Be a cultivator, not a collector: Focus on growing an infinite field of skilled contributors rather than attempting to recruit from a finite “crop” of “perfect talent.” This looks like: offering many ways to learn, enabling knowledge sharing across peers, and eliminating unnecessary barriers to entry for roles and responsibilities (such as years of experience).

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tania Luna.

Tania Luna. author of LEAD TOGETHER, is a psychology researcher, writer, and educator. She has built and grown multiple companies, including LifeLabs Learning — a leadership development resource that serves thousands of the world’s most influential companies — and Scarlet Spark — a nonprofit that accelerates the speed-to-mission of organizations that help animals. She is also the co-author of The Leader Lab: How to Become a Great Manager, Faster and Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable & Engineer the Unexpected and the co-host of the podcast Talk Psych to Me. Her TED Talk on the power of perspective has over 1.8 million views. She lives with rescued pigs, goats, roosters, dogs, cats, and the love of her life.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

I’m excited that my new book, LEAD TOGETHER: Stop Squirreling Away Power and Build a Better Team, will be published in September. My earlier leadership books were non-fiction, but LEAD TOGETHER is built around the story of Sam Squirrel, the branch manager of an acorn distribution company that’s facing a looming forest recession. A chance meeting with squirrel Mary Parker Forrest helps Sam realize that his top-down tactics will only cause more disengagement and performance problems and that he’ll need to learn a new way to lead. Research shows that we learn best through story, and the book was also just a lot of fun to write.

In addition to the book, I recently co-founded a nonprofit called Scarlet Spark to provide free leadership development to companies that help animals and our planet. We‘ve served almost 50 organizations this year, and I can’t wait to support more. On the personal front, my husband and I welcomed two more pigs into our micro sanctuary, and I’m learning to tap dance.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

Mary Parker Follett (who inspired the squirrel I mentioned above) was a brilliant organizational scholar. From the 1890s to the 1930s, she introduced countless (then-radical) leadership ideas. She planted the seeds of popularity for everything from win-win negotiation to team diversity to sharing power in the workplace.

Follett’s writing inspired me to be more thoughtful about how I use and share my own power at work and in everyday life. Too few people know her name today, and I’m eager to change that by showcasing her philosophy in LEAD TOGETHER.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

When I was CEO at my last company, I led with too much of a “service” mindset. I thought I was helping my team by working 80-hour weeks and piling the most stressful work onto my plate. But in reality, I limited my team’s ability to grow, all while burning myself out.

It took me a while to learn that sacrifice is not a healthy approach to leadership. Now my goal is never to lead from behind or from ahead but to lead together with others. This means sharing power as well as stress. In this way, we all become stronger together.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

I used to think of leaders as “vision makers,” charting the path for others to take. I’ve since learned that good leaders are more like “vision keepers.” They help their team dream up and align on a purpose, then they facilitate everyone coming together to achieve it. Leaders today are capacity builders, helping grow the strength, resilience, and creativity of their team while getting ever closer to their shared vision.

Instead of manager (which is a word rooted in the idea of control), I prefer facilitator, coordinator, or catalyst. This is one of the main themes of LEAD TOGETHER.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

I stopped delegating work. This is probably a controversial answer since leaders are always told to delegate more. But delegating implies and reinforces a hierarchy, where a more important person assigns tasks to a less important person. Delegation inevitably leads to confusion, frustration, and disengagement for everyone involved — even if you take a class on how to do it well.

Instead of delegating tasks, I began to collaborate with others to distribute our responsibilities. Now I regularly create space for my team to collectively explore what work needs to be done and who is best-suited to do it. In this way, people play an active role in selecting, designing, and ultimately owning their work. The results are better and so is everyone’s experience.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

I’ve learned to drop any tendency to be a control freak and strive to be a “context freak” instead. In practice, this means that instead of relying on restrictive policies and rules I make extra sure everyone has all the relevant information and reasoning they need to make thoughtful decisions independently. I’ve found again and again that when context is clear, teams are more creative, efficient, and joyful.

By being extra explicit about context, my current company has been able to eliminate most typical policies, from work hours to budget use. We move quickly and smoothly, while feeling like respected, responsible adults.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

It helps to start by asking yourself: “Is my current approach working for me?” Red flags to look out for include feeling burnt out, resentful, or lonely as a leader or people on your team being disengaged, quitting, or struggling to reach their goals. If any of these warning signs ring true, it’s time to start running small experiments so you can find the approach that works for you.

