What Do You Stand for As a Leader?

I wonder what it was like to be on the battlefield when the war ended? To take up arms against another group of human beings cannot be easy. But to do so for independence, or for a bigger purpose that called men forward with belief in their hearts and determination in their aim, the casualties was a price to pay.

This Friday, the U.S. celebrates its independence on the 4th. Military service is one of the most honorable choices to be made, particularly when defending freedom. My mind, however, wanders to those moments where flashes of leadership beckoned a commander to show what he stood for no matter the odds or decisions that needed to be made.

Now to show what you stand for can be an ego-driven act. I’m not interested in this. What I want to look at are the realities testing what a commander stood for and what leaders can learn today.

The items that follow are conjecture. I have never been to war. The most aggressive act I’ve participated in is beating up Aaron after school to save my dignity. I have, however, been in pressure cooker situations that tested my beliefs and leadership. If I wasn’t clear on what I stood for as a leader, my performance would have crumbled, and my team’s, too.

To identify what we stand for as leaders is not a fancy exercise. It’s a requirement of all great leaders to examine their successes and failures to uncover the nuggets that lead them to insights about what they stand for. This inquiry is unending.

Let me, though, draw your mind back to the battlefield. Imagine being a leader in the war for independence. As I imagine what hell it would have been to fight for independence and freedom, below are the forces that likely caused doubt in decision-making, and consequently a commander’s leadership. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own insights into what these forces represent for you, for us today. Ultimately, the question I pose to you is this: What do you stand for? And no matter what you face will you hold true to what you believe? The following short list symbolizes the influences that could distract you from standing firm in what you believe.

• “Adversaries” fighting against you to get what they want
• People looking to you for answers, direction
• People needing motivation when up against presumed overwhelming odds
• Having your word and decisions questioned
• Dealing with incomplete information that distracts and confounds

If you don’t know what you stand for then the influences, needs or realities listed above will lead you to take short cuts that may not optimize outcomes and will jeopardize the livelihood of people. Every item listed above requires you to stand firm in what you believe and what you know and to lead from there.

Certainly the 4th of July is a positive symbol for many Americans. But most of us don’t stop to consider the significant influence leadership self-awareness played in the victory for independence. The leadership lessons are rich for all leaders around the world. Leader clarity in what he or she stands for shapes results. It limits or unleashes people. It muddies or clarifies direction. It diminishes or upholds relationships. But most of all, what a leader stands for must be selfless. It is from this essential ingredient that greatness is possible.

Copyright: marty / 123RF Stock Photo

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Mark Fernandes

    Great post Shawn. I actually have a good friend who is a Navy Seal and has been for at least a dozen years. When I think of him and the story of his life, selflessness may be “the” word that comes to mind.

  • Tom Asacker

    Great post Shawn! Thank you.

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