A New Look at Leadership

“So you are saying I might not get into heaven drinking my bottle of wine every night?”

“No!” I said with a curious smile.

“So you’re saying I’m going to hell for my bottle of wine each night?” 

“No!” I replied with even more amazement!

“I have no idea how this conversation went to heaven… Or hell?!“ I added.

He was a leader in his industry but felt he was losing his leadership edge. We were discussing his lifestyle, and one of his comments was that he drank wine every night.

I had asked, how much?

This question had obviously hit a nerve.  Because it was in response that he blurted out his “heaven or hell” comments.

Perhaps you, like him, suspected that I was headed to a discussion of alcohol addiction. However, addiction was not what I wanted to discuss. I wanted to talk about his leadership.

Over the past number of years, I have begun to look at leadership from a totally different perspective. Much has been written about leaders and followers. I’ve read many books, gone to a lot of seminars.  I’ve studied under great leaders: John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, Tony Robbins, Maya Angelou. 

What I have found is that most leaders have the same challenges that followers have. We all, including leaders, have an innate tendency to follow our self-desires, to follow by indulging ourselves with what pleases us, to follow our whims. Hmmm … so leaders often “follow” too?

I am all about happiness, joy, and fulfillment. But I think we fool ourselves when we expect that the true experience of these wonderful feelings comes from a focus on “what I want, how I want it, and when I want it.”

Tony Robbins has said, “Success without fulfillment is the greatest failure.“ What?  I thought about that for several years as I studied leaders. What was the “fruit” of their success? Were they successful without being “fulfilled?”

My observations told me they were too often not fulfilled.

It was interesting to me to see how many successful leaders lack fulfillment. I coach business leaders, sports leaders, and great leaders of faith. Through my experiences with them, I began to look at the definition of leadership differently.

I’m not attempting to re-frame your definition of leadership. But I want you to consider how I have re-defined it in my work, for the purposes of what I will share.

True leaders lead at all times, not just in their industry, or in their game, or in public view. They also lead when they are home alone. They do not go behind closed doors and “follow” their whims and self-centered desires.

Leaders work from a platform of three major practices:

1. They trust in something greater than themselves.

2. They take care of their gifts and use those gifts well.

3. They serve others, and love those who may not be lovable. 

After years of working experiences with leaders, I found that those who pattern their lives around these three practices are fulfilled.  I have found this to be true whether or not they are labeled “successful“ or “winners.“

I believe that leaders were created for “more” no matter their arena. Whether they are leaders of an industry, leaders of their business, leaders of their home, leaders of a small group, leaders of homeschooling their children.

My goal in leadership development, of myself, others, of organizations or businesses, is to create fulfillment while creating a sustainable legacy.

Now you may be like I was at one time. Me? Me leave a legacy? I’m nothing great! I don’t have that much to offer.

I was wrong. And if you’re thinking that about yourself, you are wrong. There’s more in you than you know! You can leave a legacy far greater than you can imagine.

Actually, we are all leaders in one way or another. I am no longer as interested in raising up leaders as I am in raising up fulfilled leaders. And that includes me!

I shared my three practices list with my wine-drinking industry leader. Perhaps I could have done an addiction assessment. Perhaps I could have taken him on a long trail of research. (For example, the fact that the benefits of wine not only vanish, but also turn for your harm after 8 ounces of wine.). 

Of course, I knew that if we focused on the three practices of leadership, that the wine would take care of itself!

Recently, my “son“ sent me an inspirational message:

“Self-indulgence (and doing what we want, when we want) continually leads to the dungeon of shame … And self-discipline (with the focus of perfect works) continually leads us to the ivory tower of elitism.” 

I know that’s not who you are or what you are about!

You may be saying, “Well, I don’t drink wine!”

But I urge you to widen your view of activities that mimic the effects of drinking: binge watching Netflix (or sports, or the news), binge eating, for example. Or NOT engaging in positive activities, such as exercise. 

Regardless of your struggle, following the three key leadership practices will help to bring your challenges into balance. I hope you will take these practices seriously.

For nearly 25 years, I have been focused on personal growth, spiritual growth, and leadership development. When I look back, I know that my journey would have been much quicker and easier had I understood these three key components sooner.

Let’s walk through them together.

1. They trust in something greater than themselves.

When we consider ourselves as the “greatest, all-knowing, end all” of all things, we severely limit ourselves.

For me, my trust is in God; in God’s Grace. I know that trusting only in myself is a very crooked and rough path. I am very grateful for God’s guidance, and for God’s Grace.

There have been many times in my life when a moment of guidance has been worth millions of dollars.  Or better stated, priceless!

A number of years ago, I was facing a very challenging legal problem. One night, in a dream, a great man that I highly respected, Dr. James K Bridges, told me what to do.

It was such an impactful dream. The guidance made sense. I decided that I might as well try what came to me in the dream. Within 24 hours, the legal situation was totally and completely resolved. You might call that too much pizza (even though I don’t eat pizza!) or simply coincidental. No. I call it God. I call it guidance. 

