This article was originally published on The Military Leader on April 3, 2015. Thank you to The Military Leader for continuing to publish my work!
If you enter my office you would see what I call my propaganda wall. From the top of my desk to almost the ceiling I have taped up various quotes that inspire me. Closer to my computer, I have a printed slide of our organizational priorities and a broad list of tasks that frame what I do day-to-day.
On this wall of words, there is one piece of paper that is different from the others. Rather than being neatly printed, this one is a mix of printed text and my handwriting using various colored pens. The title across the top of this unique document, which garners both laughter and respect from those who see it, is: Phil’s Self-Limiting Career Behaviors.
As a young Lance Corporal who wanted to be a Corporal, and later as an Officer Candidate, I had the Marine Corps Leadership Principles drilled into me. One that has always stuck with me is the first leadership principle “Know yourself and seek self-improvement.”
Getting to know yourself is not easy. Even after many years of effort, you will likely have just scratched the surface. You’re not trying to understand the part of the iceberg that everyone sees; you are digging into its base so you can understand how it is able to float at all. As you spend time in introspection, you may be shocked when you discover your own insecurities, needs, wants, biases, and flaws. What you will likely find most interesting are the stimuli that drive these feelings.
Once you increase your level of self-knowledge your life will begin to change. Stimuli that once got a reaction out of you will begin to have less intensity than they had before. Your interactions with seniors, subordinates, peers, and family will increase in quality. You will be a better leader as people will look at you as an example of self-control. Despite your two steps forward you will occasionally take one step back. Your imperfections will occasionally return and you will have to tame them once more.
Why is my list of self-limiting career behaviors both printed as well as hand written in different colors of ink? Because whenever I identify a new imperfection that must be tamed, I grab the nearest pen and add it to the list. Today’s count is 14.
Without self-knowledge we will never be free. Without self-knowledge we will never reach our full potential. As the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “No man is free who is not master of himself.”