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April 25, 2014

Leadership Takes Practice: How I Remembered to Play Big, Forgot, and Remembered Again

When I participated in the Art of Leadership as a new staff person at Rockwood eight years ago, I crafted a Life Purpose Statement that was about fostering love and connection by playing big in the world. This statement emerged from my realization that I had a habit of hiding behind my work because I was afraid of making mistakes. What I realized at the Art of Leadership was that love and connection require courage and boldness. As Desmond Tutu wrote, “We are each made for goodness, love and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths.”

Fast forward eight years later. I was playing a support staff role at a training – my job was to serve as a coach for participants and address any logistical or training site needs. Being back in the training setting, with a powerful group of leaders similar to the group I participated in the training with, I was inspired by the courageous commitment of each leader to their purpose and how, in the training, they were taking risks and challenging themselves.

I noticed that I was so focused on responsibilities as a staff person to track curriculum edits and manage the room temperature, I was playing small at this training. I felt productive and helpful, but not fulfilled. Even though I’ve kept my Purpose in mind for all of these years, and grown in many ways, I still need to practice. So, during one of the final group activities, I decided to sing in front of the group.

A few minutes before I had to stand up in front of everyone, my hands got clammy and my stomach churned with fear. My mind swirled with stories about why it wasn’t appropriate for me to sing as the on-site staff person, or how it would be so much easier to just sit at the back of the room. Inspired by all the leaders challenging themselves, and sharing authentically and generously, I chose to stand up and sing. I did not sing in tune, and I forgot the lyrics midway through the song, but I practiced leading from my Purpose, and that was satisfying.

The experience reminded me that being a leader committed to social transformation requires reflecting on and taking action on my own personal transformation. Even though I facilitate other people taking the time to do this in their own lives through our trainings, it is easy for me to forget that my leadership also requires intention and practice in an ongoing way. I need to practice playing big every day.


Below are some questions to help you reflect on your how you are practicing leading from your Purpose. You might want to share them with a colleague to discuss together:

Purpose: To live and lead from the principles which give our lives meaning.

  • What gives your life meaning?
  • What brings you joy?
  • What are you good at?
  • What is the gift you have to offer?
  • What moves you to do the work you do?
  • What is the difference you are here to make in the world?
  • How are you in alignment with your Purpose?
  • How are you out of alignment with your Purpose?
  • How is life calling you right now?

You can learn more about Rockwood Leadership Institute, and the Art of Leadership at

Art by lizar_tistry