Exceptional Leaders: Driven or Courageous?

It is easy to look at a successful leader and conclude that they are driven. The truth is many are. They haven’t come to grips with the demons from their past and are actually on a race to outrun them or prove them wrong by demonstrating that they actually are something while deeply inside thinking they actually are not much. This type of “drivenness” has led to some forms of success for many people, but not the success that we will speak of more fully in this space, which is a success that is more than making it to the top of the corporate ladder or the money list.

I am reminded of a little book entitled, Hope for the Butterflies, by Trina Paulus, that was given me early in my career by a friend who was well on his way toward achieving what most of us would define as success. It describes the life of caterpillars, those lowly, fuzzy little creatures that really don’t have much going for them, except to get ahead of the other caterpillars in pursuit of “success”. It is clear in the book that even these little creatures that are out front in this race to the top have this disturbing intuition that there must be more to life than this. The book concludes by reminding us that these little guys only achieve what they were designed for when they step out of the mad pursuit and relax a little. To their amazement once they stepped away from the constant striving they wake up significantly different than when they went to sleep.

When it comes right down to it most of us want success that includes much more than the rat race to the top of the heap. In the past few years, we have witnessed many leaders tumble from the top, only to be swallowed up by the recession and the personal meltdowns that accompanied it. Exceptional leaders have courageously stepped back from the rat race and have clearly defined success that includes multiple dimensions of their lives, including home, family, health, fitness, faith, peace, friends, finances and community. Once success is clearly defined, they work diligently to make choices that lead to the achievement of their goals. Do they work hard? You bet they do! And they make hard choices every day. They also know that their hard work is likely to pay off in the areas that mean the most to them. And if they happen to experience a failure in one area, the balance they have achieved will often serve to sustain them until they get back on their feet.

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