Success and work concept

Leadership – The Fruits of Internal Work

“If you can become the leader you ought to be on the inside, you will be able to become the leader you want to be on the outside.”  John C. Maxwell

As I embark on writing this column, I am aware of the recent news that former Senator Richard Lugar passed away. I stop and smile, recalling times our paths crossed. Each time I was left with the same impression – Here is a man who cared deeply about public service and had the character and integrity to care more deeply about the issue he was working on than he did what the impact would be on his political career. As I think about the ‘internal’ work of leaders there is abundant evidence that Richard Lugar was a man who had done his internal work.

This month we’re exploring the journey of developing ‘before’ leadership; next month the journey of developing ‘during’ leadership. There is an important balance between the ‘how’ of leading and ‘who’ we bring to our leadership role.

The series on “Accountability” brought some nice input from the parents in the audience. “I never really connected the accountability I am trying to teach my child, and the accountability necessary to be a leader. It is the same principle.”

I appreciate this feedback, and the other feedback I received. It helps me to know when I’ve struck a chord, and when I haven’t.

Enjoy your May – the bridge between Spring and summer, and my favorite month of the year!

Be well and do your best work,


Leaders and Their Inner Work

When we dare to stand up for our beliefs, or follow through on our big ideas, when we act as though what we say and do in the world matters…greatly…we are leading. I often use language “the best version of yourself” to describe you engaging life and the world with your best gifts. Many of our best gifts come from the work we do to develop ourselves. The inner work is a lot like any work we do to improve – it helps us to build capacity. Building capacity means that we increase our ability. The more we develop ourselves the better decisions we will make in a wider variety of situations.

I really like the quote from John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, “If you can become the leader you ought to be on the inside, you will be able to become the leader you want to be on the outside.” Leadership is inextricably tied to who we are on the inside, deep down. Every leader has a different style, a unique perspective.

I remember reading Jim Collins book, Good to Great and being surprised that the best leaders his team studied were Fifth Level leaders – they tended to be quiet personalities with an unwavering resolve that they (team) would overcome the obstacles they faced. These were leaders that would take the blame when things weren’t going well, and the first to give credit to others when things were going well (the mirror and the window).

What I’ve learned since that time is that you can be a good leader regardless of your ‘personality.’ I have been blessed to be around, and work for, a number of excellent leaders. In thinking about the traits that I most admired in them I came up with the following list.

  • A positive attitude – much of that came from knowing themselves and having a sense of security of who they were and a confidence in what they could do.
  • Interest in others – they got the biggest enjoyment out of helping others achieve their personal best; a desire for the highest good for all rather than personal glory. Richard Lugar and Birch Bayh were such a servants.
  • A drive for learning – from others, from opportunities, from their mistakes. They understood that to stop learning is to stop growing.
  • Unwavering commitment – Every great leader I have observed or known has never lacked commitment. True commitment requires and inspires courage, passion, focus, initiative, and responsibility.
  • Self-discipline – at the core of people who achieve is self-discipline. They realize that in order to live and lead in a special way requires them to have the discipline to choose more of the things that will help them get what they want.
  • Communication – being able to write and speak clearly and concisely is a necessity if you want to be a good communicator. Being able to listen well is the game changer in building trust and good relationships with people.

You can find many more ‘leadership qualities’ just by Googling the term. You also can find countless books that will teach you about the ‘skill’ of leading and teach you a myriad of things (techniques) that can be of great value in establishing and enhancing your credibility. I submit, however, that the ‘magic sauce’ of leading is YOU! It is the unique combination of how you perceive and express yourself and how you relate to people that creates, or doesn’t, the environment where people feel inspired, energized, and engaged. But getting there requires work, some of it no easy.

Growing you and growing your skill are not mutually exclusive. They often occur side by side or in tandem. I would say, however, that they have a recommended order.

  • Growing you comes first.
    • To know and grow your respect for yourself and confidence in yourself.
    • To pursue the meaning of your life, and to bring meaning to your life (purpose).
    • To know your own emotions, to understand the make-up of those complex group of feelings that drive your uniqueness.
    • Being able to express yourself, including your emotions and beliefs in a constructive, non offensive manner.
  • Growing your competency which is about your knowledge, skill and the ability to apply those two in getting results.

Most of what I have described is what we are ‘building’ before we lead. The reality is that many of us are ‘thrust’ into the job of leading before we are done developing. This is a good place to pause until next time when we look at developing during or while we are leading.

If you have been leading for any length of time answer this, “What were my greatest struggles in my early time as a leader? How much of those struggles were about the ‘people’ part of the job, and how much were a function of not knowing the technical (process, procedure, policy, technology) side?” Let me know. Thanks.

To your journey and living out the best version of you…