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) 



gratitude journal

A Little Thankful Goes A Long Way

Gratitude seems to be on a lot of people’s minds lately. A quick scroll through my twitter feed this morning is evidence. Many tweets and blog posts encourage others to be grateful and thankful.   In a world full of negative press and fake news, it’s refreshing to see people express authentic and unconditional gratitude.

One of my favorite ways to express gratitude comes from Tisha Richmond and Tara Martin. They collaborated and developed the genius idea of #gratitudesnaps. #Gratitudesnaps is based on the idea that connecting people based on positive and uplifting feelings makes for better human interaction. The pair encourages people to take a picture of something for which they are grateful, turn it into a snap, and post on social media, one picture for 30 days.


Finding and reflecting on gratitude can take on many forms and is not the same for everyone. I started a personal journey towards gratitude about a year ago. My daughters were seniors in high school and didn’t need me much anymore. I started working in a new environment, and my life was in a transitional phase. I needed to get my “why” back, so I started a gratitude journal.   At the end of the day, I reflect and record three things for which I am grateful. In the beginning, my list looked something like this:

  1. My family
  2. My friends
  3. My pets

Not always in that order, but that summed it up for a couple of weeks. Unhappy with the list, I started to dig deeper and did some more reflecting at the end of each day. My gratitude expanded to the many little things that happen throughout my daily routine. Here’s what I learned on this yearlong journey towards gratitude:

It’s all about relationships

After reflecting on the three things that enriched my day, I found I could find things to be thankful for even on the darkest of days. I noticed a pattern in my journal. Many of the moments I was grateful for were connected to another person, someone who made my day better in some small way. Each opportunity to interact with someone is a choice. If people choose to interact with you, be grateful and make it count.

Finding gratitude can be challenging

Don’t get me wrong, we all probably have similar list like the one above and that truly is a blessing. But on days when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your boss, your family is taking you for granted, or your dog just ruined your brand-new carpet, it can be hard to find three things to write in a notebook.

On a particularly bad day last week, my journal looked like this:

  1. Gentleman who waved me in the merge lane
  2. Smile from a coworker in the hall
  3. The one flower still in bloom on my outside plants

Those challenging days push you to dig deep. It’s during those moments that you realize that you can find something to be thankful for each day.

A little thankful goes a long way

After a year of journaling, my gratitude bucket is full. As I continue to record and reflect on my own day, I am now ready to express my gratitude for others in my life. My new challenge is to take time at the end of each workday to reflect on a coworker who touched my day in some way and send them a note of gratitude.

I hope sharing what I have learned during this gratitude journey helps you to recognize all the big and little things that enrich your life on a daily basis. Whether it’s a #gratitudesnap, a journal, or a handwritten note to a colleague, take a step toward identifying at least one thing every day for which you are grateful.

Ali and I are both experiencing gratitude through our blogging journey. Each comment, like, and share fulfills us and shows us that it’s okay to be imperfect. For this, we are grateful. We are grateful for hidden leaders who realize that they don’t have to be perfect in order to lead.

Is there a hidden leader that inspires you? Show them your gratitude by commenting below. It might just make their own gratitude list a little longer.

With Gratitude,



why people don't see you as a leader

Why People Don’t See You as a Leader

As an educator in teacher leadership positions for the past 6 years, I am pretty confident that the people around me don’t see me as a leader. Perhaps you’ve felt this way, too. You are probably right.

I’ve often thought to myself, I don’t look like a leader. I don’t command any kind of attention when I enter a room. I trip over my own words when I’m faced with uncertainty. I suffer from an extreme case of imposter syndrome. Even now, I just wait for someone to call me out as a fraud. That girl writes about leadership?

For a long time, I harbored a deep insecurity about how others around me perceived my supposed leadership. Was I an imposter? I became frantic, doubting I was enough for this thing called leadership. And for those around me, what did they see?

A Mentor’s Feedback

I turned to a trusted mentor, a colleague that had always defined and modeled leadership for me. I asked for her feedback. I wanted to know what she thought. Did I look like a leader when I facilitated that training? Did I sound like one when I gave suggestions to the teachers?

It turns out, I was asking the wrong questions. This mentor helped me realize the glaring error in my reasoning. She flipped my whole idea of leadership on its head.

“I’m really not sure about that,” she said easily. “I wasn’t watching you. I was watching the teachers.”

I looked at her, about to repeat my question. I wanted feedback on my leadership.

She continued, “The teachers were smiling. They were pushing each other to be better, celebrating each other’s victories. They had the space to grow.” She didn’t mention anything I did at all.

And then it was clear. She couldn’t answer my question because it was the wrong question. I cringed at my glaring mistake. I had leadership all wrong.

I used to reflect a lot about my impact as a leader, and I still do. But I no longer ask myself, What do they see when I walk into the room?

Instead, I ask, How did they feel after I walked out?

Great Leaders Create a Trusting Culture

My mentor’s message stuck with me. I shifted to a new mindset. I’m really not sure whether people see me as a leader, and it doesn’t matter. People don’t see leadership, they feel it. The true mark of leadership shines through when you stop looking at the leader.

Shortly after this talk with my mentor, I came across Simon Sinek’s TED talk, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe. He talks about how leadership is not a set of instructions. You can’t tell people to be inspired, cooperate, or trust. They have to feel it. Sinek says that remarkable things happen when people “feel safe and feel like they belong.”

This is the very reason why leadership defies rank and title. The person who makes others feel the most safe and the most cared about creates the most change.

I thought about some mistakes I had made the previous year: giving advice when I should have been listening, forgetting the nuances of daily life as a classroom teacher, making assumptions. My first instinct was always to gloss over these mistakes, pretend they weren’t important.

Now, I allow my mistakes to be transparent. Yes, this could affect the way others see me. It’s even possible they look elsewhere for leadership. I’m okay with that, as long as they trust that they too can make mistakes. That they are on this same journey, too.

It’s no secret that leadership is about serving others. Yet, when we assess our leadership, we tend to look for what people think about us. It’ s not about us, and it never was.

Great Leadership Breaks Barriers

Five years ago, I visited Brazil for two weeks for an international teaching experience to raise global awareness in education. During my visit to my host teacher’s school, I felt a strong connection with the teachers who greeted us.

I remember walking into the staff lounge, greeted by baskets of pão de queijo and a group of warm, smiling teachers. The principal introduced me. In a soft voice she practically whispered, “Please welcome Ali, our American teacher who wants to learn about our wonderful school.” Then she gestured for everyone to gather close around the warm, cheesy bread.

One of the teachers spoke Portuguese only, and nodded and smiled as we conversed about the school. Halfway through the conversation, she pulled me close to her and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. She smiled warmly at me, and despite the language and cultural barrier, I felt like I belonged.

The soft-spoken principal did not say much more, and she stood back as we swapped stories full of similarities and differences. She created a feeling of trust and acceptance in her building that was so strong, I forgot how far I had traveled to get there. I realize now this is what my mentor was talking about.


Whether you have an official title as a leader or not, chances are you have wondered how others see you. Do they see you as a leader? Perhaps you wonder if you are leadership material, if people are about to call your bluff, or if you have it in you for others to follow you. But it’s not about how people see you—it never has been.

If you want to know how your actions will change the way people see you, instead ask, “How will this change the people around me?”

Because people don’t see leadership. They feel differently because of it.