Do You Call Yourself A Leader?

climbing helping  team work , success concept

What exactly is leadership? Are leaders born or made? What are some key leadership traits that we identify?

There are many opinions about leadership in our culture, and it is my belief that many more of us are leaders than we recognize.  

Service. It is the teacher who advocates for students year after year while spending his/her own money for supplies and writing lesson plans on the weekends.

Doing the work. It is the thinly stretched parent who reads to the kids night after night because they know the value of reading and the importance of just spending time.

Tough Mindedness. It is the chef who pushes his team towards excellence every day, training them with hard earned technique and knowledge.

Courage. It is the kid who stands up to a bully for his friend, even at the risk of getting hurt.

Listening. It is the friend who takes the late night distress call, offering compassion and counsel.

Accountability. It is the CEO who makes hard decisions every day to strengthen his business and provide a livelihood for the families that work for him.

Learning. It is the manager who supports an employee through a mistake or failure, to bring about learning that would otherwise not have occurred.

Encouragement and growth. It is the teacher who makes a comment to a student that allows them to blossom into an area they would never have expected.

Do you call yourself a leader? Have any of the above actions ever applied to you, to your life? Start noticing these moments, in yourself and in others. It is important that we recognize when we are making an impact, when we are leading. It empowers us and those we are trying to help grow. While it is true that some people are natural born leaders, it is equally true that leadership can be developed. It takes guts, reflection, a willingness to put aside the ego for the greater good, and an adherence to personal values. It also takes an inclination to continue learning and practice self-leadership throughout the leadership journey.

We are accustomed to evaluating leadership on a macro level. We relate to it in terms of presidents, CEO’s and community leaders. But leadership happens every day, by all types of people – introverts and extroverts, at the national or international level, on main street and in the home.


For more on Everyday Leadership, check out this Ted Talk by Drew Dudley (6 min)

This post is a part of Gray Matter’s “What is Leadership?” Series

  Interested in more?  Like what you see?  Please consider subscribing and sharing.  Respectful comments and collaboration always welcome.  


An Invitation…



Hey you! I have some questions for you! Can we grab a cup of coffee? Here’s what I want to know:  What is your highest point of contribution, your purpose? Do you know? What are you doing when you lose track of time and feel the most fulfilled? Do you feel like you have glimpsed but can’t quite put your finger on how to integrate this THING into your life? And what about the various forms of fear that hold you back? And how do you carve the time out of your already busy life? How the hell will you finance it? What will your family or your significant other say?

I realize I can’t hit people with these questions right out of the gate, but I want to, because we often get lost or off track in our lives and don’t make the most of our beautiful, creative brains and the ideas that need to be shared. My goal? Find a way to dig in and excavate the leader within each of us and be a source of inspiration for the journey towards that fulfillment. It is often a bumpy ride, and collaboration and outside perspective help immensely. I know this because I had help on my own very rocky journey, and couldn’t have done it without my people and sources of inspiration. The poet Mary Oliver has been one of those sources of strength and inspiration, and the poem below has made a huge impact on me and in helping me hear my own voice.

 The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I am interested in collaborating and sharing ideas and stories with those experiencing their own journey and development. Please reach out and share yours.



Mary Oliver
Greg McKeown for the idea of highest point of contribution.
Photo credit:


Question The Authority

Hello friend,

As always, I adore our time together and our conversation got me thinking about some of the things that helped me during my own transition/journey. It prompted me to re-read Lean In, and I found some ideas that apply to us ladies at the table.  I’ve encapsulated some of them below.

“From a very early age, boys are encouraged to take charge and offer their opinions. Teachers interact more with boys, call on them more frequently, and ask them more questions.  Boys are also more likely to call out answers, and when they do, teachers usually listen to them.  When girls call out, teachers often scold them for breaking the rules and remind them to raise their hands if they want to speak.”

