Growing Yourself: Enlightened Leadership Through Personal Transformation

by Michele Hebert on Apr 14, 2014

Inner IDEA

Self-knowledge and self-mastery equip us to help others more effectively.

Is there a leader in your life who inspires you? What qualities make that person outstanding to you?

Traditionally, a leader has been defined as a charismatic person managing a team or leading a group of people toward an inspired goal. However, there is a shift going on, beginning with MBA programs in prominent business schools such as Columbia University, where the course “Personal Leadership and Success” has become one of the most popular courses offered.

Cutting-edge business courses like Columbia’s are based on the concept that if we are to successfully lead others with authenticity, we must first acquire the tools to lead ourselves. Self-mastery and self-management are fast becoming valued attributes in our outer-directed society. How do you manage your thoughts, master your emotions and practice mindfulness from moment to moment?

Role Models on the World Stage

Many of the world’s great leaders have had inner lives in which they worked daily on their personal growth and transformation. Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs all had inner lives. When Jobs died, there was only one book found on his iPod—The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, a memoir of the author’s transformation from an ordinary person into a spiritual giant.

Mandela is a shining example of an enlightened leader. Before his incarceration, he was an angry man who led a violent organization. He spent 27 years in prison working on himself and transforming his anger into understanding. Even so, at the time of his release, it took every fiber of his being to choose a path of reconciliation. He did so, however, because he knew that if he held onto rage, he would be in another kind of prison. Years later, when interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Mandela said, “If I had not gone to prison, I would not have been able to do that which is the most difficult—to change yourself.”

Why is changing ourselves so difficult? For one thing, we are attached to the familiar, and this attachment keeps us in a specific zone of living and being. To transform ourselves and become greater beings, we must first be willing to go within ourselves and meet our resistance to change. We must dare to let go of our fear of the unknown and look at both our strengths and our weaknesses. This means learning to lead and to grow, to be adaptable and flexible, and to be able to take on new ways of thinking.

The Path to Enlightened Leadership

As health and fitness professionals, we are in the business of helping others and leading them to grow and develop physically and mentally. How much more equipped we can be as leaders if we undertake this inner sculpting ourselves. In the act of changing and growing our- selves to reach our full potential, we become more effective in helping others achieve their goals.

Phyllis Pilgrim, yoga teacher and former fitness director at the award-winning Rancho La Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa in Tecate, Mexico, says, “As fitness director of Rancho La Puerta for 18 years, I observed that those staff who consistently worked on their own inner development through meditation and introspective practices were inspirational and outstanding teachers and leaders helping others along their path of inner development.”

Enlightened leadership does not just happen. There must be a purposeful intention on our part to evolve and grow. Then we must follow that intention with action. Inner leadership tools that assist us on the journey of mastery include reflection, thought management (minding the mind), emotional self-mastery, breathing, and practices such as meditation and mindfulness. These tools help us to stay centered and focused despite our outer circumstances.

The result is personal transformation. Just as we sculpt the body with weights and exercise, we sculpt the mind and emotions with the introspective practices of inner leadership.


The first step on the path of transformation is taking the time to stop and take a good look at where you are in your life and where you want to be. How are you showing up in the world? What are your goals? What values do you consider important in your life? Are your professional goals aligned with these values?

And the ultimate question: What is your life purpose?

Keeping a daily journal is a powerful tool for reflection and a way of identifying and weeding out mental and emotional habits that do not serve your highest ideals.

Thought Management: Minding The Mind

Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

To manage your thoughts, you first need to know what you are thinking about. You are creating your life out of the quality of your thoughts. Dispassionately peer into your mind and examine them. See what’s working for you and what’s working against you. Remember, every thought you think is having an effect on the cells of your body.

  1. Become aware of your thinking habits, and learn to immediately change weak or negative thoughts into gratitude thoughts. Positive psychology research indicates that thinking three to five gratitude thoughts a day improves the immune system and boosts happiness.
  2. Repeat a mantra. Mantra means “control of mind” in Sanskrit, and mantra repetition is another effective tool for shifting negative thinking. The simple words “peace, harmony, well-being” are one mantra that is a powerful replacement for negative or stressful states of mind. It is physiologically impossible to be in a state of stress and a state of peace at the same time. In repeating this phrase, you are choosing to be in a peaceful state of mind.

Emotional Self-Mastery

Trigger moments are moments when we are provoked into an emotional reaction. We become disconnected from our center and move into a reactive state rather than responding mindfully to the situation.

One effective way to counteract a trigger moment is to step back immediately and give the situation some space. Abraham Lincoln used to write strong, critical letters to his generals in the field. After his death, many of these letter were found—marked “unsent”—in his desk drawer. It was evident that Lincoln consciously decided which to send and which to withhold because they would generate unhealthy reactions. But the very act of writing the letters helped him clear his own emotions.


Breath is one of the most powerful tools for shifting internal states. Yoga teaches that emotional reactions and habitual thought patterns are interconnected with habits of breathing. Breathing practices from mind-body modalities such as yoga, tai chi and Pilates can have a powerful effect by breaking through belief systems that hold you back from expressing your true potential. One simple but powerful yogic breath is the diaphragmatic breath.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, sit with an erect spine, place your left hand on the upper chest, and put your right hand on the diaphragm. As you slowly breathe in, try to use only the diaphragm, so the right hand rises on the inhalation, while the left hand remains stationary. Continue for 2–3 minutes. The diaphragmatic breath has a beneficial effect on the vagus nerve, calming the heart rate, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and triggering the relaxation response.

Meditation And Mindfulness

Meditation has been practiced throughout the ages in many cultures. It offers you a way to connect with your inner core, the essence of your being. Through the cultivation of attention, you can turn your focus inward to experience a natural state of pure peace and joy.

Research studies on meditation in the last decade have reported a tremendous number of wellness benefits, including enhanced functioning of the immune system, emotional stability, reductions in anxiety and depression, improved decision making, sharpened concentration and focus, increased ability to create new neural pathways in the brain, and the opportunity to cultivate a greater capacity for compassion and universal love.

Quoting Albert Einstein, Daniel Siegel, MD, author of The Mindful Brain (Norton 2007), refers to the mistaken belief that we are separate from others as an “optical delusion.” Regular meditation deepens our capacity for letting go of our individual sense of self and softens the self-limiting boundary that we construct between self and the world around us.

Transformation Step by Step

Bo Eason, former NFL football player, motivational speaker and coach, was the marketplace ™ keynote speaker at the 2013 IDEA World Fitness Convention™. Eason is in the business of excellence and is constantly improving himself and inspiring others to seek excellence as well.

“In the process of personal transformation,” he says, “momentum is created by taking small steps each day that build on each other, until one day you look back and realize your entire life has moved in a completely new, positive direction.”

Are you the leader you want to be? To keep learning and growing, value your inner journey and make the steps on that journey a daily discipline—you will serve your clients more fully and effectively, and you’ll also come to discover the joy of self-transformation.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 11, Issue 5

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About the Author

Michele Hebert

Michele Hebert IDEA Author/Presenter