Words must become action

This article, “We Must Do Better,” is really a book review in disguise.

Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code was a powerful read that highlights what you can get when you give a little. It outlines what can happen when you send the right signals to other members of your team, setting aside dated and flawed ideas of what it means to be a leader in the military. Vulnerability is not a weakness, it is a strength. Dissent, challenge and disagreement need not equate to disfunction, disloyalty, or insubordination. Quite the contrary, it can be a signal that there is trust.

Trust is one of the most important components of any team. Words do not build it, but words can erode it. Actions can work both ways, another reason why our actions, our behaviours, matter so significantly.

“It Wasn’t That Bad” – A Bar Set Too Low

“It wasn’t that bad.” I said those words frequently. I meant them honestly. 

I have heard so many people say that phrase. And while the light was starting to come on for me on my “Rocky Road to Self-Awareness“, it crashed into me during an interview with a soldier in early April when they were sharing with me a story of inappropriate and harmful behaviour. 

The soldier said, “It wasn’t that bad, nothing physically happened.” 

It was a gut punch. I could have cried for having felt like such a failure, for having said that phrase far too many times in the past. It allowed things to stay the same. To have my words parroted back at me by someone 20 years my junior showed me just what I taught people anytime I said it myself. As much as I feel like I may have lacked the personal power to speak up when I was one of the early pioneers of women in the combat arms, that’s a bullshit excuse to which I will no longer allow myself to subscribe. Because guess what? That excuse won’t ever go away. When does a victim or a more junior person ever feel like they have power? 

Why did I ever think that “not that bad” was the standard we were trying to achieve? “Not that bad” is a bar set too low folks. We can do better, we must do better.

My advice to anyone when they hear someone describing a situation of behaviour especially, and the situation is qualified with, “It wasn’t that bad,” is to treat it like a stoppage on a weapon. Your immediate action ought to be the equivalent of canting your weapon to the left to investigate the position of the bolt. Dig a little deeper into that situation, investigate it more. Because if something wasn’t that bad, it also wasn’t that good. Perhaps a better question is whether it was acceptable, or unacceptable. Thinking in those binary terms removes the middle ground of “not that bad,” middle ground that is code for unacceptable behaviour in far too many instances.

Let’s raise the bar, collectively. Demand it of each other.

To be (the contrarian), or not to be…

I had a draft article sitting in my blog-o-sphere since early September that I never published. I was concerned about who might read it and what sort of trouble that might invite, either from higher or more importantly, lower in my chain of command. I hit publish this morning, regardless. Here’s the link, in case you’re interested: “When the outspoken go quiet.”

The number of emails or letters I have drafted and not sent, or formulated in my mind as I toss and turn before finally falling asleep, since September is ridiculous. There is so much I want to say, but I don’t know who will listen, nor how to deliver the message in a way that it will be credible. A contrary or challenging voice is fraught with risk, most especially in hierarchal structures such as I find myself a part of. Equally, there is risk to not voicing things as well – stagnation being but just one.

In my baby Twitter days (@jencauseyarmygirl_jen) I came across a recommendation for a book, Leadership on the Line by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky. I’m less than 50 pages in and I think I have highlighted about 10 different sections thus far. A couple warrant mention here:

You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain….

But, adaptive work creates risk, conflict, and instability because addressing the issues underlying adaptive problems may. involve upending deep and entrenched norms. Thus, leadership requires disturbing people – but at a rate they can absorb.

– Leadership on the Line, Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky

If not me, then who? Who will speak? Who will ask the questions that need to be asked?

I find the silence to be deafening, so I choose the path of contrarian. But I must learn how to navigate the path wisely, at an absorbable rate. Wish me luck friends.

Feelings are deceptive assholes…

I wrote an article awhile ago for my alma mater’s newletter, e-Veritas. It was something that was stewing in my mind for a long time. I don’t know how many times I sat in mental health briefings in the military getting more and more pissed off by the minute with the language that was being used that was giving feelings far too much credence.

I’ve attached that article below, “Stigma and Stereotypes: Perception does not always equal reality.” This was my first attempt to articulate why I felt that way. Since then, I’ve read Mark Manson’s books, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. For the record, he, and I’m sure a bunch of other smart people, explain this concept way better than me, about how feelings drive what we do, and sometimes not for the better. I encourage you to read his books, but likewise, I hope you’ll take a peek at my article!

My TSN Turning Point…

I’ve added two more of my articles, “The Burden of Command”, and “The Truth May Hurt, But Lack of Honesty is More Harmful.” Both of these articles were very personal to me as they represent the TSN turning point in my career.

Dan’s death rocked my professional world. As a Second-in-Command (2IC), you rarely have to quite literally take over, even though that is the primary reason why we have 2ICs. I had only really just come to terms with accepting that where the military saw me going, and what I had as a goal, were not going to align. And then suddenly, I was commanding the unit they told me I didn’t have the potential to command, and in pretty shitty circumstances.

After the dust settled, I felt more adrift in the military than I had ever felt. The positive to come from this period of time was that though I might not have come any closer to knowing what I wanted enough in my life/career that I would deal with the bullshit to get it, it did reveal what I no longer wanted enough that I was willing to put up with the bullshit, pain and frustration to get – promotion and title.

I suppose if I had bothered to put any amount of real honest reflection into myself prior to this point, or had taken positive control over my professional satisfaction, I might not have ended up in the circumstances that I did. But I didn’t. I was complacent. Plenty about my career kept me happy and satisfied, and so I carried on. I stayed on the path that I was on, and didn’t really question whether it was the right path or not, and I was happy to chase the dream that the military told me I was supposed to chase.

Despite this, and in hindsight, I still say that I had a good career. I loved a lot about what I did. Yet it still baffles me that I never questioned myself or was willing to take a little more risk to explore other options. I hope it’s not too late, or it perhaps makes the ultimate goal of this blog a little pointless for me.

Please take a read of the articles. Feel free to share, or comment. I do truly appreciate you taking the time to read my writings.