significant advantage to guide us—just a thin thread of clues. And like Theseus, we too must summon the inner courage to find our way out of the labyrinth and then arrive at a higher state of living and a more elevated form of leadership.  Like heroes of old, we must reach down and grab the thread of clues and begin walking. Heroes, you see, are still made not born. And all great leadership starts with self-leadership.

So, aside from this being an interesting story, what do I think are the clues that help guide our journey to self-awareness, self-mastery, self-leadership and ultimately—heroic leadership of others? In creating my own thread, I have come to believe in the following 7 maxims to serve as trusted clues:

PARADIGM– A true leadership paradigm transforms the eye and re-tunes the ear. The filter through which one views leadership and hears wisdom is the single most important requirement to achieving authentic leadership and producing enduring significance.

JOURNEY– The path to enduring significance is a life-long journey. There are no leadership shortcuts, menus, how-to books, gimmicks or “killer apps” that one can download and then quickly master. The general characteristics of the path can be shown and the journey described—but each person must answer their own call.

TRANSFORMATION-To reach the high ground, one must first endure the desert.  One must leave his comfort zone, take the journey, cross thresholds, endure the crucible of tests and trials, and be constantly re-made in the scalding cauldron of experience. This course—when walked with fidelity–will conspire to enable transformation. The events encountered in one’s life, understood correctly, are simply the shaping instruments of one’s destiny.

AUTHENTICITY–Authenticity is the foundation of resonant leadership. Like a diamond born of coal, authenticity gradually emerges via the cauldron of the transformative journey. Authenticity requires a shift from technical to emotional intelligence, attaining personal mastery and authentic internal authority, and then:  sharing the boon with others.

WISDOM—Wise leaders impart truth, balance, and a sense of deep time.  Having taken the journey and mastered their life, great leaders become vibrant Elders within their group. Embracing a kind of wisdom vision, wise leader are enormously resonant and generative.

SUCCESS– Success doesn’t follow a rags-to-riches trajectory.  Authentic leaders don’t rise from nothing, nor do they make it alone. Success is ultimately the by-product of a pattern that includes talent, recognition, practice, preparation, and personal readiness. Success is thus a self-disciplined pattern of action.

SIGNIFICANCE– Authentic leaders leave an uplifting legacy.  Like footprints in the sand, great leaders leave a residue of personal example for others to follow. Great leaders create an enduring echo enabling the group to thrive without the leader’s physical presence. Significance is achieved by repeating the pattern of success over and over and is thus a pattern of behavior. 

Though we will never literally find ourselves in a labyrinth or confronted with a breathing Minotaur, if understood correctly as metaphor and parable—we absolutely will face the same tests, trials, and realities of Theseus. And understood this way, we’ll be able to then comprehend the timeless truths of leadership and the wisdom that paves the road to a heroic life. The good news is—there is a thread of clues to guide us. The sobering news is—it isn’t easy and the burden is ours to shoulder. This is the path less taken, but it is the only path enabling the leader to become the lesson.


The Virtue Constellation

November 8, 2012 | No Comments »

By Paul Callan

Throughout the course of the recent Presidential campaign there’s been much talk of “values,” from the candidates and from each political party. Each side claims to possess and represent the true values of the nation and its founders, and each vows to be the one who will revitalize those values that we’ve somehow either forgotten, allowed to erode, or simply dismissed. All this talk of values got me thinking, and questioning, not only the merit and accuracy of this political debate on values, but more importantly, wondering whether values are really the right foundation of our actions, as people and leaders. Are values the surest cornerstone of our habits and the most trustworthy azimuth of our aspirations?

It is not so much that values are bad; rather– it is that values can be too easily won and lost; too easily swayed by convenience or mood; too easily made relative by loose talk of right and wrong; and finally, too readily adopted and then discarded, like a cheap outer-garment, without pain of accountability or loss of integrity. Values do not demand an internalizing of truth and wisdom into a personal inner compass, and because of this failure, values do not produce an enduring transformation of belief, into habit, into action. Let’s face it, anyone can claim to have values.  Criminal gangs, narco terrorists, cults, Hitler’s Nazis…they all cited values and built their organizations around those values. Many died for them. Unfortunately, values can be built on a texture of gossamer and a foundation of clay and, due to this lack of depth and hardiness, values can easily take flight on the ever-changing winds of circumstance, situation, and whim.

I have long believed that a better “north star” to guide our individual and collective behavior are virtues. Why do I believe virtues are superior to values? Here are seven reasons:

  • Virtues require judgment;
  • Virtues are based on universal wisdom that transcends time, place, and circumstance;
  • Virtues require self mastery and habituation;
  • Virtues require sacrifice and moral courage;
  • Virtues are founded on a metric of “true or false” versus “right or wrong;”
  • Virtues point toward, and uplift, our highest selves and most noble purposes;
  • Virtues provide a bulwark against what Abe Lincoln called “the silent artillery of time.”

Based on my commitment to virtues as a cornerstone of personal leadership and group behavior, I have developed what I call The Virtue Constellation, 6 core virtues that, like stars, we can use to navigate our course and guide our actions. These six core virtues are:

  • Wisdom. This virtue is based on my belief that mastery, like all forms of excellence and peak achievement, requires time, effort, tests and trials, and constant movement towards excellence. Wisdom combines disciplined self-reflection and a bias for action. Wise leaders are therefore generative, trans-partisan, and live from a sense of deep time.
  • Honor. Great leaders know and uphold this unassailable truth: Honor is worth more than glory. This virtue is therefore based on these three truths: (1) You won’t recognize honor if you don’t practice it; (2) You can’t expect honor from others if you don’t celebrate it; and (3) You can’t expect the truth unless you are willing to hear it.
  • Altruism. Altruism is based on a concern for the welfare of others. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness and is founded on a motivation to provide something of value to someone, or something, else. As such, altruism consists of sacrificing something for someone other than oneself (e.g., sacrificing time, energy, or possessions) with no expectation of any compensation or benefits–either direct or indirect.
  • Courage. I believe courage is the cardinal virtue because, without courage, none of the other 5 virtues are possible. Why? Because minus courage, a leader will not be able to consistently, and under times of duress, exercise the other virtues. I believe there are two equally important aspects of courage that great leaders possess. Physical Courage is fortitude in the face of pain, hardship, or threat, while Moral Courage is the ability to act nobly and rightly in the face of popular opposition, power, or discouragement.
  • Balance. This virtue is based on my belief that heroic leadership generates from, and is best sustained within, a leader who is centered and balanced. A Balanced leader is a person in a consistent state of equilibrium or equipoise; one possessing an equal distribution of time, focus, and energy to all aspects of life that give value and consistency. Balance produces key leadership qualities such as mental steadiness, emotional stability, dependability, cohesion, calm behavior, and good judgment.
  • Merit. This virtue is based on a leader’s obligation to produce a positive effect beyond his own personal reward and towards an enduring, uplifting betterment of his organization or group. As a virtue, Merit is traditionally manifest in such leadership actions as honoring others; offering service; involving others in good or common deeds; being thankful or grateful; modeling virtuous behavior; and instructing and guiding others.

I think of a great leader much like a way finder—one strongly anchored on a firm base of knowledge and wisdom, able to navigate life’s twists and turns with confidence and poise, and able to chart a course into an unknown future with clarity and integrity. A virtuous leader, informed by the trusted light of the virtue constellation, will possess a true fidelity of belief, aspiration, habit, and action that can likewise confidently guide the paths of his followers.


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