This is not a sermon. I’m not trying to tell you what to believe. I’ve just observed that all great, fulfilled leaders believe in something greater than themselves. I recommend that we all take their lesson!

2. All fulfilled leaders use and protect the gifts with which they have been blessed. They use those gifts with care. 

Whether it be their car, their employees, or their bodies, they all take great care of what they’ve been given.

This was my point with the industry leader. He confessed that he was significantly overweight, that he had given up on exercise.  Now he was drinking a bottle of wine each evening.

I asked him if he felt that any of those things were violating the second practice. With his head down, he choked out, “Of course!”

But within seconds, he defended his choices: his behaviors had not hurt anyone financially; he was not exercising as he once did because his knees were bad. And he did his drinking at home and never got behind the wheel. And besides, no one else knew!

I asked him why he thought he was losing his edge as a leader. He confessed that he did not know. I asked him if it would be OK with him if his entire company and industry knew that he drank a bottle of wine every night; that he had had to buy a whole new wardrobe because he got fat.

He looked at me, astonished that I would ask such dumb questions. “Of course not!”  

Over the years, I have come to understand that a set of hand movements are powerful tools to make a deep point:

I gently tap my forehead with my fingertips and say, “They don’t know…“ Then I move my hand down and gently pat my heart and say, “But they know!“

They may not have noticed the weight gain, they may not have known about his wine use, and likely they did not know he had given up all forms of exercise.

But they knew in their heart that something wasn’t the same!

What gifts have you been given? Are you a great orator or singer? Take care of your voice! Are you a great writer or philosopher? Take care of your mind! Are you a great musician; or athlete? Take great care of your hands!

Are there people in your care? Employees? Spouse? Children? Grandchildren? Parents? Take great care of them!

What possessions do you have? What does the interior of your car look like? What does your garage look like? How clean is your home? Your office?

Great leaders find fulfillment in taking care of themselves, those they are responsible for, their possessions, their talents, and their gifts.

Most of us unconsciously believe we are invincible. Until my mid-20s, and a grapefruit-sized tumor was discovered on my ovary, I ate what I wanted and never gave one thought to my health.

From that day forward, I completely changed what I did every day for my wellness. I acted to protect my health. I acted to give myself vibrant energy. Age is no more important than your shoe size if you take great care of your body.

In the 90s, when I was lecturing around the world about health and wellness, the questions most often asked were: What is your lifestyle? What supplements do you take? How do you exercise? I ended up writing a book. A Long and Healthy Life: The Facts About High-Level Wellness.

One of my clients recently ordered that book online and read it. In a session, he said to me, “How much of that crap do you still do?“ I laughed! I said, with great conviction, “Every bit of it!“

It’s for a very different reason now than it was then. The bottom line is, I’m doing the very best I can to take care of my body, because I plan to be doing dance competitions when I’m in my 90s!

3. Fulfilled leaders serve others, and love those who may not be lovable. 

Serving and giving is the very essence of fulfillment!

Fulfilled leaders give everything they can. They give their time, their money, their ideas, their love, their encouragement. If you want to feel that joy you crave, GIVE!

The classic Christmas character Ebenezer Scrooge is the perfect example. He had piles of money. Yet he was a miserable old soul.

Years ago, as a grad student, I learned a life-lesson about giving. I learned that giving was the very foundation of a fulfilling life.

I was so poor I barely had enough money to keep food on the table. I was sitting in church one Sunday with my daughter on my lap. I was writing a check, and I was actually writing it on her lap. She asked me why I was writing it. I whispered to her that it was because we would be so much happier to be givers. She looked at me with the sweetest look as I completed writing the check. She took the pen from my hand, and she wrote her little name above my signature and said to me, “I want to be happy too, Mom!“ Now as an amazing young woman, she works for Southwest Airlines, and she is a very happy and fulfilled young woman.

I’ve learned that none of us are too good or too important to serve. To serve food at a homeless shelter; to help neighbors in need when we have no electricity. I’ve learned that none of us are too important or too good to serve as “bonus Moms” or “bonus Dads” to those who came from unfortunate situations.

As for loving those who are unlovable — perhaps that’s the greatest mark of all fulfilled leaders. You may disagree with my assessment, but the examples are forceful.  Those who have religious beliefs different than mine; those who believe in a different view of sexual identity than I do; those of a different race; of a different culture. They behave differently and make different choices than I do. To many of us, these differences make other “unlovable.”

But when did such differences become an excuse to withhold our love from others? You were created for more!

So, while you will see things differently than others, you will love them anyway.

Why? Because you are the essence of a truly fulfilled leader!

As for the wonderful man who was losing his edge as a leader? I could tell by his affirmative nod after our discussion that he got what I was talking about!

A trim, vibrant man returned several months later. I had forgotten about our earlier conversation. But he greeted me with these words, “You were right, I wasn’t going to hell, but I was living in my self-created hell!”

You are a great leader! But you were created for more! 

You were created for more … to be a fulfilled leader!

Becoming “more” takes less than you think.

Join me!  Get guidance and grace from one greater than you. Take care of your gifts. Serve and give with all your heart!