Brenda Johnson – November 2007 Grad

Brenda Johnson

When I was asked to write this article on leadership, I knew it was important. At first, I wasn’t sure why I felt so strongly about it.  In the past I agreed to all kinds of opportunities without fully exploring why they mattered, what I truly wanted, or how the requests aligned with my purpose and personal values. I spent valuable time doing things I thought I should be doing in my role or to meet someone’s expectation, usually because of a fixation on pleasing others.  Overwhelmed, confused and conflicted, I learned a deep appreciation for the phrase “What I have is what I want” as a way to quickly examine where I was focusing my attention.

And so it is with this moment, and the next… choosing. This article is important to me because I wholeheartedly believe in the nuance, mystery and world of possibilities that emerge through leaders who do their work from the inside out.

There was a time when my approach to leadership was from the outside in. My “image management department” (yes, I required a whole department for the effort) was flourishing, and I absolutely believed I had the ability to control what other people thought of me. I pretended to know more, be more, and do more – all under the illusion of what I thought leadership was supposed to be. I painstakingly discovered that attempting to manage other people’s perceptions of me was an incredibly egocentric and futile effort that only served to create shallow relationships, distrust and mediocre results. I learned that my impact in the community and on the organization I love could be dramatically different if I looked at my role in what was happening, and I used my passion to fuel change.

I began asking myself questions like, “What is the risk/reward for this pretending?”, “How is this aligned with my greatest vision, intention and purpose?” or “Would I do this if the cameras weren’t flashing?” to name a few.  All in a careful and deliberate process and desire to lead moment by moment from the inside out.

I look back and can barely recognize the woman who did it differently. I trust my path. I’m grateful for the wisdom from some of the most unsuspecting teachers, and I am clear that my leadership journey will be full of many defining moments. I remain an eager student. My focus now is which of those moments I choose to play with, learn from, and how I integrate them into my whole being.