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Meme Your Way to a Better Leadership

by Paul Creech on Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Everyone needs to study leadership. Studying leadership is itself is a leadership trait: know yourself and seek self improvement. Leadership training must be a Day One imperative for every organization, with an emphasis on training the foundation of the organizational chart. Leadership training is not something that you ever complete, rather you continue to add to your leadership toolbox for the whole of your life.

In the latest Leader.FM podcast, fellow Citadel author Tony Creech* and Dr. Scott “Fire Stallion” Francis discuss meme theory as a model to understand how ideas are spread within an organization. Although plenty of the discussion involved toxic ideas spreading from a toxic person and infecting the organization, the positive prospective, that meme theory suggests that positive behaviors can result from intentional positive meme implantation, was discussed at length as well.

Meme theory holds that ideas, patterns of information, are spread and infect the host organism, replicating quickly across the organization. This is essentially the same meme that leads organizations to follow Covey’s advice and create intentional mission statements–a list of memes, for the intentional purpose of spreading them within an organization. The danger of the negative memes within an organization often steals the attention away from the freeing, empowering gift of the idea that we can change our outlook and behavior. The lie that we are just the way we are, that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, is self-defeating. The meme theory exposes that lie and teaches us that we can identify and change those patterns, Lord willing.

One aspect that Tony and Scott discussed was the toxicity of individuals and organizations. They discussed firing the toxic person. They discussed quitting a job because of the toxicity of the memes and the fear of infection. This is exactly how Dick Dawkins suggested what we think of memes, not just as theoretical devices but as living organisms who’s only purpose is to survive and replicate.** However, in many organizations and for many individuals quitting or firing people because they are toxic is not a realistic possibility. Your toxic individual is a gift, your leadership challenge. Models, devices, tools, seminars are all well and good–now lead.

The United States Marines Corps is the preeminent leadership training organization in the Galaxy.

No other organization takes a Day One deliberate approach to teaching leadership with the intensity and intentionality of the U.S. Marines. When you have 24 year olds leading 21 year olds, leading 19 year olds, in a deadly serious profession, leadership is the paramount concern. Diverse groups of young people, who may not even share the same citizenship, now share the same uniform. This should result a diversity of culture. As Dick put it, a soup of culture in the chow-line (okay, Dick didn’t put it exactly like that, God bless him).

The Marines solve this problem by creating one overarching super culture and pounding it into recruits while the recruits beg for more (literally, they want only to become Marines–they believe there is no higher purpose). The Marines creates an environment where only those who desire to achieve that cultural heritage can reasonably expect to complete its most basic training course. Which is why Once a Marine, Always a Marine. Once, in the Fleet, you can’t just fire a leadership challenge. That individual will be there, absent death or massive misbehavior, infecting the rest of my Marines with toxic memes (they are all my Marines). In the Marines, they are known as the 10%. Thank Heaven they are not actually 10% of all Marines, its just the nomenclature for the union of shitbirds who make it through bootcamp bad meme diseased and infecting the Fleet Marine Forces (not an official estimate).

Saddled with an inability to fire the toxic individual, and opposed by staunch environmentalists seeking to Save the Shitbird (they exist, making excuses for behavior, and often are simply higher ranking shitbirds themselves), a toxic person (shitbird) cannot be disposed of and must be addressed. Glory be to the Lord, because a shitbird is an opportunity that every leader requires. A stone to sharpen their sword. A lesson in failure. A lesson in success.

Remember, leadership is not the province of mangers. The most important leaders in an organization are the ones on the bottom of the organizational chart. If you don’t understand that tautology, then your meme needs changing. That is because the people at the bottom of the org chart are on not lowest rung of the ladder. They are the base of your company, the foundation upon which the organization rests, and upon who’s shoulders success or failure will borne. Maybe they make your product on an assembly line, sell it, interact with your customers, kill all who oppose them or bus tables. These are not your future leaders, these are your leaders. They are where the memes that will sink or float your business replicate, where the action is.

Leadership training must be a Day One imperative for every organization, with an emphasis on the foundation of the organizational chart. A CEO discussing meme theory with his direct reports during their regular counseling is nice, maybe enjoy a sparkling water citrus drink whist you converse. If that same CEO allows the foundation of his org chart to remain uncounseled, untrained, undeveloped and diseased then they might a well be whistling Dixie.***Those first level managers who must supervise, counsel, train and develop the base level employee are the most important managers in the organization–its backbone.

Leader.FM’s podcasts are a great place to start. Start thinking of every member of your team a leader in need of leadership training. Start thinking of yourself as leader, regardless of your title or place on the organizational chart. And start believing that you can become the person, leader, and sexual dynamo that you always wanted to be. Change your meme, change your life. Then, infect those around you. Godspeed.

*And my brother, the “sexy” one.

**Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1989) (1979).

***The United States won, so whistling “Dixie” (holding on to failed hope of a Confederacy) is a waste of time, an exercise in nostalgic masturbation, like wearing a letter-man jacket between the ages of 27 and 63.

Paul Creech
Paul Creech is an attorney living in Houston, Texas. Paul has baccalaureate degrees in philosophy and political science from Utah State University, and a juris doctorate degree from Houston College of Law. He is a former U.S. Marine. Besides the law, Paul's interests include sports, art, and food.