How Character Is Built


How Character Is Built


"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."

C.S. Lewis, British Author



There is a man in prison being interviewed by a local publication.  The reporter asks, "Why are you here?"  The man responds, “I killed someone in a vehicle accident.  It was a hit and run.”  The reporter then asks, “Why did you decide to run?”  The man responds, “Oh, I didn’t decide to run.  It is what I have been training to do.”  The reporter was confused, “What do you mean 'training' to do?”  The man said, “When I was a boy I stole money from my father’s wallet.  He saw it was missing and demanded to know who took it.  I denied it and ran away.  Later, I slept with another man’s wife.  When he confronted me, I ran away.  You see, the hit and run was not an error in judgement.  It wasn't an act of fear.  It was a direct reflection of the man I have been building.  To run was my character.  I have conditioned myself into a coward.”  

This story, which I heard a variation of from a mentor of mine, makes three powerful points.  The first is the real definition of character.  The second is its vital importance and the last is the complexity of how it is built.  I’ll say it again:

  1. The Real Definition of Character

  2. The Vital Importance of Character

  3. The Complexity of How It Is Built

Let’s start with the definition and importance before we get to how it is built.  These days, we use the term character as though the word itself is a standard of ethical behavior.  Character is no less than this, but it is so much more.  The Greeks used the word Ethos to describe character, which actually means an “accustomed place” or a state of being we have consistently experienced.  We rarely use character this way any longer.  Although we see it in subtle ways in headlines like, “What kind of man is Donald Trump?”  This is a direct reflection of this second meaning of the word character.  The first definition of character is a question of one’s actions in the moment, but the second is a question of who someone has become through consistent actions.  For the purposes of this article, I’d like to redefine character as the personification of one’s rituals.  With this definition, character can result in two outcomes: either you become a character of observable courage or one of observable cowardice.  With this definition, everyone has character, it just depends on what kind it is.  PayPal founder Peter Thiel has said, “brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply.”  The mysticism and allure of courage has been promoted throughout history, but courage is a difficult topic mainly because courage is a difficult virtue.  GK Chesterton explains how the principle of courage is within the paradox of courage, “It (courage) is almost a contradiction of terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”  When talking about a soldier cut off and surrounded by enemies, Chesterton says, “He must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.”  

In this sense, every time we call for character in our leaders, it is always a cry for courage.  We are seeking a person who is so alive they are willing to die for the sake of others.  We may not want them to actually die, but we want to know is if they care enough to sacrifice themselves for us.  This is the epitome of all character.  A person’s character materializing in the form of courage is the only way we can ensure the progress of our human community.  Without courageous people, all we have are people who are clinging to life.  These are people who try to protect what they have for fear of losing it.  This is a coward.  Or worse, we have people who just wait for death to come.  This is a person on the verge of suicide.  A person without hope.  Both a coward and a suicidal person share a common theme: self-centeredness.  A courageous person, on the other hand, doesn’t think less of themselves, but simply thinks of themselves less.  This is more important than it has ever been because our leaders seem to be self centered thinkers who use courageous language to cloak cowardly actions.  My point is that without a generation of trained self-sacrificing leaders, we will continue down the unstable bridge of cowardly character.  

Now that we’ve addressed a new meaning and importance for courageous character, we must discuss how it is built.  What is important about the story of the prisoner is the man said, “I didn’t decide to run.  It is what I have been training to do.”  Does this mean the man had no free will to choose a different course?  Of course not, he had a choice, but he had trained his choices into instincts.  As a former Marine Sniper, there is a statement that I heard many times by special operators far more advanced than me, “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.”  This means, in the moment, you don’t just become a better person, you will do what you’ve been training to do.  This proves to be true whether I am speaking, competing, child-rearing or trophy husbanding.  I may have the skill of speaking, but if I fail to prepare the specific message for that specific audience, my skill can’t overcome my failure to prepare for that mission.  The problem with using the word “training" is that is suggests a lot of work, sweat and time to see results.  But this isn’t the problem because people put work and effort into many things and see the results all the time.  However, courage is much harder than work, sweat and effort.  If all courage took was hard work and effort we would have more courageous leaders.  So why don’t we?  The reason is in what courage requires and what courage provides.  

First, courage requires love.  And what does love require?  Sacrifice.  This includes reversing behaviors.  When I trained with BJ Fogg at Stanford’s Behavior Design Lab, I learned that when someone is asked to stop a behavior, they usually don’t.  However, if you ask them to start a new behavior, they could be distracted away from the old behavior.  This is very effective in technology, but not so much in matters of character.   Love will require you to address your faults in order to see a new path.  Second, courage provides results that do not glorify you; they glorify something outside of you.  If you train for an Ironman®, you spend a great deal of time following a strict routine.  Why?  So you can finish the race.  This brings personal satisfaction.  It does not glorify anything outside of you.  That’s ok, it just didn’t take courage to do that race, it took work, sweat and effort.  What do you do when you finish the race, you celebrate with burgers and beer.  You want something pleasurable for all that work.  But courage takes work, sweat, effort and love.  What is the result of that?  Joy.  The results of courage are a surprise; mainly because when you do a courageous act, you aren’t expecting a reward for doing so.  Pleasure is a reward controlled by you to say, “good job me.”  Joy is not.  Humans tend to do things they can predict the outcome of, that is why pleasure is the obvious celebration for hard work.  An act of courage doesn’t consider celebration.  The act only thinks about sacrifice for what they love.  I do not think the mother who jumped in front of the bullet for her son during the Orlando shooting did it so they could go out and celebrate afterward?  She didn’t think.  She just did it.  Where’s the joy in that?  Her son is alive because of her love!  If her son fails to see the beauty in what she did, then he is missing the Joy she brought to his life.  The feeling I had after finishing World’s Toughest Mudder or the Ironman® was completely predictable.  I felt like a hard worker and so I celebrated.  The reason we don’t see more courageous leaders is because we don’t like the prospects for our pleasure in becoming courageous.  Courage means we will lose control.  The silly part of this is thinking we have control of anything in the first place.   

Chesterton has many quotes about war and courage.  One of his best is, “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”  This quote tells us how this training should look.  It is not a pill we can take to have instant courage.  It is not a door we can walk through, courageous character is a path.  A path where you take a small step each day choosing to serve human flourishing.  Courageous character continues to fight for the human community.  Any time we act in our own self interest, we are off the path of training our courageous character.  That is it.  Courageous character training is in the everyday actions of service to the human community.  That said, what I’ve proposed is impossible without an example to follow and love.  Why impossible?  Because after reading this you’ll think you can pick up your bootstraps and go be courageous and you can’t.  It’s too hard.  You’ll kill yourself trying to earn courage when courage can’t be earned.  It is a pursuit of love and the result provides what you need the moment you need it.  So what examples in history are there of people who gave up all that they are for all they hold dear?  I gave you one earlier of the mother in Orlando, but there are many others:  every medal of honor winner.  Every mother who has died giving birth.  But these examples won’t shape your courage.  Afterall, these people didn’t love you and sacrifice themselves for you.  My point is the only thing worth all our effort to train in courageous character is doing it for someone who sacrificed themselves for us.  Who died for you and me? Who gave up all they had, so we could live?  What person did that?  I know only one person in history who made that claim and he died on a hill called Calvary.

