Leaders' Edge Advisor

The Importance of the Inward Journey for Leaders

By Gary De Carolis, President, Center for Community Leadership

Effective leadership that is sustainable and invigorating for the person or people that are providing it comes from a place deep within ourselves. It is authentic because our values, those drivers that are at the heart of who we are, are being expressed in every action that we take in leadership. Most definitions and writing about leadership talk about the external work: mission statements, system change, organizational reform, etc. But unless we are in touch with who we are first, are we being true leaders? Are we being authentic?

It is one thing to say that we accomplished A, B, C and D. It is quite different to say that we added value to our community or organization. For example, in systems of care work, some leaders may take credit for forming an interagency team, yet it may be that the newly created team is drifting and aimless in its mission. The team was started because they were supposed to do it as part of a plan. Another community may not have achieved that interagency team, yet evaluations show that families feel that professionals are acting more respectful in their interactions with family members in their system of care. What is of more value? What work was a true expression of the authenticity of the leader?

So how do we stay true to ourselves amidst the frenzy of the work of leadership? Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky talk about the need to honor our sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are those activities we do for ourselves that reinvigorate us and restore our equilibrium and energy. There are no right or wrong sanctuaries. What is a sanctuary for one is not necessarily so for another. You receive joy from your sanctuaries and they help bring a sense of comfort to your day. Sanctuaries allow you to breathe and relax, even thought they could be quite invigorating, like climbing a mountain or taking a long run or bike ride. They allow you to pause and sift through your inner self without any necessary place to end up. They allow you to be just you.

Once in a while I'll come across a person who claims, "I don't have any sanctuaries." This can happen when we are overworked and fill our lives with responsibilities at work and home. So what to do? My suggestion is to think back to a less encumbered time in your life when things were a bit simpler. What did you like to do then? Did you have personal interests you enjoyed pursuing? Did you read more, take leisurely walks, have dinner with friends? What were those things that you loved doing for nothing else but the enjoyment of the activity?

Once you either rediscover your sanctuaries or learn what they are, the key is to honor them. Make sure you integrate those sanctuaries into your life on a regular basis. This is serious business. If we choose to ignore our sanctuaries we will lose the energy they provide us. We will slowly lose the way to that inner journey that effective leaders tap into on a regular basis to guide them in their leadership work. Finally, we may well find that it takes twice as long to complete a task because we are drained. As I say in our Community Leadership Institutes, "If you do not honor your sanctuaries it's like turning the car lights on without turning on the engine. Eventually the lights will dim and go out and you won't be able to turn the car on when you need it." Without sanctuaries we too will slowly burn out and take twice as long to do half as much work; most importantly when those windows of opportunity come along we will either miss them or choose not to take advantage of them because we are too tired.

Another point relevant to the inward journey is that the values that drive what we do are not constant. As we grow and change, so also do our values. We should all take a values inventory every so often to see if the values that we held most important at one point in our lives are still the same values that we are operating under now. If they have changed we may want to look at what else needs to change to reflect our new values priorities. Regular check-ins with our inner selves will make us more complete leaders for ourselves and the people who are counting on us to move things forward.

The point of this article is that you need to be real in who you are and how you go about adding value to your community and organization. You need to look inside and discover or re-discover who you are and what you are all about. As you grow, your leadership ability also grows. Whatever you create will be genuine, real and likely to add value to your community and specifically your system of care work.

Questions to Consider

  • Has it been a challenge to be real in who you are as a person/leader?
  • What have you done to ensure that you are growing as a person so that your leadership sustains and grows with you?
  • How has your authentic leadership added value to your community?
  • What are your sanctuaries?
  • Are you honoring your sanctuaries?

Register Now for the Center for Community Leadership's
Two-part Leadership Institute
in Burlington, Vermont

The Art & Science of 21st Century Leadership & System Change
Tuesday, Nov. 15 & Wednesday, Nov. 16

Building the Infrastructure for Your Community, Organization or System of Care
Thursday, Nov. 17 & Friday, November 18

Overnight Accommodations and Reservations

These hotels and B&Bs are close to the Seminar location.

Continuing Education Credits (CEUs)

Through our partnership with Southern New Hampshire University's Graduate Program in Community Mental Health, we are pleased to offer CEUs to all participants who request them. Up to 11.5 contact hours will be awarded for each 2-day session.

Participants are responsible for coordinating and paying for their own accommodations, meals and transportation. We will provide a light breakfast.


Register Now
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Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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