Leadership and The Well-Considered Life

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?
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