Remember this, power is in the hands of the person who is willing to sacrifice themselves for all they hold dear.  A person who sacrifices others for what they want is a person with an addiction for control they never had.   Their time is numbered & they will destroy themselves.  You think I'm not talking about myself?  I am.  That's why I need training & healing.  Dying for who you love is conceivable, but dying for who you hate, that is a much harder to process, but that is the benchmark of the kind of courage I am talking about.  Once this self sacrificing idea sinks deep within our hearts, we’ll begin looking at relationships around us as gifts to enjoy rather than assets that depreciate and can be stolen.  Before you go and start making your life courageous, look first at the ultimate example of courage and then let love guide your action each day.   Train others like this and we may yet see a generation of courageous human leaders worthy of our obedience.    


GK Chesterton:

Peter Thiel:


About the author: Hi! I'm Gary Xavier, founder of The Blade Group LLC.  A company that provides faith-based training in resilience to families, businesses and schools.  I am a former Marine sniper, Iraq War veteran, Ironman® athlete and PGA Golf Professional.  I earned my MBA from CSU Sacramento and I am training currently in Christian apologetics with RZIM.  You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @garyjxavier or email me at



I AM Coming Out...


I AM Coming Out...

You must picture a man with a steady and unrelenting sense that "something" is closing in on him.  A presence of a sort.  A thing that knows what he is holding at bay.   I was most comfortable keeping my secret in my coat pocket.  After all, when a thing is pocketed, it is still in your control to take out and show others at your leisure.  However, this presence quickly approached and began unraveling the coat until all that remained was my naked body.  I could not hide any longer.  In a flash, all of my inequities were on display.  I was an exhibit of the modern man:  a statue of misguided desires, selfish ambitions, delusional fears, unwarranted hatreds and unjust judgments.  At that moment, I had no choice, but at the same time, I had one of the most free and clear choices in the world.  The presence whispered, “Submit! Surrender!”  It offered no opportunity for negotiating.  It wanted everything!  Total submission.  Total surrender.  It only said, "I Am that I Am." I began to weep at the thought of what this would cost me and I finally said, “Take it.  Take all of it!”  And the result?  The answer to my decision: complete and total rapture.  Imagine standing naked will all your faults exposed and someone saying, "I love what I see."  Imagine your body feeling almost a universal tingle of warmth like it must have felt in the womb to hear your mother’s voice.  The feeling of a divine embrace.  The only feeling that allows a human to be ripe with courage and deeply comfortable in humility.

When you are a speaker or a creator of content, there is always a lens you use to convey your message.  You tend to research the philosophies of the ancient world, the teachings of postmodern thinkers and evidence-based studies to find alignment with your version of the world.  This usually results in a framework, course or book so others can apply your teachings.  However, after so much introspection and inspection, there comes a point when you must answer the crying voice of truth.  Truth is crying out and saying, I am the greatest weapon in the world and people will try to use me for power, but I am the only way and only hope for humanity.  

So what is my secret?  What am I coming out to tell you?  I am a fool.  I always have been, but now I am a fool for the personal, moral and eternally good God and father of us all.  The creator of all things who loved each of us enough to create us free to ignore him.  The creator who became human and not only took the punishment I deserved, but came back.  I am coming out to tell you that I am a Christian.  A broken person, made in the image of God.  God is the husband and I am the bride.  It means that now I must direct my business and language as arrows pointing directly to Him.  I am telling you this, so you know the very foundation for all things I speak on and write about.  I am doing this to ensure that whether you agree or disagree with me, at least you'll know where my ideas come from.  Will I stumble?  Certainly.  Will I make bad decisions?  Without question.  But one thing I won’t do anymore is stumble or make bad decisions out of fear.  I can only attempt to stay in alignment with the gifts I’ve been given that serve our human community.  You may not understand this message or my decision to tell you, but when you become aware of this eternal goodness, you are called to get out and boast about Him.  In Jeremiah 9:23-24 it is written "The wise man must not boast in his wisdom; the strong man must not boast in his strength; the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth.  But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me - that I am the Lord, showing faithful love, justice and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things.  This is the Lord's declaration."

There are times I wish I were a welder or a janitor.  I could do my job with ultimate precision and pride without needing to make my work a discussion about God, but I am a speaker.  That is my skill, so the very nature of my job now must speak the truth.  His truth.  This is not a self-help program, religion or philosophy.  As C.S. Lewis said in his own conversion story, “It is the summing up and actuality of them all…”

The topics of resilience and leadership in families, businesses and schools will continue.  I will just be revealing the source of what I think transforms those groups and applying it to the challenges we face today.  In a way, my content is getting a long awaited injection of real wisdom.  

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for understanding.

In service,


P.S. I have not lost my mind:)  "I AM" (God) is simply coming out in me.  And when that happens, you always look a little strange, but strangeness when presented with healing words and a healed heart will only look strange for a time.  In time, what was once desirable will become strange and what was once strange will become desirable.  

About the author: Hi! I'm Gary Xavier, founder of The Blade Group LLC.  A company that provides faith-based training in resilience to families, businesses and schools.  I am a former Marine sniper, Iraq War veteran, Ironman athlete and PGA Golf Professional.  I earned my MBA from CSU Sacramento and I am training currently in Christian apologetics with RZIM.  You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @garyjxavier or email me at



Why Millenials Should Rethink Playing House


Why Millenials Should Rethink Playing House


God's great cosmic joke on the human race was requiring that men and women live together in marriage.

- Mark Twain

I'm 33 years old.  I've been married for almost eight years.  I met my wife in 5th grade.  When I was eleven, I gave her a $1 ring in a paper bag because I wanted to marry her.  Wise beyond her years, she kindly gave the ring back.  15 years later, I would be looking at her in the middle of a redwood forest in front of family and friends on the day of our wedding.  The new ring didn't cost $1, and luckily, she didn't give it back.  In 2014, I witnessed the birth of our daughter, Elsie Grace and in a flash, I saw all that my wife and I had been through from age ten to 33 and I was weightless under the power of how I could receive a gift so divine.

My story may force you to roll your eyes or soften your heart.  In either case, it does not change the fact that marriage is a relationship completely unique to the human experience.  The journey toward marriage is as varied as each of our lives are, but do we see marriage with reverence today?  With wonder?  C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves.  In this book, he reveals that the English language doesn't provide the depth required of the word "love."  In fact, we use love quite liberally in our culture.  We love friends, cars, dogs and phones, but Lewis describes how the Greeks defined love.

