As a leader in the Army for over 27 years, I counseled countless people. This involved performance counseling to help them be better at their job and career counseling to ensure they were pursuing a career path which would lead to promotions and competitive assignments. However, what I found most fulfilling was “life” counseling. I did more of this as I aged since I gained personal and professional experiences which I could share. In standard Army counseling sessions leaders focus on job performance and career progression. My approach to counseling included more on discovering what troubled a person and if they were pursuing a life of true passion and authenticity. I would often ask, “if you could wake up each day and do anything, what would that be?” or “what is it you like and dislike about the Army?” These challenging questions would make people pause and search deep within themselves for answers. Many struggled to offer immediate responses. This would indicate they had not reflected on the answer to these questions in their own life. Some gave answers they believed I wanted to hear. I could usually tell if someone was being disingenuous. I really wanted the person to tackle these important questions. To me the answers were vital to their own happiness even if that meant they were not in the right profession or career path. For those who discovered they lacked proper introspection and authenticity, I could then steer them toward a more formal and in-depth discovery such as books or seminars to help them discover their “why”.
I found this to be the most important part of my interaction with others. As a commander, my job was to keep good soldiers in the Army. However, personal fulfillment was more important to me. If a person was living a lie and was serving in uniform to please someone else like a parent or serving because of something not personal, then I believed the Army would suffer. Moreover, the person would suffer living a life they didn’t fully embrace. Some stayed in and pursued their warrior calling, others transitioned out of the Army and sought a different path of fulfillment. I watched a few depart the service, sad to see them leave to the detriment to the Army, though I took solace in the fact they were on to something real and personal. I’m stuck in this place where challenging people to discover their own passions and live them is foremost on my mind. I can’t shake it but I’m also very comfortable with it. In the end, organizations of all kinds will benefit as will individuals who only have this one life to live. Do you lead people? Then this should be foremost in your mind too. For more on this, check out my book, “It’s Personal, Not Personnel.”