Finding Freedom

September 18, 2020

Russ Ewell

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no

Janis Joplin, Me and Bobby McGee

Lead Different is for leaders who consider leadership service. Those who want to break free from the status anxiety of a world which measures us in too many unhealthy ways to enumerate – a world increasingly hostile to the grace necessary to nurture leaders: the patience, tolerance, understanding, and embrace of the reality of human imperfection.

Lead Different is for those afraid to lead, afraid of the responsibility, afraid of the criticism. Those who feel their talent to be inadequate and their moral performance to be unworthy. 

Lead Different is for those who understand life is a journey, and knowing this are willing to entertain the idea that we as people develop and change. The past is prologue, which means whatever happened yesterday, be it good or bad, will make us our best selves in the future.

Lead Different is about finding freedom for me, and I hope it will result in freedom for those who choose to avail themselves of my musings, explorations, study, and research. Here in these pages, I will tackle three topics: leadership, emotion, and spirituality. These three working in harmony at home, work, school, or play are different than the following Steve Jobs trio, but they have equal if not greater power to make our hearts sing.

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

Steve Jobs, Technology Alone is Not Enough

The rich tapestry of experiences I have had with leadership span from youth to adulthood, for-profit to non-profit, secular to religious, personal to the coaching of others.

My conclusion, using the instructive words of Steve Jobs, is this: leadership alone is not enough – it’s leadership married to emotion, married to spirituality, that yields the results that make our heart sing.

This is what it means to Lead Different.

Unfortunately, there are few places where someone can learn to Lead Different. While the disciplines of history, psychology, and management teach leadership, rare has been the occasion when I have seen a cohesive philosophy marrying leadership with emotion and spirituality.

What I am doing here has been long in the making. I have been like a caged bird, fearful it was not my place to endeavor as a student of leadership to offer my lessons learned, fermenting ideas, and inspirations about leadership. Yet, here I am, thanks to family and friends, finding my freedom, embracing this moment to let my caged bird sing.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, Caged Bird

I guess all of this makes “Lead Different” my “Freedom Project.” I hope to set others free to lead, to enter the arena as Theodore Roosevelt said, to live courageously with the vulnerability about which Brene Brown speaks, in hopes that together we can change the world as transformative leaders who possess a deep understanding of the intricate relationship between leadership, emotion, and spirituality.