How do you want to lead your life?

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I had a very interesting coaching conversation the other day with a bright young woman. We were talking about her desire to expand her business and play bigger in the world.

(And don’t worry, I asked her permission to tell this story. And no, that is not her picture, it is a stock photo 🙂 )

When I asked what would happen if she started to put herself out in the world in a bigger way by offering more programs and connecting with more people, she got kind of quiet. I asked her what it would mean to her life if she grew her business.  This is what she said:

“I would have to be out there with people all the time and wouldn’t be able to spend days at home re-energizing.” (she is an introvert according to the Meyers-Briggs, which means she needs time alone to re-charge her battery)

“I would ramp up my business, then if I decided to have kids, it would be hard to give that up so I could focus on being a mom.”

“I would have to have all the answers and I am not sure I do.”

I listened to her, and realized that she had very strong ideas about what it meant to be a leader. And I wasn’t sure that this definition of leadership was one she wanted for herself, it was the model that she saw practiced by people she viewed as “successful.”

So our homework assignment was to come up with a definition of leadership that only applied to her life and situation. If she wanted to be known as a leader who worked one day a month, that was OK. If she wanted to lead by having the freedom to change her mind frequently, that was OK too.

So how about you — would you be willing to do the same assignment?

Complete this sentence with as many points as you like:

I demonstrate leadership of my own life by:

(Fill in the blank).

Here is my own list:

I demonstrate leadership of my own life by:

  • Only doing projects that energize me
  • Only working with people who energize me and who share similar core values
  • Not working more than my body can handle
  • Leaning into my market and listening for what they want
  • Actively looking for fun and joy in work
  • Not having the expectation of being perfect
  • Occasionally feeding my kids potato chips for dinner and not worrying about it
  • Contributing to the global discussion of what work means in the 21st century
  • Hugging my kids and husband every day
  • Being open to feedback and coaching in areas of weakness and fear
  • Being gentle with myself when I screw up
  • Representing myself in a way that my mother, grandmother and daughter would be proud of
  • Being proud of being a woman and a mother
  • Risking being wrong
  • Holding love and compassion in the highest priority

Do I do all of these every day? Rarely. But this vision of leadership feels right to me. I am sure your list will be very different, but I hope it feels right to you.

Thanks for pondering this question. And thanks to my client for letting me share her story.

37 Responses to “How do you want to lead your life?”

  1. […] we continued our conversation, I thought about a post on leading your own life from Pam Slim on “Escape from Cubicle Nation”. In it she defines what she wants out of life and her principles that will get her […]

  2. […] skills. As he reconstructs his professional career, I would encourage him to spend time crafting a definition of  success that truly fits  him, and not get caught in success […]

  3. […] it fit with my definition of success? I am always skeptical when I hear someone say “I will be happy when I … (sell my first […]

  4. […] You must define your own success. I think comparison must be part of how we are hard-wired as humans. New babies probably check each other out in the nursery and think “Man, why did he get such a soft blanket when I have this scratchy one?” Distinguishing ourselves from each other helps to define our own identities. As we grow, comparison can eat us alive. Each one of us makes different choices about how we spend our time, how often we work, what we eat, what we create and how we make time for family. Comparing yourself to a peer’s output instead of your own leads to Success Dysmorphia. My definition of success is “enjoying living my life while I am living it.” What is yours? […]

  5. […] Escape from Cubicle Nation (which keeps very current) and was really inspired by her post, “How do you want to lead your life?“  She engages in the subject, “What does leadership mean to you?” I, too, have […]

  6. Angel Vargas says:

    I just found this article while looking for reading material on other people’s approaches to leading the life that they want. I’m in my thirties and finally getting around to true soul searching. One of the things I have learned so far in my quest is that the search cannot take place solely behind closed doors from the apparent comfort of a couch or an armchair. I personally have to goout and try new things and see new faces and talk to people as often as possible, simply to avoid self isolation, stagnation, and the loss of faith in the world that can lead to depression.

