Leaders Leading Others Beyond Their Barriers

Rich O'Keeffe 
MDI Contributor

Recently, I was asked a question: Over your years as a leader, what has helped the most to support your men in overcoming their barriers to their greatness?

And me being me, that got my brain spinning in a swirl of thoughts, rabbit holes, tangents, thought provoking streams and all that. Because the topic is like that. It sounds simple, but when you start untangling all the different parts of it, it gets complexicated super fast. (Yes, I made up that word – but you know what I meant and that is the intent of writing).

I actually reached a conclusion, but if I gave it to you here, most of you would be like “Huh?!?!?” So let’s dive in headfirst and see what happens.

The first aspect of this is your desire to make a difference and matter. The primary underlying thing behind supporting someone to overcome a barrier is wanting them to have “better.” It is because you want them to have a better life, or to not be hurting, or to achieve something they care about. The first thing, and really, the first step you must have, is your desire to make a difference.

Now we come to the problem with your desire to make a difference. The motive is almost always oriented around you. Which is normal and natural. But there is an underlying dark part. You.

I don’t mean to imply that you are a bad person (though if you are triggered by that last bit, then there is something for you to untangle, which is why me saying it pissed you off, but I digress … See? This topic has a ton of rabbit holes). What I mean is that it is often impossible to untangle men from their egos. We could count for years and never be done counting if we tried to determine how often men let their own egos run amok when we proclaim to “Support another man to… ” Because here’s the weird twist. Most times, men are not really aware of their own barrier. And often, it is only because another saw that barrier, and did what they did, that the barrier got addressed in the first place.

I have witnessed so many examples of men frankly operating abusively when supporting another man under the guise of getting that man to overcome a barrier. And it is often cloaked in “You need to…” Well, first, no he doesn’t fucking need to. He’ll be perfectly fine if he does nothing. Will he have as great a life? Probably not. Will his wife get sick of his shit and dump his ass? Probably. Will he be broke for the rest of his life? Probably. But there’s nothing wrong if he doesn’t have that picture you have for him. There’s no requirement that he have a great life. No legal codes dictating that he not be an addict. And so on.

Another tricky part is really untangling you as a leader in the situation. It’s hard. It’s really tough to watch another struggle. You see him struggle, and you want so much for him to not have that struggle. So we give to him, and give. And often, nothing seems to change. Then we get annoyed, then pissed, then often openly angry and hostile that he’s still stuck.

And we give up on him.

(Editorial note: that last bit stung a bunch – I had to walk away. Cuz I see just how many men I have given up on in that way).

When one gets pissed off and gives up, it is because that other man didn’t do or say or become or not do, say or become what we wanted. For the times I have done that to other men, I can say that frustration is about me. The source of the frustration is because my ego and my thoughts and my dreams for someone else weren’t met. And that is the toxicity of ego at its worst.

I find it interesting and intriguing to review the places where a man has uttered words along the lines of desiring to get through some barrier. Often, what to do is plain and obvious.

Here’s a simple example – a man who is overweight says, “I need to lose some weight.” To those who have no issue with losing weight, the answer is simple and easy – eat less and put out more. But here’s the rub – just about every fat guy I know is already aware of that answer. The real barrier for many about losing weight is a tangled jumble of stuff not about food.

The activities around losing weight are about food, but not the barriers. So clearly, knowing the factoids doesn’t get someone through a barrier. And way too often, what passes for supporting someone through a barrier is speaking the factoids in his direction and expecting him to just go “AHA. Well that is amazing!”

(Hint: that tactic has never worked on me in a sustainable form, and I don’t recall it ever having worked. Especially as the speaking becomes more shrill.).

Just ask any of the multitudes of men in our circles who are veteran AA men. They will invariably tell you that it is up to the addict to want to change his behavior and that no amount of trying to make him change his behavior has any shot of working without that first. 

In order to really support someone effectively through a barrier, one must have “pure motives.” That is to say, seeing a possibility for him. Not out of anything other than you know he is amazing and capable. Being connected to the love you have for him. And loving and accepting him as who he is regardless of what he does around that barrier. I originally was gonna say something about loving and accepting him no matter what, but there are behaviors that are just intolerable no matter what. For example, beat up your wife and I have little for you other than anger, and I don’t care about your barrier.

Therefore, the act of effectively supporting another requires grace and humility on your part. And holding him as valuable and special and amazing. Then hold whatever you give to him be a gift from you.

Here’s the thing about gifts. If it truly is a gift, then there is absolutely zero obligation on the part of the recipient to do anything with that gift. You cannot have any attachment to what he does or does not do with it. Your support must be a complete gift. If he doesn’t use your gift, then it means nothing. The same if he uses it – it means nothing other than you made a difference and you can feel good about yourself for a few moments. About the only action that I think is required when you support someone through something is that if they should fall, you are there to catch them.

If you can successfully disconnect yourself from the results of what you give, if you can truly just offer your gift with no obligations, out of a place of love and reverence for that man in a manner that my friend Bill once called “disgustingly non-judgemental,” then your support has a far, far better chance of making a lasting difference in another man.

Thank you for all the difference you make in the lives of the people with whom you interact.

1 thought on “Leaders Leading Others Beyond Their Barriers”

  1. Haha Rich, you were snookered! There are behaviors that will not be tolerated. They say a blind person’s other senses are heightened to make up for the deficiency of sight. I believe it is the same for men with bad behaviors. Those people work much harder to be “likeable” so your gentlemen’s agreements with them will not expose the scumbag that they really are. Allowing them to lead men is a tragedy, and buying in to the bad behavior or looking the other way is not masculine in any form. If a leaders success is to have his greatest fears come true, then I am sad that the man did not take advantage of being in leadership. P.S. Your “Eye of the needle” explanation would have made a great article also.

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