I adore our friend “The Authority”, and he truly is a champion for hungry souls. At the same time, he has a male, foreign- based world view; and he may not be aware of how his bias can affect others. His advice is like any other advice – if it applies, follow it; if it doesn’t, leave it behind, without guilt.  It struck me that his advice to you was limiting.  Here is someone who is successful and whom we all admire, essentially telling you to be satisfied with what you’ve achieved.  Part of his point was to say:   recognize what you HAVE accomplished.  But I hear you consistently saying you can do more, and have an urgent need to realize that aspiration.  Listen to that too.

My thoughts: if you want more, go and get it.  Honor that need, that ambition, that drive – while at the same time, realizing the impact you do have.  Be grateful…AND aspire to more.

2 Questions:

  • Where do you make your highest point of contribution?
  • What do you want to say you have accomplished when you are looking back on your life?

You may not have answers to these right now, but if you work on this, it will inform your next steps.

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women (and men) face. Fear of not being liked.  Fear of making the wrong choice.  Fear of drawing negative attention.  Fear of failure.

Your situation is challenging – when you’ve been part of a team for a long time, it can seem so hard to leave to move on to something else. Emotionally, you have a lot invested, as do they.  And it is really hard to move into a new position when you aren’t sure what the team is like or what you will be able to accomplish.  There are no guarantees and it is often easier to stay with the status quo.  Once you make the move though, the path becomes clearer, and you begin to build something new.

We talked about gut on Friday night, and I wanted to point out that you have your own highly developed emotional intelligence. Leverage that.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about the leadership ambition gap and asks: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  And then go do it.”  This is great advice, and we all should follow it in the way that makes the most sense to each of us. In closing, I invite you to question the authority, take the good advice, leverage your emotional intelligence…and let yourself soar!



  • Quotes from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
  • Highest point of contribution concept was introduced to me by Greg McKeown’s book:  Essentialism



3 Small Things That Improve Quality of Life

Dilbert jpeg 2

One of my favorite people is working way more than they should right now, and has no idea when things will settle down. Perhaps sometime next year.  I know how easy it is to get so busy that you feel you can’t step back and take care of yourself and relax enough to experience the other things in life that can bring real joy.

“You have to put yourself first.”

“Get comfortable that not everything is going to get done.”

It is so easy to give advice, and so difficult to take it. I could say this, but it wouldn’t be really helpful, because I’m wearing different shoes.  And to tell the truth, I have an appointment on my calendar at noon each day to take my walk, and I’m only honoring that commitment about 30% of the time. It’s not that I can’t get out at lunch; it’s that I get in work mode and I love my work.  And there is more to do than I can reasonably expect to get done.

In an attempt to avoid dousing this favorite with too much unsolicited “coaching” advice, (because even when solicited, advice is best in very small doses), I thought I would write down a few things are non-negotiable, no matter what.  Trial and error has shown that these things I can’t do without.  Most of the time, these things allow me to have joy throughout each day, and also allow me to enjoy my family and work.

  1. Sleep when I’m tired.
  2. Take time daily to reflect.
  3. Devices off at least one hour before bed.

About sleep – more and more people are realizing that their productivity, patience, clarity and overall health is directly tied to being well rested.  Arianna Huffington experienced her own “wake-up” call (pun intended) when she experienced a fall that was a direct result of exhaustion:

“The biggest first change that I made was sleep. At the end of each section of the book, I have three little baby steps that I recommend. They mirror the baby steps that I took. The first one was I began getting 30 minutes more sleep a night than I was getting before, until gradually I got from four to five hours, which is what I was getting before I collapsed, to seven to eight hours, which is what I’m getting now. The result has been transformational. All the science now demonstrates unequivocally that when we get enough sleep, everything is better: our health; our mental capacity and clarity; our joy at life and our ability to live life without reacting to every bad thing that happens. In everybody’s life, there are things that happen every day that we wish had not happened. How we react to them very much determines the quality of our life.”

