Leadership is Who You Are


Leadership is Who You Are

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Alan Shelton on Awakened Leadership. Alan is a leadership coach, blogger, speaker, and the author of Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self-Mastery.

The idea behind Awakened Leadership is to transcend beyond trained behaviors to awareness, and lead a life of authentic leadership. In other words, to be a more effective leader, you have to be more of who you already are.

I’ve been reading Alan’s book. It’s entertaining and deeply engaging. The stories really bring Alan’s insight to life, as we follow him along on his journey to enlightenment.

What I really like about Alan’s approach to leadership, is that it reminds me of Bruce Lee’s approach to martial arts. Bruce Lee rose above techniques through awareness. I think of the Bruce Lee quote, “When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.” Another Bruce Lee quote says, “I do not experience; I am experience. I am not the subject of experience; I am that experience. I am awareness. Nothing else can be I or can exist.”

In the movie, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee said, “Don’t think. FEEL. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon.” The point is that thinking is assessment, while feeling is awareness. We can respond better in the moment, when we are actually in the moment, embracing the experience in an authentic way.

Without further ado, here is Alan on Awakened Leadership and how we can be better leaders by being more of who we already are …

Transactional Leadership and Transformational Leadership

Often the leadership world is divided into two categories, transactional and transformational. Transactional in how we give and receive from our learning and from one another, and transformational in how we choose to view and grow in our own personal maturity.

The reality is, in order to arrive at the doorway to transformational growth, many transactional concepts will have been learned. That is to say that there is a normal course, or arc, that human beings follow in the journey of life. In my experience this is absolutely true. In the beginning of our life we are exposed to learning which involves concepts, diagrams, and written examinations to measure our learning. All of this learning is in the service of becoming a polished ego or self. The arrival point of this process is normally designated as self-mastery. Self-mastery, however, is just the doorway to a new style of learning. And in order to pass through the doorway we must stand on the shoulders of those who brought us to this point.


In the self-mastery approach, we are taught that we are all self-contained entities to which attributes apply. For instance, we say that some people possess humility, intelligence, or even leadership capability. In this kind of learning we are the lump of clay to which all exterior forces are brought into play in which to shape us. Our goal in the end is to stand as though we were a product of Michelangelo himself.

Most of us, however, come to the end of this kind of learning somewhere in the first 10 years of our career. And then what are we supposed to do? Surely you’ve noticed that many executives continue to pursue exactly the same style of learning that they always have. If you ask many of them, you’d be surprised to find that they know that they are simply going through the motions. They can tell because of the tiredness and boredom that arises in the 10th or 20th time that they have heard exactly the same concept.

Internally they know that concepts did not translate into anything else all by themselves. It is no longer effective to onboard content and concept from the outside with the expectation that something will change.

Reactive to Transformation

Many times the frustration of learning less and less from the same activity begins to motivate managers to look for something new. They realize that this external learning of new concepts has exhausted itself yet they’re left longing for more. So, it occurs to many executives that it’s now time to take an internal look at themselves. When this observation takes root they have now entered into the transformational or developmental world.

So what is the difference? Each leader’s behavior is now seen as having the possibility of being either an obstacle or an enhancement to leadership itself. Human beings by nature arrive at adulthood with conditionings known as reactive traits. These reactive traits are unconscious and triggered by events and everyday life. Unfortunately, many times these reactions do not belong in the business process.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and watched while some moment of behavior defies any of your ability to understand it? That is reactive behavior. Dedicated leaders see that their own behavior cannot be allowed to derail leadership outcomes. The frustration of the old style of learning transforms into the challenge of internal development and transformation.

Leadership has now seen an entirely new light. No longer is it the Christmas tree holding the ornaments of personal attributes such as humility and the like. True leadership emerges from the ability of the leader to stand in his own personal authenticity. Leadership is now who you are.

Much like athletes who find that mentally processing their plays make them slow on the field, leaders begin to see that the game slows down for them. They no longer see themselves as an individual attempting to execute an idea. Now, they are part of the game and the authenticity of their leadership capability is the field on which it is played. No longer does the leader take the big space and the followers squeeze into what’s left over. Now, the leader sees himself properly situated as a member of the team and in the situation stands to respond to the action when it comes his way.

In my terms, I call this Awakened Leadership – where all the concepts have been transcended and the leader simply allows his response to occur. It is a felt experience, this new style of leadership. All transformative experiences are. From concept to ‘who you are’ indeed is an awakening.

So, what’s holding you back from embracing Awakened Leadership?

ALAN E. SHELTON is a leadership coach, speaker, blogger, and author. His groundbreaking book, Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self-Mastery, integrates the corporate leadership and spiritual worlds through his message that awakening is the felt sense that your actions seamlessly reside in who you really are and move in a perfect flow. You can follow Alan on Twitter, like his Facebook page, and learn more about him at his website, www.AlanShelton.com


  1. JD and Alan, Thanks for this excellent post on leadership. JD, I liked your introductory remarks about Bruce Lee, my personal hero. Bruce Lee’s radical transformation of martial arts has been described as the way of no way, as you explained. His views are deeply rooted in the Tao Te Ching, which speaks of leadership in a way that is consistent with Alan’s views. Interestingly, this is also consistent with Jesus’s model of a servant-master. Having been in leadership positions myself and having served more than once on search committees for leaders, I can ascribe whole heartedly to Alan’s insightful and clear description of transformative leadership.

  2. Hi JD, just a comment on your intro. I think perception has both emotional and intellectual components (like pattern recognition) as does a full evaluation.

    Thanks Alan for the article. I hope may more leaders discover the possibility of authenticity.

  3. Interesting. I’ve noticed sometimes that I tip in the direction of just doing the next ‘leaderly’ thing as a natural response to what is going on.

    Other times, I feel like I’m processing, making notes, and deciding what would be ‘leaderly’ in a certain situation. I don’t know if that is the difference, but I’m learning to just go with what has been building inside of this lump of clay. To go with your sports analogy, the game only slows down for you after you’ve drilled and drilled and drilled. All of the sudden, instinct takes over.

  4. Thanks for the great comments. Many times the authenticity that arises from our own personal self is seen as just that -personal. I am constantly surprised that in my corporate work that the old division between inner work and outer work is dissolving. Now we can talk about Bruce Lee, Jesus Christ and Lao Tzu as representing values in our leadership world. So personal clarity without the unconscious behaviors that can drag us down have a seat in the conversation about how we lead. And shouldn’t it? I am grateful to you all.


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