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A Better World Begins with Our Better Selves

I remember when my kiddo graduated from the 5th grade; it felt like a huge rite of passage for him. All of our town’s 10- and 11-year-olds dressed in their best for the big “graduation ceremony.” I initially thought the idea of “graduating” from the 5th grade was a little strange, but it was something our village had done for decades so we just rolled with it. They talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up (a “Lego Master Builder”) as we parents took pictures and envisioned their futures. I remember having but one hope; that he would be brave.

I guess it’s all in how you define it, isn’t it? The dictionary defines “brave” as “ready to face and endure danger or pain” (and I certainly don’t want him to leap into danger or pain!), it then continues with, “…; showing courage.”

Courage

A noun; defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one” or “strength in the face of pain or grief.”

Danger. Pain. Fear. Grief.

In the midst of a global pandemic, systemic inequities, and nationwide protests this sounds a lot like the laundry list of emotions plaguing our world right now. Danger. Pain. Fear. Grief.

The world my son will inherit.

The world that will demand that he is brave. That he shows courage.

But it seems to me, our traditional definitions fall short. In such a complex world, being brave and showing courage is not enough. For in an attempt to rally the troops, we repel others. When we right wrongs, we can be hurtful. As we stand up for what we believe, we turn into someone we’re not.

I’m a pretty passionate creature. I’ve been known to fight mightily for what I believe. I think back to heated conversations in which I’ve shape-shifted into some possessed, all-knowing, crazy-woman; hyped up on adrenaline, I’d unleash my un-checked emotions, spewing self-righteousness, disdain, and disrespect, like a firehose.

When I hoped to influence, I alienated.

I am better than that.

When my son does something that doesn’t reflect his best self, I tell him, “You are better than that.” I don’t mean “better” in comparison to someone else, I mean “better” in comparison to who he is.

We are all better than that.

But, as humans, better doesn’t come easy. Our best intentions get derailed pretty quickly in the heat of moment. When someone else’s better is clearly not in the room, we tend to sink to the least common denominator and things get ugly fast. We forget ourselves. We forget that we’re better than that.

All of us.

It’s not enough to be ready to face and endure danger or pain. It’s not enough to be courageous. We need definitions to support that we are better than that.

What is brave? “Brave” is being your best, most authentic self, powerfully, in this world.

Which forces us to be better.

Your best…

What does your “best self” look like? When you’re at your best, how do you behave? How do you sound? What actions do you take?

I know when I’m my “best self” I’m not disrespectful or unkind; I’m not blaming others or showing contempt. My best self, however illusive she might be, is more patient, curious, caring, positive, constructive, articulate and hopeful. If being brave is anchored in my best self, it forces me to take responsibility.

…most authentic…

There’s been a lot of talk the past few years about authenticity. Many people think that being authentic is simply permission to act however you want, without caring about anyone else, but from a leadership and influence perspective, that falls short. It’s critical it is to look at how we define authenticity.

My favorite definition of authenticity is borrowed from Harvard Business School professor, Bill George (former CEO for Medtronic and author of Authentic Leadership). George doesn’t look at authenticity as being whoever you want to be, throwing caution and filters out the window for personal gain, but rather defines it as: “genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief.”

Which is lovely and wonderful, but much more complex that it sounds. For who gets to decide? Who gets to decide if you’re genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief?

Not you.

What I love about George’s definition is that it requires us to pay attention to the impact we are having on others; to recognize that all people have different needs. If my definition of “brave” is set in a foundation of authenticity, it forces me to pay attention to whether or not the people around me experience me as authentic; to think about the impact I have outside myself. It gives me a chance to get back on track. To be better.

…and powerful self.

When I talk about power, I refer to one’s intrinsic ability to influence, it doesn’t come from position or title, it’s rooted in self-efficacy, self-belief, and your ability to navigate the impact you have on others. When we react or take action that is incongruent with who we are and what we believe, we feel it. Even if we have a host of reasons to excuse our behavior, reasons do not alter facts. When we behave in a way that is not our best we know it. We cannot hide from ourselves. We dissipate our power and lose the ability to truly connect and therefore influence.

To be your best, most authentic and powerful self requires relentless responsibility.

There are days when you’ll mess up mightily (goodness knows I make it routine!), but imagine what our world would be like if, instead of focusing our attention on all of the things that we can’t control, we each took ownership of being better.

Because we are.

We just need to be brave enough to do something about it.

©A Thoughtful Company, LLC

Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davishttps://www.braveleadershipbook.com/
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’s Executive Education Program's Transformational Leadership Program and their Latino Leadership Initiative. She is also privileged to teach for the Bush Institute’s WE Lead Program (empowering female leaders from the Middle East). Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her book, Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, is the 2019 winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Business and Career; an Amazon Bestseller in Business Leadership, Business Motivation, and Self-Improvement, and Motivational Business Management; and was named as the number one book to read in Inc. Magazine’s “The 12 Most Impactful Books to Read in 2018,” with a cover-endorsement by best-selling author Daniel Pink.

17 COMMENTS

  1. We certainly have a great need to improve. Ethics should go right into humanity’s survival kit.
    I am inspired by the four cardinal virtues. Wisdom is the virtue of the mind that makes understand situations. It also shows what is not favorable to a person. Once you understand how things are, justice comes into play, which is a search for the common good. The fortress has two meanings. One passive (resistance) and one active (courage). There is the need of it, because after choose justice, one must be consistent, tenacious, faithful to the decision. Then comes temperance, which leads to act with balance.
    The four virtues are made up in mind and heart and make a wise, just, resistant and courageous, balanced person.
    So, if we need to be better people first of all let try to be wise, just, strong, balanced.

