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What is leadership to you?


When we lived in Japan the leader of North Korea was posturing and threatening nuclear war. We did biological and nuclear war drills. Our kids did drills at school. It was stressful for everyone.

During this time my wife deployed leaving me to balance parental responsibilities with the intensity of work. It was exhausting but also a period of growth for me.

To help get through it all I decided it was time to figure out what leadership meant to me. This took going back over my plethora of notes and checking out all the leadership and management books possible from the base library. It took hanging up big pieces of paper in our bedroom to put notes on to look at every day. It looked like a scene out of the movie "A Beautiful Mind" and our kids thought Dad had lost it!

What came out of that experience was a clarity of my leadership philosophy and expectations for myself every day. Leaning into the pressure created an epiphany for me.

Hopefully, for each of you, it won't take the intensity of a situation like we experienced to decide what leadership is to you. Here are some helpful questions to focus on for your clarity.

What is the best leadership advice you've ever received?

Consider a favorite mentor and think about some nugget of advice they offered. Write it in your own words. Write down what it meant to you during that time in your life.

What has been your worst leadership experience?

People who have the primary responsibility of caring for others sometimes aren't the best version of themselves. They feel pressure that causes them to abandon who they want to be in place of what they think the job requires. This can lead to a toxic leadership environment. This may not be their intention and they may be doing their best.

Remember what they did or didn't do. Write down what they did and how it made you feel.

What did the best leader(s) you've been around do?

You've no doubt been around some great leaders. Think about what they did and how it made you feel. Write down the behaviors they displayed consistently.

What is leadership to you?

Finally, from all those previous things, think about what you believe leadership is. Write down those qualities. Write down the behaviors you will do to step into them. Be specific about the actions you will take.

Connecting the Dots

The best leadership advice you've ever received brings clarity to what engages and inspires you. Your worst experience with leadership will bring clarity to what you should avoid. Reflecting on what the best leaders have done brings clarity to what resonates with your core values. Getting clear on what leadership is to you helps identify the influence you want to have every day.

We spend so much of our lives trying to understand so we can be. The destination is the journey. When you commit to them each day you will find more clarity on the course of action you've chosen. If you believe it's right for you, you'll never be wrong.

My epiphany came after several months of reflection and deep thinking. The result was that leadership to me comes down to two things; realizing it's all about what you're doing for others and how your behaviors provide the evidence of your authentic intentions.

Like any other worthwhile endeavor, your leadership will take consistent learning and reflection. It will take a deep understanding of yourself and the impact you want to have on others and in the world. With more clarity on your leadership approach, have the confidence to share it with others. You'll be surprised how sharing it brings additional clarity and how many people are willing to help you along your journey of being the kind of leader you want to be.

Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader...and we need others to learn how to be the best version of ourselves.

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This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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