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Leadership Should Fit in Your Pocket


This newsletter is nearly two years old, and I realize I’ve never talked in any great detail about what principled leadership means to me. I won’t waste your time with definitions of principled and morality or even leadership and instead will get right to business. Leadership has become a commodity. Another badge of honor we can obtain if we read the right books, take the right trainings, spend enough money. Honestly, and I don’t like sentences that start with honestly, but I really want you to believe me, I think leadership isn’t a thing you should hunger for. Rather, I think of leadership like a little stone you hold in your pocket. 

Principled leadership is a philosophy of leading based on sound moral judgment and an alignment with the greater good (i.e., on leading well and with purpose to build better culture). Why do I need a stone in my pocket to have this philosophy? You don’t. If you do, that’s cool, but even cooler is wearing pants/shorts without pockets. You can imagine the stone. It’s a subtle, yet solid piece of matter, and literally a rock, in this case, your rock. If it is going to guide you, it should be small, something you can close in your hand. After all, no one can navigate daily challenges with a boulder in their britches. Less is more. Simplify, don’t complicate. This is your life, not that.

I worry that if I ramble on, then my worst fears will come true: that principled leadership will sound like a pretentious and boastful proclamation. I don’t suggest that we start sizing up one another’s principles. Remember, a stone in the pocket is no great thing. Emphasis on in your pocket, not on an ivy-league degree or several imposing credentials in your email signature demanding recognition of one’s leadership chops. No one needs to know. It’s no billboard or Ferrari or diamond ring. It’s not meant to impress anyone. Heck, you can toss a stone with all the other gravel that will soon turn to dust and pick up a new one if it’s time for a change. But that stone will soon turn to dust too. 

Principled leadership is not carved in stone. Even our principles grow with us. I’m still embarrassed about my high school yearbook quote, and I’m grateful that I’m not bound to the conclusions I drew then. The person who has everything figured out is either dishonest or delusional. You might be mid-sentence on a masterpiece, and life will slam down a cold, hard period, flattening whatever dreams lay on the other side, and all you can do is hold fast to your tiny pebble of courage and wander into that empty void. 

A stone is a humble piece of the unfolding story we call life, not a magic talisman to bend the narrative to our will. Principled leadership is an awareness of that truth, an intention to pay attention and to do what good we can. 


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