“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde

I love this quote from Oscar Wilde, who in my opinion said some of the funniest things of all time. In any case, I am simply left laughing when I read many of his statements. These words, as well, were most certainly meant in jest, but they also contain a deeper message, one of the most important for life in general.

At this moment, I am beginning a leadership coaching relationship with a new client. Each time I work with someone new, I reflect on the serious side of Oscar Wilde’s statement, as it makes for a good laugh and also gets me to review some of my core concepts. Here are a few of the places my reflection leads:

*Becoming a leader is mostly about becoming yourself. *: In modern corporate culture, as well as the business literature, we have too long overemphasized models for leadership. We read books and go to seminars so that we can learn to “lead like Steve” or “manage the Google way”. Instead of looking for models and traits to emulate, we should focus on finding our true nature and on becoming the person we were meant to be.

A veritable leadership journey is one of self-exploration and self-understanding. Successful leaders have a wide variety of styles and personality types, but they always have the clear self-knowledge that comes from profound personal reflection.

*Knowing yourself keeps you grounded. * : Self-knowledge comes from thinking deeply about our purpose, about the issues that really matter to us, about what we truly stand for. Through reflection, we come to see with increased clarity our core beliefs, our passions and our values.

There is a fundamental reason why self-knowledge forms the basis for all effective leadership. It is only through an ongoing examination of our core values and principles that we can make coherent decisions, and learn to speak authentically about why we do things the way we do.

*Knowing yourself is life’s most important journey, so you should make it an ongoing one. *: As I mentioned above, this week, I am beginning a leadership coaching relationship with a new client. Whenever I begin this process anew, I am think about who my most successful past clients have been. The conclusion that I always arrive at is that the most effective leaders I have coached–or seen, or read about–tend to be those who make their journey of self-discovery a lifelong learning process.

These people are not always the most brilliant or creative of my clients. Rather, they are those who use what I teach to embark on the road to self-discovery and self-expression. The ongoing reflection they do becomes part of their identity. They simply decide to put themselves on the leader’s path, and to stay on it.

*Authenticity comes from knowing yourself and playing yourself with more skill. * : With my background in the arts, and with a doctoral dissertation on leaders and storytelling, I use the client’s personal narrative as the baseline for self-expression. And, I often use theatrical images and exercises to lend force and focus to the leader’s discourse.

When we work together on learning to project ourselves out as actors do, I do not mean that we should learn to play a variety of roles. Rather, we should learn to play ourselves, with heightened energy and skill. Leaders use their authentic life stories to influence others; they develop an ability to express their ideas to others, with passion and enthusiasm.

In terms of personal narrative, our stories of identity must be real and from the heart, never fabrications or efforts to manipulate. It is with a genuine and sincere voice that we move others to action. In the long run, any leader’s discourse will only succeed at engaging listeners if it is perceived as deeply true.

In conclusion, while we can of course learn from others, it is always a mistake to try to be someone else, to try to manage like someone else, or to imitate the style of another. If we want to make a true difference in our world, we should work instead to discover and develop the untapped leadership potential in all of us.

The best option in life is simply to be yourself and tell your own authentic stories. As Oscar Wilde says, everyone else is already taken anyway.


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