Leadership and The Well-Considered Life

by  Jennifer V. Miller  |  Leadership Development

While sipping my morning coffee the other day, I stumbled upon an interesting Op-Ed piece by New York Times columnist David Brooks entitled The Summoned Self.  In it, he outlines two possible ways of thinking about one’s life:

The Well-Planned Life: find a clear purpose for your life, and make time each day to work towards creating tangible progress in upholding that purpose.  The Well-Planned Life is well-thought-out, carefully “tweaked” along the way to fit into the overall purpose and concluded with a feeling of achievement.

The Summoned Life: life isn’t a “project” to be completed but rather an “unknowable landscape”. Decisions about what to do are based on the context of the situation. The Summoned Life recognizes that there are many unknown factors- illness, war, economic factors and so on that may arise and therefore reshape one’s path.

Brooks summarizes the two outlooks in this way:

“The person leading the Well-Planned Life emphasizes individual agency and asks, ‘What should I do?” The person leading the Summoned Life emphasizes the context and asks, ‘What are my circumstances asking me to do?’”

Thankfully, he doesn’t pit the two viewpoints against each other, citing one as more effective than the other.  Rather, he suggests at the end of his column that perhaps drawing from both viewpoints will yield a third way of thinking—The Well-Considered Life.

These viewpoints could also influence how one leads. Knowing how strongly the Lead Change readership feels about the topic of character-based leaders, I have a few questions:

  1. In what ways have you seen a person with a Well-Planned viewpoint succeed in leadership?
  2. In what ways have you seen a person with a Summoned Life viewpoint succeed?
  3. What lessons can we learn from each of the viewpoints?
What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jennifer-miller
Jennifer V. Miller is a leadership development consultant whose writing and digital training materials help business professionals better lead themselves and others towards greater career success.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Dan (Leadership Freak)  |  10 Aug 2010  |  Reply


Thanks for your post. Love the distinction and the combination of two great ideas.

I’ll toss this out for #2. I’ve adopted the approach of following success. If something is working then do more of it. I know it’s not always the best approach but it serves me well.

Follow your success.

Leadership Freak

Dan Rockwell

Chris Oestereich  |  10 Aug 2010  |  Reply

I found Brooks’ article to be timely and poignant and appreciated your pointing out that the two lives offered do not have to be mutually exclusive paths. Clayton Christensen wrote a companion piece, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” on the HBR site. It’s well worth reading:
Thank you,

Chris Oestereich
The Right-Brained PM

Jennifer V. Miller  |  10 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thanks, Dan and Chris, for joining the conversation.

What struck me was– there is so much talk about “purpose”– and for me, that just doesn’t “do it” for me, as a person. I don’t feel the need to be able to say, “My purpose is XYZ and here’s how I work towards achieving that purpose every day.” Even so, I think my life has direction and clarity and that I’m doing “good work”. So the Summoned Life appealed to me as a philosophy, even though I respect and also need aspects of the Well-Planned Life.

Lori Meyer  |  11 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thanks very much for this wise and informative post, which reminds us that a well-considered life requires each of us to look upward and outward — beyond the calendar, the planner, and the smartphone. Great food for thought!

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