The Pacifist and the Three Star General


In my day job as a Financial Security Advisor I have the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people.

In actuality, everyone is extraordinary in their own way, from the entrepreneur who discovered a new way to teach kids to love the Arts (my first client) to the 61 year old letter carrier who still works 10 hours a day with a smile on his face and love in his heart and the stay-at-home mom who stopped counting the hours she spends keeping her kids happy healthy and wise after she had her fourth.  I count all my clients not only as extraordinary, but I draw inspiration from them as I go about everything I do.  That’s why the person I met last Friday had such a profound impact on me.

About twice a year our office hosts a full meeting of all the affiliated Financial Advisors in our city.  In any given year there are about 150 of us.  The management gives some basic updates on our performance, recognizes a few of the top players in each product line and lays out some goals for the coming months, then they turn the morning over to a guest speaker.  Usually the guest is a top player from one of our offices in another city or someone sent down from head office with a specific message that corporate thinks we should here.

Ho-hum…

We mark our time, sign the attendance sheet for our Continuing Education credits and get out of there as fast as we can so we do what we get paid for.  But this year was different.  This year we had the opportunity to hear from a truly extraordinary Canadian; General Rick Hillier (retired) of the Canadian Armed Forces.

I’m an unapologetic pacifist.  (That doesn’t mean with you think it means, more on that in previous posts here and here)  So I am a bit skeptical of anything a military man might have to say but if there is one thing that the military can teach everyday civilians, pacifists included, it’s how to practice and cultivate leadership.  And there is no greater leader in the history of the Canadian military than Rick Hillier.

Hillier made his mark on history as the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2004 and as the Chief of Defence Staff, the Canadian equivalent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 2005 to 2008.

Here is what I, a pacifist, learned from Canada’s top military man on leadership.  Hillier calls it the two step cycle of leadership.  Step one, provide inspiration – tell stories, show the way, take concrete action and give people the tools to do their jobs.  Step two, draw inspiration – listen to their stories, ask them where they want to go, let them take action, ask what they need from you to do their job.  Repeat!

General Hillier spoke to a room of 150 Financial Advisors for an hour and half.  Honestly, it felt like ten minutes and at times there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  He told us a bunch of stories about showing the way, taking action and providing tools, and at the end he quoted another great Canadian to sum up it all up.

“Vision without a plan is just a fantasy and you’re wasting your time.” – Mike Babcock; Head Coach Detroit Red Wings and Canadian Men’s Olympic Team (2010 Gold Medalists)

Meek people can be great leaders.  In fact I am convinced that meekness is an essential trait for true leadership.  The key to Hillier’s two step cycle of leadership is meekness.  You have to be able to step back and allow others to lead you and inspire you in order to provide leadership and inspiration yourself.  You have to release your grasp on power and hold it in an open palm in order for true respect and power to be given to you.  At the end of the day, that’s the definition of true leadership and I’m glad that our military is staffed by men and women who get it.

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