SUA SPONTE LEADER (Q4.1)

A Man Who Has Been Freed To Lead

Make clear the Mission

Sua Sponte is Latin for “of his own accord”. In the law, a judge acts sua sponte when he exercises his inherent authority to make a ruling without a petition from a lawyer do so. He takes the initiative to act on his own accord. Sua Sponte is also the motto of the United States Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. It is a recognition that to become a Ranger a man must be a triple volunteer: first the Army, then Airborne School and finally the Ranger Regiment. Rangers aren’t drafted, they must make the choice for themselves—three times. The Rangers are elite because every man there is taught to be a Leader and every Leader is expected to take the initiative to do what is necessary to accomplish the unit’s mission.

In F3, a Sua Sponte Leader is a man who has been freed to Lead. He is a Leader who exercises Individual Initiative (I2) by taking action in furtherance of his Group’s Articulated Purpose without specific instructions. He initiates Movement toward Advantage for his Group in the absence of explicit authority because he is that rare man who will Lead with or without another Leader to direct him. He is That Somebody.

F3 could not function without HIMs willing to be That Somebody. It is an Organization that was created in order to invigorate male Leadership in Charlotte (the Community we happened to be Members of when when it started). We did it without authority from any existing Organization or any request from the Governance of our Community—we acted on our own accord, sua sponte. The Movement we initiated was driven by our belief that dormant Male Leadership was a Problem that could and must be solved in our Community. For us, it was an Iceberg. Ultimately, this Movement has spread to other Communities outside of Charlotte because the men who lived there also believed that they had the same Problem, and (more importantly) were willing to be That Somebody too.

We didn’t realize it at the time we started F3 (because we lacked a fully formed Leadership philosophy) but we were establishing a model of Sua Sponte Leadership. Our decision to initiate the Movement wasn’t founded upon a belief that we had the freedom to do so because no one could stop us, but rather upon an obligation to do so because no one would start us (if we didn’t start ourselves). Thus, it was an initiative born of duty, not of right.

This sense of duty we felt to other men in our Community—to something outside of ourselves—lies at the heart of every Sua Sponte Leader. A judge is motivated to rule without petition from his duty toward the ends of justice. A Ranger is motivated to volunteer for a very dirty, difficult and dangerous life from his duty to protect the Communities that comprise his nation.

Likewise, the HIM pursues his Mission because he sees it as his duty to do so. If his effort succeeds, he passes the praise on to the men who helped him, his Team Members. If it is a Failure, he shoulders the blame and gleans Wisdom from the experience that he passes to younger Leaders through Positive Habit Transfer. This his how he Leaves Right.

Within most Organizations the Sua Sponte Leader is rare because I2 doesn’t just happen. It must be actively fostered with Deliberatude, and that only occurs within a Lizard Organization where Virtuous Leaders see it as their duty to Leave Right. And a Lizard is rare. Most Organizations are either Bullfrogs or Leeches.

Within a Bullfrog I2 is discouraged rather than fostered because it is an Organization that seeks Existential Continuity above all else. Focused on maintenance of the Status Quo that keeps it alive, it is hostile to any type of Movement that it perceives as a threat. By withholding rewards for the taking of I2 and punishing any Failure that might result (rather than learning from it), the Governance of a Bullfrog de-Incentivizes I2 and shackles the Sua Sponte Leader.

A Leech is a Leaderless Organization that only survives by feeding off of Bullfrogs. It is a place where no good deed goes unpunished and “every man for himself” is the unspoken but governing Credo. Because there is no Incentive to take any action other than hide for self-protection, the concept of I2 itself is nonsensical within a Leech.

Only in a Lizard (an Organization dedicated to the Effective achievement of its Mission) will I2 be considered a Virtue. Because a Lizard is an Organization OF Leaders rather than an Organization WITH Leaders, its Membership is comprised of HIMs who consider it their duty to develop other men into Sua Sponte Leaders. To do so, they do the three things required to foster I2:

1. Make clear the Mission

2. Teach all they know, and

3. Incentivize I2 and manage Failure

The first step, making clear the Mission (the what and why), is critical in the fostering of I2. To take action in furtherance of his Group’s Mission without specific direction, a Sua Sponte Leader must have a very clear understanding of the Purpose the Group is seeking to realize. To be Dynamic, every Member of a Team must be rowing the boat in the same direction, and that cannot logically happen unless each man knows where the Team is heading.

