One of my fellow FBI agents once told me they pictured me leaving our office every night, walking down the stairs outside of our building, turning around to look at the American flag which stood outside of it, and say “You’re welcome America!” before I went home.
Later that night, I wondered what gave them that impression? Was it something I said, or something I did? As I thought about it, I realized it went beyond my words and actions to my values, passion, and the purpose our mission gave me. It went to the very core fiber of my being.
This one small statement taught me a very large lesson. Who we are and being in alignment with ourselves matters. We are an intuitive race and instinctively pick up on when someone is truly passionate or just going through the motions even if we aren’t aware of it.
Have you have ever said:
“They clearly don’t care about…” or
“It’s just a job.” Or maybe
“I’m just biding my time until something better comes along.”
These are all things we say when we see someone else who isn’t aligned with themselves or when we’re not aligned with ourselves. Who we are matters for not only ourselves, but also, the people around us. We instinctively know when someone is misaligned because we can see it; we can feel it. Their misalignment affects what they do and how they go about it.
What we do starts with us, a deep self-awareness of who we are.
It starts with understanding our fundamental identity so we can align ourselves with them, and yes, they deserve a pronoun, even a name. They are us and should be treated not as bits and pieces or values and needs; rather, as a human tangible part of us. Name them and make them real as if you could reach inward and touch them.
They are the engine which drives us.
They dictate how we think, how we feel, and how we behave. What we do isn’t just about physical action, it’s about the thoughts and beliefs we have; the emotions and feelings we have; the support we give ourselves and others; and the way we communicate. It’s about all of these combined which put out signals to the world which those around us are constantly receiving and interpreting.
It’s a non-stop cycle that happens every second of every day.
How many of us put on a smile and act politely towards someone we don’t want to be spending time with? Whether it’s with a neighbor, co-worker, or in-law, how many of us have done that? It may work for a while but eventually what starts to happen? We get shorter with that person, we stop caring how polite we are, and we may even at some point end up hurting that person from something we say. While we may initially be good at outwardly concealing what’s going on inside of us, it always comes out and shows through. We are constantly putting signals out to the world through what we are thinking, what we are feeling, and how we are behaving. We can’t hide it!
Pretending to be nice to someone is just that: pretending. It’s not who we are. We are forcing ourselves to be someone we are not and it chips away at us like a sculpture chipping away at a block of ice which eventually melts away. And when it does, our true self is going to show through. This goes for everything in life. When we are passionate about something, people notice, just like my fellow agent did. When we truly believe in a mission and a purpose, people notice, just like my fellow agent did. When we care about something that goes beyond ourselves and serves the good of others, people notice, just like my fellow agent did.
People know when we are being fake and when we are being true to ourselves and them. What we do as leaders matters and it all comes from within us. If you want to be a leader who inspires others and reaches your vision and beyond, it starts with you; knowing who you are, aligning yourself with them, and being inspired by what truly drives you.