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Leading Life: It's all you


Welcome to the first post in my summer “Leading Life” series! Whether you’re a higher-ed leader trying to maintain some sense of balance or someone who simply wants to spend a bit more time focusing on things that matter, I think you’ll find tools here that can help. We’ll explore topics ranging from tapping into your strengths to facing the email beast head-on. And at 2-3 minutes in length, these posts won’t keep you from your summer fun… or the many other things on your to-do list.


I’d like to begin the Leading Life series with a quote that, to me, beautifully captures the true essence of both leadership and living:


"The point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely—all your skills, gifts, and energies—in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be."

— Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader


I love the idea of spending the summer shedding the layers that have kept us hidden, revealing our true selves and the leaders we were born to be.


So let’s start there. Who are you deep down? What would it mean to “use yourself completely” in service of your vision? There are many great ways to clarify this for ourselves. The approach I’ll share here comes from Jack Canfield. I tried this exercise over a decade ago and have been amazed by how well the resulting statement of life purpose has stood the test of time. (Full disclosure: It's not as if I haven't gone months or even years at a time without giving my life purpose a thought. We're all learning.)


Here are the steps [along with my own responses so you can see how it works]:

  1. List 2 of your unique personal qualities. Focus on positive qualities that you most strongly identify with, those that feel most like “you.” If you have trouble coming up with ideas, you might ask yourself what positive qualities others would point to when describing you. 
[I chose “caring” and “gets things done.”]

  2. List 1 or 2 ways that you enjoy expressing these qualities when interacting with others. Again, focus on the things that resonate most strongly and choose one or two verbs. [I wrote “sharing” and “supporting.”]

  3. Assume the world is perfect right now. What does this world look like? Describe it in the present tense. 
[I wrote a lot, so I'll just share part of it here. “All people have a clear sense of their purpose and contribute to the benefit of everyone. Talents/gifts are known. People are truly accepting of themselves and others. Mistakes are viewed purely as opportunities to learn. People feel safe, understood, and valued.”]

  4. Combine the 3 prior points into a single sentence. Voila! It's your life purpose statement! 
[Here's mine: "By actively sharing my experiences in the most supportive way possible, I am making people feel good about who they are, helping them trust their intuition and ultimately gain greater respect for themselves and others." Not the most eloquent, perhaps, but it gets the job done and that's what matters here.]

  5. (Optional) Create a combined purpose with the people you love. 
[I did this too, but I think you get the idea without another example. :)]

So, what are your unique "skills, gifts, and energies” calling forth in you and how will you manifest that in the world?


Watch for the next post in the Leading Life series, when we’ll explore our values and the many ways they impact our experience as leaders and people.

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© 2017 by Elizabeth Odders-White

© Elizabeth Odders-White 2020

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