Living the Life of a Leader

Are you a leader?

That’s a tough question for most people to answer. With many seemingly stalwart organizations and entities crumbling around us, those who we’ve viewed as the “traditional” leaders seem to be imploding alongside the organizations that have been “leading.” In addition to asking yourself if you are a leader, you may even be asking yourself if you want to be.

For people who yearn to live their life differently, there is an opportunity in the uncertainty. Leadership is not about your particular accomplishments while in a specific role or position; rather leadership is the way in which you choose to conduct your life. As a leader, you live you life intentionally, clear about who you are and channel your passions to make a sustained and meaningful contribution. When you make the leadership choice, life takes on new meaning because you are no longer the victim of your circumstances, rather you become the conductor for the symphony of your life.

Are you making the leadership choice?

Have you identified your talents and strengths?
What is your passion in life?
Have you identified change you want to see in the world?
Do you have a plan to put your talents, strengths and passion into the world everyday?
Can you communicate your passion and plan to someone in 30 seconds or less?
Are you involved with teams or groups who share your interests and vision?
Are you creating a positive, real-world change for yourself and others?
I firmly believe everyone has the potential to be a leader. Through exercising your ability to make the leadership choice, you can achieve what you want most: happiness, success, satisfaction and connection with family, friends, co-workers and community.

If you weren’t able to give a full-throated “yes” to all of the questions above, I encourage you to commit time to looking at those growth areas and engage in a process to develop yourself.

Rewards of Making the Leadership Choice include:

Feeling better about yourself by embracing the unique talents your bring to the world.
Communicating with others confidently and clearly.
Creating opportunities for yourself to put your leadership into practice.
Developing real teams and relationships based on what matters most to you.
Satisfaction in being able to do what you love everyday.
Achieving new levels of success because of your unleashed leadership potential.
As our outlook on life and leadership matures, we reclaim the power for our lives from the political, business, media and other “leaders” we were taught are in control. Perhaps the reason so many of our systems are failing is because we have believed that these “leaders” have something the rest of us don’t—when, in fact, we all have something most valuable to offer: ourselves.

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Dannielle Blumenthal

Thanks for posting this Kathleen as this topic is on my mind.

I especially like this quote from your post: “When you make the leadership choice…you become the conductor for the symphony of your life.”

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D.

Thanks, Kathleen. What’s happening today is the psychological contract at work has changed and leaders are struggling trying to make sense of it themselves while managing employee expectations. When inertia sets in, when things fail we don’t step up. In my work, I have met many passionate people who lost that passion over time because of the wear and tear of leadership challenges. Leadership is a learned skill, it’s more like a muscle that needs to be exercised. We all can learn to be good leaders and followers.

Jay A. Allen

Leadership 2.0

The uncertainty of leadership, I believe, finds its roots in the “era of change” we find ourselves in today as we come out of the industrial era fully into the information era.

What I find is plaguing leaders (and managers) today is how to harness the “wisdom of the crowds” while still maintaining an authoritative role. Whereas hierarchical models are how our government has grown from the beginning, a new democracy is upon us and it “threatens” the structure with which we all are all too familiar.

In reading Kathleen’s post, I can’t help but give a shout-out for two fantastic reads: StrengthsFinders 2.0 and Strengths-Based Leadership.

These two (short) reads are well worth the (small) investment towards understanding yourself and those around you. On par with the MBTI, the insights gained will introduce a new opportunity in leadership to securely champion those around you while not feeling like you are giving up your leadership role and responsibilities.

My final paper for school also focuses on this topic and, to Kathleen’s point of character, calls for courage on the part of leaders to make this change possible.

Ada (HangFong) O'Donnell

I really like the two sets of questions you put down and the positive attitude of life. Nothing is going to happen unless there is something coming from within. After you have vision, passion and actions, you still need communication, interpersonal, financial and technical skills to lead others. You can’t be a chief without Indians.

David Dejewski

Nicely said. An excellent focus on the idea that leaders are in all of us, some questions to ask ourselves in order to get in touch with our inner leader, and a great set of answers to the universal question: what’s in it for me. Bravo Zulu!

I will add one question that has become important to me: Have you calibrated your internal moral compass?

The way a leader’s internal compass is calibrated makes all the difference. Selfish leadership leads to bad things. Selfless leadership adds value to the world.

