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A great deal of what’s written and spoken about leadership focuses on describing the actions most often associated with effective leaders. The actions are tangible…we can see them and observe their impact on people and we can mimic them in our own attempts at guiding, motivating and developing others. It’s good to mimic good behaviors. However, it’s important to remember that these actions of effective leaders are backed by a strong, personal belief in purpose.

The best leaders are guided by a deep and profound belief in what they are doing and why they are doing it. What propels them with energy and enthusiasm into every day and every situation is a well-formed, unyielding internal view on their role and the impact they have on others at every encounter.

The most effective leaders I’ve worked for or worked with are driven by something deeper than the pursuit of numbers or the results of a business scorecard. They view numbers as measures much like last quarter’s grades or barometric pressure or ambient temperature. They’re interesting…they’re indicative of something that happened and in some cases they foreshadow future changes, but they’re not the purpose. The numbers are not the drivers…they’re the mile markers.

Learning to lead effectively takes time and practice and ample failing. People who use roles responsible for leading others as stepping stones to personal reward treat others more like disposable supplies than the precious, remarkable works in process they truly are.

Alternatively, those who inspire us to reach and learn and eventually draw the best from ourselves are often driven by an inexhaustible fuel supplied through personal crisis.

In their classic article, “Crucibles of Leadership,” Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas offer, “the skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders.”


For some of us, the personal crisis isn’t one calamitous event, but that moment in time when we begin to wonder about the bigger issues in life.

I frequently encounter experienced professionals striving to balance the tug-of-war between success and significance that engages so many of us during our middle years. They’re driven by a sense of time slipping away that only those of us who have lived awhile can appreciate. And they’re frustrated that whatever they thought they were looking for earlier in their careers has somehow eluded them thus far. They’re looking for “more” but not certain what “more” is.

Many have supervisory and managerial experience, but have spent little time thinking about or recognizing the reality of their ability to find both success and significance in the daily acts of leading. When awakened to the profound power and responsibility of their role to impact others positively, many have refocused and rededicated themselves to serving others as a means of achieving that sense of significance they found so elusive. Whether the individuals have been CEOs or as in one case, a supervisor in a hide rendering facility, their transformations into effective leaders has been remarkable and for them profoundly satisfying. The impact they’ve had on people around them…priceless.

These people shifted their mental models to focus on a definition of success and significance that eludes too many of us. They recognized the truth in the quote: “Be kind for everyone you meet is waging a great battle,” and they redefined as their goal to support others as they moved through their own crucible moments. And then they put this perspective to work through their actions.

These are indeed actions worth mimicking, particularly now that we understand the inner drivers behind the actions.

And don’t confuse this leading is serving perspective with softness. These people are fierce competitors in their markets and fair and effective at hiring, firing and developing. In many regards, their singular focus to make a difference for the people around them dramatically transforms the workplace environment and those numeric outcomes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The inner game of leading is profoundly personal and spiritual for each person. If you have the occasion to support the growth and development of others, recognize your ability to create the ripple effects that may well change the lives of people for the better. While not everyone will respond to you, it’s those who do that you are working for and serving. Now, it’s time to get your inner game of leading supporting your daily actions. After all, it’s the role of your lifetime.

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.