I have developed five tenants in my Teachable Point of View. They come from my experiences both personally and professionally. Each tenant is supported by three values. My TPOV guides my identity as a leader as well as my emotional energy. They all inform the way I make judgments and give me the guidance needed to make tough decisions.
When I was eighteen, my grandmother passed away. This resulted in a year and a half long downward spiral in my behavioral and emotional well-being. I call this time in my life, my Wild Days. The Wild Days ended when I attempted suicide just a few months before my twentieth birthday. My Wild Days and the recovery that followed created an indelible imprint on my view of life and the world. I will discuss how each of the tenants and values here had roots in this experience and in some cases how the reflection and learning that came after shaped them into a more fully fleshed philosophy.
The first tenant, Innovation, is one that may seem counter-intuitive, considering the context I just gave, but bear with me. The first lesson you learn when you are recovering from major depression is that you can fail spectacularly and there will still be people in your life willing to support you and help you recover. The first rule of Innovation, for me, is to rely on your support system. They are the people in your life that are the most likely to be frank and open and help you develop ideas past your own limitations and boundaries. Diversity in that support system is integral to making the most of your creative process. The more you can hear and incorporate different views and perspectives, the better you will be at contextualizing information and empathizing with others.
Finally, if you are going to create, you have to be willing to fail and then learn from the failure. In some cases, this will be a relatively painless process, while at other times, it will be heart wrenching. Using the opportunity to learn and move in a new direction can help maintain the energy necessary to bring about change.
Speaking of learning, my second tenant is Lifelong Learning. There are two types of learning that I consider extremely important in this context, reflective and active. My Wild Days were a time of active learning. While not all of the lessons may have been beneficial to my health or well-being, they did expand my experiential database, so to speak. They also gave me fodder for reflective learning during my recovery process and continue to do so. I often find myself contemplating what a life of service, meaning, or purpose means. When I do, I consider my previous self and some of the people that I met during my Wild Days. There were people that refused to learn or grow, and they had a kind of unmoored life that centered more on where to get their party on than how to contribute to a larger vision of the world. Both of these types of learning allow me to develop and grow both personally and professionally. This development is the first value for this tenant.
For me, Lifelong Learning is also a way to develop passion. Have you ever learned something new and been so excited you had to find out more? That is the best thing about learning and can be a great way to create emotional energy that is critical for innovation and coalition building. When your support system is limited in its diversity, learning is a way to bring that into your worldview. I am an unapologetic reader. It is rare that you would find me lolling away time if there is a book within arms’ reach. For me, growing up in a rather sheltered household and community, books were a way to understand the world, gain an appreciation for other people and cultures, and to broaden the lens through which I viewed others in my life. Through reflective learning and conversation about these diverse viewpoints, I also gain a respect for human dignity.
I came to a point in my life when the chemical cocktail in my brain made it very difficult for me to remember why life was important. The health care providers, family and friends around me that helped me recover also allowed me to regain my dignity. Granted, it took longer for some than for others, but the people that stayed in my life gave me the support I needed to re-learn what it meant to have a reason for being. At its most profound level, dignity is just that, a reason for being. Keeping human dignity as a value that informs learning creates an ethical framework in which to make judgments. It gives context and story for hard decisions that involve people. In short, it gives you the edge.
Another part of being ethical is Integrity. The primary value that allows me to maintain my integrity is responsibility. There is strength in taking responsibility and sharing responsibility. Part of being a good leader is knowing when it should be a taking versus a sharing. Having a strong sense of responsibility will also help create emotional energy, but you have to be very careful that it does not push you beyond emotional energy and into compulsion. Carrying on a task in the face of adversity is one thing, but ignoring good advice and pushing on because of stubbornness is a horse of a different color. One way to make sure you have not fallen into the trough of inflexibility is to be willing to listen to criticism from your support system. In this case, the support system may be a subordinate, a team, a supervisor, family, friends, or a myriad of others.
Tempering criticism with data and empirical evidence is one way to ensure that it is not a personal attack, but a well considered criticism. Evidence-based practice like this will ensure that you are able to maintain integrity and determination in the face of adversity. It will also send up the red flag when the train is off the tracks. Well collected and analyzed evidence can create energy of its own as well, so being thoughtful with data is essential to good leadership.
Intellectual Freedom is a tenant that is so named because of my love of libraries. Libraries are a bastion of the first amendment and as such, foster the users’ ability to read, view, seek information, and speak freely. Curiosity is the hallmark of this tenant, so much so that I nearly left it at that, but it has to be tempered by equality of access and transparency. In some ways, this is linked with Lifelong Learning, but this is also about being a teacher. It is not just personal curiosity but being able to build curiosity in others. Intellectual Freedom is a way of fostering curiosity and encouraging action based upon the findings. It is about teaching others to recognize inconsistencies, marginalization, inefficiencies and giving them the tools to determine the why and pursue change. During my recovery, my counselor recognized that curiosity can breed energy and so he constantly gave me homework to try to kindle that curiosity in me and build my critical thinking skills.
Transparency should include frank and open two-way communication. If people are not allowed to have the information they need to accomplish their goals, it can diminish their sense of curiosity or turn it from something constructive into something destructive. In order for this to work, everyone needs access to that information. People at all levels of the organization need to develop and nurture a sense of curiosity. If factions within the organization are left out of this process, it can increase the inconsistencies, marginalization and inefficiencies rather than correcting them.
My final tenant is something I like to call Nerd Power. I was a closet nerd for most of my adolescence. I was a smart kid who desperately wanted to be popular instead. My Wild Days gave me a chance to be the popular kid for a while but it meant having to hide away a lot of who I was. As I emerged from depression, I found solace in being a part of the Nerd Tribe as well as being able to find happiness in the nerdy things I had put down during my Wild Days. Nerds often immerse themselves in specific topics and become experts on a microcosm. This rigorous thought can lead to unexpected connections. There are tons of nerds who discovered something important while deeply involved with their pet project. This is essentially how calculus was discovered after all.
I am a book nerd. I love books and I love sharing that love with other people. This has two effects; first passion comes into play again, which creates emotional energy that is phenomenal. Second, it helps me relate to other people. Sometimes nerds have a problem relating to other people, but the Nerd Tribe, this family, is a way to create a support system and learn how to be a more caring person.
Finally, Nerd Power is dependent on understanding that we were likely all misfits of one kind or another. It helps us empathize with others who may be very different from us. We support the underdog and we work in groups to accomplish what one superhero can rarely do alone. Teamwork is the essence of “winning” at Dungeons and Dragons or when playing in massively multiplayer online games. It is the reason we spend our free time flexing our programming muscles to do things like creating games or apps for the public good. It is the reason that National Day of Civic Hacking exists. It is why 3D printing can now generate body parts.
This is a living document so it will always be under scrutiny and subject to change. Have you tried creating a TPOV? If you have it published on your site let me know in the Comments. I’d be happy to see how others are tackling this challenge.