Better humans make better leaders

In our quest to become better leaders, writes Mr Karl Gostner, we must accept the need to become better people, and in order to do that, we need to be gentle with ourselves.


In Mr Jerry Colonna’s, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, he says, “I believe that better humans make better leaders. I further believe that the process of learning to lead well can help us become better humans. By growing to meet the demands of the call to leadership, we’re presented with the chance to finally, fully, grow up.” In the mid-1990s Colonna co-founded Flatiron Partners, a successful early-stage investment programme in New York. He went on to be a partner with JP Morgan Chase’s private equity arm before launching a coaching practice. As a coach he has worked with hundreds of CEOs and founders. Wired Magazine said, “This Man Makes Founders Cry”.

Reboot is an amazing weaving of personal reflection, and spiritual and strategic insight as Colonna takes us through both his life and those of his clients, helping us to see how who they are, and what their stories are, turn up in their leadership, their lives, their businesses, and their relationships. Everywhere. Colonna says:

“Learning to lead yourself is the hardest part of becoming a leader. Learning to lead yourself is hard because we are wired to look outward. We feel pain and we look up and out to see who’s hurt us. We feel loss, and the hurt gives rise to anger as we look for someone to blame. Learning to lead yourself is hard because it requires us to look at the reality of all that we are—not to fix blame on ourselves but to understand with clarity what is really happening in our lives. Learning to lead yourself is hard because it is painful. Growth is painful; that’s why so few choose to do it.” Growth is painful; that’s why so few choose to do it. How often we forget that. And yet ultimately, as Colonna puts it so beautifully:

“This is what great leaders do. Great leaders look unflinchingly in the mirror and transform untamed hungers and unruly compulsions into moments of self-compassion and understanding. In doing so, they create the spaces for each of us to do the same, turning our organisations into places of growth and self-actualisation. They infuse the profanity of work with the sacred duty of Work: the opportunities to lead, to grow into their whole selves while nurturing others, encouraging them to do the same.”

Great leaders look unflinchingly in the mirror and transform untamed hungers and unruly compulsions into moments of self-compassion and understanding. In doing so, they create the spaces for each of us to do the same, turning our organisations into places of growth and self-actualisation.

Mr Jerry Colonna

This is the kind of leadership that enables great businesses and organisations to flourish. As he takes us through what has shaped him, he reminds us of Mr Carl Jung’s injunction, “I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” It is vital to understand how we get to be who we are, and for those of us that wish to live rich and peaceful lives, to make a difference to others, to lead, we also have to choose to become, and to act in ways that open new possibilities. Understand, envision, act.

Colonna says “money was safety. The pursuit of money, then, became a chase for safety and a flight from poverty, chaos, and the streets of my childhood,”  and then, “Success and money—and even more important, the busyness needed to create those—became proof of my worth as a human.” There are, of course, times where we need to be busy. Money does give us safety from hunger and provides choices. Yet there comes a point when the busyness is no longer required in such an essential way, yet the fears of our past hold us in those old ways, even though they are no longer necessary nor do they serve us or those that we are meant to serve. Life always has loss.

This year has brought more than normal. There is nothing more elemental, more soulful than grief. Love and grief, they transform us. Ms Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie first caught my attention with Half of a Yellow Sun. From there her debut novel Purple Hibiscus, captured and broke my heart. Notes On Grief are her reflections on the passing of her father. As always, she puts words to that which we intuit but can’t always express. We all grieve, and so I suggest to all of you that you put aside 30 minutes and read the full piece. She says, “Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn how glib condolences can feel. You learn how much grief is about language, the failure of language and the grasping for language.” As she reflects that her father has left this dimension, she reflects, “How quickly my life has become another life, how pitiless this becoming is, and yet how slow I am to adapt.” I know that feeling, I am sure you do too. Life changes, your life become another, and yet frustratingly you are stuck in old ways, ways that don’t help you in this new life.


Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn how glib condolences can feel. You learn how much grief is about language, the failure of language and the grasping for language.

Ms Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie


As the essay draws to a close, she brings home her acceptance of a new life saying, “It does not matter whether I want to be changed, because I am changed. A new voice is pushing itself out of my writing, full of the closeness I feel to death, the awareness of my own mortality, so finely threaded, so acute. A new urgency. An impermanence in the air. I must write everything now, because who knows how long I have?” Colonna says “when leaders, parents, lovers choose to share the reality of their heart, it gives everyone in their lives the chance to know them, to hold them—to trust each other.” It is what Adichie does for us in her essay.

That vulnerability is the basis of trust not only in intimate relation, but also in organisation and is the lubricant of that much vaunted collaboration that is the subject of way too much wrangling over work progresses and org charts.
It really is that simple and that hard. Know and share the reality of your heart.


Mr Karl Gostner is a Business and Executive Coach that uses strategy and spirituality to get the best out of professionals, entrepreneurs and creatives. Reach him at gostner.k@gmail.com

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