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How to Be a Leader by Martin Bjergegaard & Cosmina Popa

June 23, 2020




Bystanders vs. Leaders

  • “Bystander apathy… Simply put, the more people who can help, the fewer actually will help. This is attributed to two psychological principles. The first is diffusion of responsibility: ‘With this many people around, why should I help?’ Action or inaction becomes a shared responsibility.”
  • “The second principle is that of social influence… bystanders will monitor the reactions of other people as their main input as to whether action is necessary.”
  • “Bystander apathy is not natural law, it can be overcome. It is possible for a normal person, without special skills, to step up as a leader even in an extreme situation like this.”


At scale

  • “Either we step up or we don’t. Leadership is a choice, not a position.”
  • We need more of us to become leaders. In our everyday lives, driving in traffic, living in communities, shopping at malls. We need to unlock our leadership potential whatever form of organization we find ourselves in…”
  • “Just as importantly we must step up as leaders of one, as masters of our own lives, in addition to being trustworthy family members, friends, and neighbors.”


This book


Section I: You

  • “Leadership starts with you, there’s no way around it.”
  • If you connect your leadership with your purpose – that thing which ignites you and makes you come alive – you will become a beacon for those around you.”
  • “By cultivating awareness of the way in which we care for and inhabit our bodies, we become open to a whole new level of wisdom and insight beyond what our conscious mind can offer.”
  • “Curiosity is a powerful leadership tool. Add it to your toolbox and get ready to be amazed.”
  • “A leader’s job is to become a touchstone of wisdom, awareness, and compassion.”


Is There Something You Really, Really Care About?

  • Viktor E. Frankl: ‘What is to give light must first endure burning.’”
  • “…many of us live in a way that is out of alignment with our true purpose. This gives us an uneasy feeling that can be so hard to shake – ‘Is this really all there is?’ – We do the job, and yet we long for something more meaningful. The challenging thing is that meaning is different for all of us.”
  • “…there is a deeper, more personal place where leadership can and should start from.”


Mind the Body

  • “The way we care for our physical form, and the way we carry ourselves, either inspires and commands respect or provokes judgment and criticism from those around us.”
  • “New-paradigm leadership requires congruency of heart, body, mind, and soul.”
  1. Body as temple


  • Sleep is vital for memory consolidation.’
  • “If we consume information prior to going to sleep for a minimum of an hour and a half, this enables our brain to consolidate learning and we retain that that information for a longer period of time.”
  • “It is also extremely important for cell regeneration and rejuvenation.”
  • “Chronic poor sleep has been shown to relate to some types of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, early onset of adult diabetes to name a few.”


  • “…find your movement, whatever that may be, and begin to explore your relationship with the space within and around you.”


Body as Sage

    • Science tells us that we have three brains residing inside our skulls, each with its own anatomy and circuitry. The neocortex, the newest brain in our evolution, is also known as the thinking brain.”
    • “The limbic brain is also known as the emotional brain because emotion is a chemical released in the limbic brain.”
    • “The third brain, the cerebellum, or reptilian brain, plays a major role in motor learning and motor control.”
    • “The heart, which is the first organ to form in embryogenesis, maintains a continuous two-way dialogue with the brains inside our skulls and with the rest of the body.”
    • “Our gut also contains a fully functional neural network, which came to be known as the enteric brain or the gut-brain.”
    • “Your body has a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to everything around you.”


Embodied presence

  • “Wisdom… is determined by our awareness, and by our ability to align heart, mind, and body.”
  • “…when you are in a group, by staying open and not controlling you can create a high-intensity field, become really in synch with your team, and together you can perceive what needs to happen next.”


Unleash Your Curiosity

  • “At a fundamental level, all progress starts with curiosity – with different versions of the basic question: how can this be done in a better way?”
  • “If, in your leadership, you encounter some level of feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or even depressed, curiosity can be the fast track out.”
  • “Whilst curiosity is without a doubt awesome, it has a shadow side that we need to address as well. When we are very curious, there is a risk that we will often be distracted.”
  • “Focus is important. Curiosity is essential. So, what we need is focused curiosity.”
  • “When you notice yourself being curious about something that is not related to the goals or the vision you have set for yourself, ask yourself if this is: a) a distraction, b) a call for a deliberate change of course or c) a previously unseen angle for how best to move ahead on your priorities. Use your curiosity, don’t get used by it.”


