The Inner Life of a Leader
Finding the courage to Put Values into Action
Putting the words “inner life”
together with the word
“leadership” may seem inherently
contradictory. Many assumptions
about the work of leadership
involve taking action: doing
specific things, and being
accountable for consequences.
Telling the truth;
“Going the extra mile;” and
Being a servant.
behavior, when others see it
consistently and reliably, lends
congruence to a leader’s
actions. By congruence, I
mean the belief that a leader is
both willing and able to do what
she says is the right thing for
everyone to do—in other words,
the leader is known for putting
her own values into practice.
Sense of inner clarity;
Confidence that develops from having resolved challenges.
leader’s capacity, then,
will determine whether he can
demonstrate courage and
commitment to act, the drive and
the resolve to put values into
action, and the background
behaviors of leadership.
we know our own purpose for
living and being in the world,
our lives have meaning and we
know what we believe in. When we
find a person who has a clear
sense of purpose, that personal
clarity often serves as an
example that can inspire us to
explore and define the meaning
of our own lives.
If a sense of purpose
is knowing what you believe in,
the next step is taking the risk
to act accordingly. We admire a
leader who is able to act
fail, and yet turn this shadow
anxiety of risk-taking into
another possibility. A leader
who can tolerate an error in the
service of learning a valuable
lesson is often regarded as a
Telling the truth.
This step is the most
challenging of all, since it
raises the specter of conflict.
Finding the courage to speak our
truth brings integrity into
relationships and becomes the
foundation for interpersonal
respect, trust, principled
agreements, personal learning,
and effective change. If a
leader cannot tolerate conflict,
he will covert action, the "undiscussable"
issue, and the unreliable
Acting with personal authority. Whenever we know what we believe in and are willing to risk a mistake, we are courageously exercising personal accountability. When people speak of a leader who has “personal presence,” they are describing the visible, outward behavior that signals inner confidence in the capacity to act in her own behalf. Self-trust is extremely compelling.
leader must have an abundance of
courage that signals a
well-developed inner capacity.
However, to liberate that
courage, a leader must first do
battle with a daunting,
dangerous inner adversary:
Know clearly what you believe or intend to do;
Express that belief or intention clearly and calmly;
Calm your own inner anxieties and respond calmly to the anxious responses of others; and
Proceed with your intended plan of action calmly and resolutely.
the core of self-differentiation
is the courage to accept a
bottom-line awareness: if I am
too anxious about responding to
others’ anxiety, and if I
anxiously pacify them because I
cannot tolerate their anxiety, I
will lose myself. And if I lose
myself, the capacity for
leadership evaporates. Chronic
anxiety undermines personal
courage, and it is toxic for
To find the courage and commitment to put my values into action, I must develop my personal capacity.
To develop my personal capacity, I must learn to respond with greater calm to my own anxiety and the anxiety of others.
To respond more calmly, I must work on my self-differentiation.
With this clarity, a leader can then decide whether he/she has the courage and the commitment to take the final step: working consciously on becoming more self-differentiated. A leader might:
Acknowledge, first, that he has an inner life and attend to those personal cues (e.g., images, memories, messages, thoughts, and feelings).
Recognize that this inner life has been shaped by and mirrors a personal biography.
Learn to identify messages and experiences that are most likely to create anxiety anxious and uncertainty in the present because they trigger familiar responses from the past.
Though simply described, this is
not easy work. It can be
though, especially if a leader
has the courage to be curious
about these initial steps.
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