Personal Responsibility and the Ford Ranger

By Stephen T. Messenger

May 25, 2021

This week, I was honored to speak at a commissioning ceremony for ten newly minted Army lieutenants.  I love watching young leaders begin their journeys.  Upon commissioning, second lieutenants outrank 82% of everyone in the military on Day One.  Similarly, leaders in many different roles, whether military or civilian, assume large responsibilities every day, and each leader has so much potential.   

To these new leaders, I spoke about “Personal Responsibility and The Five Cups of Leadership.”  It sounds like a book you might by in an airport gift shop, so simplified, it’s lead yourself and then lead others.

Personal Responsibility – lead yourself. 

Leaders operate in the fishbowl.  Everyone sees what you’re doing in both your professional and private life.  While leaders’ actions and words are not posted across the tabloids like celebrities, good and bad headlines will still make the rounds.  Followers see how you live and what is important to you in life. An excellent example is in the car you drive.

I drive a 1999 Ford Ranger bought with eight miles on the odometer.  I’ve had this truck since before I earned my commission as a second lieutenant.  It could not be more basic—the windows roll down with a crank, it has a manual transmission, the passenger door requires me to lean over and pull the handle to unlock it, and it had a tape deck that we converted to a CD player 12 years ago.  Two decades later, it’s still in great condition.

I love that truck and drive the same vehicle to work 22 years after it was purchased.  I bring up the truck not to brag (some may argue it’s nothing to brag about), but to illustrate that you need to have your personal affairs in order if you want to lead others in their public and private lives.  Now, managing finances is one of them, but there are five dimensions of what the United States Army calls Comprehensive Soldier Fitness where leaders must manage their own lives if they are to lead others.

The five dimensions are physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and family. 

Physical.  Studies have proven that physical exercise helps manage stress.  Not only does regular training help you look more like a leader, but it makes you feel more like a leader.  Do something physical every day.

Emotional.  You have to manage your emotional state.  This is accomplished through setting aside time for personal hobbies and activities that help you decompress.  It also means not being afraid to talk to people about life events and getting professional help if needed.

Spiritual.  Knowing and practicing your faith is critical.  Leaders know what they believe and can unapologetically talk about and own their faith.  Regardless of your belief, this is the foundation of your character.

Social.  Having a circle of trusted friends helps with sharing ideas, receiving advice, and decompressing.  Crucially, leaders understand their social media profile and the impact, both good and bad, that it has.

Family.  Whether this means a spouse and children, parents, siblings, or friends that you consider family, this core nucleus with whom you share values keeps you grounded for the long haul.  Make time for this inner circle and leverage their knowledge of you.

I always add a sixth dimension of finances.  What you spend your money on says something about you as a leader.  Hobbies and interests are important, but overly extravagant and wasteful living in your private life extends to your professional life as well.  Be responsible with your money, plan for the future, and spend money wisely on what is important to you.

If you want to be a professional leader, you have to lead yourself in your personal life.  You’re an open book when you’re in charge, and people are watching.  I almost chose to title this article “Life in the Fishbowl.”  People will see what you do privately and translate that to how they perceive you professionally.  Lead yourself, and lead others! Oh, and if you want to save over $156K over the next 22 years like me—I did the math of a $350 car payment invested at a modest 4% interest—keep driving that 99’ Ford Ranger.

Link here for the second half of the speech: Lead Others—The Five Cups of Leadership.

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