One of the most helpful areas to examine in how you lead is your approach to using power. Are you holding on to too much of it? If so, look for small ways to share it with others. For example give more people decision-making authority, share more context and information, and provide more support developing the skills people need to take on more responsibility. When you share power well, everyone on your team becomes more capable of getting things done. Plus being a part of that team — for you and everyone involved — can start to feel fun again.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

The characteristics of the most effective leaders are a tendency toward humility, learning, and collaboration. The great news is that these are all natural qualities of new leaders. Instead of trying to mask your newness, lean into it! Ask your team questions like:

  • “What advice do you have for me as a new leader on our team?”
  • “What do you think is working well on our team and what can be better?”
  • “How do you think I can be most helpful for you and the team?”

In my research, I have not found a correlation between leadership effectiveness and years of experience. Plenty of leaders have simply been practicing bad habits for many, many years. So relish in the freshness of your perspective rather than shy away from it. And if you’ve been leading for a while now, give yourself permission to have a beginner’s mind.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

Leaders today are skilled at deliberately building their team’s power. Power is simply the capacity to get things done. If you want the people on your team to achieve ambitious goals and overcome unpredictable obstacles, they’re going to need to grow their power. This is the core concept behind LEAD TOGETHER. Here are four principles of sharing power I illustrate in LEAD TOGETHER that characterize the most resilient, effective, and joyful teams:

  1. Follow a purpose, not a person: Help your team hold a shared purpose, and encourage all actions and decisions to be in service of this purpose rather than trying to please the people who have influence or authority. This looks like: setting clear goals and priorities, clarifying the purpose of each role, and minimizing power distance so people feel safe questioning authority.
  2. Rely on context, not control: Give people all the information and explanations they need to make thoughtful decisions instead of creating a whole bunch of rules or simply telling people what to do. This looks like: minimizing policies and rules, regularly explaining your reasoning, and not just making information transparent but also educating people on how to use it.
  3. Be a cultivator, not a collector: Focus on growing an infinite field of skilled contributors rather than attempting to recruit from a finite “crop” of “perfect talent.” This looks like: offering many ways to learn, enabling knowledge sharing across peers, and eliminating unnecessary barriers to entry for roles and responsibilities (such as years of experience).
  4. Build a community, not a crowd: Invite people to co-create the team or company through input and participation rather than simply follow someone’s vision. This looks like: asking for input early (and showing how you’ve used it), creating team norms together, and giving people decision-making authority when it comes to how your work functions.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

I’d say this quote represents how I used to think but no longer aligns with my personal philosophy. I spent many years of my career trying to make each day count. I wanted to be as useful as possible to as many people and animals as possible. This driving force helped me get a lot done, but it ultimately depleted me.

For example, in 2020, when my last company was hit hard by our clients’ budget cuts, I treated each day as though it was my one and only chance to get our team out of trouble. I wanted every strategy and tactic to be perfect. I kept thinking “this is our chance to turn things around!” The energy all around was frantic, and everyone was under chronic pressure.

But the reality was that individual days didn’t really matter. What mattered was giving ourselves the time and spaciousness to step back, breathe, and imagine. We stopped trying to be perfect. We stopped treating each day like it was our only day. And we let ourselves become more playful and creative, even in the midst of all the chaos. As a result, we came up with many new solutions — from new services to free resources for our clients. In the end, 2020 turned out to be the best year we’d ever had to that point.

As the saying goes, we overestimate how much we can achieve in a day, and we underestimate what we can achieve in a year. So let’s slow down, put down some of that pressure, and remind ourselves we have time.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

I hope to see the practice of leadership continue to evolve from dominance to collaboration and from hierarchy to shared power. Not only will this approach result in greater individual and business success, I believe it is also an urgently-needed paradigm shift for our society. I want to contribute to a world where we cherish our interconnectedness and invest in the flourishing of all living beings, humans included. The workplace is a perfect playground to learn this new approach.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

LEAD TOGETHER is available for purchase now. The hub for all my work is, and I love to exchange ideas on LinkedIn ( and Instagram (@laniatuna).

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!