Posted by: chrismaser | May 14, 2010


This article is based on circumstances described by Corey1 for psychotherapists and my own experiences in leading workshops on sustainable community development, vision statements, and the resolution of environmental conflicts. I believe the circumstances faced by psychotherapists and leaders have much in common, a thought affirmed by author Caroline Myss, “So much of the way we respond to the external challenges is determined by how we respond to ourselves. In addition to all the relationships we have with people, we must also form a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves. . . .”

I have also found in leadership that which Corey has found in psychotherapy, namely, that leaders soon realize, despite their study and training, that all they really have to work with is themselves—their own life experiences, values, and humanity. It is therefore armed only with themselves that they must face the vagaries of circumstances to which they are exposed as leaders.

A circumstance is a condition or factor that accompanies an event and has some bearing on it. As such, a leader must consider the circumstance in determining their course of action so they can effect a desired outcome. Although no one can directly control a circumstance, each one of us can control how we respond—not react—to a circumstance and thereby de facto control the circumstance by controlling ourselves. Self-knowledge and thus self-control are perhaps the greatest challenges of leadership.

I therefore caution aspiring leaders not to be seduced into mimicking or consciously copying another’s style. There is no “right” way to lead, only ethical principles to follow. Although the principles remain the same, there are as many ways to lead as there are people to become leaders, which represent a wide variation of effective approaches to the art of leadership. In fact, one leader cannot reach all people because not all people respond equally to the personality of any given leader.

While an aspiring leader may accept the influence of a person’s individual style, the aspirant must chose carefully and be sure to keep clear those boundaries (discussed later in later blog) that both protect and nurture the gift of their own developing style of leadership, which is unique. If the aspirant allows their personal boundaries to blur, they will at best be a carbon copy and at worst a poor imitation of someone else’s style, which means not only that their gift is lost but also that they will be accepting the other person’s limitations in addition to their own.

Although I neither have nor know of a formula for leadership, I do know beyond a doubt that to lead well you must work diligently on resolving your own emotional and psychological issues, because you can only take people as far along the path as you have personally traveled. With this in mind, I advocate selecting the highest, other-centered principles to follow and then adhering to them tenaciously, regardless of the boundless temptations to take the easier, more traveled, self-centered road.

Beyond that, I recommend finding that place of quiet within, where you can hear the message of your own heart, because the message (intuition) of your heart is the knowing beyond knowledge, the personal truth of your being. It is from this still place within that a true leader leads into the uncertainty of time’s distant horizon. And it is from this still place within that a leader must seek the succor of dispassion if they are going to unfold as a leader and deal effectively with the myriad circumstances, which they will inevitably encounter, beginning with anxiety.

Series on Leadership Challenges:

• Is World Peace Possible?

• Dealing With Anxiety

• Use Of Power

• Criticism In The Form Of Projection

• Criticism And Your Image

• Being And Disclosing Yourself

• The Zen Of Perfection

• Honesty With Followers

• Understanding Silence

• Understanding The Need To Be Heard

• Establishing Your Boundaries

• Dealing With The Uncommitted

• Accepting Slow Or Delayed Results

• Learning Your Limits


  1. Gerald Corey. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (3rd ed.). Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., Monterey, CA. (1986).

Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.

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This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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