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Leader in Front: Tom Brokaw

  • POSTED ON MAY 30, 2019
Leader in Front: Tom Brokaw


Part of thought leadership is sharing your thoughts with the world and pointing the conversation to where you think others should be looking. That’s why I try to post regularly to our CTI social media feeds. This month, I was struggling to write a blog post. I was searching for a topic to latch onto and panicking as I approached my deadline. Lo and behold, I was in a meeting with my staff who reminded me about a video that had been shared across the company about Tom Brokaw. While this post is no different than others, it felt important to acknowledge that my voice is the voice of the many who power CTI behind the scenes. Thought leadership comes from all of us, and I am proud to represent our voices.

For those of you who don’t live in North America, let me introduce you to Tom Brokaw. He is a journalist who was an anchor for NBC, a major broadcast network in the United States. He recently received the Fred Dressler Leadership Award, and and this beautiful documentary video was created to show why.

2017 Syracuse University Fred Dressler Leadership Award:Tom Brokaw from Syracuse University on Vimeo.

Although Tom Brokaw modeled all of the Five Dimensions of Co-Active® Leadership, today I’d like to focus on the dimension we call Leader in Front and how Tom Brokaw exemplified this particular dimension throughout his career. I’m focusing here because it feels more important than ever to shift the old paradigm of leadership that we experience too often (that of Leader on Top) to something that is more relevant to today’s changing world.

What is Leader in Front?

Before diving in, let’s deconstruct what we mean by Leader in Front:

  • Leader in Front is not leader on top (the opposite of power and control).
  • Leader in Front is direction and connection: direction toward your vision and connection to the people who are going to help forward your vision.

Embodying Leader in Front

At CTI, when we teach a course we don’t lecture. Rather, we provide experiential learning. Any student who takes our course walks away with an understanding of each concept beyond an intellectual level, because it’s in the cells of their body. That is why each of our leadership dimensions has a “geography,” or physical stance. Each geography provides experience of embodying that aspect of leadership.

The geography of the Leader in Front is:

  • Both feet are shoulder-width apart, and both arms are raised to shoulder height and pointing straight out to your sides.
  • One hand is pointed towards the vision

The other hand is in a beckoning movement pointed back towards the folks you need to be connected to.

What you’ll notice (if you choose to try this posture out) is that your heart is exposed and vulnerable. The job of Leader in Front is to be in a powerful, truthful and vulnerable conversation with the people they are beckoning to move them towards the vision.

Leaders in Front Have Courage

Not only do they have courage to be vulnerable, Leaders in Front require great courage to step with great certainty into the mystery of the unknown: “It’s not the questions that get us in trouble. It’s the answers. And just as important — no one person has all the answers,” Brokaw says in the video.

Leaders in Front Champion People

Leaders in Front champion their “people” and acknowledge them naturally, frequently and often with great humility.

“I am simply the most conspicuous part of a large, thoroughly dedicated and professional staff that extends from just beyond these cameras across the country and around the world,” Brokaw says.

Leaders in Front Have Vision

Leaders in Front have a vision or many. That vision is rooted in purpose and values and then shaped and molded through experience, conversation and actions. Once the vision is shaped, then awareness is pointed back through the heart at the folks you want to move towards that vision. That line of connection and direction that passes through the heart is the key to Leader in Front.

“No one has a keener eye or bigger heart then Tom Brokaw”
—Bob Dotson (Source:

"He is a mentor and friend to so many of us.”
David Zaslav (Source:

“He understood his values”
—Katie Couric (Source:

“He gives voice to those who don’t have one”
—David Muir (Source:

Leaders in Front Are on a Quest

We find that leaders are at their best and most powerful when they are engaged in quests that make a difference to their worlds. Tom Brokaw is on a quest to have the voices of the “Greatest Generation” heard, those who grew up in the Depression and served in World War II. He’s written a book, done documentaries and interviews and a lot of listening to voices that hadn’t been heard. He has clearly been moving towards a vision and passionately standing for the stories of that generation being told, returning a sense of pride and ownership to a whole lot of people who were hungry for that.

Leaders in Front Know When to Step Down

This might be the most essential aspect of Leader In Front: the ability to sit down when it’s time. This could be knowing when to step back in meeting (and assume another dimension of leadership) or transitioning to a new role after a long tenure.

Too often leaders let their ego get attached to their positions and, as a result, get stuck going through the motions of leadership because that’s what is expected of them or they can’t let go of the power, prestige or money and as a result stay much longer then they should.

On the other hand, Tom Brokaw modeled this in the most remarkable way when, at the height of his career as one of the most respected anchors of a large network news organization, he gracefully stepped down and handed Leader in Front to others. That doesn’t happen often in any field.

While it’s clear that Tom Brokaw has exemplified Leader in Front for all us, he is inspiring me with all the forms of his leadership.

It’s quite clear that we need more leaders like Tom Brokaw: leaders who take responsibility for their world through their everyday actions and in their quests. Our world can’t wait for them to be born into it or formed into it; we need to get busy developing them.

That is what we do at CTI: we develop people, in any context of their life, to be leaders. We provide new systems and structures for navigating any situation with purpose and direction. We help you deconstruct every assumption made about leadership and empower you define a new way of leading.

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Written By

Henry Kimsey-House

Henry is Co-Founder of CTI, designer of the Coaching Course Curriculum and Leadership Program and co-author of the industry best-selling Co-Active Coaching.

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