Change Never Starts "Out There"

by  Mark Oakes  |  Self Leadership

Craig Lambert in his book Mind Over Water talks about that frictionless state that rowers achieve when things become effortless. He calls it ‘swing’. He goes on to say ‘…our job is to simply work with the shell, to stop holding it back with our thrashing struggles to go faster. Trying too hard sabotages boat speed. Striving becomes trying and trying undoes itself’. In many ways this analogy reflects the essence of what it means to be a character-based leader. We don’t have to force it,… we just are.

Character-based leadership starts with that simple, pure and thoughtful decision that “I AM a character-based leader.” It then manifests itself through our resolve and actions. Our actions define our character. Being a leader grounded in character isn’t an adjective. It’s not some label that we or others pin on our lapel. Rather, it’s a verb. It’s the sum total of our thoughts and decisions embodied in our Actions. It propels us in the good times and grounds us to bedrock in bad times. It is the lighthouse that guides us through the shoals on the darkest of nights and the toughest of storms. More importantly, it is also the beacon that illuminates the path for those who follow in our footsteps.

When we look around and remark about the decay of moral fiber in leadership, we lose sight of the fact that ‘These ARE the good ole days’. Throughout history there have been much darker ages than these.  Yet, time and again men and women of character rise and prevail. Trying times aren’t a call for character-based leadership. They are the crucible that creates them.

As character-based leaders we’re called to pour our lives into others. That calling, however, begins with a very personal commitment to grow and improve. Water can only be drawn from a full well. We give because we have the capacity to give. This is the essence of character-based leadership. We have no control over the choices others. We DO have the ability to grow personally and, as a result, model what ‘Right’ looks like. As Ghandi said “We must BE the change we want to see in the world”. Change never starts ‘out there’. It starts within each of us. The result is that character-based leaders change the world… even when that means touching just ONE life.

Note: This is reprinted from Mark’s entry in The LeadChange Revolution ebook.  If you haven’t read the other contributions made by the people who attended LeaderPalooza 2010, you can click the link above to learn more or just download your copy.

Photo © Pete Saloutos –

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Tara R. Alemany  |  24 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Great post, Mark! I wholeheartedly agree, especially with the point that we must fill ourselves so that we can flow over to others. (“Water can only be drawn from a full well.”) So often, we forget in serving others that we need to replenish ourselves as well, then we grow tired and ineffective. When I was still a fairly new single parent (over a decade ago), I was constantly reminded by a friend that I had to take care of my needs first in order to meet the needs of others. If I over-extended myself serving others, then everyone suffered. As a character-based leader, this means growing and improving, nourishing and replenishing those characteristics that are uniquely ours from which we can nurture our followers. Thanks for reminding us of that today, Mark!

Mark Oakes  |  24 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thanks much, Tara! :-)

Excellent. Your parenthood reference is an excellent example of character-based leadership in action! YES, in order to pour ourselves into others (especially our childrent) we must invest the time to grow personally.

I greatly appreciate your input!

All my best,


Chery Gegelman  |  21 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Great Message Mark!

This was one of my favorite lines in the post. “Trying times aren’t a call for character-based leadership. They are the crucible that creates them.”

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