Leading with Love

What’s the most unexpected place you have spotted love in your own leadership? In a world that seems so hostile and grim, Matt de la Pena’s new picture book, Love, with stunning artwork by Loren Long, reminds us that love takes on many forms and can be found in the most unexpected places. Readers at any age will connect with this story that carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond.

This book portrays the light and darkness of everyday life and how love from people, places and unexpected things can help pull us through the darkness. It is a book that is both a mirror and a window for many.

This February, our focus is leading with love. We know that real leadership begins with relationships, and that includes the relationship, and the love, that you have for yourself. Join us as we challenge ourselves to look for love in the everyday extraordinary. Find love wherever it makes an appearance. Recognize it, appreciate it, and then spread it around.

Download these quote cards  to help you lead with love in the most unexpected of places. The desk of a colleague, the lunch of your spouse, or tucked inside your own notebook.

Let’s lead with love every single day. There are so many ways we can share this big, beautiful thing that bonds us all together.

Start small. Start right now.



you had a bad day

What I Didn’t Know About Embracing Imperfection


In January, I challenged myself to spend 30 days acknowledging, accepting, and welcoming my most imperfect moments. For awhile, The Imperfection Challenge was smooth sailing. I was starting to think that a bump in the road would not get me down.

Then I hit a bump in the road. A minor dip, really. I spent a great deal of time planning a presentation, only to forget the necessary materials on the day I presented. The teachers in the meeting had to scramble to find what we needed—the materials I was clearly designated to bring– to continue on with the work. As wasted time ticked by mercilessly, this small blunder morphed into a chorus of steadily rising voices in my head. And even though we eventually accomplished our goals, the thoughts came anyway:

You are wasting people’s time.

The people who respect you are changing their minds.

You are a non-essential member of this team.

After the presentation, I racked my brain. I’m supposed to enjoy my failures this month! Remember the imperfection experiment, I thought to myself. Accept the meeting and be okay with the mistake.

Well, it turns out that embracing imperfection is easy until things actually start going wrong.

And that’s when I realized I had it all wrong. Embracing imperfection shouldn’t be about turning our mistakes into something closer to our original expectations. In fact, that approach defeats the whole purpose of the imperfection challenge. My misconceptions about being imperfect did not stop there.

I was camouflaging imperfections, not embracing them.

I’ll be honest. In the first few drafts of this post, I was trying to put a positive spin on all of my bad days of January. That awkward training, the day I was two minutes to just about everything, the conference application that got denied. I was going to point out all of the benefits of failing and convince you (and myself) how wonderful it feels to fail.

It doesn’t usually feel wonderful at all. And anyway, why was I always trying to rewrite the script? Things go wrong. Period.

Looking for some insight, I did some reading about wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding the beauty in a naturally flawed world. Under this belief, the most beautiful objects are irregularly shaped, uneven, and split with cracks. Life is revered in its most natural, simplistic state. It isn’t about coming to terms with the flaws or being happy despite of them. Instead, the beauty is found in the flaws themselves.

I liked the idea of being able to just exist in my discomfort, letting it settle around me. It’s common, acceptable, and so very human to make mistakes. And besides, it takes so much energy to hide all of it so no one can see.

Maybe we need to stop camouflaging the flaws in our own messy leadership.

I forgot other people fail, too.

It’s important that we recognize our own imperfections and allow ourselves mercy and grace. However, to offer that to someone else is a true exemplar of leadership. In our efforts to improve the way we handle our own imperfections, we can’t overlook the fact that it is just as important to embrace the imperfections that are not our own.

How do we view others in the stormy wake of their mistakes? Perhaps this is the hardest challenge for a leader. You can always look away from your own reflection, but you can’t lead without taking action on behalf of others. How we choose to do this for others can be the difference between someone who fails and moves on, and someone who believes they are a failure.

I didn’t account for the fear factor. 

There were plenty of imperfect moments that I didn’t experience in January because I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to faiI. I let fear keep me “safe.”

Fear of speaking up, fear of being too passionate, fear of being wrong in the end. (And this last one has a way of quietly dissolving my convictions, bit by bit.)

