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Leading from “WHO you ARE” by Elaine Patterson



“No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all your skills, gifts and energies – in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You, must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.”

Warren G. Bennis, On Becoming a Leader (2009)

This blog argues that the natural leader, which resides in all of us, is actually uncovered through a process of personal learning and discovery. “WHO we ARE ” is ultimately crafted – not through training or textbooks alone – but through our personal experiences and our learning from those experiences.

This is because everyone is a leader. Everyone is born with gifts for leadership, which are unique to them. Leadership does not exist “out there” in the masks and instruments of power, hierarchy or plans but as a precious gift, which resides inside all of us. Leadership resides in the stories of our experiences, in our relationships and how we chose to continuously reflect, interpret and act on those stories.

Each person will express their leadership in their own unique way because each person is unique Leading is therefore highly personal; and is ultimately an expression of who they are and of their humanity. Leadership is not a science but what it means to be human engaged in human endeavours whether it is running a computer software company, a hospital or a factory. Each person is at their best and will give of their best when their uniqueness and their unique contribution is recognised, welcomed, respected and appreciated in the community of others in service of what is needed.

I remember my own sense of frustration and disconnection when as an executive I went along to various development programmes where I was taught lots of tools, process and techniques when all I really needed was a series of skilled conversations to work through “WHO am I in this?”. I felt I could easily digest the textbooks. But what I really needed was the space and a spaciousness with a skilled super-Visor™ to step back, to discover me, to process my experiences, and to discover how I really wanted to lead my agenda and my team to best serve my organisation.

Learning to lead is therefore ultimately a personal journey inwards to discover WHO we are and WHO we want to become in our life and work. Leading to lead is an act of courage because it requires us to face up to ourselves; to all of WHO we are and are becoming. In this process we are invited to find our own unique story line, our core or golden thread which guides our relationships, conversations and our actions; and which ensures that we act with integrity to ourselves and to others in the world. This roundedness paradoxically frees us from our masks and opens us up to a deeper and wider sense of connection and interconnectedness, which empowers and enriches our decision-making.

As Warren Bennis provocatively wrote:

“…once you recognize, or admit, that your primary goal is to fully express yourself, you will find the means to achieve the rest of your goals…”

Warren G. Bennis, On Becoming a Leader (2009)

Reflection with a skilled super-Visor™ is the process by which leaders make sense of, learn from and construct meaning from their stories and their experiences for elegant action. A wise leader is one who has developed a discipline of reflection where they are able to gift to themselves and to others the time and space to become the authors of their own stories and business success.

As the poet David Whyte wrote in an extract from his poem “Coleman’s Bed” (2007):


Feel the way the cliff at your back

gives shelter to your outward view

and then bring in from those horizons

all discordant elements a home.


Be taught now, among the trees and rocks,

 how the discarded is woven into shelter,

learn the way things hidden and unspoken

slowly proclaim their voice.

Find that far inward symmetry

to all outward appearances, apprentice

yourself to yourself, begin to welcome back

all you sent away, be a new annunciation,

make yourself a door through which

to be hospitable, even to the stranger in you.




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Bennis, W. (2009) On Becoming a Leader.

 Whyte, D. (2007) Many Rivers Flow New and Selected Poems 1984 – 2007. WA, Many Rivers Press.

 Elaine Patterson


Elaine is Director of Leadership and People Professions at the Coaching Supervision Academy. She is an accredited Master Coach and accredited Supervisor whose passion is bringing our shared humanity into the heart of leadership, business and coaching practices. She has also just completed original research into the question “What are leaders’ experiences of reflection?” which will be published shortly.