From Hero to Leader

I never gave leadership much thought — until about four years ago. I always associated leadership with CEOs, presidents, military commanders and maybe a charismatic religious leader or two. None of these had anything to do with me.

I am a life coach. I help powerful women to love and accept themselves, to recover from an important loss or life challenge and create the life they really want. They needed love, compassion, understanding, and gentle guidance. Leadership never seemed to fit into this mix.

Well, I found out it actually does! Let me explain.

People Love a Hero

Four years ago, I stepped into leadership for the first time. I became president of the Toastmasters Club Heart2Heart (6 months after joining). This decision not only changed my understanding of leadership, it changed me.

Initially, my impulse was to play hero, i.e., perform a selfless action to help another.

The current president wanted to step down after 2 years of service. I wanted to rescue him. I also wanted to rescue our club leader, Cynthia, who had been holding the club together for 3 years by sheer willpower. You know the type — a hero to the core.

I, a triple Ox in the Chinese zodiac, was prepared to take on the load. I would do as much as I could to save Cynthia from overwork. But Cynthia simply took on other tasks while trying to bring me along. I soon discovered that heroism is a recipe for burnout.  

Fortunately, our departing president said something that stuck with me as I embraced my leadership adventure. He said, “The president is the easiest role because you delegate everything.” At the time this didn’t mean much because there were so few people in the club to whom I could delegate. Eventually, I got it.

Leadership is the art of getting somebody else to do something you want done, because they want to. –Former US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower
Communicate Your Vision

I began my presidency by getting others to join the club. It was something that came easy to me because I so clearly saw the benefits: First class speaker training at a nominal cost, a place to practice heartfelt offers (the most challenging task of a speaker/entrepreneur), game-changing evaluations (which is why I joined in the first place) and an opportunity to get your speech videotaped at professional studio for free (Toastmaster Time TV).  I was doing exactly what Eisenhower’s quote prescribed – getting people to do something because they wanted to.

The club’s size swelled as I mastered this first key of leadership: communicate your vision in a way that invites cooperation and commitment. It was a skill that really serves me in my work.

Activate Their Emotions

Something magical happened during the time I was president — I changed! I became more confident and commanding. My values became clear and this helped me to make important decisions without self-doubt or equivocation. My integrity, enthusiasm, and ability to see what people wanted often before they did, inspired their support. Delegation became easy as I mastered the skill of sharing my win-win vision for the club and its members.

The members could see how I had changed and eagerly began stepping up to the plate. They wanted what I had become — an authentic leader. Suddenly, they were clamoring to fill club officer roles, so many that we created shadow officers position to support the real officers and train replacements in advance. 

According to neural scientist Antonio Demasio, people make decisions based on their emotions and then let reason and logic justify their choices. 

Tap into people’s emotions and you can get them to do almost anything. Many of our leaders in governments and corporations use fear and shame to achieve their goals. To me this is coercion and manipulation, not authentic leadership. 

You can build you throne with bayonets, but you can’t sit on it long. Boris Yeltsin, First President of Russia

Non-coercive leadership requires uplifting emotions such as inspiration, excitement and enthusiasm to gain cooperation. It takes work but it more than worth it because everyone feels satisfied.

This is the second key of authentic leadership: stimulate positive emotions that create buy-in.

Inspiration and enthusiasm work for my clients as well. They buy-in because they are getting exactly what they want. They are motivated to do the work, to face their fears and make the necessary changes because of their vision.


The most important thing I learned as a leader was trust:

  • To be trust-worthy
  • To trust myself
  • To trust my members 

Trust is the third key of leadership and perhaps the hardest to master.

We are taught from early childhood not to trust ourselves — our intuition, impulses, or desires. We learn not to trust others because we may be rejected, disappointed or hurt. Some of us conform, play safe, accommodate and do not rock the boat. Others learn to control through fear or shame in order to feel safe. These childhood patterns undermine authentic leadership, because they put you on guard. You are never completely present, real, yourself.

The Path to Leadership

To be successful as a leader, you have to be authentic, to be yourself. You must learn to trust your intuition, you inner voice and not take personally the discouragement or disagreements of others. As a leader you are always inviting others to step out of their comfort zone, to take risks and push the edge. This is scary and you must expect resistance, even sabotage. Gracefully navigating the attacks or anger of others is the mark of an empowered leader.

In my own experience, having a mentor is essential for becoming that kind of leader. Otherwise you are very likely to fall back into your old protective patterns as soon as it get tough.

I have seen plenty of Toastmasters take on leadership roles, check all the boxes but never become authentic leaders. In almost all cases, they lacked mentorship. Without guidance, they relied on their old patterns of hero or bully. Neither works well in a volunteer organization or any other organization for that matter. 

Trusting yourself and others requires healing and the gradual replacing of those protective patterns formed in childhood. That is the work I do, as one of my clients puts it — with compassion, understanding and care — so you can be the leader you are, share your gifts, and make a difference in this world. However, for you to become an authentic leader, you must take the first step and be willing to do the work

If you want to know more about my life transformation coaching, join my Facebook Group: Live Your Brilliance Trainings. If you want to know how I can help you to transform the guilt from the loss of an important relationship or how to become a leader, share your gifts and live without regret, schedule a 15 minute introductory call  HERE .

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Dr. Michelle Peticolas is a national speaker, Life Transformation Coach and expert on loss, emotional wounding and unresolved grief. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology and Psychology and over 25 years of coaching people through major life challenges. Learn more about her work in her special Facebook Training Group: Live Your Brilliance Trainings. Or go to Second Chance Secrets.


  1. Inspiring insights on transitioning from hero to leader! Loved reading this article, thank you for sharing.

Speak Your Mind