It doesn’t matter how comfortable we are embracing our imperfections if we are too scared to let ourselves fail in the first place. I think about the blog post I didn’t write, the hand I didn’t raise, the risk I didn’t take. I wish these things, potential failures or not, were a part of my January.

Here are some strategies to manage fear so that you don’t miss another opportunity to be imperfect.


So while I clearly failed my imperfection experiment, I guess that was the point along. To get it wrong, to make the mistakes (or be too afraid to make them), to be a regularly operating human in this world and to sometimes be uncomfortable about it. These fears and imperfections–they were a part of our January, and they will be a part of our February, March and April too. They definitely aren’t going anywhere. I was misguided to think embracing my flaws would make them go away.

Take a seat, imperfections. Go ahead and make yourself feel at home.



A year of imperfection

A Year of Imperfection: Why We Are Skipping the New Year Resolutions and Trying This Instead

For the past eight months we have been writing about imperfection, so you’d think we would be pretty comfortable with the idea of being imperfect.  

Nope. It’s still a daily struggle to accept all of the ways we come up short. As much as we try to reframe and see things differently, the negative thoughts continue to sneak in.  But we are so passionate about embracing our flaws and mistakes that we decided try an experiment.  

Inspired by Jia Jiang’s month of intentional rejection, we decided to intentionally seek out and embrace the creeping self-doubt that make us so uncomfortable. We want to look imperfection in the eye and say, “We see you! And we are okay with you hanging around.” 

In 2018, we are embarking on a journey of imperfection with monthly milestones that will push our deepest insecurities. We are going to engage with them until we are living our best year, imperfectly.  

We ditched the year-long resolutions and decided to tackle imperfection one month at a time.   Thirty days feels long enough to give us space to feel discomfort and short enough to keep our eye on the prize.  

On January 1st, we will be starting our first challenge: The Imperfection Experiment. For each day in January, we are going to embrace something we are clearly imperfect at and confront it head-on. We are using an action planning sheet, available when you click the subscribe button, to keep our goal visible and help us reflect as we go. Next month, we will push ourselves in a different way.  

We know this will nudge us out of our comfort zone We think it will make us stronger leaders. We hope it will make us more empathetic and compassionate humans. 

Our year of imperfection will look like this (subject to change because, well, nobody is perfect): 

January: The Imperfection Experiment 

February: Leading with Love- A Focus on Relationships 

March: Embracing Leadership as a Woman  

April: Pursuing a Passion (Imperfectly) 

May: An Experiment in Being Grateful 

June: Taking Risks 

July: Relaxing the Right Way 

August: Leading With Less- A Challenge to Minimize 

September: Paying it Forward 

October: Facing a Big Fear 

November: Calling Yourself a Writer 

December: Reflecting on an Imperfect Year 

We will be using a monthly action planner specific to each challenge to keep us focused and hold us accountable. Download our January planner by subscribing to Leading with Imperfection. You will receive a new planner each month to help you push your boundaries along with us. Join in on as many or as little challenges as you want. We hope you will be a part of our year of imperfection.   

“Get out there, be imperfect at it.” ~Matthew Manos (my wise friend, who refused to listen to me when I tried to pass on a surf session one day because the waves looked too big) 



last minute gift ideas

3 Meaningful, Last Minute Gifts for the Hidden Leaders in Your Life

Last minute gift shopping doesn’t have to be stressful. Sometimes, the gifts we save for last are the ones we want to be the most meaningful and thoughtful. Then we are left scrambling to find something that is personalized with only a few days to spare. Are you in a rush to find a gift for an inspiring person? Are you hoping to find something that stands out from the traditional and expected? Try these ideas below. They add inspirational value and ideas–instead of just taking up space.

A Book with a Personalized Inscription

You may have read about the charming Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the evening reading. Not only does this sound like the coziest thing you could do on a winter night, it also sounds like the perfect gift idea.

