Coaching: What kind of leader do you want to be?

Writing this column is the last important task on my “to-do” list before leaving for Italy this afternoon.

That list has been growing for weeks and it seems as soon as I tick off a few items, I think of 16 more to add. It was looking like I’d never tame it. I pictured myself during the flight to Italy, busily writing all the to-do’s for my two weeks in Tuscany. Egads!

That mental image made me laugh at myself and settle back into some semblance of my own values. “Being” is a whole lot more important to me than “doing.” I’ve asked more than one client if the legacy they want to leave (perhaps etched on a gravestone) is “He got everything done.” 

The whole experience reminded me of an article I read years ago. It was written by Lance Secretan, a leadership guru who is on my “most-admired list.” He writes and speaks about inspirational leadership. I don’t really think there is any other variety of leadership that works. Secretan wrote that motivated employees are often just afraid, and inspired employees are fully committed and charged up to play at the top of their game.

In the article, he wrote about his struggle with a swelling to-do list, and asking himself what would he have when he completed his list? He would have checked off a lot of processes and steps, but so what? What would be the outcome? What did it have to do with his role as a leader? Who would be inspired to perform better, enjoy life more or learn anything significant?

Secretan realized he would rather focus on a “to-be” list than his “to-do” list. He knew that followers are more interested in who their leaders are than what they are doing.  He moved his own focus to building relationships rather than checking off tasks on a list. He asked himself, “What kind of leader do I want to be?” Then he began his new list.

Lance’s list of the top 10 ways he wanted to be as a leader – and as a human being, for that matter – began with being a better listener. Remember, this is his list, and yours and mine will no doubt be different. Still, don’t we all want to become better listeners?  Don’t we all want to honor our relationships by doing our best to really hear with all we’ve got?

Second on the list was being present. This is closely related to listening, of course. The multi-tasking mind is not a good receiver. Lots is lost, and relationships suffer. We’re never present if we’re mentally somewhere else. How do you feel if you’re sitting in a restaurant with a colleague who is on her cell phone?

High on Lance’s list was realizing his potential and helping others to do that as well. He wanted to model his belief that we should not die with our music locked inside us.

In his leadership role, he always wants to be a good teacher, helping others to grow by sharing his own experiences and encouraging the development of everyone in his organization.

Lance included on his list, “I want to be brave.” It takes courage to be an inspirational leader. It takes having the tough conversations early on, accepting responsibility when we screw up, speaking our truth, advocating for positive change. If we’re true to ourselves, there will be moments in every day when we’ll need to grab hold of courage and take a stand.

Lance wants to “hold a picture of a richly imagined future” in his heart. Certainly a long-term vision is an essential element of inspiring others, don’t you think? He wants to model his interest in the long-haul, not just the next quarter.

He included becoming a leader who led with his heart, not just his mind. When all is said and done, he wanted to be loved, to have a life enriched with lasting relationships and no enemies. Wow.

Last on Lance Secretan’s list was being a good servant. He wanted to serve colleagues, his family, the planet and his Creator.

This list clearly is in another realm than the one I’ve been carrying around with items on it like “remember to turn off the hot water heater before you leave town.” Lance Secretan’s list is inspiring, like nearly everything else I’ve heard from him or read about him. Still, it is his list. The gift in it is the inspiration to sit down and get closer to our own “to-be” list, to ratchet up our own mindfulness about who the heck we are and want to be during our time on this planet.

And as I’m biking through Tuscany next week I promise to remember something high on my own “to-be” list: Rule No. 1 – Have Fun!


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