On reflection – one of the pieces of advice I wanted to bestow on this unlucky favorite of mine is about reflecting. The recommendation would be this:  Take the time during the commute each day to reflect and spend time thinking about big picture goals, or just meditating and journaling. Phone Off. Seriously, it’s just for 30 minutes.  Reflecting has become a regular part of my life; otherwise, I am up at 3:00 am processing all the stuff I should have been reflecting on during my commute.  Now it is an essential part of each day.  I now can tell when I need a few minutes to regroup, and I take them.  This allows for a more effective, gracious, relaxed, and calm presence and most importantly, better decision making. It takes some reprogramming, and it is essential that there isn’t another distraction pulling at you.  But really – phone off, so the beeps, bells, alarms, swooshes etc. don’t tease your addicted brain.

Before Bed – devices off. Yes, more about sleep.  There has been a lot of scientific research documenting the effect our flat things have on our sleep patterns. “Careful studies have shown that even small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness.”  (National Sleep Foundation, URL below)  So for those who read on e-readers before bed, or check email one last time, it might help your sleep patterns to read an old-school book to prepare your brain for rest.  I read something light every night before bed because I love to read, and it is part of makes up what I consider “the good life.”

So… these three things I can say I adhere to with regularity, and would invite everyone to consider. Sleep allows for greater overall health and productivity, reflection slows down our too-quick lives and allows some spaciousness in our thinking, and a break from our devices allows our overtasked brains a break, which leads to better sleep.

#Slowdown #Sleepisgood #Choosehealth


Creating a Life Purpose Statement



Much of our Executive Leadership coursework revolved around the idea of self-leadership as being step one in the leadership readiness arsenal.   To this end, we did a lot of work on our personal and professional leadership point of view.

An excerpt from my journal, July 2014:

Life Purpose Statement

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years learning from a variety of difficult and painful life lessons as well as experiencing many joyous, inspiring and beautiful moments. From these experiences I believe my life purpose to be this:

  • Love deeply and fully and without fear
  • Lead an interesting life with rich experiences
  • Be clear in my purpose and encourage others to define theirs as well
  • Advance my expertise in Culture, Leadership and Organizational Development
  • Write about what matters most to me
  • Develop and build skills in myself and others
  • Create calm and peace in our busy world
  • Teach my child well
  • Continuously learn and have fun in the process
  • Advance the understanding of what is enough for a satisfying life
  • Celebrate what I already have and have achieved

This didn’t just roll out of my head on to the paper. This took thought, reflection, courage, patience, and an iterative mindset.  It takes many months and a willingness to refine and revise.  One question to jumpstart your thinking:  When you are at the end of your life, what do you want to not have regrets about?  What will you want to say you’ve achieved? You can start crafting yours today…you will know when you’ve gotten to the essence of what your life purpose is. At that time, you are done…until your perspective changes and you decide to edit further.  Keep it handy to review regularly.  This creates a life-long practice of staying clear on what matters most to you, at whatever stage of life you are in. Enjoy!


The Pusher, The Workbench and 9 Minutes of Inspiration

Lower SaranacThe Pusher

I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing towards my goals, and for some time now have felt a constant pressure to learn as much as possible, as fast as I can. After the past few years of exploration, schooling and inner work, I’ve found my niche at the intersection of leadership development, organizational effectiveness and coaching, and I want to be an expert, NOW!  To this end I’ve created ambitious goals in my quest to become an expert as quickly as possible.  At times this creates a low-grade panic and feeling of needing to constantly work towards these goals.  As I was talking this over with my brother, he asked me:  “What if you stopped pushing?”  “What if you just accept where you are in your life right now?”

Hmmm.  What if?

So I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and have been trying it on for size in various situations in which I’m trying to effect change.