Gifting books to others is such a powerful thing, and I really don’t think I do it enough. And I think the reason we avoid choosing books as gifts is because it’s so hard to choose a book for someone. It’s difficult unless we really, really know what the person enjoys reading and hasn’t already read.

But don’t let this stop you from wrapping a brand new book as a last-minute gift option. If you include personal inscription on the inside cover, these memorable words will be treasured no matter which book you choose. Here are some ideas to make the selection part a little bit easier. A big bonus for last-minute shoppers: With Amazon Prime, you can order these titles as late as mid-week and still have them in time for the holidays.

Here are my favorite titles for gifting and why I gave them to the hidden leaders in my life:

1. last minute gift


I believe there is a writer in all of us, even if we never show our words to anyone. Stephen King’s memoir on his own writing life both teaches and inspires the reader to see life differently. On it’s own, it’s a mesmerizing tale. As a manual on writing, it doles out blunt advice on writing rituals, the art of writing dialogue, how to survive failure, and much, much more.

On Christmas of 2006, I wrapped this book and put it under the tree for my husband. Newly married, without kids, and just emerging in his career, I knew he had a big vision but was making some tough decisions about what really mattered to him. I wrote on the inside cover,

I wish you a life full of brilliant ideas and the courage to write them down. Never give up on people, on life, or on writing.


Gift this book to someone who is trying something new or is on the fence about being a writer, a leader, an artist…anything that is hard but worth it.

Note: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is another amazing title you could pair with this one to make a little inspirational package. Her wise advice on writer’s block, jealousy and discipline provides comfort and inspiration to those who are overwhelmed by the enormity of an important task, such as writing.


2. on our bookshelves


Last summer I sent Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly to a colleague who was unaware of her own potential. I mailed the book and wrote a note to the effect of, “I believe in you.” That’s exactly what you are saying to someone when you choose this book as a gift. With a simple inscription to the recipient, this book will inspire all year long with the message of embracing vulnerability and being courageous in the face of imperfection.

3. last minute gifts


I actually gifted this book to myself one year. I simply could not resist the title: The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. This book is the perfect holiday gift because it leads the reader through a yearlong journey starting in January. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving. I actually did get cleaner closets out of this, and they made me so happy that I read this book and this website and then started to embrace minimalism.

Whether you gift this book or keep it for yourself, it will bring more happiness to the people that matter to you. If it’s going onto your own nightstand, you might even write an inscription to yourself. In a few years, you will be happy that you did.

Looking for more ideas? Here are 9 more titles that a hidden leader in your life might want to read.

Bonus gift: Include some chocolate with any book that you choose. Icelanders do this too, and it makes their book-giving season extra sweet.

The Gift of Empty Space: A Notebook, Journal or Planner

You cannot go wrong with a beautifully empty journal or planner for the recipient to fill with their thoughts and musings. This gift says, “You have amazing ideas—you really should write them down!” This gift provides a place to cultivate a voice, a way to set goals for the upcoming year, and a safe, personal space to take risks with a voice that may currently be hidden.

Search for one that reflects their personality on the cover, or go for a more neutral choice. Tie a ribbon around whichever one you choose, and give a friend the gift of empty space.

A Handwritten Letter of Gratitude

When I was teaching in the classroom, I received everything from Starbucks gift certificates to tree ornaments. I loved them all, including a ceramic gingerbread woman with my maiden name, Ms. Faucher, etched into it. I hang it every year on the tree and remember my early years as an educator.

However, the gifts that I treasure most, even 10 years later, are the personal letters and notes. There is really no greater gift than a hand-written letter that expresses gratitude—for anyone in your life.

While you don’t even need to go shopping to give this meaningful, last minute gift, you can make your words extra special by expressing them on a locally drawn holiday card. Check Etsy for artists that customize notecard designs, or shop a local boutique for the perfect card. You can show gratitude to a loved one as well as support the work of your local artists.

last minute gifts

Photo Credit: Local artist Colby Custis designs beautiful holiday cards on her Etsy shop, Custis Prints.

There is still time to shop for the hidden leaders in your life, and these last-minute gifts will be as inspiring to give as they are to receive.

