Are You Living for Others or for Yourself?

Leadership Tips Understanding what makes you happy

Leadership Tips: Understanding What Makes You Happy

Does it count if no one knows about it?

I was facilitating a two-day leadership development class.  The participants worked in small groups throughout the day, talking easily about the challenges they faced in the high-pressure environment of a professional services firm. 

At lunch, the conversation turned to cooking.  One of the women shared her Insta feed full of gorgeous pictures of her home-cooked meals.  Three or four people gathered around her and asked about the exotic ingredients she used in the Southeast Asian delicacies she had created. 

She (semi-) jokingly said, “I love cooking and eating, but the thing I love most is posting to Instagram and getting likes.”

We had an interesting conversation, as a class about how our social media selves compare to who we are IRL.  I applauded this woman’s candor in admitting to something that few of us will admit to.    Sometimes it’s more fun to capture the perfect moment than it is to actually live it. 

Imagine that it’s the weekend.  You are EXHAUSTED from the week. All you can think about is sitting at home in your sweats chilling on the couch.  Sunday afternoon comes.  You have successfully done nothing.  You start to think about tomorrow morning when co-workers will ask you what you did.  What will you say?  I sat on the couch all weekend and ordered pizza?  Maybe you can, at least, go for a run along the Westside Highway at sunset.  At least you can post that.

In our increasingly public lives, how much do we choose to do things not just because we love them, but because they send a particular message about who we are and how we choose to live?

How often do we choose to do something because it’s viewed more favorably than other things – whether it’s a hot new book or movie that, if we’re honest, we don’t really want to see, but everyone is talking about. 

Does it really matter if your choices are swayed by outside influences?  I mean, you can’t live in a silo. 

What does this have to do with leadership? 

Think about a leader you admire.  You probably respect him or her, not because they do what other people expect them to do, but because they seem to have a clear sense of who they are.   Over the past 14 years of coaching leaders, I have asked every single one of them to do a values clarification exercise.  Why?  Because when we have a clear sense of our values, life makes more sense.  We become more intrinsically motivated, rather than swayed by the opinions of others.  Values are like a compass that helps us make choices, avoid distractions and stay focused on what is most important.   When we live in alignment with our values, there is a sense of deep satisfaction and fulfillment. Life feels real.  Meaningful.  On the other hand, when we make choices that are more aligned with what others think, rather than what we know to be true, then there is a deep dissonance. 

Daily life is filled with endless choices about how we spend our time, our money and our energy.  You will never be an effective leader if you don’t know what you stand for. 

Three resources to help you uncover your values:

  1. The classic book by Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has a compelling chapter on values along with exercises to help you clarify your own.

  2. Contact me and I’ll send you a values clarification exercise that will help you better understand your non-negotiables.

  3. Learn more about our 12-month Leadership Development Program here.


Starla Sireno specializes in Executive Coaching in New York City. Starla is in the business of transforming executives into better leaders and better humans. Inquire how to work with Starla or her team.

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