Lead Yourself (Into Your Radiantly Imagined Future)

Here’s what I’ve learned about leadership: it begins with yourself. Boo-ya.

Whatever I’ve learned about leadership has come from trial and error in and on the field. Is there another way? Books and seminars on leadership can be wonderful idea factories. But I’m not sure it’s possible to convince others to accomplish the extraordinary and push themselves beyond self-imposed limits -my personal definition of leadership - by following someone else’s instructions.

[caption id="attachment_7219" align="alignleft" width="179"] Central highlands volunteer project, Vietnam 2009[/caption]

The field I mentioned includes the highlands and Mekong Delta of Vietnam; the Mount Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar, in Tanzania; and the volcanoes, rivers and back roads, respectively, of Nicaragua, Peru and Patagonia.

I suppose it also includes the dust-bubble of wartime Iraq and the dandelion-choked soccer fields of Aurora, Ill., my cheesy hometown in what really, really old people call the middle West.

(So there’s no confusion: I was in Iraq as a reporter not a warrior.)

I spent 11 years as a reporter for The New York Times. Three years ago, I voluntarily left that job, at the front-end of a frightening recession, after coming to the sad conclusion that it had begun sabotaging rather than serving my vision for myself, or what I like to call my own radiantly imagined future.

I left the paper and journalism to start Roadmonkey, an adventure philanthropy company that combines physically challenging adventure with hands-on volunteer projects that help struggling communities help themselves.

Only now, in retrospect, am I able to see leaving The Times as an act of radical self-leadership. Quitting your perch at the highest levels of journalism to become a social entrepreneur with no experience, no partners and no funding….I mean, RUFKM?

The struggle is mighty but it is also authentic. There’s no way to b.s. yourself when your success depends on what you and only you do or don’t do each day.

One lesson I learned early in my post-Times career is that when you lead yourself you begin throwing off different energy – an energy that people notice because it’s unique and not replicable.

Which is why leading yourself so often brings new people into your life: You’re broadcasting on a frequency they want to hear.

What’s your frequency, and how unfiltered is your energy?

photo: © Paul von Zielbauer, 2009