The Four Loves according to the Greeks:

  1. Phileo - Brotherly love or friendship
  2. Eros - Sexual love
  3. Storge - Parental love
  4. Agape - Godly love

Marriage is the only relationship of it's kind, in all the world, where all four loves merge.  You can have one of the first three, but you can't have them all without the last one.  The reason being is that Agape or Godly love is the very essence or reason for the first three.  What the Greeks knew to be true is friendship, sexuality and parenthood are cosmic gifts.  The reason they are cosmic is the resulting sense of gratitude that comes with each one.  Have you asked where you received the capacity to be a friend, a lover or a parent?  From a book?  From your upbringing?  

I'm not talking about the traditions or routines you've seen in your family or neighborhood.  I'm talking about where you got the capacity to experience those loves.  If we stop at Agape, then what reason would we have to call our love a gift?  There would be no gratitude, it would simply be a result of your own doing.  "I made this happen, good for me.  I deserve this love."  Anyone who has really been in love, is overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude.  That wonder is what I'm arguing is in jeopardy with the Millenial trend of playing house.  

The widespread trend of cohabitation (living together before marriage) or "playing house" as I like to call it, has provided two schools of results during research.  The older school believes it leads to divorce: the notion of "test driving" the car before you buy is a sure fire way to have buyer's remorse.  The second (and more modern school) believes that divorce has little, if anything, to do with cohabitation and a person's age has more to do with a marriage's success.  The idea being that older people are more suited for what is required in a marriage relationship. Just for context, only 11% of women who first married between 1965 and 1974 cohabited prior to marriage.  From 2005-2009, 66% of women were cohabitating before marriage according to sociologist Wendy Manning.  There has been a 900% increase in living together before marriage in the last 50 years.  To further strengthen the second school's belief, the divorce rate is also decreasing.  This would leave us to believe that since cohabitation is at an all-time high and divorce is at a 20-year low, all you have to do is be over age 25 and live together and you'll avoid divorce.  Nothing is that simple.  Here are my 5 arguments against these schools of research and why Millenials should rethink playing house.  

  1. Millenials are too young to know playing house works
    First, if we look at Millennials who are born from 1980 to 1999, the oldest person in this generation is 35.  If that person married at age 18, the maximum age of a marriage for any Millennial is 17 years.  Despite this being over the infamous "seven-year itch" where most divorces occur, 17 years is hardly an accurate data point to claim that "playing house" is an antidote for divorce.  In 1894, Mark Twain said in his notebook, "No man or woman knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century."  If that doesn't convince you, a relatively new study found that people who are married for 65 years or more have more sex then a single person does.  That means your 80-year old grandparents have more sex than you do! Why is this so important and not gross? Dr. Samuel Stroope, lead author and sociologist at L.S.U. was interviewed in The New York Times in February of last year.  Stroope describes this phenomenon with long-time marriage relationships as“relationship capital."  "In good marriages," he said, “you’re building up something, accumulating experience and knowledge about your intimate partner over time that builds on itself.”  What he's saying is that the four loves compound one another.  Sex is an expression of that compounding.  How can we say that playing house for one or two years provides a window into the deep connection that is only attained over 5-6 decades? 
  2. Playing house is based on conditional love
    One of the biggest excuses people make for living together is economical.  One rent check makes more sense than two right?  Although, people who live together prior to marriage seldom combine bank accounts.  The other excuse is, "I want to see how they live, so I know I'm not making a mistake."  The not so public excuse is about sex.  Now before you think I'm being socially regressive please consider this.  How much would you want to be married to a person who, at any moment, can leave if they aren't pleased with your sexual, economic or domestic performance?  The entire point of marriage is that it is a legal declaration that I am no longer married to what I want.  Imagine saying this to your current long-time relationship.

    "The love I have for you is an expression of what I'm willing to give up and change for your love.  I love you so much that I don't want what I used to want.  That means, even though it makes economic sense to live together, I don't want to live with you in a conditional environment.  I don't want to leave if you pass gas randomly or fail to pay a bill on time.  I don't want to leave because you tell me to clean up my mess when I don't want to.  I love you unconditionally.   I love you so much that I don't want to have sex with you simply to know that you'll make a great mate for me in the future.  I want sex to be an expression of all other aspects of our love together.  When we are ready for that, we shouldn't hesitate to get married, move in together and start a new adventure, idiosyncrasies and all."  

    Now, if that's impossible for you to say, you're probably not ready to be married yet alone live with anyone and that's ok.  You see, the second school of research does have a valid point that it takes time to embrace this feeling of love.  For some, it takes months.  For others, it takes decades.  To think we can beta-test this kind of love is dangerous, ignorant and not fun. 
  3. Playing house means nothing changes when you get married.
    So your plan of testing the ground over the past few years has worked.  You believe this person is compatible with you and your standards and it's time to get married.  You go through the process of engagement and return to the home you both live in.  You plan the wedding and after the big day, you come home to the way things always have been.  There is no change.  Oh, you have rings on.  You have a bunch of money and donations for your honeymoon because you told your wedding guests, "We don't need toasters or sheets or furniture because we were proactive."  You don't consummate the marriage, you just have sex again because "that's what we do."  

    Here's something that will shock you, the divorce rate for arranged marriages is 6%.  According to Utpal Dholakia Ph.D., a 2013 IPSOS survey found that 74% of young Indians (18-35 years old) prefer an arranged marriage over a free-choice one. Other sources report that as many as 90% of all Indian marriages are arranged.  Only 1 in 100 Indian marriages end in Divorce.  And as far as satisfaction goes, a recent study by UCLA found that in 28 arranged Indian-American marriages and 30 free-choice marriages, there was no difference in their love and affection for one another.  Some of these arranged marriages have only a few days to be alone together before they decide.  

    According to Dr. Dholakia, some reasons feeding this phenomenon is the prospects are vetted through reliable sources.  The parents or family choose.  This also limits the amount of options for a person.  It takes two very difficult parts out of the courting process.  Trying to find an attractive mate with similar values, religion, attractiveness and status is difficult.  This is somewhat taken care of in an arranged marriage.  Another aspect is low deliberation time.  You have no opportunity to take your time, so only the most important traits get observed and valued.  Finally, it means the marriage is started with lower expectations.  I would say more realistic expectations.    Think of the pressure you put on the marriage when you've told yourself that everything was tested and approved and then one day your proven mate does something that frustrates you.  Uh oh!  What then? When we remove the newness of a marriage or the transition that happens when two people become married, we put more pressure then is needed.  When you both don't know how you live, you come up with your own ways of doing things.  You discuss and compromise and realize that the way your parents did things may not be the best way.  Anyone who is married and still saying, "Well, that's how my family does it," is still being controlled by their parents and their past.   Be open to seeing marriage as a whole new aspect of your life.  It is not an update to your current existence.  This is a relationship that will make you something you've never seen or considered.  That's what it's designed to do.  
  4. Sex is not a transaction that you return when you're done playing house.
    To be naked and have sex with someone means to be one with them literally and spiritually.  If sex is a currency, we massively devalue it by having sex with someone we are not totally committed to.  Marriage is the only relationship where we say, "I am totally committed to you."  When you have sex with someone, you are saying, "I am yours.  I am completely yours. All my love and desire are tied up in you."  To do it without really feeling that, you've just used the most powerful expression or ceremony of all four loves and said, "I didn't really mean anything.  It's just sex." Sex before marriage means that I want to be physically naked, but I don't want to be economically, emotionally or spiritually naked with you.  Marriage is the relationship that says, "I want you for you alone."  Sex is the expression of that deep desire for someone.  Consider this, the next time you find yourself about to have sex with someone and you're not married to them, ask yourself this true/false question,  "This person can have all that I own and all that I desire."  If the answer is true, stop and ask that person to marry you.  If the answer is false, just stop.
  5. Wise people can reverse course
    The ultimate human problem is that we know what to do, but choose not to do it.  We have to focus on what is at stake here.  If you are living with someone that you intend to marry, have the hard discussion with them about why you can't pretend to be married.  Move out because you love them enough to say, "I don't need to test the ground.  I want you blemishes and all."  Have the confidence in them to reciprocate.  If they love you the way they are supposed to, they will come to understand.  If you're thinking about moving in with someone you may want to marry, please reconsider.  Let the four loves come in due time.  Build a friendship that's bursting with desire and let patience be the virtue you employ.  Let your love compound. 

