Thought(ful) Leader Series: Author & Playing Big Leadership Program Creator Tara Mohr
I have asked leaders in different fields whom I respect their views on leadership today and what conversations they think we need to be having.
This week’s guest is Tara Mohr. With unflinching grace, Tara has raised conversations around women – talented, capable, more-than-competent women – playing small with their lives & ideas. She set out to change that, and she has. Tara’s Playing Big model has influenced the way tens of thousands of people have taken bold steps to follow their callings.
In this Thought(ful) Leader interview, Tara will share with us why “new” leadership isn’t necessarily the answer, why she looked up to her dance teacher, and why she doesn’t want to be remembered.
Jeffrey: When you “look around” the world and within your field, where do you see a need for a bold or new kind of leadership?
Tara: It’s interesting because the kind of leadership that I think the world needs is not absent. The world is full of women leaders. It’s full of people leading with wisdom and compassion. It’s full of people who are leading – not out of a greed or a hunger for power – but because of a heart burning with pain and love, and a calling that can’t do anything but serve. The problem is not that these leaders don’t exist, but that our general consciousness is not yet evolved enough that we put these people in the highest positions of power. The responsibility is ours to encourage them, choose them, vote for them, fund them, and so on. They are already doing their part.
What traits define for you a “thoughtful leader”? What is a “thought leader”?
A thoughtful leader is someone who is continually asking questions – questions about how to do their work more effectively and with greater impact. They are continually looking for deeper ways to do their work, to get to the core of it. And for me, the ultimate in being a thoughtful leader is to see your everyday life experience as offering a constant, complex learning curriculum and being awake to what that curriculum is presenting.
A thought leader? When I first heard this term as an MBA student, it cracked me up. It implies some people are having original thoughts, while others are being “thought followers”- I still believe that’s untrue. Plus, I had come from a humanities background where anyone who was considered a leader or an influencer, would be that because of their thoughts. In the business context, the implication is that only some of the leaders and influencers are leaders because of their thoughts – others are leaders because … they run big companies? That still strikes me as hilarious.
When did you realize you were a leader in your field, a leader of ideas, or a leader of a conversation?
It’s not something I really think about or hold as a part of my self-concept, but I did start to notice at some point that many other people in my field were following my work and referring to me that way.
What’s the conversation you hope more people will have or the question you hope more people will consider this year?
There are so many. I always hope people will learn more and talk more about compassion, forgiveness, and nonviolence.
If you could change or influence more people’s perceptions or notions of something, what would it be?
I would like us to more seriously grapple with the reality that people are doing the best that they can, and that most of what we punish and demonize people for comes out of their simply not having other strategies to cope with pain and anger.
As an author, what has been one of the most rewarding responses to one of your books that lets you know you’re making the kind of difference you want to?
I feel so lucky that we get many letters every week where people share the impact the book has had on them. We pick one particularly moving one each week that we then share with my whole team over email, because I want everyone on my team to remain connected to the big-picture goals we have of serving people. For me, it’s very rewarding to see the diverse ways it is being applied. One day recently I got one email from someone who was using my work in a tech company, another using it at a girls’ high school, and another using it to raise gender equity issues within the fire department where she works.
Who is someone you have looked up to or looked back to as an exemplar for how you hope you lead?
My childhood dance teacher, Judith Komoroske. She was innovative. She shaped the people she led only through positive feedback and by her example – never by criticism. She changed people by the tone she set in her classroom – inclusive, respectful, disciplined – and by how she spoke to you – like you were glorious just the way you were.
What one thing or idea or wisdom do you hope people remember you for?
Is it odd that the question strikes me as funny? I don’t want to be remembered. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I only want to live here fully, while I’m here.
This was an excellent interview. I’d like to know Tara Mohr in real life. She seems like a very thoughtful and down-to-earth kind of person. Thanks for bringing these leaders to the table, Jeffrey. It’s inspiring to hear their insights. You ask great questions! (Love her response about her dance teacher)