My Top 10 Lessons in Leadership From More Than a Decade of Teaching

So you might’ve picked up on the fact that I lead a life coach training program. Graduates of the program are given the option to become licensees to teach some content from the Courageous Living Program as part of a group coach offering (my thinking being that instead of having to create an entire course curriculum as a brand-new coach, it would be great to give our graduates something that they can start teaching).

As I have been working on the training for this licensing offering, I started reflecting on the top lessons of leadership that I’ve learned from more than a decade of teaching. So here it is–the hard-won wisdom, the mistakes made, the lessons learned, the celebrations of how sacred the contract is between teacher and student.

1. You cannot be all things, for all people. This is the biggie. Trying to be all things for all people will only exhaust you. Keep coming back to the center of yourself, and the center of why you created the group experience that you did.

2. Upholding the integrity of the group is the leader’s job. Integrity is: when your words and actions match, and they are in alignment with your values, beliefs, commitments, and life vision (Matthew Marzel). You can’t make people do anything that they don’t want to do, but you can uphold the integrity of the group and its purpose. A leader who fails to address a lack of integrity is just colluding with it.

3. Never get caught in the upswing (or the downswing). When I was a college professor, my Ego was big-time wrapped up in being a student’s Favorite Teacher. It was a high like no other when students loved my classroom. And–it was a crushing blow when they didn’t. There’s plenty of advice out there about not believing the naysayers too much. There’s less said about the dangers of getting caught in the praise. Praise feels good, but it can easily be used to stroke the Ego. When someone praises you, receive it, and then like a meditation…release it. Let it go. Don’t let praise “mean something” about who you are, because that just invites the criticism to “mean something” about who you are.

4. Everyone shows up to the group experience, differently, but everyone really wants the same thing: connection. Even when they don’t say so, that’s what they want. They say they want answers or clarity or a new career? Well, they want those things because they feel that having them would make them feel connected to themselves, to their own lives. Everyone wants connection. You want it, too–that’s why you teach.

5. Everyone has a right to make a request. Years ago, I was annoyed when anyone made any requests of me. This was a time of profound isolation, where my life really pivoted around the spoke of “I’ll just do it all myself so that I never need to ask you for help or rely on you–and you do the same.” The truth is that people always have the right to make a request, no matter how outlandish it is. Resenting them for making the request becomes problematic. Let your people know that they’re safe to make requests, with you.

6. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything. Discernment is an important quality of leadership. Be clear about what you will and won’t say “yes” to. Be particularly careful around those places and spaces where a “yes” to someone else means saying “no” to yourself.

7. Believe in your people. It’s incredibly common that when people feel fear, they start justifying that fear with all the reasons why they “can’t” do something. They will logically lay out and explain some very, very legitimate reasons for why they can’t do something. Despite that, believe in your people. When I was a classroom teacher, students told me, all of the time, their absolutely and totally legitimate reasons for why they couldn’t get a paper turned in on time, and why they needed an extension. I never doubted their reasons or the challenges they were up against. I also never doubted…them. I believed in them and in their capacity to deliver. I know that if something is important enough to you, you’ll find a way to get it. 90% of the time, students who swore that there was absolutely no way that they could get a paper in, got one in. Some of them hated me for not granting the extension, but–well, see #1 on this list. And #2. And #3. And #6.

8. Let them see your awe. When I was reviewing the sessions that our life coach training program trainees had recorded and submitted as part of their final portfolio, I was routinely, awesomely, supremely…blown away. Wow. Sometimes I’d feel my heart rise or beat faster, as I heard a coach who only months before had felt afraid and shaky in her coaching, suddenly asking that perfect question that hit the client in just the right way. Every coach in the program has an exit call of sorts, a one-on-one call where we talk about their portfolio, and holding these calls made my day because it was an opportunity to share with this newly graduated life coach, how amazing they were.

9. Let them see your excitement. I am unabashedly excited about life coaching–being one, talking about the process, teaching the skill-set. As a general rule, that excitement is on full display. Your passion for a topic is magnetic. Let them see it.

