Clean Leading

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The most reliable way to be a leader worth following is to lead cleanly.

{distinctions: a leader as someone with position power and a leader worth following. the former has access to and uses rewards and punishments to lead and the latter depends neither on position power nor carrots and sticks, rather the ability to inspire people into action around a vision worth embracing}

Clean leading is a subset of human-centric leading, which puts people at the center of decisions in order to curate their highest potential.

To talk about clean leading, let’s say there is such a thing as dirty leading.

Just like money laundering, in which companies look clean but are actually dirty, leaders can also look clean but can actually lead dirty.

What is Dirty Leading?

Dirty leading happens when leaders need something from the outside world to feel good about themselves.

For example, when you:

    • Use a leadership position to feel important, even when you have no real interest in people
    • Sell your soul (morals) for external power, prestige or money
    • Cloud inter-personal interactions with emotional reactions, judgements or blame

Have you ever met a leader who “leads dirty”?

Have you ever happened to “lead dirty” without even realizing it?

Nobody Said Clean Leading is Easy

In fact, clean leading is counter-culture because the entire (global) socialization process undermines clean leading altogether. How? The education system, which teaches people how to be, was designed to provide skilled workers for the Industrial Revolution. As a result, certain assumptions were inculcated into the subconscious mind — assumptions that happen to be inaccurate and untrue. For example, “human capital is a commodity.” You might not consciously think that that is true, but if you reverse-engineer yours and other’s behavior, you will see that it is an assumption inadvertently held by most people. Layoffs, for instance, are accepted as a default strategy for “smart” and “responsible” leaders who believe in shareholder primacy, who may not agree on the conscious level that people are commodities by act like it.

Here are some additional false assumptions of the legacy industrial model still in use today:

    • People are cogs in a wheel
    • Logic is the only reliable human intelligence
    • People are motivated extrinsically by position power, prestige or money
    • Efficiency is the highest value
    • More is better
    • Morals don’t matter

The fact that most people inadvertently use untrue assumptions is the main reason that organizational and societal problems abound.

Today’s Context

The way things were done in the past do not serve us well in the present. Today, we are living through a historical transition period, through which current political, economic and social systems are crumbling because they bring results few people want.

Need proof that the systems are collapsing?

Here’s a shortlist:

    • Frequency of global financial crises
    • US shifts from a democratic to an oligarchic system (the same seems to go in countries around the world, where people vote for one thing and their politicians do another)
    • Increases in global income inequality
    • Corporations can avoid paying taxes legally, slicing revenues for public spending for the greater good
    • Shareholder primacy is assumed to be a legal requirement, when it’s not in any country
    • Companies are designed for one or two generations, when today’s workforce has five
    • Laws favor nuclear families, when today’s look entirely different with divorces and re-constituted unions
    • Most of the international clothing goes through the hands of the Italian/Chinese/Swiss Mafia called Camorra (investigative report here)
    • Companies are faster at producing, selling and distributing goods than Mother Earth can replenish her resources or store the garbage

Dirty leading contributes to today’s systems collapse because many people use their position power to get their own needs met at the expense of others. Money is seen as the ultimate gain, when it’s a symbol for internal needs (which are not acknowledged in society). By using the legacy industrial model assumptions mentioned above, people try to fill their basic human needs through power, prestige and money. Because those don’t satiate, so people try to get more and more and that doesn’t feel fulfilling either, but it does create today’s inequities. It’s like drinking Diet Coke for Vitamin C when your body needs orange juice.

Dirty leading also contributes to the organizational problems you can find at work: distrust, destructive conflict, nasty emails, reactive decision making, low engagement, low morale, finger-pointing/blame, unfair judgements, punishments, etc.

The current systems collapse is the perfect opportunity to become a clean leader.

What is Clean Leading?

To put it simply, clean leading means:

    • Leading from a full inner space, without needing something from the act of leading or a leadership position to feel good about yourself
    • Leading with integrity, without the need to sell your soul for perceived certainty or survival
    • Being present in the moment – to notice what is there instead of what has been created in your head and to drop expectations of what you think things should be
    • Leading with a judgement-free awareness
    • Using your emotions to learn about yourself and ways you can respond to a situation vs react
    • Taking full responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behavior

By leading cleaning, you fill your own basic human needs — the internal, invisible needs that motive your every thought, feeling and action — love/connection, significance, certainty, variety, growth, contribution, hope. When you are satiated and feel good about yourself, you don’t need to take, but rather you are motivated to give and contribute to a vision bigger than yourself.

The How-To of Clean Leading

As you assess yourself with the following points, notice how quickly you judge yourself — then shift into judgement-free awareness. Being present in the moment, helps you see things for what they are without judgement or emotional reaction, as judgements are conclusions made in the past and used in the present.

{distinctions: using your emotions and emotionally reacting. the former integrates your emotional intelligence with your logical and intuitive thinking and the latter imposes past emotional stories onto present situations}

Some tips to get started:

    • Notice how often you lie in order to avoid a consequence that you fear. For example, hiding a problem because your boss says “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!” or, saying whatever is takes to avoid conflict.
    • Notice how often you treat yourself and others like objects. Then start treating yourself and others as people. Objects are machines programmed to do specific things without end. People are conscious beings with smarts, skills, fears, biases, fatigue, dreams…who flourish within specific (enlightened) contexts.
    • Observe whether or not you need position power to feel important. If yes, develop internal ways to feel significant or certain. For instance, invest in a vision that is bigger than yourself, connect with the deep love and respect from your family and friends or practice feeling your feelings (what does it feel like to feel humiliated, for example?). The practices of internal reflection or feeling feelings are often discouraged or ridiculed in today’s world, but they’re the key to transforming organizational and societal life by transforming yourself.
    • Assess how frequently you judge yourself and others and then, practice noticing what you see and hear without filters. Granted, we all see the world through lenses, yet we can also distinguish between what we believe should be there and what actually is.
    • Notice if you tend to react emotionally to unexpected information such as “bad” news or certain situations such as “low quality work.” Cool down with a few deep breaths, a walk around the block or a good night’s sleep and then ask yourself, “What about this situation makes me feel upset?” and “What does that situation say about me?” Separating emotions from situations is a good first step to developing clarity and a larger emotional capacity.

A Leadership Journey

Clean leading is a lifelong journey. It is based on and nurtures self-trust, self-respect, self-compassion. It invites self-knowledge without judgement. It encourages learning to expand your ability to handle whatever happens in the world — also known as resilience.

Remember what Socrates advised: An unexamined life is not a life worth living


Because humans have an unlimited capacity to learn, grow, create, love, serve, lead, evolve, as well as shrink, destroy, abuse, kill. The more you feed the evolved parts of yourself and those of others, while acknowledging the less evolved, the more you become a leader worth following.

[Image from Freepik]