When I joined the infantry one of the first things I was taught was that the Organization’s overarching Mission was to close with and destroy the enemy. The Army trains and deploys its infantry to close with and destroy the enemy—in other words, to be lethal. That is why it exists as an Organization. Everything else is ancillary. As an infantry Leader, those seven simple words told me everything I needed to know about my Organization’s what and why. The Mission was to be lethal.

While the Army made the Mission clear and trained me in the skills necessary to be an infantry officer, it did not dictate the means and methods by which I was to train my platoon to be lethal. I was charged with the duty to determine the best method for myself and given the freedom to do so through my own initiative. I was freed to Lead.

Some of the I2 measures I took in furtherance of the Mission succeeded but many were Failures, from which I learned Wisdom. To pass that Wisdom on (so no one else would have to re-learn it the hard way), I wrote it down as an SOP (Standing Operating Procedure) for my platoon to use as a handbook (much as I am doing right now). No superior officer authorized or directed me to do that, but I believed that it would make my platoon more lethal—both while I was the Leader and after I had gone. Because it furthered the Mission that had been made clear to me I knew that it would further our Purpose.

Thirty years later I found myself to be a new Member of a very different type of Organization, a church. As a result of the Leadership Development Process I had gone through in the military my first Task was to discern the church’s Mission so that I could act in furtherance of it just in the same way I had in the infantry. I found that my church’s stated Mission was to be a spiritual home for all people. This was problematic for me in three ways:

• First, it was premised upon the verb to be rather than a verb to do. Unlike the infantry’s Mission, which specified two clear Tasks (close with and destroy), the church’s Mission did not call for any specific action. It asked nothing of itself other than to exist.

• Second, in describing its Purpose in terms of a status (to be) rather than an action (to do), the church self-identified as a Community rather than an Organization. Since a Community requires nothing more of its Membership than to obey its rules and mores, the church asked nothing of its Members other than to participate in the church’s existence.

• Finally, as a HIM hard-wired to seek Advantage for my Group, the church’s Mission provided me no direction in which to Move. Because it did not tell me what the Organization did and why it did it, there was no way for me to discern for myself how to do it. I could not seek Advantage in furtherance of a Mission that was not clear to me. Thus, the church asked nothing of its Leaders.

Ultimately, I left that church, not because I did not like the other Members or its message but because it asked nothing of itself, nothing of its Members and nothing of me other than to simply exist. It could not be a Community because its Members were not Proximate and was not an Effective Organization because it was not Purposeful. It was either a Bullfrog (which has no use for a Leader) or a Club (which is no place for a HIM).

Without Mission, there can be no Movement.

Teach all you know

Knowing what to do and why to do it through the clear expression of the Group’s Mission is an essential component of I2. But it is not enough. To act in furtherance of the Mission, the Sua Sponte Leader must also have the know-how to do it. He needs to be taught what a Leader is and does through an effective Leadership Development Process (LDP) that transfers and reinforces both the Leadership Skills and the Leadership Virtues.

To ask a man to Lead without providing an LDP is what F3 calls Bricks Without Straw. Leadership is a skill that must be deliberately taught through Schooling, Apprenticeship, Opportunity and Failure. The Virtuous Leader, having himself learned to be what a Leader is and do what a Leader does, knows that there must be an LDP for his Community to be healthy, his Organizations to be Effective and his Teams to be Dynamic. If no LDP exists in his Group, he takes the I2 to create one so that he can pass on what he has learned by teaching everything he knows through the four phases necessary to development of a Virtuous Leaders:

• Schooling is the didactic instruction that a potential Leader receives on both the timeless fundamentals of Leadership and the specific Leadership philosophy of his Group.

• Apprenticeship is where a new Leader begins to develop the Skills he learned from Schooling under the watchful eye of a more experienced Leader through the conduct of Positive Habit Transfer.

• Opportunity is the chance for the growing Leader to Practice what he has learned through Schooling and Apprenticeship under conditions where he is directly responsible for the Outcome. Opportunity allows the Leader’s Skill to become kinetic and have actual impact on his Group.

• Failure is where a Leader becomes fully developed, because it is from Failure that he will learn the most. Success teaches far less because it does not isolate what works from what doesn’t the way Failure does.

Within a Lizard, all four phases of the LDP are constantly repeated and reinforced in order to foster I2 whenever and wherever possible. Based upon his particular D2X, the HIM performs the role within his Group’s LDP where he will have the most IMPACT. Regardless of whether it is coaching, spreadsheeting or fundraising (to give three examples), the HIM shares his knowledge by teaching younger Leaders everything he knows.

