My Biggest Leadership Win: The Day My Life Stopped Working

2015-01-07-rooftophuff.jpgphoto credit hazel and pine

My corporate career was incredible. It was an adventure. It was brilliant. I was promoted. I had opportunities to learn and grow, to work with the best of the best. I learned to build a coveted international billion-dollar company by leading through passionate people, purpose and giving. I loved my life. I loved my work. I loved the people I worked with and had the opportunity to serve.

All of that is true - but it's not the whole story.

The whole story is that amongst all the brilliance, things were gradually fraying around the edges.

Following a few key transitions and major life events -- supposedly celebrations -- I found myself waking up on the floor in my home, in my parent's home, in public spaces, in the back of random ambulances and ERs from being unconscious. I was having grand mal seizures, brought on by stress and exhaustion. After diagnosis of epilepsy. I found myself asking 'Why is this happening to me?' I was a 'success.'

Why was I falling apart? Why was I so exhausted?

"Why?" wasn't the correct question to ask. In hindsight, the correct question was "What is needed now?" At the time, I didn't know how out of touch I was. I didn't know that I wasn't listening to what my body was telling me. And I didn't know that my success was built on half-listening.

On not listening to the strain my body and my mind were under. Or rather on turning up the sound of 'success' so loud I couldn't hear the strain. My family and close friends loudly begged me to rest. My inner circle at work became increasingly more concerned and worried. Some people tipped toed around me as if I was a time bomb waiting to go off. But I couldn't hear any of them at the time; I only knew success one way. I only knew myself as a leader one way. I only knew how to live life one way. I would not give up. I would not fail. I was winning and I had the results -- so I thought.

Until the day I woke up to the truth: that my life wasn't working, nor was my system. I awoke to the fact that by leading from my head and from the context of how I thought things are 'supposed to be,' from proving I can produce results versus tuning into my body and listening to what's really needed, I was operating on a shaky and inauthentic foundation.

The cost of my 'looking good' success system was big in my case. It affected my health immensely, my family, my relationships and my team. Striving for perfection is often a way of hiding behind competency. It's a false-sense of safety. Behind the false-sense of safety is fear of failure or not being enough. The fear is that failure or break down equates to a dead end instead of accepting the gift that failure brings -- which is exponential growth. If we continue to operate from fear of failure and lead from 'shoulds' and the energy of proving, it's a road headed straight for burnout and disengagement for ourselves and the people we impact directly.

The energy of proving lacks a key component that extraordinary leaders must embody and that is authenticity and attunement.

Leadership isn't just a model, a system or a program you can rollout and cross off the list. There is more to a human being's life than competencies, behaviors, models, or theories. At it's greatest, leadership is a lifestyle; it's a way of being in the world. It requires a commitment to evolve and to be whole. Fundamentally, leadership is about service. And service requires being in touch with all the impacts of our way of being.

To truly lead in the world and create the results you want in all areas of your life, it will require you to create conscious shifts and become the leader of your future. Start now: commit to leading, the world is waiting. Your life, your family, your team, your community is ready for you.

Lead with a Clear View of the Whole
In order to lead with clarity and purpose and build what you desire, you must start with your personal vision and goals. Here is the key: build your vision based on a whole view of your life that encompasses your personal life, your work, your health and it's impact on yourself, your loved ones, and your community. Get real about what's important to you. Align with your values, your priorities, how you want to feel, the contribution you want to make, and the legacy you want to leave. What does leading your whole ideal life look like? Remove the constraints that have been holding you back. Learn to say "no" compassionately to what is not serving you. Letting go will give your "Yes" more value and give you more space for what you are really committed to creating. Be in the practice of knowing what you want to create and declare it regularly and often. Others can't support you if they don't know what you want. This is your opportunity to define success for yourself.

Lead as a Whole Person
Awaken to your responsibility as a conscious leader to immerse yourself in your own well-being and growth. The leader who excels and has the ability to stand for others being and doing their best, calling forth an individuals' unique genius, is the one who manages their self-care through sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, mentorship and ongoing development. Feed yourself the fuel you need to be able to fuel others. You must invest in yourself on all levels in order to make the contribution you desire. Understanding what your needs are will allow you to be in closer and more powerful relationships with others and lead yourself and others to extraordinary results.

Lead Whole People
In order for mindfulness, love and results to co-exist, leaders must be willing to play a bigger game. This bigger game involves pushing boundaries and taking risks in service of a higher purpose. And a higher purpose is ALWAYS about serving others. But it's not enough to have a higher purpose -- you must be in active connection to it. For example, ask yourself what would it take for you to really know your people? Your community? I'm not talking about the concept of "putting your people first" whether that's your employees or your customers. I'm talking about actually knowing them: being with them, understanding them. Who are they? Why are they here? What are their strengths? What keeps them up at night? What are their goals? What's their purpose? What do they stand for? What do they want to contribute? What's in the way? What's holding them back? Where do they struggle? Why is it important? Do you know? Stop theorizing and start relating. Start serving, one powerful conversation at a time. Create experiences that shift lives. Watch your people and your results rise through the roof.

I work with extraordinary leaders because I believe in a world where courageous leaders thrive in all areas of their lives, where incredible work environments take root and grow, and where organizations rise because they improve lives and change the world from the foundation of love.

Let's do this. What shift are you committed to making in your leadership?

Sarah Kaler is an Executive Coach and Founder of SoulPowered, a leadership development and coaching company that coaches extraordinary leaders and conscious companies on a mission to improve lives and create change in the world. Connect with her at or follow her on social channels @besoulpowered.