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What Is Leadership?

Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash

It’s a simple question with many different answers.  Here’s my answer…

My definition of Leadership is taking responsibility for one’s world.  My model of Leadership is to

  1. Show Up
  2. Connect
  3. Take Responsibility

Show Up

It’s obvious that you need to show up physically – and even virtually, in today’s electronically connected world – in order to lead others.  If you don’t show up and be seen, you can’t make much of an impact.

More importantly, it matters HOW you show up.  What I prescribe is Courage, Purpose, and Authenticity.  Taking responsibility means doing difficult things, having difficult conversations, and maybe even going out on a limb with your perspectives and actions.  It makes you vulnerable, which requires courage.  Showing up well also requires purpose and intention.  Do you know what you truly want?  Do you understand your own motivations, and how they are driving your behavior?  Finally, showing up well requires authenticity.  There is no single one-size-fits-all “look” to leadership.  There is only your personal version of it.  When you show up as “the real you,” you make the biggest impact.  In my experience, this is one of the hardest things for leaders to do is show up authentically, because they feel a lot of pressure to look and sound in a way that meets others’ expectations of them.

The types of questions I explore with leaders to help them Show Up include:

  • What do you truly want from… this situation, this project, this person, your job, your career, your life?
  • What do you want to accomplish… this week, this year, in your career, in your life?
  • What would you do if there were no limits?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • Who are you when you’re at your best?
  • What impact do you make on people and how does that serve you (or not)?


You are a conscious human being and you don’t exist in isolation and separation from the world.  To make an impact and lead, you must tune in and connect to the world.  That means getting out of your own head as much as possible.  When we live in our own mental bubble we’re mostly disconnected.  Sure, we interact and work well enough, but we’re leaving a lot of potential untapped.

To lead,  you must connect intimately with what’s happening around you.  You have to be present and attentive to your environment and the people within it.  This is why they call it Executive (or Leadership) “Presence.”  It means seeing people as people, not as a means to your ends.

The most fundamental entry point to connection is listening.  It’s such a basic human skill and yet most of us are terrible at it.  Even if we have the skill, there’s so much that gets in the way of good listening (e.g., ego, distraction, external pressures, etc.).  If you want one single skill to practice in order to become a more effective leader, it should be listening.  I mean listening without judgement.  Truly listening, with empathy.  Many leaders fail at this because they don’t see how much power it has to make an impact.  They get too focused on action, on doing something, and they skip this critical element of leadership

Take Responsibility

This is the most visible part of leadership.  It’s where most of the action happens.  And it’s where most leaders instinctively start.  Many “natural leaders” start out early in life being assertive, or even “bossy,” because they know what they want and they’re not afraid to go after it.  Eventually, they must learn there’s more to leadership than that.  When leaders fail, it’s because they take responsibility without mastering the “show up” and “connect” parts.  Leaders who simply tell others what to do are surprised when others don’t do what they told them to do.  That’s because the leader has no idea what kind of impact they’re making on others and hasn’t even considered what’s true for that other person at this moment.

Assuming you’re showing up and connecting, however, you are better positioned to take responsibility in an effective way.  To influence people, to move people, to accomplish what you want with people, you have to start where they are.  Temporarily set aside what you want and find out what other people want.  Build an understanding of what’s getting in the way of what you want, and why others might resist it.  Listen and be present enough to hear what’s really needed before youract, and then give yourself full permission to act.  This in no way means wait, delay, or be indecisive.  On the contrary, act as soon as you have the urge to act, and assuming you’ve been showing up and connecting, that urge will come from the right place.

Now comes the hard part…  once you’ve acted, you must stay connected, stay present, and listen to what happens next.  Notice the impact you made.  If the impact is not what you intended, STAY PRESENT!  Continue showing up and connecting, and act again.  Usually when our impact is not what we intended, we disconnect… by getting frustrated, or pushing harder, or giving up.  When that happens, we fall off the leadership model.  We’re no longer showing up at our most effective, we’re no longer connected to what’s happening right in front of us, and our actions to take responsibility lose their effectiveness.  But if we stay present and connected, we can continue to take responsibility for what we truly want.  It’s an ongoing cycle, not a linear process.

Show Up, Connect, and Take Responsibility

You can apply this model to just about any situation that requires leadership, from a single interaction in a meeting, to a project, your job, career, or even life.  After all, the first thing you lead is yourself and your own life.  Leadership starts within yourself.  Developing as a leader means expanding the scope of what you take responsibility for.  And it always starts with yourself.

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  1. Dolores on October 15, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Excellent & thought-provoking article. Thanks for sharing.

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