What I see in the rise of cohabitation is the desire to predict the unpredictable.  We are trying to calculate and forecast the most important things in our lives.  The things worth living for we are relegating to a process reserved for making a financial investment.   The more we try to control how and who we love, the more blind our souls will be when real love is right in front of us.  Simply because all we will say is, "I have plans and you're not in alignment with them."  Isn't it more wondrous and fitting to say "I had plans and you've changed them. Let's make new plans."  

Let me leave you with this: The British philosopher and known atheist, Bertrand Russell in his work The Conquest of Happiness said, "Of all cautions, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness."  If you want to throw caution to the wind and find a lasting love, love your partner for their own sake.  Resist the norms and the data.  Don't be sucked in by the urges.  Love him/her completely and then you'll be able to enjoy him/her completely.  Once that happens, you'll be a witness to the power of all four loves uniting.  

“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.”

                                   - Sam Keen, American author & philosopher

 About the author: Gary Xavier is the founder of The Blade Group LLC.  A company that provides corporate cohesion services through visual media strategy and leadership development.  Gary writes on young worker leadership and mission engagement.  He is a former Marine sniper, Iraq War veteran, Ironman athlete and PGA Golf Professional.  Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at 



We are more than our work


We are more than our work

"In the face of longstanding evidence that routinization and an overemphasis on pay lead to worse performance in the workplace, why have we continued to tolerate and even embrace that approach to work?"
Barry Schwartz - Rethinking Work - The New York Times 8.28.15

We are more than our work.  Have we considered for a second that the blame for worker disengagement is not entirely the fault of the people we work for?  Could it be our desire that someone provide us with the kind of work that gives us meaning is an impossible expectation?  I believe the level of disengagement we are seeing is 10% our employers fault and 90% our own fault.  I believe we are elevating work to a level that could never meet our expectations.  Think about it.  We long to have a job or career that gives us meaning and gets us out of bed in the morning, but the very nature of work is that it will ultimately go away and eventually disappoint us.   You might be sitting in your dream job right now with all the perks you can imagine and read this and say, "What a load of crock!"  Equally delusional, there is a person recently laid off who is saying, "Preach on brother!" Would it surprise you to believe that both of these people are a slave to the same master.  They both elevate their jobs or employers as the champion of their happiness and despair.  

How do I know this is delusional?  Because I was a slave to the same master.  I lost a job that I considered to be a part of my meaning in this life.  And when it was gone, I felt lost and without purpose.  All I was doing was worshiping my job.  I wasn't really embracing a cause.  I didn't really have a mission.  I wanted a job, so I didn't have to tell people that I didn't have one.  If I really believed in my cause, I would have fought for it and found other work that made it a reality.  It's taken time. I've done that now, but it took a lot of time!

Timothy Keller, the head pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, talks to over 5,000 people each week.  A large portion of them are millennial executives.  He says this about jobs,

"A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it for them rather than for yourself. And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person."
Timothy Keller, Pastor - Redeemer Presberterian Church, Manhattan


I thought about the scene in City Slickers when Billy Crystal returns home from his dude ranch experience and is wife tells him it's ok if he quits his job.  He says, "No, I'm just going to do it better.  I'm going to do everything better."  Then his wife says, "Everything?"  

Prior to leaving for his dude ranch trip, Billy Crystal's character was making his work that is ultimately temporary the very meaning of his life, and in so doing he continued to be disappointed.  The truth remains that anything natural or man-made is temporary.  Even your spouse and children will go away and so will we.  That's right, you're temporary.  Anything natural or man-made will eventually hurt us in some way because it's guaranteed to change from its current form.  A basic example is a car.  We love it in the beginning, but then it falls a part and then we can't wait to get rid of it.  However, remember how excited that car made you when you first bought it.  You imagined how you would be perceived pulling up in it.  Then you're on the side of the road, cursing at it and all of a sudden your pride and joy is fallible.  Ok, so is the meaning of this article that anything on the earth or universe is temporary and unworthy of our meaning, so we have zero to look forward to and we should just crawl in a hole, never love anything and say there's nothing worth living for?  BS!

The logic of the solution is quite simple.  The only way we can truly love our work, our spouses, ourselves, our children or anything worth loving in this life is to center our meaning on what Timothy Keller calls "The Immutable." Immutable means something that never changes or cannot be changed.  So I thought about what could possibly fall into this category.  What never changes or cannot be changed?  I made a quick list trying to avoid one of the obvious choices.  

  • The Sun
  • Nature
  • The Solar System
  • Time
  • The Universe
  • My virtues and values
  • Science
  • God

As much as I thought about it, I could not see how the sun, nature, the solar system, time, science or even my own virtues and values are unchangeable or remain consistent.  They all are changing constantly or dissipating with energy all the time.  The Stoics believed that the only thing you can trust is your own virtue, but think about how much your values and virtues have changed since you were a child.  Then I had to address the dark horse on the list...God.  Does the concept or the idea of God ever change?  

Let me ask you a question before you think this is an article about conversion.  The most loving and fulfilled people in the world have acknowledged their born gifts and used them in the service of the greater good.  Isn't that life an outward expression of something invisible? Isn't that life a demonstration that we all have gifts that can be used in the service of others?  Where did those gifts come from?  Are they from genetics? Are they from the place I was born? In his 1994 biography, "A Long Walk To Freedom" Nelson Mandela said, 

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Nelson Mandela

Now this is where I need you to be open minded.  What if there were a focal point for every person on the planet that brings ultimate meaning and love.  A focal point that can help ease the noise of our culture and the noise of our jobs.  What if that is real and everyone already has it?  Would you do work the same way?  Would you love your spouse the same way?  Would you love a stranger the same way? What if you were not an accident?  What if you were put here with a very specific set of skills that were meant to make large differences in the world?  What if this had nothing to do with where you born, how you grew up or how much money your family has?  

