Contemplating leadership

Above my desk is a framed cartoon that says:

‘you don’t write books for the money.
you write books to stake your claim on whatever ground you want to own.’

The first statement is especially true for self-published authors! The second has some resonance for me but, essentially, I write for myself, to reflect, process, clarify. It’s a form of contemplation. However, I publish for others, just in case my words might be helpful to someone else.  

There are many advantages to self-publishing, not least that I have creative freedom to write the book I want to write, regardless of convention and potential sales. However, there are some hard realities such as the expense. As well as the initial cost, I pay a regular fee to keep a book ‘out there’. In June, I’ll have to decide whether Weekly Leadership Contemplations remains available – and, for the first time, I’m considering not renewing its listing. This saddens me.

It also puzzles me because, during the pandemic, I hosted a programme based on this book called Contemplating Leadership. In a series of virtual conversations, a small group met for scene-setting, then explored leadership through the lenses of the section-headings of the book, ending with a session to harvest learning.

The book is a collection of 52 short pieces arranged in four parts: self-leadership, leadership in conversations, leadership perspectives, and leading and learning. Each piece is accompanied by two questions (or contemplations) that invite a reader to reflect on their leadership experience and practice. In the programme, the main sessions began with each participant sharing their response to a piece they’d selected: what it meant to them; how it challenged or resourced them; what it brought into awareness in terms of their practice. Then conversation flowed.  

The programme ran several times and was incredibly important to me for many reasons. Firstly, in and of themselves, the conversations were profound experiences of connection and thoughtful inquiry into the nature of leadership. We explored matters such as: how we might hold our integrity and authenticity in a world that often seems to be telling us to conform; how we might speak candidly, without watering things down in order to meet the expectations of others; and how we might inhabit the kind of leadership we know is needed rather than that which is most prevalent. We asked: how do we release ourselves from established conventions and find the courage and energy to swim against the tide?

We held space for paradox – the clarity that comes with messiness, for instance, and the disquiet of being quiet. We simply acknowledged such juxtapositions: we didn’t try to resolve them. We sought to keep faith with good leadership practice in a world that seemed indifferent to it.

We were truly thinking together – and the conversations were rich and nourishing, uplifting interludes in the soul-destroying conditions of the pandemic.

The second reason this work was important to me is that it helped me keep faith with myself as a practitioner. Much of my work had fallen away as touch is central to what I do. Hosting Contemplating Leadership boosted my confidence. In working with the groups, I had a sense of purpose.

Thirdly, the conversations provided positive feedback about Weekly Leadership Contemplations. This came in two forms: participants saying nice things about my writing and, more profoundly, hearing how the pieces had landed and what they’d evoked. I was repeatedly humbled by the depth and quality of thinking that each participant revealed as they shared the piece they’d chosen and described how it had touched them. I was amazed by what could surface from just 600 words.  

This tangible expression of the value of Weekly Leadership Contemplations is on my mind as I consider its fate. Sadly, the book is languishing and, whilst I don’t write books for the money, it makes no sense to renew the listing if the book isn’t in demand.  

And yet… I’ve witnessed the impact of this book. And so, despite my extreme reluctance to promote my own work, I’m resolved to do what I can to revive the fortunes of it. The potential benefit to others inspires me to overcome my discomfort and take action.  


  • In your leadership, think of an activity that you habitually avoid or defer – what makes you reluctant to engage in this endeavour?
  • How might others benefit if you were able to set aside your reluctance and undertake this activity? What will inspire you to get started?    

You can buy Weekly Leadership Contemplations from the publisher.

If you want to host your own series of conversations to contemplate leadership, using the book as a catalyst, there are some guidelines here.