    I find that knowing the roots of my emotional struggles isn’t enough forme anymore. I will take action.

  7. Angel Vargas says:

    I demonstrate leadership of my own life by:
    -Daring to ask myself the hard questions about where I want to be in life.
    -Adhering to my own philosophy that wellness of the mind and wellness of the body are intimately connected.
    -Attempting to reach out to people and see them as more than simply a means to an end.
    -Leading by example at work when words fail.
    -Going out and trying new things in order to explore what excites me.
    -Allowing for the possibility that I am not a perfect human being who has all the answers.
    -Remaining engaged with people in a fun way everyday.
    -accepting that some days are better than others without giving up on life itself

  8. […] I am lucky enough to hang out with some pretty smart and accomplished people. At times, their level of productivity overwhelms me. They negotiate great book deals, furiously write blog posts, close new business deals, and make time to eat right and work out. When I have a moment of compare and despair, as my friend Martha Beck says, I immediately step back and revisit my own vision of success. […]

  9. Pam, I am big fan of your writing and what you teach.

    I relate to the example you gave – when it comes to new projects or new endevours in my own life, I set barriers and limitations for myself. Before I even start on something, I think:” what about if it fails?” I focus on the negatives. I have a strong fear for pushing myself out of the boundaries, out of my comfort zone. I am great at what I do, sometimes I think about starting a new project, but I never move forward! I am going to sit down and think about how I can demonstrate leadership in my life!

    Thanks Pam!

  10. Mike Cook says:

    Pam: I always enjoy reading your pieces. This one in particular caught my attention, more from a manager’s perspective than the individuals, though that was good stuff as well. My audience is intended to be managers and I want them knowing that the way you are coaching is indicative of a larger direction and context for the workforce they are working with. If anything the downturn in economic experience is likely to accelerate movement in the direction of self-leadership.

    Working with reports who are not afraid of your “Managerness” may be more challenging than in the past but it is time to stop resisting and embrace what will not be resisted.

    Mike Cook

  11. Bari Lyman says:

    That was amazing. I am embarking on a whole new adventure myself and much of it is very scary and out of my comfort zone. I will be speaking and presenting when my definition of success has been previously been entrepreneur and visionary behind the scenes. My dream is to help singles who want to get married and my message is different. It’s not superficial. I guess that’s where Polarity fits in.

    Thanks so much!

  12. […] March 4, 2010 at 10:03 AM Recently, Pamela Slim wrote a post on her blog about being your own leader on her blog "Escape from Cubicle Nation." One of the pitfalls I have seen in Network […]

  13. […] How do you want to lead your life? by Pam Slim –Boundaries around what you can and will do are not bad.  You can’t truly “lead” in all areas. […]

  14. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read in a while. Pam always seems to find the right topics and write about them with passion and vision.

    As for me, I demonstrate leadership by:
    -Living a life based and grounded in faith
    -Showing my two sons how a man is supposed to treat others
    -Being my wife’s biggest supporter and cheerleader
    -Offering creative solutions to problems, regardless of whether it’s the safe route
    -Not always following the accepted path for my life as determined by others
    -Knowing when and how to ask for help from others

  15. Dave Kaiser says:

    Just re-read this, I love it. Leadership is very personal.

  16. Carol Anne says:

    I demonstrate leadership by:
    — showing respect to others
    — be honest in my interactions
    — sharing knowledge

    There’s probably more, but that’s just off the top of my head.

  17. […] concept of personal leadership I wrote about a few weeks ago. This feels big, like something that is rumbling deep in the consciousness of a lot of people. […]

  18. […] How do you want to lead your life? […]

  19. Stefanie says:

    Wow, so many brave people out there. Sometimes I forget that I’m not alone in the struggle to lead a life of meaning, while still being a successful professional. As Kathlyn said above, too many corporate leaders in my life (that were essentially mentoring me and setting an example for me of what leadership is supposed to be) were actually bumping heads and stumbling about in a disorganized and futile way. It’s not their fault really, they just don’t know how to set a vision of true leadership. I think they need Pam’s book. Thanks everyone, for a great discussion and best luck in leading your own lives in the ways you value most!