I'm not talking about an existence free of struggle.  Quite the contrary.  I'm talking about the notion that for the first time, we begin to see a reason worthy of enduring our struggles.  I'm talking about a reason worthy of us truly rejoicing in things like wine, food, sex, marriage, nature, success and money. A reason that finds beauty in everything, even disappointment.  What if?

The book Unbroken, recently made into a major motion picture tells the story of Louis Zamperini.  In the book, Zamperini says, "There's always an after to everything."  What's your after? We usually look at Friday as our after to our work week.  It's the thing that we look forward to, so we can tolerate the rest of what goes on.  Knowing now that you, your work, your house, your family are all temporary, what can you focus on that is immutable?  What is "the after" that will help you begin to see that you are more than your work?  

"There's always an after to everything."
Louis Zamperini - True story told in the book, UNBROKEN







How leaders prepare for the worst scenario.

"Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear."

Lao Tzu, Ancient Chinese Philosopher

SERE Level C Logo

SERE Level C Logo

Let me share a story with you.  In the fall of 2002, I was sitting naked in a concrete cell.  My body ached because I had to squat to fit in it.  I had been there for a few days.  I hadn't eaten or slept.  I would be taken out periodically, interrogated and thrown back in.  I was cold and wet and wondering how I got into this situation.  I wasn't in Iraq.  I wasn't officially a POW (prisoner of war).  I was a part of a military school called S.E.R.E. (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape).   This school trains military personnel who's job puts them far inside enemy lines.  This includes pilots, Navy Seals and Marine Snipers to name a few.  At the time, I was just a P.I.G. (professionally instructed gunmen).  This is a term for a wannabe Marine sniper.  The goal is to become a H.O.G. (hunter of gunmen).  Although, I was sent early in my career as a P.I.G.; I learned an enduring lesson from this difficult experience: prepare yourself and your team for the worst possible scenario. 

The optimism of a new venture, product launch or promotion is intoxicating.  We rally resources, people and ideas to something new.  We feel a sense of worth that our work is recognized.  Nothing is more gratifying than watching our work be experienced and appreciated by people we've never met, but have we considered the loss of life that can occur in such endeavors? I don't mean people dying.  I mean, have we prepared our teams and ourselves for the very real possibility that the team we started with won't be here forever?  Have we prepared for the worst possible scenario?  The answer is no!  And I wanted to understand why and how to assist teams prepare for it.  

"You don't rise to the occasion.  You sink to the level of your training."

Brandon Webb - Navy Seal Sniper course innovator

I found this lesson so compelling because when I entered Sniper school for the first time, on the entrance to our barracks, I saw a message in big white letters, "Failure is NOT an option." 


Entrance to Sniper barracks at Scout Sniper Basic Course at Camp Pendleton, CA 2003

Entrance to Sniper barracks at Scout Sniper Basic Course at Camp Pendleton, CA 2003

 My graduating class 3-03 from Marine Sniper school.  We started with over 20.  Nine finished. I'm in the center.

 My graduating class 3-03 from Marine Sniper school.  We started with over 20.  Nine finished. I'm in the center.


The words on the door referred to the standard expected of advanced infantrymen.  Marine Snipers are never seen.  To be seen as a sniper is mission compromise and compromise is mission failure. Mission failure would put me in a scenario like I experienced in SERE school.  After experiencing what failure would look and feel like, there was no way I wanted to experience that again, so failure was NOT an option.

Systematic failure preparation in business planning or project management processes simply doesn't exist.  It's not hard to see why.  It is difficult to create an environment like SERE for a business scenario, but we have to make it apart of the business planning process.  Failure cannot be a surprise and lead to reactive behavior.  There must be a process for dealing with it and coming out of it with minimal scars.  

When I looked at my own experience as an entrepreneur, failure preparation should have come in two forms: individual and team.  

How to prepare for the worst scenario

Individual Failure Preparation
When you are an entrepreneur, you are warned by many other entrepreneurs about failure.  All you're told is that failure is all around you.  "Most businesses fail" is the popular warning you are given.  If that's the case and failure is a very real threat, why isn't this a part of the business planning process?  There are no questions on a business canvas or business plan that ask what will you do if you have to fire your business partners?  What will you do if critical talent leaves without notice?  How will you communicate a mass layoff.  What is bankruptcy going to cost you?  We seem to focus on the best possible outcome and just let ourselves deal the "that bridge when we come it."  This is just blind optimism.  This is a failure to address the brutal realities we may face.  As a CEO or Co-Founder, you must consider these situations.  Here are three processes to prepare yourself for the worst scenario:

  1. Forecast Your Reaction: In your business plan or canvas, add a note to the bottom of each section.  How will I react if I am wrong here?  Then write down how you'd react.  After that, write down how will people I've asked to join me in this journey react to my reaction?  And put yourself in their shoes.
  2. Adjust your assumptions: Based on the notes you make, adjust your plan in terms of talent, funding, marketing, revenue to circumvent the likelihood of this worse scenario becoming reality.  Failure is not an option only when you've trained to avoid a situation that brings you face to face with it.  
  3. Schedule Contemplation Time: Freek Vermeulen is a professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship at the London Business School.  In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, he discusses the importance of taking time for deep uninterrupted thought.  He mentions leaders like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who schedule time to simply sit and think about their companies.  And the final contemplation question Vermeulen emphasizes in his list of five is to consider the long-term consequences?  

Team Failure Preparation
When go to project management or leadership training, most likely, you'll learn about the phases of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.  The truth is teams go through Forming, Storming, Storming, Storming, Norming, Storming, Performing, Storming.  You are told a partnership is like a marriage and employees are like your family.  The only thing false about this is the permanent nature of these comparisons.  A marriage and a family are ideally supposed to stay loyal to each other for life.  Does this happen always, no, but that's the goal.  Your team's goal is mission accomplishment.  Your team is guaranteed to not remain in its current form.  You are not bound by blood or a marriage vow.  We get this confused when we involve lawyers!  A founders agreement or employee contract is not a guarantee of a permanent relationship.  For reasons based on talent, shared vision and timing, you are all together for a mission.  A mission that has an end.  A mission that will evolve over time and the same talent you have for this mission today may not be necessary for another mission tomorrow (sometimes if feels like it changes that fast).  Here are three process to prepare your team for the worst possible scenario.

