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What leadership means to me and the choices great leaders make

By Valorie Burton | March 23, 2022
What leadership means to me and the choices great leaders make

As we start to close out Women’s History Month, it’s my honor to share a few thoughts as part of the Maxwell Leadership team about what leadership means to me and the choices behind great leadership, particularly from my perspective as a woman, as an entrepreneur, and as a life and executive coach.

Leadership can be such a broad term – and one that people define in a lot of different (and helpful!) ways. For me, it’s easier to think first about what leadership is not. Leadership is not a status or a title with oversight, it is not being the loudest voice in the room, and it is not a simple noun. And while the characteristics of great leadership do come from within, leadership is not a self-serving venture.

Leadership is an outward-facing, forward-looking mindset grounded in a purpose to serve others.

It’s a daily practice that asks, “How is someone else’s life better when they cross my path?”

That’s why one of my favorite John C. Maxwell quotes is “Leaders develop daily, not in a day.” The opportunity to be a leader shows up in our everyday moments – not just during life’s highs and lows – and it reveals itself in the choices we make each day.

In terms of my life’s work, the most tangible way I encounter the practice of leadership is through coaching, which is simply helping people move from where they are to where they want to be. Through the thousands of coaching sessions I’ve facilitated, I’ve seen that the best leaders – and the ones who find success – consistently make three choices:

  1. They choose carefully what they say to themselves when things get tough.
  2. They choose to have a growth mindset.
  3. They choose to operate with optimism.

Choosing Self-Talk That Leads to Resilience

Resilience is at the core of success, and I’ve seen time and again, both in my own life and in the lives of those I’ve coached, that resilience starts with the story you tell yourself about your circumstances. If you feed yourself a narrative about failure, or if you let fear or guilt rule your response, resilience takes a back seat, and you become paralyzed or stuck. The most resilient people are very aware of how they talk to themselves when times get tough. They know that it’s not what happens that matters, but rather what they choose to say about what happens. They also recognize that resilience – especially as a leader – is not about them, but rather the bigger picture of who they can impact in a positive way.

Having a Mindset That Leads to Growth

You may have heard the terms “fixed mindset” versus “growth mindset” and they are exactly what they sound like. A fixed mindset is static – it prioritizes the status quo and focuses on protecting the here and now. It’s typically grounded in fear. When people are stuck in life, they often have a fixed mindset. But a growth mindset is one of momentum. It’s dynamic and forward-looking. It finds the opportunities in past and present circumstances to improve, and its foundation is hope. Successful leaders choose to have a mindset that leads to growth, and ultimately to have a perspective of hope.

Operating with Optimism That Leads to Success

Leaders choose to be optimistic. The choice to operate from a place of optimism isn’t just about positive thinking; it’s about thinking in a way that puts things into perspective, while choosing to see the joy in the situation. Study after study has shown that happy people are more likely to succeed. Happiness is not a by-product of success – it’s the other way around. Happiness causes success. So, when you’re asking yourself where to start in becoming the leader you want to be, start by examining how often you operate from a place of optimism. For it is only when you find your joy in defining your vision that you’ll truly be able to help others.

Women Leaders Share Their Perspective

There are many women who exemplify what it means to lead well. Who comes to mind when you think of a woman who has had a positive influence in your life?

Please allow me to highlight just a few of the women who have spoken from the Maxwell Leadership stage. These are women that our community has had the privilege of personally learning from as they have shared their perspectives on leadership and what it means to them.

“Servant leadership is truly loving your people. Do you demonstrate love for the people you lead?”

Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen • Author • Speaker

“Leadership starts within you and me. It is about bringing what is inside of you to the outside. It’s about having a vision and casting it and knowing what you stand for.”

Mercy Achola, Maxwell Leadership Certified Team Member • Entrepreneur

“As leaders, we must be authentic…While authenticity alone doesn’t automatically guarantee success, inauthenticity guarantees failure.”

Jamie Kern Lima, Co-Founder IT Cosmetics • Author • Speaker

Here’s to finding your purpose as a leader, staying focused on the daily decisions that will get you where you want to be, and finding your joy!

Want to grow your potential with Maxwell Leadership?

Are you searching for ways to grow your potential as a leader? I invite you to explore what Maxwell Leadership has to offer and choose the right solution for you and your leadership journey. If you’re just beginning your personal growth journey and don’t know where to start, download our C.L.E.A.R. app and access 30 days of personal growth resources – for free!

Get to Know Valorie

Valorie Burton, life strategist and international speaker, is CEO of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute. Her life-changing message has an intriguing, research-based emphasis in the pioneering field of applied positive psychology – the study of what happens when things go right with us. Her company provides coaching, coach training, and resilience training, and has served clients in all 50 states and 20 countries on six continents. Since 1999, she has written 13 books translated into multiple languages, including Let Go of the Guilt, It’s About Time, and Successful Women Think Differently. She has appeared regularly on the TODAY Show, CNN, Dr. Oz, and Essence, and has spoken for hundreds of organizations around the globe. She was named one of the top 60 motivational speakers in America and one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in the field of personal development. Learn more at, and check out her last blog post with us on resilience. If you’d like to book her or any of our thought leaders for your next leadership event, you can learn more here.

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