How to Be a Leader Wherever You Are

Many of us want to be a leader—at work, at home, amongst our social group. But we may assume that we’re not in a position to lead.

Be the boss outside of work too. The Wright Foundation can teach you how to be a leader wherever you are.

Maybe we’re new to the group. Maybe we’re around people whose personalities are more assertive and more dominant. Perhaps we’re just starting a job at the entry level.

The truth is that we can be a leader wherever we are. So what does it take to be a leader? The capabilities are inside all of us. It’s a matter of unlocking our inner-leader and learning how to build rapport with the group.

Today we’ll explore what it takes to be a leader and how to be a leader from any position. If you’re ready to take the reins, here’s what you need to know.

Identifying Leadership Opportunities

When should we step up to lead? Is it appropriate to lead in any situation, or do we need a signal, title, or training to be a leader?

Leadership opportunities present themselves all the time—both in our careers and in our personal lives. We may not realize it, but we can embrace an opportunity to lead in almost any situation.

I’ve talked to people struggling to discover their inner leader—people wrestling with leadership conundrums in their lives, even if they aren’t the highest-paid person on the payroll.

Leadership is within each of us, and there are chances to lead in any situation. Any time we’re in a group, we’re presented with an opportunity to be a leader. Will the group always respond positively to our leadership? Not always, but as we learn how to build transformational leadership skills, we’ll start to lead in a way that inspires at motivates. When we lead with emotional intelligence, we help each group member bring out their vision and their best—including our own.

So the big question is: what is a transformational leader? What does it take to lead with vision, inspiration, and emotional intelligence?

Transformational leaders display certain universal qualities. To be a leader, we don’t need to be the funniest person in the room, the loudest, the smartest, or even the most inventive. Transformational leaders can motivate others because they engage with them. They see each person on the team and help them bring out their best.

A transformational leader:

  1. Walks the talk—they do what they say, keep their commitments, and lead with integrity.
  2. Has a sense of vision, and they share that vision with those around them.
  3. Are interested in the well-being of each individual in the group. They keep everyone engaged.

When we see a transformational leader at work, we might notice they don’t walk in the room and demand attention. Instead, they command attention. There’s a subtle but significant difference. Commanding attention means listening and engaging with others. It doesn’t mean getting their ideas out first or with the most confidence and bravado. The best leaders are good at getting things done because they are open to all possibilities. They allow everyone in the group to bring their very best to the table.

Leaders Understand Culture on Multiple Levels

We hear a lot about culture these days—whether it’s a discussion on a person’s background and culture of origin, the company culture, or the zeitgeist of the moment. If we want to discover what it takes to be a leader, we need to understand culture from all aspects. There’s a lot of reward for those who understand culture—not only in terms of their teams. Many consultants are highly paid to help business leaders understand company culture and shore up gaps for their employees.

Transformational leaders understand the culture of the country where they’re working. They know the city’s culture, the company culture, and the culture of every individual in their purview.

Successful businesses get that way because their leadership understands the importance of culture to their organization. Culture is an unspoken society, rules, and atmosphere of an organization. It’s the personality.

In any group where we want to lead, we need to connect with the culture of each member. Culture is different than understanding their race or religion. It’s about engaging in a deeper understanding of what makes them tick. When we connect with someone on that level, we can truly bring out their best. We start to understand their motivations, their fears, their concerns, and their needs. We prioritize their well-being and see them for who they are.

The company’s rules, roles, and expectations must be clearly outlined for all of those operating within those parameters. As the organization’s culture builds and grows, employees should start to identify and understand the culture. When I hear complaints about employee behavior, it’s often because the employees are operating with no idea what the rules and expectations of management really are. The parameters haven’t been defined, and the culture is nebulous and unclear. If the expectations aren’t clearly outlined, we aren’t setting up our group for success.

How to Be a Leader and Motivate a Team

We’ve all been part of a team where everyone is pissing and moaning about the way things are done. They complain about the expectations of management. Nothing productive happens. It’s incredibly frustrating.

