Jim Braddock was backed into a corner.
He faced one of the toughest situations any person could face. Standing on the ledge of despair, Braddock knew the time loomed where he might not be able to feed his family. He was out of consistent work as a longshoreman. With a broken hand and a string of defeats, his previous boxing success evaporated alongside the family’s income.
It was the early 1930’s in greater New York City. Jim wasn’t the only person fighting for his family’s survival. But unlike some men who ran from their responsibilities to lead their families, he wasn’t going anywhere. But that’s what made a decision by his oldest son so hurtful.
Jim moved his family, wife Mae, and children Jay, Rosemarie, and Howard, from their modest home into a ramshackle apartment. It still wasn’t enough as the electricity was cut off when the bill went unpaid. After one particular day of unsuccessfully looking for work, little Rosemarie alerted her father her older brother had stolen from the butcher.
The Source of our Actions
Jim Braddock’s fall and rise were chronicled in the film Cinderella Man. In the movie, Jim took his son, Jay, along with the salami he swiped, to apologize to the butcher. As they traversed the sidewalk home, Jay spoke first. He told his father one of his friends was sent to live with his uncle in Delaware. Jim asked why. Jay responded it was because the boy’s parents didn’t have enough money to buy food.
Jim understood. He discovered the action behind the action.
We all make choices. Those choices create our actions. Jay made a decision. He stole the salami. That was the action. The consequence was his parents weren’t happy.
But what was the action behind the action?
Jay was scared. He was scared his parents would send him and his brother and sister away. To him, the wrong choice of stealing the salami was worth the risk if it would keep his family together.
Jim sternly reminded his son stealing was not part of the Braddock family code. No matter how hard things were, they didn’t steal. He made Jay verbally promise he wouldn’t steal again.
As parents, teachers, and coaches do we just react to the actions of our kids? Or do we look for the action behind the action?
When we think in terms of management, we simply deal with the actions of others. This is surface level. And sometimes it’s necessary to take care of the immediate problem. But if our true mission is transformation and change for the better, we can’t stop there. We have to dig deeper. It might require us to search and probe for the action behind the action. Jay willingly offered his true motivation to his father. Our children and students don’t always make it so easy on us.
So how do we find the action behind the action?
There is a reason we call it a heart-to-heart talk. When we truly take the time to invest in young people, we can hear them speak from the heart. And we can offer something from our own heart as well.
More Than Punishment
Jim sternly reminded Jay stealing was not acceptable in their family. But he didn’t say “you” shouldn’t have stolen the salami and “you” need to learn “your” lesson. He said “we” don’t steal in “our” family. After he made Jay promise not to steal anymore, Jim promised his son he wouldn’t send him, or his brother and sister, away.
Jay didn’t need a punishment. He needed his father’s reassurance. He knew his father loved him. And Jim hadn’t done anything for Jay to question that love. But the circumstances made Jay question something he thought he knew for certain.
This is leadership. Leadership shouldn’t be top-down. It should be side-by-side. Leadership isn’t satisfied with staying on the surface. It goes deep within our hearts. And relationships are essential to transformational leadership.
Leading from the Inside-Out
But our students’ behaviors are not the only place we should search for the action behind the action. We should analyze our own behavior in the same way.
We have all reacted to our circumstances and feelings. We have been impatient with our spouses or kids or students. Yet, after we calm down we see it’s not the other people in our life who really caused our poor behavior. It was our own frame of mind…our own perspective.
So if we want to lead in a way that brings about change in others, we need to do it from the inside-out. It starts with ourselves. We begin inside ourselves by looking at our own perspectives. This allows us to look for the action behind our own actions. Then, we make decisions aimed at the heart of others rather than the surface. Because if we want to bring about change in others it doesn’t come from the outside-in. It comes from making an impact on the hearts of others and giving them a new system to make choices.
So as we try to make an impact in our families and classrooms, let’s look for the action behind the action. And let’s lead from the inside-out.