This does not mean I abandon my objectives.  What I find happening is that when I stop actively pushing so hard towards each goal, there is an opening up of space that allows me to think differently about the problems I’m working on.  There is relief that I can step back.  This step back allows other information to filter in, other doors to reveal themselves, other opinions to be heard and my mind and heart to process the information.  What is in fact happening is that the right solution is brewing and will become clear when it’s good and ready.

The Workbench

I’ve been following Michael Hyatt of late and in one of his blog posts, he spoke about his Blog being his workbench.  I instantly fell in love with that idea because it has given me permission to write and try out my ideas, with less editing/fiddling/finessing.  I have been holding back on growing my blog – need to create a theme! Need to have posts ahead!  Need to plan! Etc!    Much can be built from a workbench, and both the process and the content can be helpful to others NOW.

An idea: Embracing the whole of what life offers means that sometimes we have to live in an uncomfortable place, with unruly emotions, anxiety, or other discomforts that we all prefer to push away; and that are for some reason deemed unacceptable in our culture.  My wise brother has shared with me a book called Radical Acceptance, which I’ve been actively avoiding reading for over a year now, but have finally picked up and begun.

Again…relief.   The takeaway for me in this book again is:  Face what is in your life right now, but without judgment.  Take a pause and look.  Feel what you are feeling, bad or good.   You don’t have to react, just…observe. Then decide what’s next.  When you allow for this pause, your actions are more likely to help you build rather than destroy.  For any of us who are involved with change initiatives at work, or have stepped into new territory in our careers or personal lives this is immensely helpful.  The “startup” phase if naturally uncomfortable; removing judgment and accepting the process can allow some peace and grace as you move through it.

9 Minutes of Inspiration

This Ted Talk by Louie Schwartzberg reminds me of how soothing nature can be and the impact of gratitude on your state of mind.    Having grown up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, one of the most beautiful places in the world, I find myself remembering how powerfully healing our natural world can be.  When you need a pick me up…watch this!

I invite you to share your story…Comments always welcome!


Planning for Success in 2015!

Year from Now

I found myself still in student mode 6 months after graduation, and realized…it’s time to get building. I’ve wanted to write, to grow my consulting business, to share with others my purpose, which is to help others envision, collaborate, create and lead the lives they want.  I have as much experience and education as other experts to share with others.  Time to take focused action!

I was inspired by my friend and colleague JM; and also by Michael Hyatt, founder and CEO of Intentional Leadership.   He writes on leadership, productivity, publishing, and social media and shared an eBook called “Set Yourself Up for Your Best Year Ever:  8 Strategies Super Successful High Achievers Use To Prepare for The New Year.  Each item includes ideas from different thought leaders, making it very useful and inspirational.

Here are the 8 things:

  1. Reflect on the past year
  2. Stay positive
  3. Express gratitude
  4. Eliminate the excess
  5. Set goals
  6. Break down goals
  7. Schedule the year
  8. Unplug

This items on this list really resonated with me.  In my daily life, I already maintain a practice of reflection and gratitude, which helps me stay positive even when things are challenging.  Where I can be more effective is in eliminating the excess, setting and breaking down goals, and gaining clarity in my scheduling.

So I took some time to outline the areas that I want to focus on this year:  personal, family, finances, and growing my business.  I then spent time on each category, deciding what specific goals I envisioned for the year and then defining why.  Asking the “why” question is important; because it helps you determine what is truly worthy of your time and what might not be.  What are your motivations?  Will they be sufficient to inspire you to action on your goals through the entire year?  How does this fit into your life vision or plan?

Here are my goals for 2015: 


  • Continue my daily practice of reflection more consistently.  Include review of goals and life purpose, financial goals, and gratitude.
  • Increase my strength and flexibility for physical health by committing to swimming 3X weekly and stretching daily.  Incorporate movement breaks throughout the workday (Based on work, about every 2 hours.)  Why?  I have spent years putting my physical and mental health on the back burner, and I want to be more integrated now, and feeling fit and healthy throughout the year. 