When a transformational leader is stationed with a group of whiners, they don’t fuel the fire. They acknowledge the feelings of the group and listen, but they don’t contribute to the frustration. Instead, they focus on the future. When we’re faced with a situation where everyone is feeling demotivated, we can say something like, “I know no one is happy about the situation. We can either figure out a way to get it done professionally and productively, or we can piss and moan and spin our wheels. So what are our next steps?”

Whether we’re faced with a room of two-year-olds or forty-two-year-olds, offering a choice is always motivating. No one (at any age) likes to be told what they must do. People don’t respond well to orders and barked directions. Instead, we can articulate the dilemma, understand and acknowledge the feelings of the group, and then help them choose to move forward and stay productive.

If we opt to relate by joining in on the whining and collusion, we keep it going. We continue to perpetuate the cycle of unproductive behavior. It’s far better (and more efficient) to acknowledge and validate feelings and move forward with the plan. The project may indeed be daunting and even unpleasant. Team members may validly be upset at the situation. All feelings are valid (there are no bad or wrong feelings), but when we must move forward, it doesn’t help to dwell in the negative space.

Instead, we can appeal to the group’s hearts and minds. Alfred Adler theorized that by giving people a choice, we help create motivation. A choice invites people to feel self-respect and gives them a chance to jump in and offer new solutions to the problem.

Be a Leader by Understanding & Connecting

When people feel unmotivated, it can indicate that they’re out of touch with their emotional intelligence. In many cases, they may be holding back out of fear. Either they fear failure or fear that they aren’t being heard and their needs aren’t being met.

Every person yearns for certain things. They may yearn to be seen and heard, yearn for respect, love, security. Transformational leaders understand those yearnings and acknowledge them. They understand people’s fears and concerns and reassure them that they’re being heard.

We can still take a leadership role when we’re part of a group where we aren’t the designated leader. For example, when our manager or boss is faced with a naysayer or an adversary, we can support them in what they’re saying. We can show that we’re behind them and rooting for the success of the entire team. I’ve been in many situations where a whole room will start to hear someone out simply because they see me supporting the speaker and siding with them.

There will always be people who will balk at leadership and management. In any given situation, there will likely be pushback. Sometimes it’s for a good reason—for example, someone isn’t leading with values or integrity. Other times it’s because the team member is negative and difficult. Rather than allowing those negative people to dominate the conversation, we can co-lead by helping the group support and align with the leader’s vision.

When management sees how we support them and share their vision, they’ll listen with respect and hold us in the same regard. When we use our leadership skills to bring out our best and the best of those around us, we can succeed in any situation.

If you’re ready to discover more about yourself and unlock your leadership skills, don’t miss our courses at Wright Now. We have many different resources and online classes to help you discover more about your career, relationships, and yourself. Start getting more out of life today!


Are You Holding Yourself Back or Weighing Yourself Down?

Like most people, you probably crave attention, affection, intimacy, and a connection with someone else.

Are you holding yourself back? Holding back in a relationship or your career can keep you from getting what you want out of life.


Maybe you want respect, acknowledgment, praise, and closeness, but you find that you’re holding yourself back.

Why are you holding yourself back? Well, it’s likely thoughts like, what will everyone think of me? Or negative stinking thinking, like, I probably won’t get what I want anyway, that person would never like someone like me, or my boss will never promote me.

You may hold back because you worry people will think you’re too aggressive or too much. You may have a long pattern of holding yourself back, thinking you need to keep yourself in check. Unfortunately, this holding back weighs you down, keeps you from progressing, transforming, and living the life of your dreams.

Why You’re Holding Yourself Back

So if holding yourself back is a recipe for missing out, why is it so common? Does holding back really weigh us down? The short answer is that, yes, holding back keeps us from getting what we want.

Learning not to hold back is essential. We can’t have true intimacy with others until we feel fully known and seen by others (and vice versa). For example, in a relationship with a spouse, every withheld thought, judgment, resentment, and unexpressed frustration can add distance.

When I work with couples, I often compare unspoken feelings to pillows. Imagine that every time we hold back, we’re placing another pillow between ourselves and our partner. Pretty soon, it becomes harder to hold each other, to touch each other, and even see each other—a mountain of unspoken pillows buries us. The space impedes intimacy.

