You’re a leader! Yay! Good for you. 

But are you an effective one? 

Do you even know?

Any clue how to tell?

It’s cool. I’ll wait until the existential angst passes.

Being a leader requires a profound amount of objective perspective. Perspective that most people do not just naturally have.

To learn perspective, you need to be able to look hard at the lay of the land around you and see clearly how you’re exerting power, in which direction you are exerting it, and if you’re wasting it.

So what’s your current leadership pattern?

As luck would have it, I have an awesome metaphor (created by the ever-so-astute [insert-person-who-made-this-up-who’s-name-I-was-unable-to-find]) to help you understand the different types of leadership that’ll help you see where you fall now and what’s possible.

The incredibly enlightening hula hoop metaphor.

Imagine a big ol’ hula hoop, filled with everyone you affect in your life. So, if you’re an internet marketer, that’s your audience and your network (and probably other people you care about too). If you’re a stay-at-home mom, it might be your family and friends. If you’re a CEO, it’s all of your employees, your board, and also your family and friends.

You get the idea — the hoop contains everyone you directly influence in your life (not just your work).

Leader #1: The Cheerleader

You naturally gravitate towards the side of the hoop. You grab the hoop and cheer everyone on, “Now, on the count of three, we’re all gonna walk forward. You ready? Let’s do it!” Only everyone in the hoop has different perspectives and a different idea of what direction you mean by “forward”, so they’re all just standing around bumping into each other, while you, leading from the side with all your good ideas and pep, get ever more frustrated at the lack of progress.

Leader #2: The Martyr

Then there are the folks that will stand in the middle of the hoop going, “Hey everyone, I have a really great idea!”

The people closest to them will say, “Cool, what’s your idea? I wanna hear it!” But just as they start to explain, someone slightly further away will try to inch forward through the crowd to hear it too, so they wait until that person gets closer before sharing more. But then someone else asks them to stop the explanation until they can get closer too.

Pretty soon they feel like they’ve been trying to get their idea out there forever and everyone around them is saying, “Yeah, that sounds great but it’s never gonna happen because you’re just standing here telling us, and nothing’s getting done.” And you get super bitter and frustrated because people just. won’t. listen.

No one is moving the hoop.

Leader #3: The Pusher

Other people will head straight to the back of the hoop, gripping with all they’ve got to the back bumper and pushing at it with all their strength, “Come on, everybody, just move”. 

But the people in the circle have no idea why they’re being pushed so hard and pretty soon they’re pissed because no one likes getting pushed around. So they dig their heels in and refuse to budge. 

And, oh dear lord, the person on the outside just pushes all the harder, without ever actually gaining any traction until they are exhausted and totally burned out — ever lamenting how hard they tried.

Leader #4: The Heart

Then there are the ones out front, gripping that hoop and pulling it forward, saying, “Come on, everyone, I can see what’s ahead! We got this! Everyone move together!”

Finally, the hoop moves a little, if only a few inches. There’s still a little inertia from inside the circle and now people can see where they’re going. They can see what’s possible for them and they are inspired by your grit.

But they have no idea how to move without the momentum of the person pulling so hard in front. And THAT person is taking so much responsibility for the road ahead and every inch of progress that they completely miss the deep dependence the people in the hoop have developed for them — because without their efforts everything stops.

Sure, they’re succeeding, but they’re exhausted. All the time. And as they become wearier, the progress slows, and before long, everyone’s struggling to remember where they were heading in the first place.

Leader #5: The One With the Goddamn Machete

Finally, there’s the person who lets go of the fucking hula hoop and marches ahead just a few paces, pulls out their machete, and starts hacking a path forward.

They might not necessarily be able to see all the way through the forest but they try and create a path that’s wide enough for the hoop, for all of those people traveling behind them.

After every few steps, they look over their shoulder encouragingly — “Hey, come on, I see something cool up ahead that you’re all really going to like,” —  because they recognize that they can only move forward at the pace at which the people behind them are moving forward to meet them.

And, while they may feel impatient at times, they trust that, at some point, they’ll be deep enough into the forest that they can start hacking faster and moving forward faster because the people in the hoop feel more certain about the path ahead.

They know that they’ll reach that leadership tipping point where momentum gathers, where they can be many paces ahead and still lead effectively because, to the people in the hoop, going forward now feels easier than going back to where they started.

And that’s the kind of leader we’re building here.

Because I’m not here to help you push from the back. Or to stay in the middle shouting your ideas into the void. We’ve all been doing that for too long, efforting our way into making change as if we’re Sisyphus pushing that fucking rock around in circles.

The time has come to get out that metaphorical machete (or, you know, rock pushing hula hoop contraption. Too many metaphors? Eh, I know you can follow) and finally lead from the front.

And that, lovely human, takes something way more than guts. It takes a deep and abiding comfort with risk.

Because each one of those leadership patterns comes with its own traits and features and a willingness to shake that off and step out front often involves sacrifice. You have to be willing to break away parts of your personality and how you function in the world. And that can be really painful.

The first step towards that is making peace with losing the parts of yourself that make it impossible to meet the needs of the people in your hula hoop. You have to learn not to give zero fucks. But to give ALL the fucks to the right things and be more than willing to lose everything as a result.

Having the courage of your convictions is profoundly risky — but almost always completely worth it. Because change in the world begins with change in ourselves.

And it requires that you put down the pom poms.

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