Leading By Being (Not Just Doing)

It seems that too often we celebrate actions and intentions, the what and the why of the things we do in life, but it’s less often that we reflect on the how: how did we behave, think, learn and “be” to be successful. When running a youth leadership organization and travel company I founded in Cambodia, I would often get frustrated with myself when I would hit a roadblock or fail in my leadership.


Initially, I thought leadership was about doing the things that needed to get done, and to be a better leader, I needed to just find the time to do a lot more. I would stay up late, get up early, and would be so grateful for the evening, when everyone else would leave the office, because I would feel like I could finally do things rather than have meetings and fire-fight. I rushed, and hurried, and tried and tried to DO more so that our organization could BE better, and all that rushing would make me tired, grumpy, exasperated, and judgmental. I certainly wasn’t living the motto that Oprah supposedly had written on her studio wall, “You are responsible for the energy you bring into the room.” Instead, I’d often bring a tired, rushed, overwhelmed energy, which is just as contagious as a thriving positive one, only much less fun to catch.

Over the last few years, recently spurred by the support of the Clore Social Leadership Program, I am finally valuing the BEING side of leadership and working to take more responsibility for the energy I bring with me. The Clore Social Leadership Program’s motto is “Know yourself. Be yourself. Look after yourself.” and the way the programme’s trainings are structured reinforces and reflects that philosophy. There is plenty of time for reflection, all aspects of one’s leadership, be that at home or work, are examined, and the concept of “work-life balance” is replaced with a general look at life balance, as, in fact, it is all just “life”, isn’t it?

I have been lucky to be able to share some of these lessons with others through my work at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. Previously, our student offerings almost solely focused on the skills needed for “doing” — giving students access to speakers, trainings, and experiences that allowed them to try their hand at social investing, learn about business start-up tools, and access new networks and knowledge partners but we realized we were missing a focus on the “being.” With a lot of inspiration from the Clore Social Leadership Program, we have designed a year-long program, with a BE phase focusing on self-reflection, group dynamics, and personal development and a DO phase offering a hands-on chance to tackle social impact challenge, offered in partnership with the DO School.

When we discussed this new programming with the Skoll Scholar community last week, I looked around the room and recognized that there were a large number of people I believe in, respect, and feel lucky to be able to know and work with, not necessarily for what they are “doing” right now, but for who they are, and what I know they will be able to do with that “being” in the future. My hope is that, as more and more students apply for MBA programs, social impact accelerators, or any of the number of growing learning opportunities for budding entrepreneurs and business leaders, that they too are able to take time to reflect and focus on their “being” as we’ll have a lot calmer, happier, and probably more successful leadership if we do!


by Daniela Papi Thorton

Reprinted with the permission of LessonsILearned.Org.

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