The order of things: the way that life and the world currently are.

I have been giving a great deal of thought to the order of things of late. No, that’s not true. I have been giving a great deal of thought to the order of things for the majority of my adult life. In fact, I firmly believe that the best way to describe a leader is as a person who changes the order of things. Think about that for a moment – a leader is not truly leading unless things are visibly different because of him or her. We can all think of leaders who had (or are having) a significant positive impact on the world around us, and we can surely see the impact of those leaders who put themselves above all others by choosing “The Dark Side.” I don’t mean to minimize the negative impact these dark side leaders have when I point out that they are in fact leaders, but by all accounts, even Darth Vader did, in fact, change the order of things.

I believe many of us are confused when it comes to leadership. Responding to the present is not leadership (it’s managing a situation); shaping the future is. I continue to see people mistaking the former for something more than it is. And as I see the masses advocate for moving in one direction, my default seems to be 180 degrees out. In fact, I have told a few of my confidants that I feel like Jerry Seinfeld in the episode when he told George Costanza that because every instinct George had was generating less than satisfying outcomes he should do the opposite of his first instinct. George took that advice and great things happened. He got a date with a woman by telling her “My name is George, I’m unemployed and live with my parents.”  He stood up to bullies and even landed a job with the New York Yankees after telling George Steinbrenner how much he despised how the team was being run. I am not saying that my colleagues are wrong. I am admitting that I have been seeing things in an increasingly opposing fashion than they do. By doing so, I am not playing Devils’ Advocate. I honestly see a very different path to a meaningful future than many of my extended teammates. My closest teammates are also feeling more and more like we are pushing against the current of traditional thought as we do our part to navigating a path to a future that matters. If I didn’t care so much, I’d join in on the group think or find a new career. I care too much to do either.

I spent a fair amount of time at this weekend’s swim meet listening to parents talk about college, the impending debt, and the important responsibility a parent has in helping their child both live in the present and prepare for the future. I also heard many share stories about how they landed in the neighborhood they did…schools (using other children’s standard test results as the barometer). They talked of the influence college rankings were having on their perception of specific academic institutions (rankings based largely on employment rates and earning power of yesterday’s graduates). They not-so-blindly continue to do their best to respond to the present (or yesterday in all reality). And they glossed over the significant costs associated with them sending their child to a “prestigious” academic institution for their college years as a bet on their future.

If leadership is, in fact, changing the order of things, I am lost as to why so many “leaders” choose to either hide within the current order or do their best to protect the very same. At the same time, I believe that a parent’s primary responsibility is to lead their child into the future. A future that will undoubtedly look very different than the present. Yet, we ignore the fact that even the most expensive schools ranked at the top of the lists are doing little more than preparing their student body for the past. And we compete for the opportunity to accumulate large sums of debt in the hopes of a better future for our offspring. A future that most can’t imagine with any accuracy.

The military has a long tradition of future-oriented leaders who continue to change the order of things. Those leaders understand the present, ignore the status quo, pay no regard to the impact of their upward mobility, and inspire commitment to a shared vision. As John Boyd put it, we have to decide whether we want to be or to do. Many of us have decided to do long ago. No matter our field, it is the Doers who will lead us into a future of increased relevance. And those who are committed to Being will continue to confuse preserving the status quo with leadership. George Costanza, albeit for one episode, got it. Time for more of us to do the opposite!

  • Are you leading your child in a way that prepares him to navigate a future none of us have yet seen?
  • Are you (un)intentionally preserving the present?
  • Would your teammates consider you a Doer or a Be’er?