  1. Forecast Your Teams Reaction: After you've filled out your reaction forecast, show your team how you would react in those situations and how you thought they would react.  Then ask one question and shut up, "what do you think?"  
  2. Set an Emergency Plan: Once your team provides the feedback, set up a list of SOPs (standard operating procedures) for your emergency plan.  Consider the following six questions in your business emergency plan:

    • What happened?
    • Who's involved?
    • What needs to be done?
    • How do we communicate our decision?
    • Who communicates it?
    • How do we adapt for the future?
  3. Practice Disciplined faith:  Jim Collins (Good to Great) refers the Stockdale Paradox referring to Admiral Jim Stockdale's behavior during his nine year's spent as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.  Admiral Stockdale was the senior officer in the camp.  He purposely disfigured his face to prevent from being put on camera to spread North Vietnamese propaganda.  He sent secret intelligence in letters home to his wife.  He instituted secret communication with the other prisoners using scratches and taps. The Stockdale Paradox addresses the tension between faith and discipline or optimism and reality.  Admiral Stockdale said the prisoners who died first were "the optimists."  They were the ones who constantly told everyone else, "don't worry fellas, we'll be out by Christmas."  Then Christmas came and went.  They'd say, "Oh, we will be by out by the Spring for sure."  Then Spring came and went.  Eventually they died of hopelessness.  In Victor Fankl's A Man's Search for Meaning, he talks about a concentration camp condition referred to as "give-up-itis." This was a term used by U.S. military personnel to describe when a prisoner would wake one morning and refuse to get out of bed.  They would lay there in their own urine and faeces.  Then they'd have a cigarette and that was the indication that in less than 48 hrs that prisoner would be dead.  This happened even after the prisoners were liberated!  Consider the following questions with your team (you don't have to use the military jargon.  Being genuine is always best):

    • Does this mission still align the meaningful work you'd like to do?
    • Has your job outgrown your skills? If so, who do you think would do it best?
    • Have your skills outgrown your job?  If so, how can your skills serve the mission best?
    • Have you trained your subordinates how to do your job?
    • What problems are we refusing to see?

    Hard Note: Your team must never lose site of the reason you are together.  Their is a bigger mission you have come together for, but you must never shy away from the brutal realities you are faced with.  Otherwise, they will tear your team a part from the inside out.  
"Often any decision, even the wrong decision, is better than no decision."

Ben Horowitz, Co Founder - Andreessen Horowitz

Hard Note: Sometimes we are forced to make decisions as leaders that no one understands.  When I had to make such a decision in one of my businesses, I was told by a mentor, "Gary, sometimes it's lonely at the top."  At the time, I felt the exact opposite.  I was anywhere but "at the top."  A better piece of advice would have been, "Gary, you got everyone into this and it's your job to get them out."  Leading can sometimes mean guiding our teams to victory, but sometimes it can mean guiding them through defeat.  All you'll have is your character when the dust settles (literally, that's all you may be left with).  As long as you are in alignment with your character, you did your best to act in the best interest of your team and your company, let everything else go.  Making hard decisions that align perfectly with everyone's context is simply not possible.  

The popular term in the startup world for reality colliding with optimism is "The Trough of Sorrows."  In my opinion, this is completely preventable.  At least to a degree that people begin to lose hair, gain weight and have heart attacks.  If we know this is coming, we must prepare for it.  Former Navy Seal Sniper course innovator, Brandon Webb said in a recent HBR article, "You don't rise to the occasion.  You sink to the level of your training." 

As extensive as my military training was, I didn't begin to scratch the service of what some other operators go through.  As much as I consider my work to be important, there are other entrepreneurs right now working on consumer space travel or robotic cars.  However, it does not matter how big the scale of your mission is.  It is the scale with which you prepare to undertake that mission, so whatever the scale, your mission can succeed.  When I left my corporate job in 2012, I was severely naive about the rigors of an entrepreneurial journey.  I let myself be guided by optimism and optimism alone.  Today, I continue on my mission as an entrepreneur, but I do so with faith I'll prevail and discipline to know when I'm in over my head.  You'll need to determine what "in over your head" means to you. 

Learning how to prepare for failure isn't appealing on marketing materials for leadership courses or MBA programs.  It's the dark side of venturing into uncharted waters.  If our aim is to do great work and take people with us, then we have to address the reality that our work may drastically change and the people we motivate and convince to join us may also face the wrath of that change. 

In the end, there are always conditions that we must endure.  Sometimes those conditions are harsh.  Sometimes they are blissful.  Either way, we must be honest about what conditions we will face.  This bolsters courage, humility, adaptability, stewardship and empathy.  I can now admit that it has always been my responsibility to prepare myself and my team for those conditions no matter what they may be.   There will always be scars in exploration.  The trick is being worthy of those scars by doing something worth fighting for not by tearing each other a part because of poor preparation.  

 About the author: Gary Xavier is a group cohesion strategist, leadership speaker and former Marine Sniper who works with forward-thinking organizations on small unit leader behavior through visual media and the spoken word. He is the Chief Exploration Officer of The Blade Group LLC, a leadership development lab based in Northern California. Gary is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Association for Talent Development.  He is the Creative Director at Blade Planet Films, a video production firm that produces media to assist enterprise level organizations provide a cohesive spark for their teams.  Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at 



Who Says You're A Leader?


Who Says You're A Leader?

Who says you're a leader ?
There have been books and monuments dedicated to the bold and bigger
You've heard the names throughout history like Churchill, Mandela, Ghandi and Caesar.

But these people were not infallible in how they lived
One was a drunk, a convict, a lawyer and fugitive

So what's happened to the small 
Those who act everyday with faith, love and courage most of all. 

When did the measure of leadership become a scoreboard riddled with excess
More investors, users, rallies, mentions, capital it's all pursuits of stress

Who says you're a leader when you leave your team behind?
Who says you're a leader when you move so fast you can't see the opportunities, you're nearly blind.

We can celebrate leaders like Peter Shih, Ellison, Murdoch and Trump
But leadership is who you can inspire not force, manipulate, lie to or dump.

The truth is cold but its a fact
The #1 reason employees don't trust us is because we have no courage, humility or tact.

The future needs a new leader who can bridge the gaps
Solving hugger, disease, energy, relationships and apple maps.

The world loves a leader ready to be bold and bigger
But the world needs a leader humble enough to speak the truth with a whisper

As a 21st century leader, there are only three decisions we need to remember
Become morally noble, Accept self sacrifice and search for a new frontier 

We don't need updates, upgrades, downloads or overloads
But with courage, humility, adaptability, stewardship, empathy our humanity will explode

The time has come for us to decide 
What kind of leaders we are inside

Will we simply look for a market that pays us
Or will we create new inventions, new economics that save us

I know you are worried about what the world will think
If you simply slow down, stop and blink

Remember, your people look to you when times get tough and come unglued
So you might as well challenge convention because tough times are coming, you're gonna get sued.

Just know yourself, know your people and know your destination
The rest will take care of itself as long as you stick to this with determination

We only have a small amount of time
To make a difference, to be remembered to make someone shine

Don't let age or upbringing draw the line
Instead surround yourself with the best and kindest, they won't let you resign

So if you have an idea or want to bridge a gap
Go find the resources, the talent and ignore the crap

But if someone asks, "who says you're a leader?"
Simply reply, "No one, I'm here to make a difference, isn't that why you're here?"