Infuse Your Leadership with ‘Ecosophy’

  • “As a stakeholder in your leadership practice, nature will move you, nurture you, break your heart open, and teach you. But only if you let her.”
  • …“’ecosophy’, a term coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, representing a dynamic and evolving sense of the wisdom required to live in harmony with the earth.”
  • “The Austrian-born astrophysicist and systems theorist outlined three distinctive levels of human knowledge: the rational, the mythical, and the evolutionary.”
  • “We must hold the awareness that we humans for a subsystem which is part of – and greatly depends on – a higher-level system: Mother Nature.”


Section II. You + Others

  • “Traditionally, we have thought of leadership as a lonely post. With the emergence of ever-increasing complexity in the way organizations function, we need to retire this perspective and replace it with a dedication to joint decision-making and true co-creation.”


Master the Art of Communication

  • “We all know that every time people get together communication happens – verbal as well as nonverbal. We probably remember plenty of examples from our own families as well as our workplaces where communication broke down, which made progress impossible. We, humans, misunderstand each other so easily.”
  • “Five distinctive skills which we believe are key for effective leadership:
    • Inspiring, storytelling, enlisting, and selling.
    • Understanding what others are saying.
    • Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings.
    • Being open and transparent, including about the difficult stuff.
    • Creating a space where others will feel safe to tell you the truth.
  • “Leaders very often find themselves in dialogues with their employees where they have a parallel thought process running: ‘Is this conversation worth having?’ Of course, when this happens, most conversation partners will sense that they are not fully appreciated and pull back.”
  • “It’s easy to shut down communication. It’s much harder to foster genuine conversations that lead to mutual understanding and powerful knowledge-sharing.”
  • “…seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  • “Trust is immediately eradicated when people sense we are not being honest with them. They might not know exactly where the fire is, but they will notice the smoke. None of us enjoys being kept in the dark, and the result is a quick drop in morale.”
  • “My teams have always had full access to our books. It’s a lot easier to get everyone to fight for profitability when they know the budget and understand the P&L statement.”
  • “Transparency and openness go both ways, and it’s an equally important leadership responsibility to get the people you are leading to feel safe enough to be brutally honest with you.”
  • How do we as leaders allow for bad news to reach us?”
  • “For the employees, there will always be a sense of jeopardy in sharing information with a person that holds power over their careers… as leaders we need to be really good at leveling with our colleagues, creating the space for them to feel safe, so they can openly express their concerns and opinions to us.”
  • “Only by remaining humble, curious, and acting with the utmost integrity can we as leaders create an environment that invites our colleagues to speak their truth.”


Define your Riverbanks

  • “Whenever people come together in groups or organizations, a heartbeat emerges.”
  • “Like cells in an organism, colliding, hooking together and breaking apart in an endless process of creation and destruction, we bring culture about moment by moment.”
  • Daniel Pink outlines three intrinsic motivators: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”
  • “I heard Herb Keller say, ‘A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.’”
  • “Danny hires according to what he calls a ‘hospitality quotient’, a set of psychological traits, including optimistic warmth, insatiable curiosity to learn, a strong work ethic, empathy, self-awareness, and integrity. He then ensures that employees have all the skills training they need in order to master their work.”
  • Culture is a shared system of values, beliefs, norms, and accepted behavior. The sharing part is the most critical element. When leaders don’t define a culture, the group will define it with the values, beliefs, and behaviors they are willing to tolerate from each other.”


Grow Your Appetite for Altruism

  • Albert Einstein famously wrote: ‘The most important decision we make is whether we live in a friendly or a hostile universe.’”
  • Darwin argued that altruism is an essential part of our social instincts.”
  • “…science now shows that practicing altruism and compassion brings about structural changes in our brain and can even change the expression of our genes.”


Section III . Shadow

  • “The shadow, one of C. G. Jung’s most recognizable archetypes, is the part of the unconscious mind which represents weaknesses, shortcomings, irrational instincts – in other words, the unknown ‘dark side’ of our personality.”
  • Don’t try to ‘conquer’ or ‘beat’ fear. Walk with it. Invite it in and be open to what it’s here to teach you. Learn from it.”


Leadership During Crisis

  • “…top three pieces of advice for fellow leaders on how to deal with crises of this nature…”
    • “First of all, apply yourself. Approach the situation as a human being, not as a corporate CEO… When you get into a crisis, rise to the challenge, be real about it, and spend the time and effort that is needed to weather the storm.”
    • “Secondly, get help.”
    • “Claus’s third piece of advice is to think through the landscape you are navigating. Who are friends and who are opponents? What agendas are at play?”
  • ‘In our company, we talk about the fact that we are on a journey, that we want to become the best version of ourselves, that we can always become better. With this mindset mistakes and failures are not so dangerous. Leaders who portray themselves or their organizations as perfect have a lot more to lose than I had.’
  • ‘Martin, I am a strong believer in forgiveness. After taking the heat, I expected people to forgive me.”


