Peak Performance & Leadership Author, Speaker & Consultant, ZoneFlow CEO

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Leadership and success are both primarily intra-personal dynamics, yet most of us contextualize them as inter-personal. Your thoughts?

Most people most of the time think of leadership and success both only within the context of "leading other people" or "success because I have this title, which most others don't have" or "success because I have this amount of money, which few other people have" and so on and so on.

I'm finishing a book on leadership and success which considers both as not synonymous, but inexorably interlinked, with one always accompanied by the other and, more importantly, with them being totally intra-personal phenomenons. These phenomenons are often accompanied with the external and inter-personal results people often misconstrue as leadership or success, but they aren't the same.

I'm very interested in other's perspective and thoughts on this subject. Would love to have a robust dialogue. Thanks so much for your input and your time!


  • Dec 17 2012: Leadership is deigned , usually from the ground up , sanctioned by those who have already attained. Success is a perception interpersonal as well as intrapersonal based on preconceived models both personal as well as social - which may or may not be valid.
    • Dec 19 2012: Doesn't true leadership (not self-proclaimed or group-proclaimed leadership) come from who the supposed leader is, what they do and how they do it?

      For example, society says that the president of the United States is our leader (take any president, not necessarily the current one). BUT, although social norm says this is my "leader," if I disrespect the specific office holder, finding his values, beliefs and actions repugnant and/or destructive, he's not a leader to me in any manner or form.

      I'm really trying to get at the fact that leadership (or a lack of it) begins only within the individual (the would-be leader).

      I've had a number of bosses at Fortune-100 corporate banks that were in high "leadership" positions, YET, few if any followed them. They had absolutely no leadership skills (although they were incredibly bright people and reasonably good managers).

      Thanks for your input Rob. Cheers!
      • Dec 19 2012: Interesting. The model for a leader has changed here in America. Formerly, a community sanctioned model existed. If you performed well, did your duty, rose to occasion, and commanded a following , then, you were elevated as in the example of King David in the Bible. I can think of two instances , eg. , in which this took place - #1. In the matter of Goliath and the recognition and honor that followed ; #2. When he was cast out and hunted down as an enemy of the State - In this matter he had a following of ragtags the numbers of which grew as he travelled along, all of which honored him with the position of leader - which he indeed was as the story goes on to tell. Today, we have a system sanctioned model. A model I see as being inferior - the ravages of which, unfortunately, will take time to tell , but tell it shall. In this model one may pass a grade or subject generally via textbook or lecture. The grade or subject of which may have been earned - rarely- or may have been excelled in claudestine fashion - predominately. Upon achieving , with respect to the systemic model and sanctioned by such, the individual receives their award. This award(diploma,degree,certificate,etc.) provides qualification for , in the context of our discussion, a leadership role. This individual may or may not be a leader , but , simply has passed a criteria for which the system has sanctioned as a qualifier for such. The tradedy, depending on the application, is that the awarded individual may be completely inept. Therefore, when called upon for legitimate duty as a leader , they miserably rise to the task. Their dismal performance may be unrecognized, ignored, or simply excused by the masses and fellow system sanctioned leadership , yet , in the eyes of God and true leaders or those who are wisely capable of detecting such , it will be known and seen.
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    Dec 16 2012: Based on my observations and my experiences, I agree that 'intra-personal' success is profoundly dependent on intra-personal dynamics. Inspiration may be derived from 'inter-personal' leadership. But personal leadership prevails when it comes to surviving and succeeding in the journey of life.
    • Dec 19 2012: Agreed Madhavi. It all begins and ends within the individual. I cannot lead you and you will not follow if I am not a congruent visionary and communicator with values, beliefs, behaviors and vision you buy into. And when you buy into me (or don't) it's because of who I am. The stories I am telling myself about myself, my vision, my needs, my perceptions, etc. You either buy me/my stories or you don't. You follow me or not. You don't follow some "leadership framework" I've cleverly decided I'm going to use to cause you to follow me. Thanks for your contribution. Cheers.
  • Dec 16 2012: BTW, this is obviously my perspective. I'm interested in others' perspectives and input. Linda, I know what you are saying and don't completely disagree with you (although I may in small part). Sorry if I wasn't initially clear and I hope my response was a little more clear. I'm battling a fever and flu and wanted to post this while I have the time. Thanks for your patience and input.
  • Dec 16 2012: When considering success, most people think in relative terms (relative to society, which means relative to other people), such as "I have reached 'this point in my business career' (because they have reached or earned some formal or informal title and/or income). I am interested in a discussion of success in terms of intra-personal success: a person awakening, growing and developing within themselves (which, btw, is most often also accompanied by external success).

    The same with leadership. Most people consider leadership relative to an individual leading other people (Winston Churchill for example, leading his nation during WWII). Even in Churchill's case, he led "himself" to exceptionalism before he could ever lead his nation.

    Or think of Mother Teresa. She didn't purposefully lead others. She simply manifested an exceptional set of beliefs, intentions, values, etc into extraordinary action. Only in this did she lead others. Same with all leaders.

    Another example, I think an Olympic athlete who reaches greatness in their individual sport is an exceptional leader. They must lead themselves to great thoughts, intentions, actions and results.

