Helena Clayton | What I (really) want to hear from leaders



What I (really) want to hear from leaders

06 Jan 2021, Posted by Helena Clayton in Work as Love in Action

Do you know the poem Self Portrait by David Whyte?  It doesn’t matter what the world thinks is right or wrong, he says, because I want to know about you, what really matters in you and for you. For example:

I want to know

if you know

how to melt into that fierce heat of living,

falling toward

the center of your longing. I want to know

if you are willing

to live, day by day, with the consequence of love

or the bitter

unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I find I have a similar (if MUCH less poetic) leaning and longing for leaders and leadership.

For much of the time, I don’t want to know if you made efficiencies in your supply chain.  I mostly don’t want to know about your MBA. I don’t need to talk too much about your strategic plan.

Mostly I want to know if you can:

. Be radically honest with yourself and take full responsibility for what you create within you and around you.  If you can look at how you show up in the world and own it.  Can you accept that while stuff happens to you, you are 100% responsible for your own feelings and responses? Can you accept that you always have choice, albeit choices you might not like too much.

. Do the inner work necessary for you to get out of our own way, and to get out of the way of others.  Whether with a therapist or a coach, on your own or with others … are you willing to go beneath the surface of your life and your thoughts and see what’s down there? Fear and anxieties, people and events you thought were forgotten, longings and defeats,  unexpected gifts and gold …

. Attend to your own needs so that others don’t have to do that for you.  Can you identify what you need, generally and in a given situation?  Do you know how to self-soothe healthily and call in compassion and softness and acceptance and love when you need it?

. Use your voice for others and speak up for those for could use the advocacy.  Almost certainly, you’ve got where you are based on your privilege and on what you have that others don’t.  Can you use that unearned privilege to create space for others, to help others rise?

. Say no – to things that don’t serve you, to what crosses your boundaries, to what harms you and others.  I want to know if you know when things are out of balance and you need to push back, say no?  How’s your judgement these days about what’s too much?  Are you willing to risk saying no? Can you do that?

. Ask for help and know that it’s a sign of strength and not weakness.  Know the signs that (for you) mean you could use some help.  Can you handle your feelings of vulnerability when you are  rely on someone else’s support?  Can you meet those feelings with grace?

. Slow down.  You’re not on fire.  There’s probably not an emergency.  So ease off a bit and slow the pace.  I’m not saying stop. But think about what this is this doing to your nervous system.  Really, how sustainable is this for you, this constant rushing?  I want to know if you can pause a while.

. Spend time with yourself – no distractions and no tech, no numbing out.  In a world where we are always responding to something or someone else, can you spend even a small amount of time  – a solo walk without your phone, a short meditation – where it’s just you with you.

. Say out loud what you stand for – what line you won’t cross, what’s not acceptable to you, what you’d fight for.  Many of us don’t know what we’d say.  I want to know if you have a clear sense of what matters to you in this world – and whether you’re willing to let others hear about it.

. Build in time for doing nothing.  Nothing.  Because we know that it’s empty space and empty time that gives us the room to create, produce, imagine, dream and ultimately have something worthwhile to contribute.  Can you give that to yourself?  I want to know.

. Can you do what nourishes you even under pressure?  It’s said that in times of stress and pressure we give away first what nourishes us the most.  First!  When did you last do something you love?  That was good for your soul?  That lights you up?  Can you connect with it and do it?

. Do something that is 100% unproductive as a radical counterpoint to the always-on drive for productivity and efficiency.  We should all have something we love doing even if we’re rubbish at it… something that we do just for the sheer delight and enjoyment it give us, with no link to anything productive. Are you willing to play sometimes?

I find these are some of the things I’m interested in, about you. And the things that I wish for you. 

And, of course, as I write, they are also the things I’m wishing for for myself 🙂

Helena x

I have new dates for the next Cohort of Love in Organisations, starting March 2022.  Full details are here and I’d love to have you with us.  Described by those on previous Cohorts as inspirational and soulful and ‘a deeply thought provoking examination of what it means to be a leader and bring more love – and thus humanity – into the way we lead’.  



  • Dawn

    Great article Helena – and as a leader (and a mum, a friend, and a human being) it makes me very uncomfortable as I am such a long way from being many of the things you long for in a leader. From a more positive view, I am OK with feeling uncomfortable as I know that this discomfort will drive change of some kind and maybe help me get a step closer to some of these things.
    I really do continue to get a lot from your writing Helena and look forward to your newsletter each month – please keep going 🙂

    • Helena Clayton

      Thanks Dawn, I really appreciate that. And yes, that list is a long and very demanding one but, as you say, worth aiming for even if we fall short of it.


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