Walking the Leadership Tightrope

by  Christina Haxton  |  Self Leadership

The Tightrope of Leadership

As leaders and change-agents, we walk a daily tight-rope between how we “should” do things because that’s how they’ve always been done … which may be contrary to what believe matters today and tomorrow. Leadership is no different.

To be a true leader, we must walk this tightrope in our daily actions.  While most people would not want to be in our leadership shoes for fear of ridicule, being ostracized or publicly called out … they secretly and silently cheer us on.  One day you are a hero … the next day you are a zero.

For almost 20 years I”ve been writing, speaking and coaching leaders to courageously use the “F” word and the “V” word.  F as in feelings and V as in Values- as in pay attention, stop pretending they don’t matter because they do.

At first, I treaded lightly, because I was told if I didn’t, no one would listen.  So I did as I was told and followed the rules, like most of us do.

Sure, after about the 10 year milestone, and with the help of platforms like the Lead Change Blog, I no longer felt like a fish out of water.  In fact, I discovered a whole community who also believed as I did.   While I felt validated seeing others were willing to break the rules  mattered, there was a “Yes, but …”

Yes, but I felt I was “preaching to the choir” when it came to the characteristics and behaviors of what it REALLY takes for a leader, someone of influence and power, to motivate, inspire and lead people, small businesses and organizations to be outrageously successful (hint: the operative word here is PEOPLE so pay attention).

But who am I, one who’s never walked in a CEO -of-a-Fortune-500’s-Company’s-Shoes to tell YOU how to be a successful leader as a card-carrying MBA, CXO?

Personally, I’m done walking the tightrope, being careful and “should-ing”  when it comes to the words I choose to use to describe what it takes to lead people today.  I’m through with hiding, pretending and using politically-correct language to get heard in the corporate world.  Join me in instigating this leadership revolution:  Walk your talk, call it what it is and refuse to hide behind the leadership speak of  “human capital”  and other such almost-there-but-not phrases.  Thanks … it sure felt good to get that off my chest.

Leaders: Get Real!

Let’s get real and cut to the bottom line.

What I realize in my almost 20 years of experience with PEOPLE is that no matter what your title, you are still a human being who works with other human beings to motivate, inspire and get the job done.  Period.

Here’s the bottom-line question:  When it comes to the “F” word, what are you so afraid of when it comes to your own feelings, the feelings and needs of your team or that of your customers? And while the word values gets tossed around like the latest fad, are you taking actions based on your values on a daily basis?

Twenty years ago, I was told not to tell potential companies (clients) my credentials came from the field of systems and therapy, (marriage &, family) which raised eyebrows anyhow, but because it would intimated and “scare” corporate types. Inside I thought but the bottom line in achieving success in business  IS about understanding relationships and people yet I kept my silence, afraid of being ostracized in the leadership development field.

Fast forward to 2012:  If management guru’s who have the corporate credentials like Gary Hamel and Mike Myatt, or experts on emotional intelligence like Daniel Goleman, or even executive coaches to the top Fortune 100 CEO’s like Marshall Goldsmith can say it, then so can those of  us who are executive coaches who have been treading not-so-lightly on the sidelines as our clients nod in silent agreement.

Here’s my challenge to you:  If you are a CXO, CEO, COO, CFO or have the title of a leader and aren’t afraid to say it out loud it’s more necessary than ever before.  Stay tuned for the first collaborative effort by many of your Lead Change Group authors “Character-based Leadership: Instigating a leadership revolution one person at a time.” Read it, pass it along, spread the word.

As a leader who has the ability and responsibility to authentically influence others to create value, join us in the LeadChange effort – AND don’t be quiet about it.

Now who’s talking?

The Harvard Business Review, Forbes and the McKinsey Quarterly post “Leading in the 21st Century” are also printing what it takes to be an extraordinary leader in today’s world:  be human, a rule-breaker and authentic.  Gary Tramel’s What Matters Now says it loudly, too. You don’t have to look far to find out what it takes to be a Sustainable Leader who is built to last who’s goals are to not simply survive, but to thrive through the warp-speed of the global economy and change.  The consistent message is be courageous enough to be human every day.  Which means to be vulnerable and to be real and walk your talk, balancing confidence and vulnerability.

The good news is you will find it takes a lot less effort to be authentic than it does to pretend. The tough part is knowing what your values and beliefs are so that you can walk your talk every day in every conversation.  If you are unclear how to take action in this area, there are  plenty of highly qualified and experienced folks in this group to assist you.

