How to be a successful leader


“I believe that human beings are desperate, always, to belong to something larger than themselves.” David Whyte

The traditional idea of success in our organizations has everything to do with playing the game, dressing the part, and doing what’s expected. You work hard, you climb the ladder and make oodles of money that can buy you all the trappings of success as defined by external forces rather than your own internal calling. If you’re not careful, you get swept along in the definition of success as defined by everyone else.

You aren’t everyone else; this becomes clear the minute you declare yourself a leader.

If you don’t spend some time reflecting on what success means to you, you allow powerful forces of to take you for a ride when you’re not in the driver’s seat. After years of travel, you may come to the end of the journey and find that it wasn’t your own. It might be too late to change course.

You will have a chance at success when you can define what it means for you, putting the external forces of society, the organization you work in, and how others define it aside. Resist the pull of external sources of success and reflect on:

What puts you in flow in the sense of knowing what puts you into a state of clear focus and happiness. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes that flow happens when the challenge and skills required to do a task are high. For many of us, this occurs when we feel as if we’re contributing something to world. The tasks that put you in flow will move your spirit. When have you felt a sense of flow? When this happens you may have an indication of what you need to be doing to be successful. The beginning of the journey!

What’s important to you. As Stephen Covey has wisely said, start with the end in mind. At the end of the journey what can you say about your life? One of the best ways to think about what you’ll leave behind is to consider what you’d want others remember about you when you’re gone. If you articulate that, you can work backwards to define where to begin your excursion of self-defined success. (p.s. It’s no small thing that a side benefit of clarity about what’s important to you is that you become able to set boundaries that point to what you’re willing to do and what you aren’t).

Real success as a leader can mean not listening to what external forces think defines it for you. Instead, listen to that inner voice, with reflection and silence, and follow it. This kind of success can be difficult, lonely, and risky. Yet it’s the beginning of the journey that can impact your ability to lead at your best in ways you can’t imagine now.


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

4 comments on “How to be a successful leader

  1. A great way leaders can figure out what is important to them is to blog. In my recent experience this has provided me two key things. 1) It has helped me map out my belief system. 2) It has made me accountable to those I lead by publicly stating my beliefs.

    Thanks for the good read!

  2. Josh, I completely agree (and have been surprised) at the power of writing to help us clarify our beliefs. And your blog is very good – hopefully you are getting readers who can use it to clarify their own beliefs (reading can be similarly powerful in helping people to understand themselves). Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I feel very strongly that selflessness and servitude make for outstanding and true leadership. This has played out time and time again throughout history. It doesn’t come natural and it doesn’t always make us happy, but it is the heart of a true leader. It’s no longer about me. Thanks for the great article and awesome reminder to begin with the end in mind!

  4. Well put Cynthia. The best leaders seem to always be focused on others and how they can serve others. I have an inkling that most can find some happiness in their selflessness.

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