The Courage of Authentic Transformational Leadership

I’m writing this blog tonight from a condo in Makaha, Oahu on my MacBook Pro, the surf pounding away just outside the open sliding glass doors singing its eternal song.  One that will out live us all.  It is a reflective night for me, and one I wish to share with you.  Steve Jobs passed on today, falling from our realm due to pancreatic cancer.  I lost my own father in 1999 to the same disease, a mere two months after he retired from thirty years of service at Polaroid Corporation.  I was 36 years old at the time and only a few weeks shy of my being promoted to Vice President of International Marketing with STERIS® Corporation.  Something that would have made him proud beyond words if he had lived to see it.  There’s a personal nexus in this reflection for me on several levels.

The reason I’m in Hawaii tonight is I’m helping a fledgling nonprofit called Palmarie Community Transformation Alliance introduce a program to the islands that I helped create called Warriors in Transition.  The workshop is designed to assist combat veterans and their families transition from the military to civilian life.  I first came to these islands thirty years ago, as a Naval Intelligence Specialist, following in my father’s footsteps, and his father’s before him, and his father’s before him.  I was fifth generation Navy.  I came out to the Pacific to find my own stride in the sands of the footsteps of my forefathers, quite literally.  As my service drew to a close, my Dad helped me apply for college while I was at sea off the Persian Gulf, at his alma mater, The Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire.  My father was a member of the school’s first graduating class in 1963, the year I was born.  In fact, my first home was in married student housing at UNH.  Upon my return to civilian life, my father bought me an Apple II to help me with my studies.  I was thrilled with this remarkable device.  I would come home from class each day and transcribe my notes from lectures onto its 128K memory, green screen glowing, onto a floppy disk, my text book beside me to gather in all I had learned that day.  It was Steve’s machine I was engraining my knowledge upon.

As I matriculated up the ole’ corporate ladder I found myself investing in one Mac after another, unhappy with the frustrating slop MicroSoft and the clone machines heaped upon the masses.  I invested in Steve’s technology with my own money, when I had little, because it gave me an edge.  His vision enabled my vision to emerge.  Today, the resonance of Steve Jobs touches everything I do.  Not simply transactionally, as my firm edits our own videos on Final Cut Pro or the use of the iPhone or when I meditate to tracks from iTunes.  But in the lessons in behavioral economics and emotional engagement I speak to with every client we engage.  With every veteran I engage.  Steve got it.  And he got it before the rest of us did.  Just try to pry his technology from the hands of his customers, I dare you!  We are emotionally engaged with the elegance of Apple technology because Steve Jobs understood that we are emotional beings.  When we engage the heart, the mind follows…as well as the wallet.  Human beings are motivated by our Core Emotional Systems.  This has been proven scientifically by Dr. Jaak Panksepp (Google him…it’s worth a look).  It has to do with our primary survival mechanisms…it’s what has kept us alive long enough to evolve to the place we are today.  It’s why our Experiential Learning Workshops involve horses.  Yet these Core Emotions; Seeking, Fear, Panic, Rage, Caring, Playfulness, and Lust, still motivate and drives our behavior.  Whether we’re aware of it or not.  That’s another lesson, one of Emotional Intelligence, which Steve mastered decades ago.

Passion matters.  Vision matters.  Intention matters.  It resonates in those that we lead and those that we do business with as Transformational Entrepreneurs.  It’s how we change the world for the better.  And none did it better than Steve Jobs.

So as I sit here tonight, after working in the anti-technology environment of the old Dole pineapple plantations with veterans of Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, holding the space for them to engage in their own emotional intelligence in order to process their pain and trauma with horses rescued from despair, I find myself coming full circle.  Of understanding the emotional context of what it means to be a human being.  Of helping those around us find their own vision and path to healing and redemption.  Of thinking of my father…and of Steve and what he’s accomplished.  He held the courage to be a visionary.  He was thrown out of the company he founded only to return to it once the corporate hacks had lead it to the brink of demise (Apple was within three months of running out of cash upon his return) and lead it to the second most valuable company on the face of the planet.

Find your vision.  Find your courage to follow your vision.  And what the hell, change the world while you’re at it!  Steve did.

© Terry Murray, 2011.

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Filed under Experiential Learning, Leadership Development, Organizational Culture

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