I recently saw the movie World War Z. It was entertaining. While the enormity of the plot holes made it difficult for me to fully enjoy it, there was one scene that really left an impression on me. According to the movie, the Israelis utilized a strategy called the 10th man to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Pam Ross (pamross.ca) gives a great summary of what the 10th man strategy is from her blog – In Israel, Jurgen Warmbrunn, the leader of Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, tells Gerry that Israel implemented a 10th man strategy to avoid tragedies. After ignoring hints of potential attacks and being caught off guard in the past, this 10th man strategy, simply put, was that when the first 9 men at the table agreed on something, the 10th man must take the opposite point of view. In this case, Israel’s leaders had received an email mentioning a zombie attack, and while the first 9 men declared that this was nonsense, Warmbrunn was the 10th man, and began working as though this was true. By using the 10th man strategy, Israel was able to withstand the zombie apocalypse longer than other countries.
OK. So pause that for a moment. I have been engaging some material on Personal Leadership Effectiveness ™ since the beginning of the year both personally and professionally. One of the lessons on effective coaching talks about the importance of giving specific, meaningful compliments to those close to you, on a regular basis. Anyone who knows me knows that I am crazy about the people who are close to me in my life – my wife, my kids, my co-workers, and the close community of people that surround those relationships. I have known about the principle of complementing for decades. I truly believe deep down that I not only get the concept, but I practice it on a regular basis with those closest to me.
Every now and then I will have a heated discussion with one of my kids, or one of my co-workers, in which they will tell me that I have been focusing too heavily on discussing the areas where they need to improve, and too little or no focus on areas where they do well. I hear phrases like, “You aren’t proud of anything I do.” “You don’t think I do anything right,” etc. Of course, my immediate reaction is to bristle at these comments. I really believe my kids and co-workers are awesome and I am very proud of them and their accomplishments, and I could sing their praises in very specific, meaningful ways. But, as I have been reflecting on these times, it has made me realize that the people closest to me have a legitimate beef with me.
If I am honest in reflection, the truth is, I sometimes don’t verbally articulate the thoughts I have in my heart. I feel them, but I am not intentional about expressing them. Not out of malice, more out of habit. I rarely compliment myself or focus on my strength areas. Not because I don’t think I have any strength areas, but, because I think, why waste time on areas I am already strong? I have a limited amount of energy to expend, and I might as well focus on areas that I need to improve. So, I very simply just deal with people as I deal with myself.
The sad part is, that I spent most of my adult life thinking I was consistently good at this important skill, when I actually have had a great deal of room for growth and development. I have been working closely with certain co-workers for more than a dozen years, and I have missed so many opportunities to give meaningful praise and compliments. Several of my kids are either in college, or have graduated college and the amount of meaningful time with have with each other is naturally decreasing more and more as they enter adulthood and start living their lives independently. I feel some remorse that I did not maximize the opportunity of the younger years with them to fully compliment them as often as I could have. I am not saying I was a terrible father, but I am saying I missed out on some meaningful opportunities simply because I was not able to do a good enough job of being self-aware. I actually believed that since I knew something, and thought it was important, that I was naturally executing it successfully on a regular basis. I believed my own hype, and I let some precious opportunities to make a difference slip away.
Therein lies a major issue that has taken me almost 30 years of adult life to figure out. I am fully capable of unintentional, self-deception, especially in areas in which I have a strong sense of passion and duty. The only way I can be fully self-aware is to know that I have to go outside myself, and have meaningful conversations with those closest to me on how I am doing in areas of my character development. I don’t have the ability to manage myself without external input that is intentional, guided and directed.
I want to be a good husband, but I don’t ask my wife how I am doing as often as I should. I need to dedicate more extended moments of time where we are able to deeply explore the issue. of how well I am doing being a husband – where am I doing well, where can I do better, how can she feel comfortable helping me recognize when I am failing in an area. If I had the intentional process of holding myself accountable to 10:1 positive comments to negative ones with my co-workers on a weekly basis, who knows what kind of positive impact that would have had in so many areas. If I had regular reminders and monitors around my discussions with my kids to hold me accountable to the complementing principle, all the time, it may have made it easier for them to handle some of the more difficult times in their lives.
Again, I don’t feel like I was a total failure in any of those relationships, but, I know I could have been better. I want to be better, and I now have some process and framework in my life to make sure I am getting better on a regular basis. I liken it to the 10th man strategy. If I seems like I no-brainer to me that I am doing something right because I am so passionate about it, I need to be willing to ask the question, “Am I really doing it?” I need to be open to the possibility that maybe I am not doing it, or at least not doing it as well as I want to do it. I need to be willing to explore the 10th man perspective, especially in areas that I think I have it all together. That is where the 10th man strategy is most valuable – when the odds of a scenario occurring seem ridiculously small, but, the scenario actually occurs.
The bible says it this way, If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall – 1 Cor 10:12 (NLT). That is the God’s version of the 10th man strategy. This is about my earnest desire to always be the best I can be, and my willingness to admit that I can always do better. I desire to be in a state of constant learning and sensitivity so I know how I can be better at every point in my life. So, even watching a zombie movie can motivate me to become a better man. Of course, seeing any movie starring Brad Pitt puts me in a position of self-reflection on the state of my manhood 🙂