  2. Kimberly, this is one of the many reasons why I love you. We all have those days when we look back and think, “what was I thinking?” or “who was that crazy person?” It’s not easy to look in the mirror and say, “You’re better than that,” but it is the only way that each of us will grow into the best version of ourselves. One day at a time.

    I often have to remind myself that I’m a perfectly imperfect work in progress. We can’t just embrace our imperfections, though. We have to constantly work to know better, do better, be better. Thank you for sharing this piece. This is how we elevate the conversation from talking about it to making real positive change.

  3. Kimberly – Were you watching me, listening to me when you wrote these words?

    “Even if we have a host of reasons to excuse our behavior, reasons do not alter facts. When we behave in a way that is not our best we know it. We cannot hide from ourselves.”

    Events of the past few weeks have forced me to look at myself and my work, and the gap could not be more apparent. I know myself; I know the gap was unintentional. But it has to be closed. I have to work harder to close it, or I won’t be my “best self.”

    Thank you for shining your light this way.

    • We’ve all got gaps all over the place – in different areas of our lives. Sometimes it’s in our businesses, sometimes our marriages, or the way we’re parenting, or how we’re being a friend, or the way we’re taking care of our health. That just means you’re gloriously human, dear Jeff! But what you just did there is where the real magic lies! It’s getting real with yourself about the gaps and mindful about the shift you want to make. And sometimes, friend, the mindful choice isn’t to buckle down and beat yourself up, but to forgive yourself and just take the next step that puts you gently back on your path. Hugs to you!

  4. Thank you Kimberly. I learned so much more about what Brave means since I met you, read your book and your articles. I thought they are the ones who do heroic acts only, always on the front lines ready to die. It was them who could be brave. I did not see myself as brave at all until an old friend told me so thinking it took a lot of courage to leave everything I know behind to start a new life. I guess we never see ourselves in our brave acts, going after what we believe in and doing what matters.

    During these times we all need to be brave to see our biases first and be authentic seeing the impact on others as you say it so eloquently. Brave thing is not just to understand and show empathy anymore. We can do better!

    Thank you so much for being a bright light in our lives. Your son is lucky to have you. Having only one son like you I love your stories about him. He will grow up to be a decent loving human being I bet.

    • You are SO brave, my friend! You’re right, we rarely, if ever, see our own brave. As you may have heard me say a million times, brave doesn’t live in our experience of ourselves, it lives in our actions. How old is your son? I didn’t realize that was ANOTHER commonality we share!

  5. Thank you, Kimberly. Your timeless message is more timely than ever.

    “When I was young I wanted to change the world.
    As I began to grow up, I saw that I couldn’t change the world and set about trying to change my country.
    As I grew older still, I realized I couldn’t change my country and focused on trying to change my community.
    Eventually, I accepted that I couldn’t change my community and devoted myself to changing my family.
    Once I realized I couldn’t change my family, I set to work on changing myself.
    And by changing myself, I changed the world.”

  6. Ah Laura! Welcome to being human, my friend! I don’t think there’s a person on the planet that doesn’t totally lose it sometimes. What makes you special (and is proof of all the hard work you’re doing on yourself constantly) is that you OWN it. You noticed that you weren’t in alignment and you cleaned it up. I think that’s the best that any of us can hope to do. And hopefully, the more we grow, the shorter the time from reaction to choice becomes and the less sensitive our triggers.

  7. Thank you, Kimberly.

    I grew up believing that the more I could control, the more powerful I could be. My parents coudn’t teach me anything they did not know.

    I have a very comfortably ambiguous faith, independent of any organization, as far as I know. How my faith shows up is simple: If I remove BS and self-centered fear, what will fill the void is always better. I strive to be childlike rather than childish – wonderful (filled with wonder). My friend Bruce introduces me as “the oldest kid I know.”

    Keep on keepin’ on.

    Mac

  8. Kimberly,
    Thank you for writing this piece and sharing a slice of your brave with us. We do have to be relentlessly responsible for being our better self, so thank you for providing this perspective. It isn’t always easy, as you’ve said, and I know I mess up quite often. But that is why I am a work in progress because there’s so much more to learn. And life challenges keep changing, which means that we also may have to pivot. That, in itself, can disrupt our quest to be our better self. However, it is possible when we persist.

    For me, I have to step outside my mind and push the negative thoughts and comparisons away, which is difficult at times. Recently, I was with my husband at the car dealership. His truck went in for service, and it ended up needing a significant amount of work, which came with a hefty bill. I am not proud to admit this, but I lost it. My behavior was misaligned, and my anger misdirected. His truck is old, with almost 200K miles on it, and thousands of dollars put into it over the past couple of years. But, I know now that part of my frustration stemmed from other things also, and sadly culminated in those few seconds of not being able to reel myself in. So, I apologized and recognized that I could do and be better. Fortunately, it worked out, and my husband finally traded for a new vehicle, which we both love – and keeps the miles off my lease.

    It’s always a pleasure reading your work, Kimberly. I appreciate your insights and your authenticity. Thanks for being you.

    • Ah Laura! Welcome to being human, my friend! I don’t think there’s a person on the planet that doesn’t totally lose it sometimes. What makes you special (and is proof of all the hard work you’re doing on yourself constantly) is that you OWN it. You noticed that you weren’t in alignment and you cleaned it up. I think that’s the best that any of us can hope to do. And hopefully, the more we grow, the shorter the time from reaction to choice becomes and the less sensitive our triggers.

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