11 Dec When Advice Really Matters…

Lately, I have heard a lot of people discuss the virtues of knowing what you know, knowing what you don’t know, and being careful of not knowing what you don’t know – the blind spots.  I think this wisdom actually comes from an Arabic Proverb:

“He that knows not, and knows not that he knows not is a fool.

Shun him

He that knows not, and knows that he knows not is a pupil.

Teach him.

He that knows, and knows not that he knows is asleep

Wake him.

He that knows, and knows that he knows is a teacher.

Follow him.”

When it comes to leadership, we ‘re always a teacher, and a teacher is always also a pupil.

This advice coincides with reconnecting with one of my favorite teachers recently.  We lost touch for 26 years, and just met again over the weekend.  From my book, here is what I wrote about him:

While in college, I had the extreme good fortune of being instructed and mentored by a young captain by the name of “Skip” Paul. He was a West Point graduate from 1977, the same year a huge cheating scandal occurred. The scandal crystallized Captain Paul’s sense of ethical leadership. He was the rare individual you meet where you find yourself asking for years afterwards, “How would Captain Paul handle this situation?” Of all the people I have ever known, Captain Paul had the best internal compass for doing what was right and treating others as he would like to be treated. He had an easy smile, a strong military bearing, and he knew how to connect with people by somehow showing a twinge of vulnerability that commanded respect. He was a class act, and I am richer for having known him as a coach, teacher, and friend.

Over the same weekend I was able to connect with the publisher of my book.  It’s funny how much he reminds me of Skip Paul.  He returned from Afghanistan about a year ago, and I was able to introduce him to my son.  During a lull in the conversation, I asked him what advice he has for a soon to be Infantry Officer.  In rapid succession he rattled off advice much like the guns of the Apache helicopter he flew in combat.

“Know how to call in air support.  There’s a big difference in how Special Forces guys, and new lieutenants communicate on the radio.  Knowing how to effectively communicate can save your men.  We’re talking about getting support in 30-40 seconds versus 10 minutes, and in combat, that’s a lifetime.  Remember your training, and most importantly, be Calm and Competent.  Being calm when chaos reins will make all the difference in the world.  Your men have to know that you’re going to be calm when the stuff hits the fan.  Take your time to make rational decisions.  And most importantly, trust your intuition.  If something doesn’t feel right, and you get that bristly feeling, don’t ignore it.  Don’t worry – the army – our country – needs young leaders like you that are informed, and are willing to do the hard work.  You’ll do great!”

Here was a 31 year-old combat veteran giving advice to a 21 year-old cadet about how to survive a combat deployment while accomplishing the mission and keeping his men safe.  It stands in stark contrast to the self-awareness and risk-taking advice I profess to business leaders and entrepreneurs.  Or does it?

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