10. Walk your talk when it comes to self-care. Lots of coaches talk about “the importance of self-care” and then they don’t set up their lives to actually live in accordance with what they try to teach other people (free tip: I have a theory that clients can suss out when this kind of inauthenticity is happening, and that’s why there’s a correlation lack of self-care and lack of clients). When you teach, when you lead, you need a supreme form of self-care. You simply can’t phone it in if you want it to be done, well. You’ve got to get rest, take vitamins, schedule a massage, suit up n’ show up. Sometimes, “getting rest” will mean that you’re later than you’d like to be on things like returning emails or having a perfectly clean house. But whatever it takes to show up beautifully, that’s what it takes. Self-care is a must.

the task or the moment?


In the Courageous Living Program, I talk about orienting your life to prioritize what matters, most.

When you get clear on your vision for your life and start to prioritize that, the ruminating and second-guessing and all of the “trying to figure it out” stuff of life starts to fall away.

Here is priority #1 in my life: my kid. My sweet little daughter who just basically wants to smile and interact with people and be curious about the world.

Like any mom will tell you, this means that sometimes, things can get complicated. This can get particularly complicated if you run a business.

It hit me how complicated this could be when I looked around and realized that I was not just running Your Courageous Life. I am also the Editor of the Coaching website, and the creator and lead facilitator of the Courageous Coaching Training Program. This fall, I signed on to be one of the first people to lead a Desire Map workshop.

And somewhere in all of that, I’m caring for my child. And, just like you–doing all the stuff like laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, taking my car for an oil change, grocery shopping, making dinner, and hopefully spending some time with my husband. And somewhere in there, hopefully remembering to take my probiotics and use the foam roller (I use the Commit app to remind me, every day, because otherwise I’m hopeless and forget), and once a week I’d like to get to yoga, and at some point I’m convinced that I’ll establish a regular triathlon training schedule, again (this last might be a bit of fantastical thinking for at least a few more months).

What Getting Clear Allows

But here’s what I’m clear on: Priority #1. My kid.

And so here’s what hit me on one of those average, ordinary days when my brain was buzzing with emails that needed to be answered and questions that the life coach trainees had posted to our private boards and I wanted to remember to transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer and I had an oil change:

Am I choosing the task or the moment ?

I could feel that tight feeling across my chest and in my shoulders, the feeling that indicates that my breathing is short and shallow.

I was hustling to get the diaper bag packed and I hadn’t had lunch yet and– and– and–

I look at my daughter. She smiles at me. She’s in absolutely no rush.

I soften. I smile back.

I could hustle to get to that oil change appointment right on time. Or to see if I can fit in one more laundry swap or one more email check before we leave.

But you know, when I look back on my life, I really don’t want to say that those are the things that I chose.

I don’t want to be remembered as “Kate, who always made it to her oil changes on time.”

I’d like my daughter to always remember that I took time to stop. To breathe. To soften. To smile.

I’d like her to learn how to do that for herself, too. She’ll only learn that if I model it, first*.

The Task, or The Moment?

So this is my mantra on those busy-busy-busy, go-go-go kinds of days:

The task, or the moment? Task, or moment? Task, or moment?

Note that this choice takes a certain level of faith and trust. Trust that the laundry will get done (and faith that you’ll survive, if it doesn’t). Trust that your business is going to be fine (and faith that you’ll survive, if it’s not).

There’s no short-cut to trust or faith. No one has any “better circumstances” that make trust and faith easier a place from which to live.

It’s a choice, just like any other.

The task, or the moment?

I know what my #1 priority is. As long as I’m honoring that priority, I wake up each morning feeling proud of myself, living my life in integrity.

It can be a courageous choice, but in the end–that’s what I call winning at life.


*Since I also want to model not inconveniencing others by bailing on commitments, this was a relatively simple fix–calling the service department to see if I could change my appointment. In a world where people abuse and mis-use self-help, this is also worth noting.

the abuse and mis-use of self-help

It’s one of the classic self-help exercises: you write a letter to someone you’re furious at, letting them know every little thing that they’ve done wrong. You let it all hang out. You tell them in no uncertain terms how screwed up their behavior was.