    • Ian says:

      You’re definitely not alone. In some cases the so-called leaders are not only incompetent, they’re also ego-driven. The CEO of the company I just quit from would refer to himself as “fearless leader” in all seriousness. I’d rather not be led by anyone with that kind of mindset.

      On a positive note, you can take charge and consciously lead yourself, even if you’re only able to do it in small ways while still tied to a job. Moving away from the employee mentality to the entrepreneur mentality is incredibly freeing.

      • Howard says:

        Ian, you hit the nail square on the head. If we are able to first see that our life is OUR responsibility and our future is within OUR ability to define it, then we can lead ourselves into that freedom of doing the necessary to grow our experiences and knowledge that will make the most impact for us and our families. While still being someone else’s employee, we can definitely take ownership of our position and responsibilities to either prepare ourselves a way of escape or try to make the cage (i mean cube) more livable until making the escape. Great things to ponder….thanks!

  20. I demonstrate leadership by:
    Living On Purpose
    Living true to MY values
    Loving my family
    Living my faith
    Encouraging and inspiring others
    Saying NO when I need too
    Gaining knowledge by immersing myself in subjects that matter to me

  21. Thanks so much for this post. I have the same kind of standards in my head for “real leaders”, and it just sounds exhausting if I think of trying to do that.

    When I think of your question, what comes up is that I demonstrate leadership by:
    * looking every day for the truth in my heart and acting in accordance with it
    * prioritizing joy, relaxation, and fulfillment over our cultural obsession with money, stuff, and recognition
    * giving myself the time and permission to do the deep work of self-healing and spiritual growth
    * advocating for these in my writing and with people I talk to

  22. Iyabo Asani says:

    Pam, beautiful. My definition of leadership is what Bill Gates said. He said that the new generation of leaders are those that empower others.

    It is no longer about being at the peak of the apex. It is about having so much personal power that you empower others.

    For me leadership is:

    Showing up fully present for my work as a coach everyday.
    Writing my truth in my posts and articles.
    Meeting my clients, right where they are.
    Taking care of myself so that I can do all of the above and more.
    Enjoying a passionate supportive marriage every day. (Even when we fight)
    Being a good friend to my family and loved ones.
    Keeping my energy clean regardless of what is going on.


  23. Ian says:

    I’ve started demonstrating leadership a lot more in my own life since I started reading your book. Completely removing myself from environments where I was forced to interact with people who didn’t share my core values has made the most difference.

  24. Melissa says:

    Wow, what a profound idea. I have found myself struggling with this for nearly my whole career…from when I had my first child and redefined what it meant to go back to my job after maternity leave and lead/work in a way that felt right for me, as opposed to what others/my boss thought was “right.” I still have to remind myself that it’s ok to be successful in a way that is different from others examples…and that I don’t necessarily have to give things up to keep moving ahead. Wonderful post! I can’t wait to do this homework assignment today!

  25. Jackie says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve just conquered this task today – leading myself in the right direction, instead of letting my manager decide for me what’s right for my life. I used to depend on the leadership of my management to help me decide my path, but I’ve learned that no one knows my goals and dreams better than myself.

  26. Nate says:

    Wow, this is great. It points out how we have these preconceived notions and thoughts in our head of how something is supposed to be. In a way we put ourselves inside a box and limit our thinking by doing this. It’s great to do this exercise and start thinking in terms of ‘forget what I perceive as leadership ‘out there.’ What does leadership mean to me?’ Or, just kind of start questioning yourself. Let’s say, for example, you only want to work x hours a day or month, but you perceive leaders ‘out there’ as working more. Start asking yourself ‘Why can’t I still be considered a leader by working x hours a day or month?’ By doing this, you empower yourself and start thinking in terms of possibilities outside your normal thought patterns.