Welcome, Uncertainty

  • “…we hope you will welcome – indeed, lean into – uncertainty as a creative ground from which you can bring your leadership to life.”
  • “Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Bhante Gunaratana explains our tendency to categorize our experiences and perceptions, and sheds light on the fixed habitual mental responses that follow this categorization.”
  • “We tend to categorize every perception or mental change into one of here ‘mental pigeon holes’… Something is either good, bad, or neutral. If the perception is labeled ‘good’ we tend to want to grab and hold on to it or repeat it as often as possible. If something is perceived as ‘bad’, we naturally work to deny and reject the experience.”
  • “The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations,”


Double Your Failure Rate

  • “View your genius as something external to you, instead of as a quality within you. Like something divine that may be bestowed upon you. All you can do is show up and be grateful when this divine genius alights upon you. As humans, our part of the job is to show up every day and do our best. The rest is not up to us.”
  • “As long as we show up, putting our best effort into doing what we’ve been put on this planet to do, then that’s success in itself.”
  • “In addition to being relative, existing predominantly in the eye of the beholder, success, and failure are inseparable. Without taking risks, we are not going to accomplish much. But taking a risk by definition involves a high probability of failure.”
  • ‘To dare is to lose ones footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.’
  • “The most successful leaders know this – and have found ways to deal with failure, welcome it and learn from it, rather than try to escape it.”
  • “Humor has a way of dispelling blame and allows us to learn from the past, without letting failure knock us down. It’s not always appropriate, but when we can take a step back and make light of the situation, our relationship with failure is reframed.”
  • “Nietzsche [explains that] failure and pain are necessary for growth and therefore for any kind of real fulfillment.”
  • “Failure comes for all of us; because it is relative rather than absolute, and completely inseparable from success; because it is the greatest teacher around, we don’t need to torment ourselves, and run away in fear, when we stare it in the eye. We should do our best to succeed in our endeavors, but when we meet failure along the way, it’s a friend we are meeting, not an enemy.”


On Ego and the Forces of Glamour

  • “Dealing with mischief created by the ego – our or other peoples. The ego is a cross we must all bear. So, the question is how to recognize when the ego is running the show and how to deal with it.”
  • “According to Freud, our psyche is made up of three parts: the first part, the ego (‘I’ in Latin), mediates between the other two parts: the id (instincts) and the superego (ethics). To Freud, the ego is the ‘organized part of the personality’ and works to please the id’s drives and desires, whilst navigating within the boundaries set by the superego.”
  • “the ego is all too happy to find fault, judge and criticize others.”
  • “Because the ego is a separate self – a differentiated aspect of the collective – it keeps us separate from others, encouraging us to compete, to defend and, when deemed necessary, to attack and seek revenge. In more subtle ways, the ego seeks validation and attention.”
  • “The ego is often afraid and has to work really hard to ‘feel’ good.”
  • ‘Glamour is bred in the emotional body, the desire body – desiring to be famous, to have a high profile, to be successful, to be the center of attention, to be well known… Desiring to be anything other than who and what you already are.”
  • “Dramatics, of the woe-is-me, look-what-happened-to-me-or-my-kids variety are a sign that the person concerned is stuck in the fog of glamour. There’s glamour in busyness and self-importance.”
  • “Glamour throws us into a sticky pool of feelings, commentaries, judgments, opinions, gossip – all tricky things that keep us entangled and at the mercy of our egos tantrums.”
  • “Remember where glamour comes from: a place of lack that occurs when the ego says: ‘As I am, I’m not enough.’ Being in glamour ensures that when we interact with others, we meet in fear, ego-to-ego, mask-to-mask.”
  • “Rather than declaring war on our ego – as Jung suggests – ‘by hook or by crook achieve a higher level of consciousness’. We must evolve our understanding, our awareness, in order to overcome our preoccupation with self-centered needs and self-serving ideas, and shift our focus towards being more concerned with benefiting others and benefiting all of life.”
  • “Eastern wisdom teaches us that attachment – to our viewpoint, our ideas, likes, and dislikes – is the source of all suffering. Being ‘attached’ means being in the story, in the narrative, and our judgment about a situation.”



Is There Something You Really, Really Care About?

  • “’ Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”