What It Takes to Lead

I landed back in the US after an incredible week in Nicaragua last Sunday night. I led a fitness retreat with SurfYogaBeer and had the pleasure of meeting, in some cases re-meeting, a fantastic group of diverse individuals. I'm always blown away by the authentic way in which each participant shows up on a retreat. It takes an incredible amount of courage to travel to a foreign country alone. It takes a similar courage to board a plane, meet a group of strangers, and spend twenty-four hours a day for the next six days with them. Retreats are special. Retreats carry the magic of sleep-away camp, and translate that magic into a dialect adults speak.

I arrive inside of the magic in a different way.  I’ve never been on a retreat as a participant.  In one way or another, I am usually the person who holds space for others. It’s one of the things I do best, so I don’t mind it, but it means that retreats carry for me a different significance. Every retreat I lead, I learn something new, about the way I show up, about what I need to do for myself in order to be the best and most consistent version of me, about what it means to be a leader.

Do you remember that book you had to read mad days ago for AP Euro called The Prince by Machiavelli? There was some deep Truth about how to be a good human lodged inside those political ideas. Love or Fear.  Which do you lead with?  And I do mean lead in both senses of that word.  Which do you let guide the choices you make and, when in a position of power, which do you use to govern? Whenever I find myself in a place of leadership, where I have any sort of influence or ability to inform the energy of a group, I remember what a huge responsibility it is to choose wisely. What are you going to do with your power?  Are you going to use it to encourage a space of inclusion, vulnerability, and vibrant living? Or would you prefer to create an environment of exclusivity, of better-than, of fear?

Being a good leader means knowing when to gregariously take charge and when to lead by empowering others to do the same. I spend a lot of time in my normal life speaking and having other people listen to me. I’m grateful for the space my students give me to teach; I am grateful for their trust in me.  On retreats, I am reminded that teaching and speaking is one part leading, but the more important, and often overlooked, ingredient to a strong leader is knowing how to lead from the background, shining the spotlight on every other person, empowering the group to sparkle and evolve. There is a beautiful sign in the teacher’s lounge at Pure Yoga that reads, “A good teacher is one who teaches others how to teach themselves”. True words. Being a leader means being a pillar of support, a sounding board for others, and eventually fading out so that the group can lead themselves.

I am a champion of self care because I know that I could not do what I do if I didn't take care of myself. The way in which I take care of myself has evolved drastically since I started leading retreats.  It used to be that all I need was a quick run, a moment to breathe by the ocean, and bam, I was ready for whatever craziness ensued.  Now, I am very cognizant of another ingredient of self care that I need.  As a person who holds space for others, it is incredibly draining if you do not have anyone who holds space for you.  This happens in small ways: a friend braiding your hair at the side of the pool, calling your sister, a chat in a hammock, a long hug. How do you lean into others or a community for support (more on this later in the week)? A wise leader knows when to ask for help and how to graciously receive it. 

To be a leader means to let go of the ego. It means a willingness to sacrifice being “liked” for creating positive change. Ultimately, being a good leader means knowing when your job is done, your time is up, and the community you have worked hard to cultivate is ready to shine brightl on their own. Perhaps you’ve made it this far through my thoughts and are thinking, “but I am not a leader”. False. You have no idea who looks up to you, who you inspire, who relies on your guidance. In this way, many of us are unconscious leaders; our thoughts and energy influence the greater world around us. When you find yourself is a place of conscious leadership, lead with grace and compassion.