In organizations, leaders are consumed with conversations about “what we need to do” and “how are we going to do it.” What is seldom asked: “Who do I need to be, in order to be most effective with others while I’m getting the job done?”

Recently I was coaching a millennial at a Fortune 500 company. He was moving into his first leadership role within the company. He had fantastic skills in his area of expertise and was technologically bright.

Our first conversation was focused on what he wanted to accomplish during the coaching process. He had decided that he wanted to be a skilled transformational leader and wanted to know everything he could about being that kind of leader.

My first question was focused on his own personal experience. Specifically, I asked, “What in your life transformed as a result of your self-leadership?” He couldn’t answer the question.

I asked, “What in your life are you committed heart and spirit to?” He couldn’t answer the question.

  1. I asked what caused him to want to become a transformational leader. His answer was, “To change people, of course.” So, I asked him, “How do you know that the people you will be leading need to change?” Again, he couldn’t answer the questio

We spent the next hour uncovering layer upon layer of his assumptions about leadership and how he wanted to lead.

Leadership models seem to focus on one or more of these elements:

1. The nature of being a leader

2. Leadership values, value judgments and ethical choices

3. What we know about leading

4. How a leader acts or behaves

Models are influential because they shape how we perceive and interpret leading. The literature is populated with articles that focus on values, leadership knowledge and behaviors that characterize high-performing leaders. What it means to “be” a leader isn’t usually addressed in a comprehensive way.

“Being-ness” focuses on the way leadership is lived and personally experienced. It is not a theory or concept.

Being-ness does not replace, minimize or undervalue a focus on results. Being and doing are distinct but inseparable. Actions imply that they are connected to something. That something is being. Being leads doing.

Our way of being reflects the way in which we become aware: our perspective. The perspective we bring to any situation, in turn, shapes our behaviors. For example, we might consider a point-of-view that employees’ emotions from their personal lives are not our problem. That point of view will shape how we perceive the organization and our behaviors will reflect that perception.

“Being” is the fundamental foundation that shapes our awareness about how to lead. Exploring this “being-ness” can be strange and unsettling. As leaders, we can “get our arms around” our behaviors and develop or modify them, but our being is more difficult to grasp; it is less embraceable. We don’t comprehend being; it’s just who we are. We are before we know we are.

So, how do we access our being? Building on the work of philosophers and spiritual teachers that have come before, our way of being emerges from our awareness of ourselves and the world we live in, or our commitment to something that transcends self, and our authenticity with self and others.

Going directly at being-ness can be an exercise in frustration. Allowing it to emerge can seem like you’re not really doing anything. Of course, that’s the point: You’re moving from doing to being.

Sometimes moving into a state of being is as easy as being aware of your own breath. Below is a simple, but not easy, breathing exercise that I often use when coaching leaders.

Sit comfortably and close your eyelids so that you’re not distracted by the world around you. Take a few moments to relax. Acknowledge whatever you are experiencing in the moment — physical sounds, daydreams, feelings or thoughts. There’s no need to “do” anything with them. Just acknowledge that you have them.

Gently bring your full focus to your breath. Notice how the breath flows in and out of your body as you inhale and exhale. Notice this is an effortless process that you aren’t generally aware of. Become aware of the details of your breathing — how the air moves in and out through the nose or mouth or how your body moves as you inhale or exhale.

Your mind may try to distract you with things that need to be done, communication that is incomplete or let you know that you’re hungry and need to go get food. Your emotions may present unresolved personal issues that need to be handled right now! Thank them, as their job is to distract you. Then move your awareness back to your breathing. These interruptions are all part of the awareness process. If you notice that you are no longer aware of your breathing, gently refocus all of your attention back to your breath.

When you are aware only of your breathing, you’ll be in a state of being-ness. At first, this will seem like nothing. That is actually a correct assessment, only it’s spelled no-thing.

Moving out of this meditation, you may have greater clarity about who you are as a leader. Solutions to the issues and concerns presented by your mind and emotions may emerge and seem disarmingly simple. This clarity may not happen the first time you do this exercise, or it might. Everyone is different and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ll do this exercise before it shows up.

“To be or not to be?” is a leadership question. Being leads doing.

Originally published at


  • Gregory Stebbins, Ed.D.

    Educator and Master Coach


    Dr. Gregory Stebbins is recognized as a global authority on Leadership Wisdom. His mission is to positively impact the lives of leaders to implement a unique personal Wisdom Development Process. His work on wisdom development has been featured inForbes, Thrive Global, Stanford School of Medicine Compassion Journal, Journal of Sustainability Education, Training Industry Inc, San Francisco Business Times, Los Angeles Business Journal and other local area publications. He has authored three books; PeopleSavvy for Sales Professional, PeopleSavvy for Leaders and Transcendent Leadership.

    Dr. Stebbins is the Founder of PeopleSavvy. Leveraging over three decades of research and implementation, he developed the empirically based Journey to Wise Leadership program. His focus has been on assisting leaders in more profoundly understanding themselves, others, and the culture within which they lead. He has also pursued a lifelong study of eastern and western wisdom teachings and continues a 50-year daily meditation practice.

    Greg’s senior business leadership experience is combined with his in-depth understanding of the complex human dynamics found in a working environment. He is a member of the Consulting Psychologist Division of the American Psychological Association and a life member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society. He earned an MBA in Finance from the University of Southern California and an Ed.D. from Pepperdine University’s School of Education and Psychology. Greg has been listed in Marquis Who’s Who in the World for more than three decades.