Friday, September 17, 2010

The Real Men in the Arena

As I have written on these pages before, it can be a real leadership challenge to avoid the cynicism that often comes with work in complex environments. Life -- and experience -- can harden us to the point that we forget how hard it really is down in the trenches. We criticize, find faults, and push too much blame for our shortcomings down to them. As we move further up, and further away from those whose efforts produce the product, service, or revenues of our organization, we tend to neglect the people who truly make a difference.

Or not! It really is those men (and women) in the arena, who give purpose to leadership. It's not about us! It is about making others successful, about creating opportunities, inspiring greatness, and aligning the resources that people need to do their jobs. It is about developing a shared vision, creating strategies that make sense and align the abilities of every member of the team, and accomplishing the mission with the people we've got. It's not about board meetings, the hard hours we work, or the pressure of our responsibilities. Nope...leadership is not about us. It is truly about that man in the arena.

In Afghanistan, it is too easy to become cynical about the men who are struggling to build for themselves and their families a better tomorrow. Most are not well educated. They certainly are new to things like construction, elections, and so many things that we take for granted in most of the rest of the world. And yet, most of those men give it their best. They are willing to learn new crafts. They want education for themselves and their families. Most want to see their country succeed and will give it all they have, some paying with their lives, to give their collective efforts a chance to work.

It is these men in the arena, and those who work hard to make our organizations successful, whom we cheer. It is them whom we must inspire to achieve greatness. It is about them, who President Theodore Roosevelt once wrote (lines which I have shared with you before but which inspire me still):

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Leadership is about people. It is not about position, rank, or prestige. In the end, none of those things get the mission done. People do. None of those can build a Nation. People will. Nothing matters but those men in the arena. It matters not whether we are talking about construction workers in Afghanistan or Los Angeles. If we believe in people, and make them believe in themselves, they will toil with every ounce of energy to achieve victory. That's Leader Business!


Jo Ann said...

The Army’s work is not finished but you have left an indelible mark on the people and their country leading by example in helping them focus on long-term solutions such as health, education, security, government and environmental issues. The Army’s work has brought jobs, increased opportunities and incomes for the people living in that region and it is much needed. The Afghanistan people are connected so closely to their communities and they appear to want to help their communities have more control and influence over their own future. I really enjoyed reading your blog and applaud you for recognizing the “men in the trenches” that are working hard to bring about lasting change and empowerment to their communities.

Dee said...

Hi Col M. :)
This is Deanna from USACE SPL
Thank you for always being an inspiring source for many people. I have always liked this 'Men in the Arena" quote :)I am proud to say that I have been selected by DoD to deploy to Iraq for one year with the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce while still attached to USACE. During these two weeks of pre-deployment training at Camp Atterbury, Indiana I have heard many comments about the COE and all of them have been great, it makes me feel proud to be a small part of such a great organization and the Army as a whole. Gongratulations to you for the great job you are doing in Afghanistan :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom

You are doing great work. Leadership roles is the hardest of all jobs. You get it! I admire you. Stay Safe. Anne