Want to add a unique gift idea for hidden leaders to this list? Did you receive an inspiring gift that made you feel like a leader? Please comment below with your ideas!





How To Finally Stop Being So Hard On Yourself (and get some more sleep at night, too)

I had one of those nights last week. Perhaps you know the kind. When you repeat a conversation over and over in your mind, trying to find the exact moment it went wrong, and wishing desperately that you had responded differently.

Or maybe you said too much and regret a few unnecessary words. Maybe you feel that there was a much better way to handle a situation than the way you handled it.

Usually, when I can’t sleep, I can suddenly craft the perfect response in my head as I’m tossing and turning. Too late, of course. Why didn’t I think of that earlier today? The agonizing is only made worse by the crystal clear quality of what I SHOULD HAVE DONE.

This is the heavy feeling of making a wrong move and not being able to move forward. This is what it feels like when you are too hard on yourself. It’s exhausting. I decided that I wasn’t going to let my mistakes haunt me at night. Here are the strategies that have helped me deal with post-flop regret.

Create a simple statement that you can grow from. I am much more likely to accept my mistake when I reflect on it and clearly state one specific and actionable thing I will do to move forward. Here’s one I am trying now: Listen two minutes longer before I speak. If you repeat a bold, simple statement like this often, it can put you on the path of making peace with your blunder. Think of it as a mantra that guides you through your day.

Fix it- and then let go of the details. I once delivered a presentation and failed to anticipate the questions my audience might ask. As a result, I was unprepared for the Q and A session and unable to speak knowledgeably to a few questions at the end. For a long time, I couldn’t let go of these last few minutes, even though the majority of the presentation was successful. I belabored the awkward moments in my head, wondering what the participants were thinking about such an unprepared presenter.

Finally, I wrote a revision of the presentation that included detailed, thoughtful answers to common questions. Then I filed it in my “next time” file and released the details from my mind altogether.

Reframe the Situation As a parent, one of the most useful books I’ve read is The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Alexander and Iben Sandahl. I found it so helpful that I applied the principles to all areas of my life.

The author spends an entire chapter on the power of reframing, or the ability to see the truth in a new way. Danes find this shift in perception so important that they cite is a cornerstone of resilience.

The authors described people that are able to do this as “realistic optimists.” These optimists are aware that things go wrong, but habitually filter out the unnecessary negative information.

I thought back to some uncomfortable situations I had experienced. Sure, there were a few awkward exchanges and missed opportunities. However, when I reframe them, I see them as potent lessons in leadership. And when I start to think like a realistic optimist, I feel relief that I now have the tools to avoid that approach again when the new situation might have more at stake.

Be aware of imposter syndrome. Just the research alone helps me sleep at night. Yes, you are too hard on yourself. Yes, you are so much more capable than you think. In the past few months that I have been writing about leadership, I have discovered that our audience ranges anywhere from educators, coaches, and administrators, to bar managers, athletic directors, and entrepreneurs. Such a diverse skill set, but the recurring theme that surfaces most in conversations is the feeling of self-doubt. Yet, they are viewed as leaders and masters of their field by their peers. Other people can easily recognize their strengths, but they can’t.

It’s easy to see how a few simple mistakes can make you feel like a fraud, or worried that people will finally see that you are not as experienced or talented as they thought you were. The first step in overcoming this is being aware that this exists in the first place. Then, flip the scene. For every scenario that you feel exposes your weaknesses, think about how the same scenario reveals your strengths. Chances are, that is what people are seeing anyway.

Others feel the same way you do—about themselves.  A good friend and I struggle with these feelings often, and we pass this same piece of advice back and forth to each other when it’s needed: Nobody goes home thinking about the mistakes you made. They are too busy losing sleep over their own.

We all mess up from time to time. We are human, and we are imperfect. In fact, we will experience missteps time and again. That’s what happens when you put pen to paper, or share an innovative idea, or take the lead when others need a guide. And while we can’t avoid minor setbacks, we don’t have to lose sleep over every single one of them. I think I am finally ready to believe that.

After all, who’s keeping count anyway?