  27. Laurie Foley says:

    Pam, your list brought tears to my eyes. I can relate to your client, too. Thanks so much for sharing both.

  28. Dave Kaiser says:

    I demonstrate leadership by:
    taking responsibility for setting goals and moving myself forward
    taking care of myself physically, spiritually and emotionally
    pushing myself to do the next important thing, even if it is scary or uncomfortable
    being present for my wife and daughter
    pushing myself hard, in service to myself and my own agenda
    showing people who I am really
    setting my own schedule
    dreaming big
    pushing back when others tell me what I “should” do
    keeping my sense of humor and sense of style
    holding a big and compelling vision for myself

    Dave Kaiser

    • cindy says:

      You should work harder than you do. Do you do everything that you can to advance in your places of employment

  29. Paula G says:

    I love this simple list. Here’s why. No matter how much I move things up a notch there’s always that next rung that leads you to “but what will I have to compromise to get that” when in fact, you don’t need to compromise the things that matter to you because if you do that is the antithesis of creating the success you want. I see this time and time again by bright and talented (women especially) in myself, my mastermind sisters, my clients. I love this simple on point question to keep one on track. Because no one else is going to do it for you whether you work for someone else or are self-employed.

  30. Hans Hageman says:

    I liked the list. Conventional discussions of leadership leave out the important part about first taking responsibility for leading ourselves. Taking responsibility for the quality of our lives strengthens our internal locus of control. I have finally decided to stop my own spinning and having my leadership qualities defined by others.

  31. Chandoo says:

    Thanks Pam, for sharing this powerful yet simple idea. While most of us are inspired by other great leaders, it is better to have our own definition of leadership.

    I demonstrate leadership of my own life by:

    – Actively learning and sharing about Excel and Charting
    – Connecting with others who have similar ideas and outlook towards life
    – Working on assignments that further my knowledge and expertise
    – Not defining my happiness or satisfaction as per others expectations
    – Loving and being there for my family and friends when they need me
    – Being transparent, simple and uncluttered in business and life
    – Not taking my self or my work too seriously

  32. Michelle says:

    Pam, I experienced what I can only describe as a woosh of relief when I read this post. I love the idea of creating our own definition of leadership!

    I demonstrate leadership of my own life by:
    – Doing work that energizes me
    – Not working on projects that violate my values
    – Sharing my knowledge and learning from others
    – Doing business only with people who I enjoy working with
    – Not pressuring myself to do too much in one day
    – Making time to take care of my family and myself
    – Being open to looking at myself and my business in new ways

  33. I DON’T demonstrate leadership of my own life by…
    – Doing what my bosses tell me, when they tell me
    – Going to the cube each day waiting for someone or something else to change my circumstances
    – Sacrificing what I love to do for what I feel I have to do
    – Setting sail in the winds of shifting popular opinion instead of following my own convictions

    I HOPE to demonstrate leadership of my own life by…
    – Confidently following my dreams and convictions
    – Bringing other people with me
    – Recharging from others who have done the same

  34. Kathlyn says:

    Hi Pam!

    I love the list of ways you demonstrate leadership in your life. This is such a timely post for me – since starting B-school 2 weeks ago, I’ve realized how much this entire year is going to be about figuring out exactly what you are talking about here. And it’s great to finally be in an environment where I am surrounded by people who are thinking about the same thing and considering it valuable. Working so many years for employers who had no idea what they even really wanted to do – no mission, no vision – getting support around leadership was next to impossible. As managers, we were expected to “lead,” but there was never any development of leadership as an evolving skill or even any real idea of what the outcome of “leadership” should be, other than employees behaving the way they were “supposed to.” So it’s fantastic to see others stewing and brewing on the same thing – gives me hope for the world in general and the working world in particular.

    Lead on!