31 years ago I became a police officer and my life changed! I was a 25 year old father of two with a high school education trying to find a place in this world where I would be noticed and have some level of significance. I was one of nine children growing up, seven of us boys.
I started working when I was young doing yard work for neighbors, picking beans and strawberries over the summer to buy school clothes and into high school and adulthood working a variety of jobs in retail, food services and even the oilfields. I even tried selling cars. Working hard was something my dad insisted on from the beginning.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I saw failures all around me. Alcohol and drug addiction tend to take people down to place where they can’t get back up. So many promises made but never kept. Good intentions with no execution leads to disappointment and resentment. Fear can overcome a person at a young age. Living with a harsh disciplinarian who did not tolerate a glance or stare his direction caused me to develop limited abilities to demonstrate confidence. I learned early that keeping your mouth shut, head down, and staying under the radar were very effective survival strategies. Probably why I did not feel comfortable selling cars.
I always enjoyed people, especially people not in my family. I quickly learned growing up that hard work would get you recognized. I saw this in school, sports, and most of the jobs I worked. Being recognized and acknowledged was an internal craving. I am highly social and a dreamer because of where I came from. The possibility of something better is part of my DNA.
When I became a police officer, I was told I needed to have courage to face down fear and be able to confront bad people. In the still of the night, alone on a traffic stop or a person stop anything could happen. Your life was always on the line and there would be times you would need to act with extreme courage. There certainly were times that I needed physical courage and confidence. I have won battles and stopped many before they started because I showed courage and confidence. The will to win and survive is a powerful thing. I even attended “Street Survival” training which reinforced the mindset that any person you contact could take your life. Looking back, I think the training was a dis-service because it only heightened my fear and I began treating everyone like they were the enemy. Fortunately, I had a basic liking of people and I had good leaders who taught me the value of relationships; something that requires close, personal interactions.
The notion of courage has changed for me over time. In leadership, it is a required trait to lead effectively. For me, courage is about emotional maturity. Fear abounds in organizations and takes on may faces. Fear destroys positive culture and stymies organizations and at best, leaves them operating in status quo, at worst creates a highly dysfunctional team of employees and leaders.
Courageous leadership is demonstrated by having difficult conversations with problem employees. It is letting people see you as your authentic self. Courageous leaders acknowledge their mistakes and the mistakes of the organization. Courageous leaders find ways to reconcile and repair harm done. Courageous leaders move forward with important initiatives even when there is organizational resistance. Courageous leaders look for feedback and empower employees to take risks and accept mistakes of good intention when they occur. Courageous leadership is letting go of the past and focusing on what is possible.
There are many books and articles on courage. I have held onto two key notions as a leader. I have embraced a higher calling or purpose for what I do which overrides any fears I face. I will be successful when I am vulnerable as a human being and I allow people to se my authentic self, even when it is imperfect.