The feeling of holding back, suppressing urges, and quieting desires, begins in childhood. Now, obviously, we all must learn that we can’t get everything we want by demanding it. We have to learn to express our wants responsibly and with sensitivity, but that doesn’t mean turning them off completely. When we’re children, though, we often don’t hold back our feelings and thoughts. When we want to talk to a new friend or want someone to share a toy, we pipe right up!

Young children, especially, rarely hold themselves back. Watch kids during a birthday party. Chances are all of them will want to take part in opening presents, blowing out candles, and getting attention (even if they aren’t the birthday boy or girl).

As we grow up, we learn certain rules about expressing ourselves and our feelings. We might have heard, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” or, “If you say that, she won’t like you.” We may also hear things like, “boys don’t cry,” or “act like a big girl.” These phrases tell us that our feelings aren’t okay and that we should hold ourselves back in our relationships.

Learning to Say What We Want

As we get older, we learn that it’s not always our time to shine. While that may be true of a birthday party, we often start holding ourselves back too much. We form beliefs and rationalizations about sharing feelings, addressing hurts, and asking for what we want.

Now, maybe we think we had a perfect childhood. We got everything we wanted and needed. But all of us form certain beliefs about ourselves and our relationship with the world very early on. We may not remember the experience that caused us to feel shame, embarrassment, fear, or discomfort with expressing our feelings. But these feelings become part of our makeup—our inner matrix—and we carry them with us as adults.

Even those of us who had a good childhood realize that nothing is perfect. Just as there are no perfect relationships, none of us has a perfect upbringing.

We may remember most of our experiences happily and fondly, but many moments powerfully shape our later personality, reinforce our fears, and even cause us to form limiting beliefs.

As Alfred Adler taught, when we’re young, the world is vast and full of possibilities. But the world is also built for adults. We can’t do many things, like cross the street alone, cook food on the stove or drive a car, simply because we’re children. When we face these limitations, they are included in our worldview and self-image. As a result, we may start to see certain aspects of the world as dangerous. We may feel insecure. We may think that others are in competition with us, that there’s not enough, or that others disapprove of us.

When we carry these beliefs (even unconsciously), we project a certain image to the world around us. We send others the message that we can’t do it, we’re not capable, and we’re not confident. In a self-fulfilling prophecy cycle, people pick up on our projections. Because we’re putting out the vibe that we can’t do something, people believe us. They think we can’t do it, treating us as incapable and reinforcing our limiting belief that people view us as incompetent.

It’s easy to fall into this pattern and believe the narrative we’ve conjured in our head that says, “I’m not good enough. I shouldn’t put myself out there. Others will think I’m an idiot.”

Holding Back Holds You Back

Holding back can be detrimental in many ways, but it’s particularly damaging in our romantic relationships. When we’re holding back in romantic relationships, we’re often failing to express what we need. We end up unfulfilled. Maybe we even blame our partner for not “making us happy.”

When we work with couples, we often work on becoming clear and current in the relationship. For example, in our relationship, Bob and I have a “no secrets” policy. I’ll admit that it’s hard sometimes—even painful—but it helps us stay connected and trust each other completely. Yes, there are times when it’s tough to express certain feelings, but we both know when we hold back, we build up distance (like those pillows) between us.

There are times when I think, “I don’t want to tell him how much these shoes cost,” or, “I don’t really want to see this movie, but I should just go with it.” Sometimes it’s a more profound thought or even a judgment I’ve had about him. Those feelings and frustrations are especially hard to express, but since we’ve agreed on “no secrets,” we bring it all to the surface, and it keeps us much closer.

Often we’re feeling frustrated, not because our partner is inadequate, our job is terrible, or our life stinks. We’re feeling frustrated because we’re holding back—we’re not expressing and requesting those things we need to feel fulfilled and satisfied.

Deep inside, each of us has longings, wants, and desires. These wishes of the heart can best be described as yearnings. These aren’t cheap feelings. They aren’t fleeting desires or momentary wants. These are the deep longings of our souls. What’s more, these yearnings are universal. All human beings yearn for things.

Each of us has deep longings, wants, and desires. At the Wright Foundation, we call these our yearnings. Yearnings aren’t cheap. They aren’t wishes or fleeting wants. Yearnings are the deep longings of our souls. These are universal wants that almost all human beings share.

