Making A To Be List

Here’s a news flash: The most important list you create every morning isn’t your to-do list; it’s your “to be” list. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that you abandon your to-do list — that accounting of the three or thirty things you plan on tackling that day. (Although if you’re like me, it’s now an app that you continually add to as you go.) But I am suggesting that it’s not the most important thing for you, as a leader, to think about each morning.

Consider this: You can plan how to be. You can choose the perspective you’ll take throughout your day, no matter what task or conversation you are engaged in. Curious, respectful, tickled, helpful, truthful, radiant — there are no right or better states of being. It’s a creative act. And you get to choose what you want to be. 

And it’s the choosing that matters. 

Making “To Be” Part of Your Routine

Michael Fisher of CCMHC is explicit about what is on his “to do” and “to be” lists. As he explains: “I never purposefully gave thought to whether there’s a way to be really intentional about how I want to show up every day. So I’ve added a ‘to be’ list to my repertoire. Today, for example, I want to be generous and genuine.”

Often, we let our state of being choose us. We wake up grumpy or distracted or anxious. And we let that carry on without realizing that we actually have the power to shift out of it at our will. 

I’ll admit, this is a muscle to build. You have to give up the idea that you don’t have a say in how you show up. So maybe start out with just an hour a day or so. Think of it like easing into a workout routine — you don’t want to strain and hurt yourself! 

Try being intentional in your next meeting, whether virtual or not. You could tell yourself that you are going to show up as spontaneous, or energetic, or present, or welcoming. These states of being are all possible for you. You simply have to choose it, and then lean into whatever you think you would do differently if you were being that. 

After you have built some ability to choose your being for an hour in a meeting, go for longer periods of time, like a half day. Stretch your skill and ability in this way. 

Here are some choices to inspire you:

How you show up is just as important as what you get done. What will you create for your “to be” list? I know you can come up with even more ways to be. Have fun with it!


  • Dede Henley


    Henley Leadership Group

    I have been in the field of leadership development since 1982. I founded Henley Leadership Group 20 years ago to help leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces and ignite the nascent leadership potential of employees at all levels. Through individual coaching and programs designed to generate positive business results, Henley Leadership Group has served thousands of corporate leaders in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, energy and finance. Away from work, I live with my husband, and try not to meddle too much in the lives of my half-dozen kids.