  • Take a trip abroad with family.  Introduce ourselves and Alex to a different culture and way of thinking.  Why?  The experience of travel contributes to both leisure and learning, two things that are important for growth, which is one of my core values.
  • Continue to grow Alex’s health, independence and life skills through participation in Boy Scouts and sharing household responsibility in our daily lives.   Yes, that means chores, but with the focus on developing life skills.  Why?  I want Alex to learn the skills he needs as he moves out into the world, and to develop healthy relationships with exercise, his peers, money and responsibility. 


  • Continue to build financial health and wealth through conscious attention to living within our means, and maintaining clarity about where we spend our time and treasure.  Why?  Because attention to our financial health will allow us to build for the future we desire.  It will also be a way for us to educate our son so we can all maintain a healthy relationship with money. 

Business:  This is an area in which I have done the most planning as it is my biggest focus for 2015.   I have included the short version – the details are still in development, but will be following the SMART GOAL format.

  • Deepen my expertise in leadership development, executive coaching and organizational effectiveness through continued learning, teaching and writing
  • Expand my network by joining and participating in ATD and Toastmasters
  • Build the infrastructure for Kristina Au Consulting (website, branding, internal organization)

Why?   There are a few answers for this.  The most obvious one is that I make my living doing this.  Also and equally important:  Through coaching, I want to help others unlock their dreams and hopes and to collaborate to find effective and actionable ways for them to pursue these dreams and goals. 

An important side note:  In keeping with the idea of maximizing effectiveness, I have been very purposeful in creating business goals that feed into each other and that do double duty.  For example, joining ATD and Toastmasters will expand my network, but will also help me develop professionally, which will increase my expertise.

Sharing goals can be a very personal thing.  I feel somewhat exposed sharing this on my blog but I choose to share my goals to inspire others and for the simple sake of being accountable.  I expect and hope to report at the end of 2015 as to my success, and I share them with others in order to be accountable.   Feel free to check in on my progress and hold my feet to the fire!

 Keys to successful planning

  1. Set aside time for brainstorming your goals.  It can be a day or a week but have it be an amount of time that is realistic for your decision making style.
  2. Pick no more than 3-4 goals that are stretch goals that bring you in the direction you want to go.
  3. Reverse engineer the goals and break them down into quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals.  When this gets overwhelming, make it as simple as possible by eliminating anything unnecessary.  The purpose of creating goals is for clarity, not muddiness, so don’t create more work than necessary.  You’ll know when you have broken it down sufficiently for your work style.
  4. Be clear about your schedule.  Managing your calendar is very important.  During the week prior to New Years, I prepare my calendar for the year by blocking out the time off I plan to take, any projects, school breaks, due dates –everything I know I need to attend to.  I am fanatical about keeping my calendar clean and only putting items on the calendar that belong there.  I don’t put tasks on the calendar; however I do schedule time for planning sessions or specific work that needs attention.
  5. Review and Accountability.  We all know how easily it is for things to shift for us during a work week.  This is not an excuse to let your goals go due to lack of planning – if properly thought out in the context of your bigger life picture, it is up to you to guard and protect that time as sacred.   It is important to create a daily practice of reviewing your goals to keep them top of mind, so that when other things invariably tug at your attention, you can decide with clarity what is really worthy of your time, and what is an unnecessary distraction.  Put them on a white board, in a phone, on a list – wherever you can get to them easily and consistently for review.  Find someone to share these with who will hold you accountable.

I’d love to hear from you!  Do you do any planning for the New Year?  How do you create and achieve your goals?  What would help you pursue the life you dream of?


  • Michael Hyatt:
  • For more on managing and preserving your calendar see Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done
  • For info on important/urgent matrix see Steven Covey’s 7 Habits
  • For more on creating mission, vision and values, look for my upcoming post on January 1st!

From Kristina Au Consulting
Envision, Collaborate, Create, Lead!