We may yearn to be loved. We may long for respect. We may yearn to connect with others. We may yearn to feel secure.

Many people experience these feelings. They’re different and deeper than “wants.” Someone may want a new car, a promotion at work, or a big TV. When they don’t get those wants, they might feel disappointed or frustrated. When those wants are met, they feel satisfied…briefly. Then they’re on to wanting the next big thing.

Yearnings are different. When our yearnings are met, we feel deeply satisfied. We feel fulfilled. When we feel loved, respected, cared for, and connected, we feel whole. We feel as though a longing in our soul is satisfied.

So we can each examine our yearnings. If we yearn to feel loved, what’s stopping us from going out and connecting with others—feeling the abundant love that surrounds us all? If we’re yearning for respect, why can’t we speak up in our team meeting, commanding the respect of coworkers?

When we start to explore these questions about our yearnings, we may discover that the thing that’s really holding us back is ourselves.

What Happens When We Express What We Want?

So what’s the worst that could happen if we start putting ourselves out there? What if we start a conversation with a stranger, stop holding back in a relationship, or sign up for a class? What’s the worst that could come of it?

When faced with that question, most of us experience some natural doubts. What if no one likes us? What if someone laughs at us? What if our partner gets upset or rejects us? What if…

The truth is, almost any of our fears could come true (in theory), but most likely, they won’t. And even if they do occur, what would really happen next? Our boss disagrees with us, laughs at our idea, fires us, and we end up unemployed and penniless? How likely is that really to happen if we’re simply making a suggestion?

Sometimes building out this worst-case scenario can help us realize how ridiculous our what-if line of thinking can become (as long as we don’t get too bogged down with it).

No one can predict the future, but we can predict what happens when we hold back and choose the status quo. When we don’t put ourselves out there, we get stuck in the same old patterns.

We urge our students to try living life as an experiment. Each day, see what happens when we experiment with new experiences. Realize that the world is a pretty big playground, and we can test out different scenarios. We can even try assignments or challenges. Our students often try assignments like making as many requests as they can throughout the day, talking to as many strangers as they encounter, or expressing their likes and dislikes with abandon.

Some of these actions may sound a little intimidating, especially if we’ve been playing it safe for a long time. One way to work through it is to play the “feelings game”—acknowledge our feelings and allow them to come through. As we like to say, “Name it to tame it.”

If we’re feeling afraid to express our feelings to someone, or if we’re holding ourselves back, we can actually say, “What I’m afraid to say to you is….” Then, we can build on this technique and keep going with, “And another thing I’m afraid to say is….” This communication technique helps us acknowledge the fear we might feel while still expressing our feelings.

Our students quickly realize that by putting themselves out there, they stop holding back and start moving towards the things they really want. They realize they can test the waters, try different scenarios, and stop living beholden to the beliefs they grew up with.

Most of us seek “other validating intimacy”—we’re looking to others to validate us. When we shift toward “self-validated intimacy,” We start sharing ourselves despite what others think. Maybe others will like it, and perhaps they won’t, but we are living in the truth. We’re getting out what we want to be known.

In expressing ourselves honestly and openly, we often realize that the world isn’t as scary, dangerous, or intimidating as we once thought. We can challenge ourselves to express what we want and need in our relationships, at work, and any other interaction. We will find that the world is surprisingly open to meeting our requests. When we start expressing our yearnings, we find new ways to get them filled. When we jump in and start playing, instead of observing from the sidelines, we’ll discover greater purpose and fulfillment.

For more ways to start getting more of what you want, visit Wright Now. We offer courses to help you get more out of your career, relationships, and personal growth. So start living the life you want today!


The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

Dealing with Fear of Public Speaking & Learning How to Own the Room

When I speak and give presentations, people often joke about how I “own the room.”

Do you have a fear of public speaking? There are ways that you can learn to overcome your fears, attract positive attention, and own the room.


After years of appearances on TV and radio, hosting and teaching events at the Wright Foundation, it’s probably assumed that I’m over any fear of public speaking that I once held.