Gary Xavier is a group cohesion expert, leadership speaker and former Marine Sniper who works with forward-thinking organizations on small unit leader behavior through visual media and the spoken word. He is the Chief Exploration Officer of The Blade Group LLC, a leadership development lab based in Northern California. Gary is a member of the National Speakers Association, the Association for Talent Development and the Professional Golfer's Association of America. Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at 


Humans vs. Resources: Winning the HR War


Humans vs. Resources: Winning the HR War

Human resources isn’t a thing we do, it’s the thing that runs our business.
— Steve Wynn, Business Magnate

Since the rise of generation Y, cloud computing and ISIS, bad news has become easier to deliver.  Bad news: Human Resources Management (HRM) is losing it's true value.  HR's value is being lost to the winds of economic evolution.  In Deloitte's 2015 Human Capital Trends report, only 22% of respondents believe that HR can adapt to the changing workforce. Only 20% felt that HR could plan adequately for the companies future talent needs.  Good news: this is the greatest opportunity for an HR renaissance since the realization that our labor force needed training, development and other benefits at the beginning of the 20th century.  This post is about HR's pivotal fight to understand two realities: people logistics and people synergistics.  The victor will recruit, develop and provide resources to one of the most dynamic human workforces in history.  The victor will become the sinew of corporate progress.  There can be only one loser...HR.  

In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first...The first object of any good system must be that of developing first class men.
— Frederick W. Taylor, Mechanical Engineer & Early Management Consultant

In preparation for this article, I did some research on the history of human resources management.  It turns out, the entire inception of HR began with the topic of economic efficiency.  It took a man named Frederick Winslow Taylor to realize a key part of the economic efficiency in manufacturing was human labor.  The later development of the Hawthorne Effect changed the way we understood labor behavior.  The Hawthorne studies were designed to understand the effects on worker productivity through introducing varying degrees of light on the assembly line.  What's interesting is that productivity did go up when the study began, but not simply because lights were brighter or darker, but because the workers felt like someone was taking an interest in them.  When the study ended, productivity went down.  The significance of the Hawthorne studies reveals the early importance of human talent and needs before distractions like compliance became the main focal point and time-suck of all HR departments.  In a 2012 article in Fist Full of Talent, contributor Meredith Soleau wrote that "CEO's complain that HR puts compliance first, people second."   We have reversed the initial intention of HR.  I've maid the claim in other posts that technology is not getting rid of human labor, it is liberating it from the chains of left brain mechanical work.  This is why companies like Zenifits will aid in this HR renaissance not hinder it. 

I ended up being the guy who had to deal with all this H.R. stuff at the company, and it was an amount of time that I deeply resented.
— Parker Conrad, CEO of Zenifits

The battle HR is fighting is not unlike what the workforce or leadership is going through as well.  Transition is all around, but HR has an advantage because it knows what it's supposed to do, but it's energy is torn between two tanks of fuel: 

The two energy tanks of HR: Logistics & Synergistics

Imagine a dashboard on a car.  This HR dashboard has a car with two fuel tanks.  One labeled logistics the other synergistics.  Below lists some of the HR activities in each tank.  I realize there is a great deal more that HR professions do.  

The logistics tank covers:

  • On-boarding
  • Payroll
  • Insurance
  • Legal
  • Layoffs
  • Benefits
  • Movement of workers & offices

The synergistics tank deals with:

  • Recruitment
  • Intelligence
  • Strategy
  • Training
  • Alignment
  • Retention
  • Alumni

Now imagine an innovation capacity meter between them.  The meter goes up when more time is committed to the synergistic tank.  The meter goes down when more time is committed to the logistics tank.  It is not enough to simply cut logistics costs.  We must increase output on synergistic work.

The way I look at this is HR has become what the Marine Corps calls the "S-4."  This is the logistics support office of any combat unit.  They handle the beans, bullets and bandaids for the unit.  This office is widely perceived in the same way HR is today.  "Get me the talent, get me the weapons, get me the training facilities, get me the travel arrangements, etc."  HR must make itself the "S-2."  This was where I operated as a Marine Sniper.  This is intelligence.  While not part of the standard group of infantry men, the intelligence office has officers and operatives all charged with making the unit more aware of the threat and providing solutions to deal with it.  This is the commanding officer's second brain.  HR must become the provider of strategy, intelligence and talent.  Here are four ways we begin positioning HR for the future: 

4 Tactics to Win the HR War

1.  Simplify human logistics
You're dealing with the WOD (Workforce on Demand).  Most demands involve the logistics tank.  Make on-boarding swift, accurate, flexible and automated.  Outsource or automate legal case filings or data gathering.  Remember, you can't prevent a lawsuit claim.  Anyone can bring one for any reason at any time.  If you have insurance, follow labor laws and operate honorable when hiring and firing, let other components fall to agencies who specialize in this.  Zenefits is a great option to begin cutting logistics costs.  

2.  Reinvigorate the calendar with human synergistics
Integrate long-term employee and leadership development programs.  Meet with each department, so you will understand employee archetypes, talent needs and careers desires.  I mentioned The Alliance in my last post and I haven't found a better framework for determining a way to honestly develop top-tier talent.  Contact Allied Talent for their help.  This effort is critical to attracting and keeping the right people for the companies' mission. 

3.  Stop forcing culture on people.  
HR is not a culture provider, it is a human capital maximizer.  If you make sure logistics is swift and synergistics is genuine than culture will form based on performance.  Culture comes from people feeling like they are great at what they do and that they belong to an organization who shares their values and cares about their future growth.  You are the ambassador of a bigger vision for the company, you don't have time for decorating desks.  The talent you recruit, develop and retain must have a career vision in alignment with that mission.  Please resist another birthday cake, corporate picnic or Biggest Loser challenge.  Independent departments or workers can plan and execute these fun events very well on their own and they'd be more genuine.   

4.  Become intelligence operatives
You must begin meeting with people inside and outside your industry who are taking their companies to a new frontier.  Your job is gather information about the industry, innovative practices and coming trends.  Report this back to the executive team with solutions or strategies to capitalize on this information.  Deepen your understanding of what each department values.  Engineering will need much different things than marketing or sales.  Social media analytics can assist in understanding some behavior if your organization is too large to meet with each person or department.  

In economic terms, we’ve always thought of work as a disutility - as something you do to get something else. Now it’s increasingly a utility - something that’s valuable and worthy in its own right.
— Daniel H. Pink, Bestselling Author of Drive, A Whole New Mind & To Sell is Human

Does your HR department "run your business" as Steve Wynn suggests?  I would go a step further and say does your HR department run the pulse of your business?  What would you do if you had a department or one person on your team committed to getting you the best talent, insightful intelligence and able to provide strategies for both?  This should be the new value for HR.  

In Deloitte's 2015 Human Capital Trends report, leadership is the number one concern for most companies.  Leadership is deeply concerned with talent acquisition and succession.  HR must be measured on the relationship between innovative capability and life-long engagement.  Remember, innovation comes from the group.  Lone geniuses are great, but the collection of talented people with the freedom to find solutions is where most innovation happens today.  And that kind of environment breeds loyalty whether they leave the company or not.  They will always be grateful for the gift of getting to do great work.  Imagine a worker at your company who left 10 years ago, started their own firm and is quoted in an interview saying "If it wasn't for the people and the work we did at company X, I wouldn't be where I am today."  This is a good metric and a great new reality for HR.

