March 14, 2023
Welcome to the Potential Leader Lab podcast. My name is Perry Maughmer and I'm your host. And today we're going to be talking about something a little bit different. And it's going to be existentialism. And the reason for that is because it's kind of one of the underpinnings of my thought process for my life and also for the stuff I do with leaders. So we're going to talk about what it means that we are condemned to be free. The challenge is, will we do it? Now, existentialism is the philosophical belief that we are each responsible for creating purpose or meaning in our lives. And this is one of the foundations of how I see the world. I think it's it can be tremendously empowering. I can also see how folks can think it's depressing, I guess is a good word, but I don't think it is. I think it's actually very, very empowering. So I'm going to start you off with three quotes from Jean-Paul Sartre, who was a French existentialist. The first one is Man is Condemned to be free because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give life a meaning. The second one. And this one I use over and over again by the same by Jean-Paul Sartre. Freedom is what we do with what is done to us. And finally he said, We are our choices. Now, as far as I'm concerned, these quotes speak to the very heart of leadership.
And represent the worldview that all leaders share. Now, there's no judgment for people that don't share them, but I'm not sure you can effectively lead without it. If you think about this, freedom is what we do with what's been done to us. And we are our choices. The way I communicate existentialism and the thought process to others is we act our way into being. And that's what that's what existentialists believe. They believe that we're always free to change who we are and become the thing we want to become. Now how this applies to leadership. I think it's everyone wants to clamor about freedom, but few want to accept the other side of that equation. That's accountability and responsibility for our actions. And that's what he means when he says we're condemned to be free. We're condemned to be free because we have the responsibility of the actions that we take. So freedom comes along with that. You can't be free without it. Now, I do want to dive in a little bit because I think this is where it ties in really easily to leadership about responsibility and accountability. And I want to delineate those two terms. Responsibility focuses on defined roles, job descriptions, processes that are in place to achieve a goal where accountability is committed to the successful completion of the task assigned to you, and in being willing to take responsibility for everything that happens as a result of the actions that were taken. So if you think about this, responsibility happens before, accountability happens after.
Responsibility is the task orientation. Accountability is the willingness to be held responsible for everything that happened as a result of your action. Now, what Sartre sometimes would argue is that we as a human race would prefer happiness to freedom. Now if you think about this. You can go into. And by the way, The Matrix is a heavily existential movie. So if you ever want to kind of get a feel for, you know, what existentialism is about, you can watch The Matrix. But if you think about Cypher in the Matrix. Joe Pantalone. Right. So his character, if you were if you're familiar with the movie at one point, his whole goal is to go back into the Matrix. Like he doesn't want to be free anymore. He talks about he says, I know that if I go back in the Matrix and I'm tasting a steak, I realize it's not a real steak and all of those things, but I just want that. And by and large, that's the thing we all wrestle with, right? It's do we want to be free or do we want to be happy? Because freedom doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. There's a heavy dose of accountability in there. And the question for each of us is, will freedom make you happy? Then not everyone wants the accountability that comes with it. That's why, again, we're condemned to be free. And that's why this is such a challenge for people. Because we speak of freedom a lot.
A lot. Over and over again, it's fundamental to who we are as Americans, right? It's we want to be free. We deserve to be free. We have the right to be free. We have the right to certain freedoms. But again, we also have the other side of that, which is the accountability and responsibility for the actions and then the implications of those actions. And you can't separate the two. So when we talk about this from a leadership perspective, it makes absolute sense. For me. The things are naturally tied together. And I what I say. And one of my. The way I distill this down is I just tell people, leaders are those who have a profound relationship with reality. We don't talk about what we wish would happen or want to happen or aspire to happen. We deal with what's in front of us. Great leaders have a profound relationship with reality. And they understand they have the freedom. To do something with what's been done to them. Another great quote from Sartre that I love that flows along the same line is. You always have a choice, even if it's not the choice you want. And that's what great leaders understand. And we can have a profound relationship with reality. And at this point, I'm going to this is about 80% existentialism. I'm going to mix in about 20% stoicism here. Right. My other thing that I love, and that's because there is no good or bad, there only is what is. And when we attach meaning to it is when suffering starts.