    Leadership isn't by definition behavior that provides opportunity for others. It may be, to a very limited degree, if at all, culturally specific, Leadership begins in the individual's perspective, beliefs, intention, actions and behaviors. The observance and manifestation of these intentions and actions will often result in positive opportunity for that individual and others around them, but the leadership begins (or doesn't begin) with all of the internal choices the individual makes irrespective of others.

    This isn't to say that leadership of organizations and others doesn't include many important interpersonal skills, dynamics and opportunities. But, those things are an off-shoot and come subsequent to the intra-personal leadership.
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      Dec 16 2012: Ok I only know my perspective so I will try to explain that.

      Leadership is definitely culturally based. You have to integrate whatever culture you are attempting to lead in. This is of utmost importance. It makes a difference because the techniques for leadership in different cultures vary. The easiest example of this is women in leadership. In certain cultures this is not acceptable under any circumstance. Hillary could probably articulate this better than I can but I have run into this on several occasions myself. There is also a difference when leading in a corporate environment than in a school environment or church environment for instance. Not that the techniques are different, they are applied differently.

      Leadership in athletics is different from the other forms of leadership also. It depends on whether it is an individual or team sport. The athlete that is leading himself is simply applying discipline. While discipline is a mandatory leadership technique, I do not apply leadership to the self. A leader in athletic team sports is amazing to watch. I am a Bears fan and I completely admire the leadership of Brian Urlacher but Lovie not so much. Brian elevates everyone just by being on the field. You can see this and this type of leadership is inspirational. It may be related to telling others what to do but the effect he has on the game of others is more than telling them what to do. He elevates others. They are better because he is with them. THAT is the mark of a leader.

      Mother Teresa is also an example of this. She doesn't tell others what to do. She provides opportunity for others to be elevated. It is that opportunity that is leadership. Leadership may begin in the self but it is how it is manifest in others that makes it leadership. It is just a good character before that. We all know lots of people with good characters that never ever move into a leadership role. They are happy in their little corner of the world.
      • Dec 19 2012: Gotcha Linda (except on the Bears fan thing... being that I'm a huge Redskins fan). I agree that leadership of others has a strong cultural component (even, to some degree, from one company's culture to another and not just from one social or ethnic culture to another. However, leadership of others isn't what I was discussing in this thread.

        I differ greatly in applying leadership to self. Exceptional people purposefully lead themselves to exceptionalism. It takes considerable self-awareness and discipline for most people to become successful.

        I've led other people and, even more importantly for me, I've worked for a variety of other people in my professional experience. Some (like Jack Welch) were brilliant leaders. Others (unnamed) had zero leadership skills. However, with both the exceptional leaders and the non-leaders their varying capabilities to lead others began first with where they were leading themselves (in terms of their thoughts, perspectives, values, beliefs, intention, actions, etc). That's where it all starts.

        As to following someone. That's what we follow: the person. No one follows a title. It's the leaders's perspective, values, beliefs, behaviors, communication, skills, etc we follow. And each of those things (and other dynamics) reside soley within the mind and heart of the leader irrespective of any other human being (follower or not).

        Someone who achieves considerable success (always a leader, even if only of themselves) must have a very long term perspective and sculpt a purposeful and passionate vision of what they are creating in their life and work. Success doesn't just fall into one's lap. It takes considerable self-leadership (of values, beliefs, vision, passion, action, etc).

        Thanks for your input. Go SKINS!
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          Dec 19 2012: OK Still not with you. You cannot be leader and follow both under the same circumstance unless you have some type of multiple personality thing going. Or, even worse, you are middle management.

          If you are talking about intrinsic characteristics of a leader I can follow that. I also know that those characteristics can be taught. But you cannot follow yourself. That little phenomena is called discipline.

          Ask any dog chasing his tail how successful he is at it. He values the activity as He practices on a regular basis, Has serious discipline to chase it every day and with the same tenacity and veracity and passion. He believes one day he will be successful and sometimes he is. But in the end it gets him nowhere.

          Leaders are only leaders of others. Dogs get this one too. Leaders need followers. Watch any group of dogs and they get it. The actions, the behavior, The respect.

          If there are no followers, you have a cat. Think about it, "self-leadership (of values, beliefs, vision, passion, action, etc)" That describes a cat.

          BEAR DOWN (and I live in Green Bay, sigh)
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      Dec 16 2012: There are many many excellent leaders that never achieve external success. I can think of a few but you would never have heard of them. They are people that right a wrong or address a problem and provide the opportunity for others to address the same issues. Many times these people do not seek a leadership role but have it thrust upon them. They are usually humble and attribute the difference they make in the world to the work of others. And some, like Mother Teresa, are broke.

      Leadership for me begins with identifying who are you. Then you need to identify who your people are. You are not a leader without others. Once you do that, you need to find out where they want/need to go and what they need to get there. Then it is simply helping them get what they need to get them where they need to go. Like I said opportunity.

      This is in no way simple because as the leader you need to keep the vision and apply boatloads of management but it is always worth it. You need to predict the future while understanding the past and applying all that in the now.

      Please feel better. I know how crummy it is to be sick over the holidays. Get better soon.
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    Dec 15 2012: What does money or title have to do with success? I do not understand the underlying assumption and the application to "most people."

    Please elaborate on "intra-personal phenomena." What does that mean?

    Leadership is behavior that provides opportunity for others. It is culturally specific and can be inherent or learned behavior. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. What exactly are you talking about? Some definitions might help.