Gary Xavier, MBA, PGA is a group cohesion expert, leadership speaker and former Marine Sniper who works to mobilize bold leaders within forward-thinking organizations. He is the Chief Exploration Officer of The Blade Group LLC, a provider of leadership speaking, training and visual media based in Northern California. Gary is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Association for Talent Development. Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at  


Intimacy: The future of leadership


Intimacy: The future of leadership

I get energy from one-on-one conversations most often, and I lose energy from group conversations most often.
— Reid Hoffman, Founder & Chairman of LinkedIn

Intimacy is a word rarely associated with technology or leadership. Yet a technology leader like Reid Hoffman embodies all attributes of a behavior usually associated with couples or parents. In this post, I am going to make a case that those who have the capacity to be intimate have an unfair advantage in their ability to be an enduring leader. In fact, I would argue this is going to be more critical as our economy becomes more driven by technology.

I should clarify what kind of intimacy I'm advocating. Through my own experiences, intimacy usually gets people thinking about sex and I must admit, physical intimacy does enter into my mind when I hear the word, but the kind of intimacy shown by a leader like Reid Hoffman has nothing to do with physical intimacy. According to marriage and family therapist, Angela S. McClean, there are over 16 forms of intimacy. I had no idea there were forms of intimacy like crisis, humor or recreational. We're are going to focus on just one: communication intimacy.

A major part of our job is helping people develop how they think. How they get to an answer matters more than ever.
— Jeff Barnes, Head of Global Leadership at GE


A leader who is most effective at communication intimacy is a person who creates a genuine, highly adaptable and measurable relationship with whomever they interact with. In the book, The Alliance, Reid Hoffman describes the broken relationship between workers and leaders as a result of a dishonest conversations in today's corporate climate. The initial dishonest conversation occurs when a company hires someone for a job and then says "Welcome to the family. We hope you have a long career with us." While the statement is welcoming, it is not honest. Soon after this interaction, the employee finds themselves in an HR office signing an At-Will agreement with a 90-day probation period. Hoffman has referenced how Jack Welch (former GE CEO) used to advocate the "one-day contract." The one-day contract basically said that as an employee you need to earn your spot everyday or risk losing it. This form of leadership and organizational behavior is obsolete and counter productive to making companies more innovative and adaptable. What Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh have recommended is developing a "Tour of Duty" model that puts a structure around the aspirations of both the company and the employee. This is a fixed period of time that is tracked and helps the employee grow toward their desired outcome. The starting point of this concept begins with an intimate question, "What do you want to do when you leave us?" Jack Welch may have had a difficult time asking this question. By embracing a more intimate form of leadership, you deepen the connection with your employees and increase retention of some of your best talent.

I know it’s going to sound like a line, but it’s not. Nothing is more important than the happiness of your employees.
— Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn

Intimacy is a human interaction, but if this type of interaction drives greater adaptability and innovation, then it must be important enough to measure. And "if it gets measured, it get's done" as Simon Sinek says his his book, Start With Why. Here are 3 steps to begin leading your company and your people more intimately:

1. Stop being a leader and start being a steward
A man named Darwin E. Smith transformed the paper company, Kimberly Clark (KMB) as its CEO. He started in their legal division on a $15,000 a year salary in 1958. He planned to leave once he had corporate experience. He stayed for over 34 years. At the end of his tenure, Kimberly Clark had outpaced the market four to one. Doubling the performance of giants like GE. Toward the end of his tenure, he was asked what led to his success. He responded by simply saying, "I never stopped being qualified for the position."

You are a liberator not a dictator. You are liberating the creative and intellectual muscle of your employees and you are liberating the innovative capacity of your company. You cannot do either if you think your way is the only way. You have to start with intimately knowing your people (who they hang out with, what their relationships are like, what their children are like, what are their values, what are their current struggles). You will not effectively lead anyone unless you're willing to deeply understand their context.

Keep track of your employee's living diary in an Evernote file or other note taking app. As they share parts of their lives, record them and become familiar with what is driving them and what is worrying them.

2. Form an alliance. Find out what your employees will do when they leave you (As prescribed in The Alliance)
Personally visit or google hangout with each of your direct reports. Tell them that you'd like to learn more about their career aspirations, so you can help them achieve it. Give them two weeks to prepare. Have them write down what their ideal work environment would be, what type of projects they'd like to do and what they envision doing when they leave the company. You must also prepare for this meeting by knowing your own career outline, but truly knowing the companies future goals. Without this, you will not be able to find out if you can facilitate a way to help them with their career. 

When you hold the meeting, reassure them that this is not a performance review and this is not a tactic to "manage them out" of the company. Convey that the company is rolling out a new way to help employees achieve career meaning. Both of you should be taking notes (I highly recommend using Allied Talent on how to properly implement The Alliance framework. Credibility or resentment could ensue if there is not continuity across departments).

3. Let go. Allow your team to drive change and innovation
According to a recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership, there is a decline in heroic leadership and a rise of collective leadership. The example given is how it was difficult for the media to track down a leader for the cause that took down Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak. It was a coordinated community with many figure heads not just one. 

At the University of California at Davis, Andrew Hargadon has been researching innovation. In the last 10 years, innovation has come from a collective group and not a "genius." 

Begin establishing ways for your team to expand and build networks in and out of the company. Have them track and own the building of the networks after you've shared with them the innovation initiatives for the company.

The best ideas start as conversations.
— Jonathan Ive, SVP of Design at Apple

Writers and speakers are not the final word. We are the spark. We believe that change can occur from that spark. It is undeniable that a change is needed in our corporate cultures. A recent study from the University of Manchester found that being laid off from your job can create almost a decade of distrust in a person. I am not suggesting we never let people go, but I am suggesting that a company has a great responsibility to fulfill the career aspirations of their workers. This is about legacy building. You want every person that comes through your doors to feel like they have improved. Whether they stay for 30 years or 3 years.

Increasingly, behaviors like empathy, courage and stewardship are shaping the culture of top performing organizations. Not simply because it is the right thing to do, but it is the right thing for innovation. As a leader, you must stop thinking of yourself as the hero and start thinking of yourself as the catalyst. You are not Yoda! You are not the hero. You are the provider of an open and honest environment galvanized by meaningful progress and adaptive performance. You are also the spark. Your people are the heroes, the Yoda's and the leaders.

Gary Xavier, MBA, PGA is a group cohesion expert, leadership speaker and former Marine Sniper who works with forward-thinking organizations inspire bold leadership. He is the Chief Exploration Officer of The Blade Group LLC, a leadership training and development firm based in Northern California. Gary is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Association for Talent Development. Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at


THE BIG 3: 2.23 to 2.27


THE BIG 3: 2.23 to 2.27

This is the Big 3.  These are 3 engaging, educational and humorous articles I have read in the previous week.  I post the links for you to read along with a brief description and my thoughts on the main issue.  Lead boldly.  Lead gently.