Just think about that. There. There is no inherent good or bad in events. Things happen every day. It's when we assign meaning to those events that are suffering begins. That means we don't have to suffer if we don't assign meaning. If we look at it simply as an event and figure out what to do, what does that what does that do for us? Not to us. Things happen for us, not to us. That's the other mindset shift that you want to make. Things don't happen to you. They happen for you. And then you help others develop the ability. To see how their freedom creates accountability. That's part of leading. Is you show people the way. You share the bigger picture. So here's some some steps, right? So we're taking that as we do in all of my podcasts, taking that deep breath and considering where the exploration now takes us in context of experimentation. Share the bigger picture. Pull people out of the weeds of the day to day to see how their work is impacting the actualization of the vision of the organization. William Bridges change model talks about for four P's of Change communication. I think they work anywhere, especially here, and that is purpose, picture, plan and part. Are you when you're communicating to your team as a leader, are you communicating the purpose, the picture, the plan and the part and obviously the purpose? Why? Why are we doing this? The picture, what's going to look like when we're done? Do we have a plan? Is there? Yep, we have a plan.
Here's the plan. And then finally, and most importantly, what's your part? Why do I need you to be a part of it? Why are you integral? To this if I'm always communicating purpose picture plan in part. I'm lifting people out of their day to day to see how it connects. They're part of something bigger. And if you look back at Daniel Pink's book, Drive, the three Things that create motivation, mastery, autonomy, and purpose purpose being connection to something bigger than myself. The next one is provide clarity. Slash, empower, slash, require them to solve their own problems. At all levels. All levels in the organization. Now, the two pieces of that I think that lead to it are give them clear guardrails for decision making now. My favorite way to describe this is I'm going to give people two guardrails for for decision making. On one side, the guardrail is vision, mission values. All right. So you understand vision, mission values. And if you're making decisions that are supported by those things, the other side are our financial objectives. And I can tell leaders and organizations, if I can give them clarity around those two things, then they are empowered to make decisions. They're expected to make decisions. They are required to make decisions once they know those things. Now, if it doesn't satisfy one of those, then we have to have a discussion. But if it satisfies both, then you'll never be wrong.
May not work out. We can go back to Andy Duke's discussion around decisioning. So, you know, we have to separate the decision quality from the decision outcome. That's a whole nother discussion. But those things have to be separated because if they made a decision, the quality of the decision could have been high, the outcome could have been bad. I can't I can't act. I can't judge the the quality of the decision based on the outcome. That's my job as the leader. And then the other framework you can use is the act, Act and advise and advise framework. You can break this down into three categories and say you can act, act and advise or advise. So real quickly, on this level of decision making, you advise me on what you think we should do, and I'll decide on this one. You can take action. Just let me know you took action. So I'm in the loop. And on the third one, you're free to take action on those things. I don't have to be around, but we have to give people frameworks in order for them to be able to understand what we want them to do. And please, please, please don't protect people from accountability. It doesn't. It's not safe. It's not helpful. Make them accountable. People want to be accountable. They want to know they count, which is literally what accountable means. Accountable, people count. And then support failure for the right reasons. If they're taking actions, align with the values, celebrate the mistakes, celebrate the quality of their decisions, even though the outcomes might not have been what you wanted.
All right. So I'm going to wrap this up and leave you with these three quotes to consider. First one by Abraham Lincoln. You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. Rollo May said the relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt. And then finally had to leave you with another one from Jean-Paul Sartre. Life begins on the other side of despair. And I'll tack on to that one of my favorites from Janis Joplin. Action is the. Oh, sorry, not Janis Joplin. Joan Baez. Joan Baez said action is the antidote to despair. So if action is the antidote to despair, and then life begins on the other side of despair, ergo action gets you out of despair. Now remember all can most few and sorry remember all can. Most won't. And if you do, and will you be one of those relentless few to explore, experiment and evolve so you have a positive impact on the cognitive, emotional and psychological state of those you care about. If your answer is yes, then you are leading. And I thank you because the world needs what you have to offer. And we need it now. Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. And I hope to see you back in the lab soon.
Your Best Resource to Move Forward