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Even still, I occasionally feel stage fright.

I’ve always been outgoing for the most part—I was a cheerleader back in high school. I had to talk my way through many presentations and situations in college and throughout my career. Yet, that fear of public speaking still hits me. I occasionally blush when I’m standing in front of a room. Sometimes, I’ll trip on my words, or worse—trip on the stage—and yes, I get embarrassed.

Here’s the truth, though, the first secret to confidence, on stage or off, is simple: treat yourself with self-compassion. Instead of beating yourself up over a misstep, look at embarrassment or fear as a chance to learn and grow.

The Secret to Getting Over Fear of Public Speak (or Anything)

Whether we’re trying to overcome a fear of public speaking or any other type of fear, one helpful idea is acknowledging and accepting it. We all feel fear. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or beat yourself up over. Sometimes labeling it as “oh, I’m feeling afraid” can even lessen the potency of the emotion.

We often say, “Name it to tame it,” and when we call out our feelings, they become less scary and more manageable. It’s not that we’re trying to stop whatever we’re feeling, but instead, we’re simply not avoiding our feelings or ignoring them. Instead, we’re honoring them, processing them, and allowing ourselves to experience them without aversion.

Fear isn’t a negative emotion. We may feel negatively about our fear of public speaking, but when we feel fear, it’s protective. In fact, for many years, as human beings were evolving, fear kept us alive.

Think of our ancestors living in caves. Fear kept them from getting too close to mountain lions. Fear kept them from foraging near the edge of the cliff. Fear protects them, and it continues to protect us.

Fortunately, nowadays, many of us don’t need to avoid mountain lions or forage for food. We live relatively safe lives compared to our ancestors, but we still experience fear. Whenever we feel those familiar feelings of dread coming on, it’s important to acknowledge them and extract the message. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for feeling a “bad emotion” (remember, there are no wrong or “bad” emotions). Instead, acknowledge and examine it. Then, we can tell ourselves, “I’m feeling afraid, and that’s okay.”

We may find it comforting to put a hand on our heart or chest. Feel our body rise and fall with each breath. We may tell ourselves, “It’s okay to feel this way.” Think kind thoughts toward our feelings and speak to ourselves as we would a dear friend.

As we start to acknowledge the emotion, we may also ask, “Why am I feeling this fear? What is stirring up these feelings?” If it’s a fear of public speaking, we may find comfort in reminding ourselves that we’re prepared for the moment. We’re ready to give the presentation. We can encourage ourselves that we know we can do it.

When we’re afraid and even panicked, it isn’t easy to feel engaged. Instead, we want to retreat, hide, or avoid. But if we’re going to own the room, we need to bring ourselves back to the moment. We can ground ourselves by recognizing where we are and how we’re feeling. Ultimately, engaging with ourselves will help us engage with our audience.

Avoiding Engagement Blockers

When we’re faced with a scary situation—whether it’s stirring up our fear of public speaking, interacting with new people, or speaking up in a meeting at work, we may experience engagement blockers. These engagement blockers seem protective, but they actually build a wall that puts us at a distance and can make us even less comfortable in the situation.

Some engagement blockers include poor affective forecasting, loss aversion, dread, pseudo-engaging (a.k.a. escaping with soft addictions), fear of being hurt or rejected, and having a lack of self-efficacy (a belief that we can handle the situation). A common thread in these engagement blockers is feelings of fear.

Poor affective forecasting is when we play the “worst-case scenario” game. We’ve all done this when we face a challenge—we start to scroll through all sorts of terrible outcomes in our heads. We don’t imagine the event in real-time; we only imagine the worst moment. We envision falling off the stage, having a coughing fit, or losing our train of thought. We may think we’ll throw up or something even worse. When we play out these imagined outcomes, we often assume that the risk associated with the situation far outweighs the reward. Fortunately, this is rarely, if ever, the case.

Loss aversion is when we would rather avoid loss than risk attaining a potential award (even if what we have isn’t satisfying). Many of us are highly risk-averse, even though a bit of risk could move us to a much better place.