Take action and connect with one … just get started before you fall off the tightrope or get left behind by other rule-breaking leaders who are already taking action.

How do you show up as a leader in your business and what is YOUR leadership tightrope made of?



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Articles By christina-haxton
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What People Are Saying

Claudio Morelli  |  13 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Christina, your post resonates with me. When I decided to not worry about what our leadership team thought about a focus on character-based leadership I gave myself permission to be authentic, transparent and model it. As a result it has given team members permission to do the same which has influenced the team and organization in a positive way. Thanks for affirming our efforts.

Christina Haxton, MA LMFT  |  14 Jul 2012  |  Reply


Thank you for having the courage to not only say it out loud AND take action, yet best of all SEE the positive ripple effects of the change you started!

Keep us posted – What you say your team has noticed that has been better or different since you implemented the change?


Deborah Costello  |  13 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Hi Christina,

I love this line, “One day you are a hero … the next day you are a zero.” Made me literally LOL… perfect description.

Just letting you know, as one non-CEO to another, I’m right there with you. I call it leading from the cheap seats. I hope everyone will join us.

Lead on!

Christina Haxton, MA LMFT  |  14 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Hi Deb,

I’m not sure where I heard that saying, yet it rings true for far too many CEO’s … and Presidents, too! I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes …


Pinkey A. Stewart  |  13 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Hi, Christina

Your message is “on point.” I am one of those leaders who breaks the rules, doesn’t do the tightrope, and is not afraid to use the F and V words.. One thing that I know for sure is that leadership begins and ends with people. We have to take a genuine interest in our people as individuals, not just employees. I definitely believe in modeling authentic behavior with my staff and when no one is looking! Thanks.

Christina Haxton, MA LMFT  |  14 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Hi Pinkey,

Your post will be applauded by many – thank you for being true to what you believe and setting the bar.

In your post, you referred to a quote that means so much to me personally … I met a man who was an successful businessman, community leader and later in his life (after a few health-related wake up calls) he made some significant life changes and with that came changes in the quality of his life and his family’s life, and in the lives of his customers. His name was Jerry Throgmartin and he also owned Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Steamboat Springs, CO. A breathtaking 5-Star Dude/Guest Ranch, it was probably more of a hobby at first, yet his presence and wisdom touched his staff, his family, his guests and brief acquaintances like me at such a powerful, unforgettable level it will be with me forever.

He died suddenly and unexpectedly after a brief illness last year. At his memorial service, his staff were quoting their favorite Jerry-isms, and one of my favorites is: “Do the right thing, all the time, every day … even when no one is looking.” The world needs more leaders and people like Jerry Throgmartin. Ride on, Cowboy and thank you, Jerry.

karin hurt  |  14 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Taking the right risks, with energy and rewarding that in our teams is vital. At the end of the day, it is absolutely vital that we stay true to our values, and lead with full integrity.

Christina Lattimer  |  14 Jul 2012  |  Reply


Great and courageous post, one which I wholeheartedly agree with. In my own experience, its been tough to stand up for values and feelings. The thing is though, those brave leaders just have to tough it out. Demonstrate that an inspired way of working actually works and gets results. It can be done and it will have to be.

Thanks again for sharing, very inspired!


Bob Miglarese  |  16 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Good article, and comments as well. It was gratifying to hear someone write about things I have been advocating for years.

There are many closely related concepts, but I think that character-based leadership really has to have a strong element of servant leadership within it. I’ve done a lot of coaching, mentoring and development work with young leaders and managers over the years and one core message I try to land on them is that if you are in leadership for what you can get out of it, you are in the wrong role. Leadership is responsibility, not advantage. As leaders, we are accountable for more than just getting results – we are responsible for how we get them, and for the people we are leading.

I have not found a great deal of self examination and self-awareness in leadership. Too many leaders still make the mistake of thinking that as long as people follow them, they must be good leaders. Few stop to consider whether the people are following because they want to, or because they have to.

Some of this is due to personality type and level of EI but a lot of it I think is because at the end of the day, real leadership – authentic, transparent, servant leadership – will cost you something, personally and professionally. Most organizations still do not get it and so leaders like that tend to pay a price in terms of how they are perceived by peers and upper management, whether they advance or not (despite their business successes), and in some cases whether they are allowed to remain with the organization.

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