Beliefs Shape How We Lead

Lou Holtz, a retired American football coach, and active sportscaster, author, and motivational speaker has been credited for an Essay dubbed “Two Americas” by the many who are circulating it on E-mail.  Actually Bob Lonsberry, who has been a newspaper reporter, photographer, magazine writer, editor, talk show host and radio and television conservative political commentator wrote and published it in 2013.  I saw this Email this past weekend and I looked up some facts on it because I felt it was worth sharing/commenting on.  I took the political comments out of some of his quotes and noted such changes.  I did this because I believe his commentary as a whole goes beyond our politics and is instead about a belief system.  A belief system that is corrupting leadership of and within our country.

Lonsberry’s  “Two Americas” essay talks about “The America that works and the America that doesn’t. The America that contributes and the America that doesn’t,” summing it up in “It’s not the haves and the have nots, it’s the dos and the don’ts.”  He primarily focused on a phrase erupting in politics at the time and that remains in politics to this day – “income inequality.”    I believe more than a political phrase or presidential ticket item, this phrase is corrupting the leadership of and within our country.  Instead of a project for government, it is a teaching.  A way of looking at life.  It has been said that life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.  Those who turn the phrase “income inequality” are perpetuating a belief that life is ninety percent what happens to you and ten percent how you respond to it.  As a leader, I beg you to ask the question, what good does this belief do for anyone?  How does this belief give anyone hope?  If your employee, child, friend, spouse, parent, etc. has been beat up their whole life both/either figuratively and/or in reality and you tell them “It’s unfortunate you have lived through these circumstances because your opportunity for success is largely dependent on your life circumstances.  So it looks like you are shit out of luck.  Might as well stop trying now.”  Will this help that person feel empowered, inspired and capable or helpless, hopeless and doomed?

Contrary to this hopeless belief, there is a belief that you should buy into and perpetuate instead, the belief that you create your own luck.  John C. Maxwell author of over 80 books on leadership says “You don’t just wait around, hoping someone will open a door for you. You don’t just sit back and hope for good things to come your way.  Hope is not a strategy…Good leaders, the best leaders, are constantly looking for an edge. They are learning whatever they can, in order to gain new insights, hear fresh perspectives, and see new opportunities.” 

We are not empowering people when we teach a belief that they are at the mercy of whomever decides to give them good things or take away any good things they might have, instead as Lonsberry writes “we are enslaving them in a culture of dependence and entitlement, of victim-hood and anger instead of ability and hope.”  As leaders we should not make people believe that they have no power over their own success and that their success instead depends solely on if they are a victim of something or not.  If you lead like this you take away the power involved in choice (opposite of empowering) and you reward unproductive and ineffective behaviors. 

My son’s basketball team just lost a chance at not only a state-wide championship but also a chance at a Bronze medal.  The game that would have sent them to the championship game was poorly called by the referees and the boys played with such energy, drive and intent I didn’t recognize them.  Unfortunately though, they couldn’t pay to execute a shot and they turned the ball over like it was covered in the Black Plague.  The coach’s pep talk after they lost consisted of the phrase and belief presented over and over again that they were “robbed”.   Guess how they played the next game for the Bronze?  They didn’t.  There heads weren’t in the game.  They had just as many missed shots and turnovers PLUS no energy, drive or intent.  My son commented that he felt like no one was even trying…..

…..” If you reduce income inequality by debasing the successful, you are denying the successful the consequences of their choices and sparing the unsuccessful the consequences of their choices.  Because, by and large, income variations in society are a result of different choices leading to different consequences.  Those who choose wisely and responsibly have a far greater likelihood of success, while those who choose foolishly and irresponsibly have a far greater likelihood of failure. ”  There is no success without sacrifice. If we succeed without sacrifice, then it is because someone who went to before us made the sacrifice. If you sacrifice and don’t see success, then someone who follows will reap success from your sacrifice.

Here’s another example if you don’t relate with a young basketball player’s career.  My cousin’s husband just finished 10+ years of medical school.  He is now a Pediatric Heart Surgeon and is slated to make far more than I do.  There is significant “income inequality” between us.  Our lives have had an inequality of outcome, but our lives also have had an inequality of effort.  While he went to college and then devoted his young adulthood sacrificing time with his young family to time at medical school and residency, I went to school for 4 years and worked minimum wage jobs  and devoted my young adulthood to my family and stayed at home with my child.  He made a choice, I made a choice, neither were wrong or bad but our choices led us to different outcomes.  His outcome pays a lot better than mine.  Does that mean he cheated and someone needs to take away his wealth?  No, it means we are both free people in a free society where free choices lead to different outcomes.

We cannot perpetuate a belief that life is unfair and unjust and those whose life seems to be fair and just should be punished.  What about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?  Are we not a free nation built on the belief that we should self-rule and live in freedom?  Do not be fooled.  It is not a question of equality this belief of income inequality intends to “make right,” it is freedom.  The freedom to succeed, and the freedom to fail.  As Lonsberry explains “There is no true option for success if there is no true option for failure.  The pursuit of happiness means a whole lot less when you face the punitive hand of government if your pursuit brings you more happiness than the other guy. Even if the other guy sat on his arse and did nothing.”