The concept commonly comes up in marketing scenarios. Marketers learn that customers would rather “not lose” money than “save” money (even if the dollar amount and result are the same). Simply by reframing the statement to imply loss, customers will change their feelings. Many of us experience loss aversion that blocks our growth. We may resist taking a more rewarding job because we’re worried we might not fit in at a new office. We may avoid the risk of giving up a familiar activity even though it doesn’t bring us happiness and may even make us miserable.

Other engagement blocks like pseudo-engaging can also lead to soft addictions. For example, we may lose ourselves in activities like scrolling through social media, shopping, or eating under the guise that we’re connecting with people, doing things that make us happy, or bringing ourselves temporary satisfaction. In reality, we’re using these timewasters to avoid actual deeper engagement that could bring us greater happiness and a sense of purpose.

Dread and fear of being hurt and rejected are also blocks to engagement, driven by our fears. We may worry about moving outside our comfort zone. We may fear that people will reject us or laugh at us (which also goes back to poor affective forecasting). We imagine that things will go poorly rather than realizing that most of the time they will go well, or at least pass unremarkably.

Another engagement blocker is what we call a lack of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that we can do something. We can think of it like the children’s story, The Little Engine that Could. The engine could climb up the mountain by repeating “I think I can” over and over. The engine displayed self-efficacy. It’s not about having an inflated ego, where we think we’ll do something better than others, but rather believing in our ability to take effective action. We believe that if we keep pushing forward, we will do what we need to do.

Engage with Those Around You for More Confidence

If we have a fear of public speaking, it can help to examine our interactions with friends and family. When we talk to people we’re comfortable with, do we feel the same fear? The answer is likely no. It’s only when we’re facing a room of strangers that our confidence wanes.

If we want to have more confidence when we speak, present, or even network at an event, the key is to engage with our audience. Build a rapport with others in the room so they start to feel familiar—like speaking to our friends and family. Then, even if fears and engagement blockers crop up, we can still project confidence and “own the room,” so to speak.

One of the ways we can shift into a rapport-building and engagement mindset is to start thinking like “the host.”

If you want to have more confidence when you speak, present, or network at an event, the key is to engage with your audience. Even if you find those fears and engagement blockers cropping up, you can still own the room. One of the ways to shift into a more engaging mindset is to act as the host of any event or situation.

What does a host (or hostess) do at a get-together? First, they greet each person warmly. They make eye contact. They ensure everyone is comfortable, has a chair and a drink. A great host connects with each person—sees and acknowledges them. When they’re hosting a meeting, they know what they want to talk about. They steer the conversation and help others navigate (quite different from dominating the conversation or lecturing).

A great host engages in dialogue. They smile. They light up with aliveness and energy. A host owns the room.

It may feel funny to shift into the host mindset if we’re not actually the event’s host. However, it doesn’t mean we take over. We may not have coordinated the meeting or the presentation, but we can still shift our mindset into the host mentality. We can share our opinions, engage with everyone in the room, and remember that we’re worthwhile and essential. Each of us is a gift to the world and those around us.

We all have something to offer. Rather than letting events unfold around us while we sit back and observe, we can instead become active and valued participants.

When we’re presenting, it can help us ease our fear of public speaking by thinking like a host. Imagine that we’re in our own living room rather than on a stage. How do we feel in our home, visiting with friends and family? If we know the material, we can speak from our heart. We can connect with an entire auditorium just as intimately as we would around a dinner table. Give ourselves permission to “own the space” rather than acting as a stoic presenter, teacher, or lecturer.

When we’re a host, there’s no room for fear or a lack of self-efficacy to creep into our minds. We’re too busy thinking of meeting the needs of our guests. So instead, we’re telling them what they need to hear—we’re offering them an important message. We’re listing to them and helping them feel engaged and valued.

If you want to speak confidently, try to “own the room” at your next event. This simple method of becoming the host shifts your focus away from your nerves and toward your audience (it’s much more effective than the old tips of imagining everyone in their underwear or making eye contact with only one person during your talk). When we’re the host, our mindset changes—we’re more confident and comfortable.

Don’t miss our courses available a Wright Now for more ways you can get what you want out of life. We have webinars and classes to help you get more from your relationships, career, and personal growth. So start going for the things you want today! Live a life of MORE!


The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.