Anchor Yourself

In this final section, we turn inward to consider personal resources for surviving and thriving through the dangers of change.

What beliefs, rituals, places, and individuals keep you anchored? How do you hold steady?

What You Will Explore

  • Strategies and resources for holding steady
  • Your aspirations and ambitions
  • How to identify and access your sanctuaries
  • How to use allies and confidants
  • Renewing and creating regular practices

Hold Steady

When confronted with challenges, we all rely on different strategies for anchoring ourselves, for staying connected to what we value most.

Leadership requires the capacity to hold steady. That’s different than holding back. Holding steady means that you’re able to manage yourself, listen, stay quiet, and deliberate, and wait for when’s the right opening? What’s the right response?

Sometimes you have to wait for 10 minutes, sometimes you have to wait for 10 months, or maybe even 10 years. But that capacity to hold steady, that kind of self-discipline to keep your eye on what really matters is absolutely essential.

Ambitions and Aspirations

It would be useful for you to imagine yourself at the end of your life, and to imagine that you’re looking back over your life, and then to make a column of all of the ambitions that you are happy that you achieved, all the things that you are glad you gathered to yourself.

The word ambition comes from an old Roman concept of to ambulate, to walk through the streets gathering votes. A Roman politician would walk around the streets ambulating, walking, gathering votes.

And ambition, in a sense, is about getting things for yourself. Fame, power, recognition, love, all the things you want for yourself, wealth. And at the end of your life looking back over it, what are all those things that you will really be happy?

Let’s imagine you’ve really fulfilled yourself, all the things that you would want to have gathered, a list of your ambitions. And then a second column next to it of your aspirations.

The word aspiration has the same root as the word inspire, or aspire, or spirit, or breath.
You know, to inspire is also physical. To inspire, expire is to breathe in and out. So what are all those things that you will have wanted to breathe life into, to give?

So one column is all the things you want to get, and the other column is all the things that
you’d like to have given at the end of your life that will make you feel that your life has been
a really great life, like a meaningful life. And I think that’s a useful exercise because it begins to give you a sense of in the long arc of your life, I think, it’s one of the anchors in disciplining your own immediate urgency to claim credit, be the person, gain authority, get recognized in a way that sometimes will wreck your leadership efforts because you won’t have the patience to hold steady.

You won’t be able to hold the silence. You won’t let somebody else get the credit, which sometimes you want to make happen, even though it may not be fair to you. It’s more important to you that something’s working. And I think one exercise then is that
aspirations and ambitions, reflection, to anchor you.


I also think you need a sanctuary, a place where you can hear yourself think and detach from the pressures of the role that you’re playing in other people’s lives. I’m not recommending any particular sanctuary. It could be a friend’s kitchen table where you routinely have tea. That could be your sanctuary.

  • Or it could be a park where you like to walk,
  • or it could be the gym where you exercise,
  • or it could be a place where you pray with people or on your own.
  • Or it could be a room in your house where you meditate.

I’m not promoting any particular sanctuary. But just like you moved to Boston, and if you haven’t already, you will buy a winter coat — unless you already come from a cold place.

But if you don’t come from a cold place, you’re going to buy a winter coat. You may wait till December or January thinking you’re really strong and tough, but let me promise you, you are going to buy a winter coat.

And you know, in the same way in leadership, I don’t think you can lead and stay alive very
long if you don’t have a sanctuary. The pressures are too enormous.

Allies and Confidants

Another thing that will help you maintain a discipline are confidants–partners who you can talk to, where there are no competing stakes–different than allies. Allies will frequently be within the organization or political system.

You need them, because you know together you’re much stronger than separate. And they can also help you develop your point-of-view to be enriched by their point-of-view. But an ally– if the two of you are allies, one of the strengths of that ally is that they also bring in another constituency so that when the two of you speak from two different constituencies rather than one you can get other people, a little bit more likely, that people will engage that point of view.

Leadership becomes more dangerous if you’re isolated, because the easiest way for people to neutralize your point-of-view is to neutralize you, particularly if you’re representing a challenging set of questions.

But this ally cannot always be true to you, because the ally also has to be– has to honor their loyalty to their own constituency, their own division. So we also need confidants–
people who are outside the system. And our hope is that you will discover people with whom, and maybe some of you with each other, can be confidants with each other, where you can spill out the story without having to be a clean machine not worried that anybody could misuse the information, because they don’t care about the issue. They’re out here.

So they can just listen to you and help you sort out what really matters to you, what risks are you ready to take, does it matter that much to you, what losses are you willing to sustain, to reorient you when you’re hurt and you want to go in there and act outraged but that’s the wrong move.

You need confidants to help you manage what you call your ego. You can’t do it by yourself.
You can’t lead alone.

A Confidant Is…

  • Someone outside of the organization/system
  • Someone you can trust
  • Someone who will give you honest feedback
  • Someone who will be patient with you
  • Someone who will help put you back together again

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