It takes some people years to calibrate their internal compass – to get in touch with their personal reality: does being a leader mean that people work for them or that they work for the people and the organizations they are leading. This is work worth doing, and should start from the moment someone decides to become the leader they have inside.

Passion for oneself will burn out eventually, and it will not inspire those who are being lead. Passion for others and something greater than one’s self is sustainable when things get difficult and people inevitably get tired and things get difficult.

Understanding this concept works well whether your leading or your choosing to be lead. For example, I make it a point to understand the leadership styles and motivations of people I might myself go to work for. If I sense that they are selfishly motivated, I will not work for them – period. I’ve walked away from money and titles when I’ve sensed that I was being recruited by a selfish leader.

When the chips are down and decision and tradeoffs are necessary, the selfless leader is willing to sacrifice his/her own interest for the benefit of the whole. The selfish leader…well… is often exposed as not being a leader.

When credit comes, the selfless leader sees opportunity to inspire and energize people – and truly enjoys sharing the credit with (or just giving it to) the people who he/she is leading. The act of giving or sharing is reward enough. The selfish leader absorbs credit, lets the organization whither.

A true leader needs calibrate his/ her internal compass and do everything they can to keep in calibrated. Whatever we chose consistently from day one has a huge impact on what kind of leader we become.

Jim Crawford

Wow! This could not have come at a better time for me. Sometimes the vision gets hazed in a bit and having people that share the same beliefs clear a bit of that haze out is really inspiring. I do consider myself a leader. I may not be the best, but I certainly strive to be.

Thanks for the posting and all the other responses and reseources added!

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Wonderful post! To highlight how good your description of positive leadership is, consider what bad leadership looks like as Ken Carrol explains in his review of the latest biography of Kaiser Wihem II.

The money quote: “For good or for bad, business leaders also inject personal traits into their corporate cultures. In some cases, the leader is the culture, with all that that entails.

And this translates into policy. Everyone around Wilhelm (all of Europe, in fact) was menaced by his uncertainty and lack of apparent direction. No-one, including himself, knew what he really wanted, or where he was really going. That uncertainty was a direct contributor to the unspeakable horrors that began in 1914, when a whole continent of dim-witted leaders marched the world into Armageddon. When you take the reins of responsibility you have to know where you’re going.”

Charlene McTier

You are so right — we all have something most valuable to offer: OURSELVES!

I wanted to share the Sixteen Leadership Attributes for the 21st Century Leader by Doug Moran from his book, If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st-Century Leaders.

Composure — The Power to Keep Your Head
Character— The Wisdom to Know and Trust Yourself
Patience — The Strength to Endure
Selflessness — The Ability to Put Your Cause and Beliefs Ahead of Yourself
Vision — The Power of Having and Sharing a Dream
Self-Efficacy — The Confidence to Gain from Triumph and Disaster
Integrity — The Wisdom to Know the Truth and the Strength to Defend It
Resilience — The Ability to Bounce Back from Adversity
Boldness — The Ability to See and Seize Opportunities
Accountability — The Will to Take Ownership Regardless of the Outcome
Courage — The Ability to Face the Dangers When They Become Real
Stamina — The Will to Hold On When You Have Nothing Left
Authenticity — The Resolve Always to Be Yourself
Inspiration — The Ability to Connect With and Motivate Friends and Foes
Enthusiasm — The Energy to Fill Every Minute
Ambition — The Will to Make the World What You Want It to Be

But more important than all these — KNOW THYSELF –by Aristotle

Meghan Peterson-McCoy

Your post plus the feedback shared are reason for me to return again and again to This post is spot on, simple, direct and timed greatly.

Leonard Sipes

Whether it’s corporate or government, leadership means taking reasonable risks to move agendas ahead. But after 40 years in government, I feel qualified to say that leadership makes people uncomfortable and working life a bit difficult.

Bureaucracies ask for innovation but rarely reward it. Supervisors ask for objective analysis and questions at 10:00 a.m. and harshly reject it at 10:30.

I’ve been rewarded for leadership and I wouldn’t change a thing. But I understand why government employees lie low; they simply don’t see the rewards and it’s easier just to go along to get along.

What government says it wants and what it really wants are often two different things.

Best, Len.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@T – Countering with: “To lead people, walk beside them … As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!”

Mike Lowell

Well said. Leadership is not dependent on position or authority, but on behavior, expertise and most importantly, how you effect those around you. Enabling others to be successful is a true sign of leadership. With vision, passion and positive effect, leaders can come from anywhere.