Incentivize I2 and manage the inevitable Failures

Knowing what to do (through Mission clarity) and how to do it (through the LDP) gives the Virtuous Leader two of the three components of what he needs to foster I2. The last piece of the puzzle is Incentive, the method by which desired behavior is induced within a Group. Incentive comes in two forms: Carrots and Sticks, the former rewarding Virtuous behavior and the latter punishing its absence.

To Incentivize I2 within the Group, its Leaders must reward it with Carrots every time a Member exhibits it, even if (especially if) it results in Failure. Most Groups get this completely backwards, by rewarding success regardless of how it occurs and punishing I2 whenever it Fails.

Picture a high school basketball coach who has taught his point guard to call a particular play under a particular circumstance. In the waning moments of a game with his team down by a single point (and no timeouts), the guard takes the I2 to call the right play and runs it properly, resulting in an open layup—that he misses.

If the coach is a Virtuous Leader, he praises the guard for his I2 and manages the Failure of losing by scheduling more layup practice for the entire team at the next practice. The result will be a point guard who will take I2 the next time—because the Carrots of the coach’s praise Incentivize him to do so. With that (and the extra layup practice) the Team will be more Dynamic.

If the coach is not a Virtuous Leader, he throws his hands up in frustration when the layup bangs off the rim and yells at his guard “how many times have I told you men to practice your layups?” At practice the next week the point guard does extra wind sprints for missing the shot. With no Carrots for the I2 and sharp Sticks for missing the layup, the point guard will not put himself in position to Fail the next time through I2. He will be passive and the Team will be less Dynamic.

Now, consider a different scenario. Despite knowing the Mission (to call a particular play) and being taught how to do it by the Coach, the point guard doesn’t call anything, dribbles himself into the corner and heaves up a prayer with :01 left on the clock. Somehow, the shot falls through the net and the Team wins.

If the coach is a Virtuous Leader he may enjoy the victory (who wouldn’t), but he disregards the success as a bit of luck that is unlikely to be repeated and impossible to scale. He spends more time in practice with his point guard reinforcing the Mission (to call the right play) and teaching him to make sure he knows how and when to call it. He does not reward the made shot with Carrots, because that would provide the wrong Incentive and the Team would become less Dynamic. Although it is Painful, the coach would prefer the player to call the right play and miss the shot than call the wrong one and get lucky. He is focused on the long-term goal of developing his point guard into a Sua Sponte Leader rather than the short-term Happiness that winning brings.

If the coach is not a Virtuous Leader, he screams Noooooo as the ball leaves the guard’s hands and arches through the air, right up to the moment that it splashes through the net—and then he yells YES! Caught up on the Happiness of winning, the coach misinterprets the win as a “success” rather than seeing the guard’s actions as the Failure of his coaching that it actually is. In this way, he will inadvertently Incentivize the wrong behavior (of heaving up a prayer instead of calling the right play). The result will be more prayers, less wins and a Team that is less Dynamic.

The Lesson: to foster I2, the Virtuous Leader must reward it with Carrots every time he sees it and manage the Failures that will often result as the emerging Leader Accelerates his Skill. He must also resist the temptation to reverse-Incentivize unwanted behavior by rewarding success that only results by accident.

To prioritize I2 over Outcome in this way requires a degree of self-discipline that can only be summoned by a Virtuous Leader who himself is Accelerating through his DRP and focusing upon Joy rather than Happiness. A man overcome by his Jester or in the midst of relationship malpractice with his wife (for example) will lack the required stability of character to maintain that kind of discipline. His lack of self-control makes him like a city without walls.

Through the fostering of I2 in his Groups, the Virtuous Leader develops other Virtuous Leaders, who will then develop more Virtuous Leaders as they themselves foster I2. In this way, he conducts Positive Habit Transfer not only with the men with whom he enjoyed Proximity during his lifetime, but also with men he has never met—even men who were not yet born on the day he draws his last breath.

This is how a HIM constructs his Legacy. He plants the roots of a Leadership tree with roots and branches that will extend forever, even though the whispering leaves that grow upon it may never speak his name. Legacy is about what a man does in the life of other men—his IMPACT—not his postmortem reputation. It is not defined by statues erected in his name, but rather the flesh and blood of the men into whom he has poured throughout his lifetime, the men he has freed to Lead.

It is human nature for a man to desire recognition for his work. But the length of the shadow each man casts depends not only on how high he stands, but also on the brightness of the sun that happens to shine upon us at a given moment. A man can only control the former—the latter he must trust to devine providence. Thus, whether we are to be remembered in the vein of an Abraham Lincoln or simply to take our place as a yeoman in the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier is not our concern. Our concern is only that we become and develop Virtuous Leaders, because that is our Legacy.

Leave a Reply