And then, you burn it.

There’s a really important reason why you burn the letter–because actually sending it to the person is a shit-stirring maneuver that amplifies the drama. Also, it’s hypocritical (you’re doing to them what you didn’t want done, to you). Finally, it’s point-blank unkind.

To send that letter would be an abuse and mis-use of self-help; it would take the entire point of the exercise, and turn it on its head.

We live in times where self-help is exploding. More and more people are becoming life coaches, and Oprah’s got a channel dedicated to “living your best life.”

And sometimes, because we’re human and fallible, people take the concepts of self-help and abuse and mis-use them, turning what could be medicine inside-out until it’s poison.

The Classic Scenarios

Using “I’m speaking my truth” to tell someone off; to berate, to chastise, to put someone down.

Using “I needed to practice self-care” to get out of a commitment (when the real issue is poor time management and planning). Sadly, life coaches do this all of the time…to other life coaches.

Using “You need to take responsibility for your choices” to take the focus off of yourself, to minimize someone else’s feelings, or to victim-blame.

Using “you should believe that there’s enough for everyone” as a justification for copying (or very closely copying) someone else’s work.

Making a request and saying that there’s no attachment to outcome (the response), and then getting totally pissed when someone says “no,” or deciding to judge them as being selfish (happens all of the time for coaches when someone requests a free product/service/session and if the coach says no, the person making the request acts like the coach is a miserly Scrooge who has issues with sharing).

Getting upset with someone simply because they disagreed with you, declaring that they “don’t support” you or your goals.

Running up a ton of debt on things that you don’t really need, because “it’s important to prioritize feeling good.”

These are all examples of taking a great concept, and twisting it inside-out until it does more harm than good.

Feeling Good or “feeling good”?

There’s “feeling good” and then there’s Feeling Good.

“Feeling good” is all of the above. It’s using “I need to speak my truth” to make someone feel bad…which, if you’re honest, only ever makes you feel…bad.

Then there’s Feeling Good, which uses “I need to speak my truth” as a pivot point for greater clarity and connection in a relationship. Someone might not like it, but when the truth is delivered with kindness, you’ll know in your bones that you can feel proud of what you said.

Somatic Clarity

Of course, anyone reading this has got to be wondering, “Since ‘feeling good’ can be so illusory, how do I know whether or not I’m doing it? And how can I get more Feeling Good happening?”

It’s allll about somatics.

Developing the skill of somatic awareness is a hugely potent super-power. I’ve written about somatic awareness, before .

When you want to know the difference between “feeling good” and Feeling Good, it’s all about how you feel in your body (because your body doesn’t lie).

If I bail on a commitment due to poor planning and find myself telling the person, “I needed to cancel this in order to practice self-care,” I feel like a schmuck as the words are coming out of my mouth.

That’s somatic awareness. It’s knowing that the feeling of being totally out of integrity is actually the worst feeling there is, and that any time I compromise on myself in that department, I’m going to feel awful.

That feeling awful? That’s the sign that my choice is “feeling good” rather than Feeling Good.

While it might be awkward to tell the truth (“I did a poor job of planning my week and now I’m completely overwhelmed, and I’m choosing to cancel because I want to correct that with some self-care. I’m really sorry about that”), it still feels better than the lie of making it seem as if you’re under the knuckle of some unavoidable circumstances.

Feeling Good is actually rooted in taking responsibility for your choices. It’s knowing why you’re making them, grounding in them, owning them wholly and completely.

“Feeling good” is the sucker’s game, the siren song of “Life is hard and owes me something, and it’s hard to face that, so quick! over here! let me ‘feel good’ with this shiny new distraction!”

Just so that we’re clear: it’s your divine birthright to wake up in the morning Feeling Good. It feels good to Feel Good!

Where we get askew with self-help–which is what slants towards abuse and mis-use–is when we get stuck in dogma, using a concept to justify our own behaviors.

Feeling Good isn’t about dogma or justification. Feeling Good is about being in flow with your life.

You won’t know it when you see it–you’ll know it when you Feel it.