Begin Your Journey

Let's create a new language of leadership, together!

For the last 30 years the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI) has been offering the gold-standard in coach training and leadership development for individuals and organizations. Now we are creating a new language of leadership. Let's do this together. 

Everyone Is a Leader: Understanding True Leadership | Co-Active


How do we define leadership? In the traditional sense, leadership is the act of directing and motivating a group or individual to achieve a specific goal. Leaders are understood to have the special leadership training and capacity to stimulate others to take the steps necessary for organizational success. But what exactly is true leadership, and what does it mean for us?

At CTI, we believe that redefining leadership is necessary: the world has to move beyond the traditional hierarchical top-down models and into a much broader interpretation. This way, rather than being the privilege of a few, leadership and responsibility can be shared by all.

The Co-Active Leadership Model is a powerful tool used by Co-Active coaches and their clients. It implies that if we are responsible for our world, we can all be leaders, taking responsibility from various positions and dimensions.

Let’s delve deeper into the Co-Active Leadership Model and the meaning of true leadership in this blog post.

Everyone is a Leader January 13, 2015 from CTI on Vimeo.

How Can Everyone Be a Leader?

What if true leadership means making the choice to take responsibility anytime rather than filling a function, a title, a job, or a birthright that is limited to a few select people? Leadership then becomes a choice that is accessible to anyone.

You see, as humans, we are naturally creative and resourceful. This means we all have the ability to decide to step forward and be responsible for what is going on around us. This is the meaning of the phrase “everyone is a leader”: every single person on this planet has the opportunity to practice true leadership. (Whether or not we make that choice is another matter entirely.)

Being a Leader Means Taking Responsibility

We at CTI believe in the paradox of how the universe works: we create our own universe every day; at the same time, the universe is constantly creating us. We live in this cycle every day, meaning we are responsible for our own world.

There are two main aspects to responsibility. The first is that responsibility is associated with a creative act. We make our own world, and each one of us is seeing and creating in our own system: I create my world, you create your world, and our worldviews are created every day together.

The other responsibility we have is to our world: the universe provides us with something to react to, and we must be agile enough to respond to what has been given to us. When we begin to engage with our lives from this place of responsibility and “response-ability,”, it lifts us out of any victim story that may be lingering and puts us firmly in control of our lives. We take the first step toward authorship.

Sure, our current circumstances may not change; after all, good things and bad things happen. There is a flow of things coming to us from our lives. How we engage with those events in our lives has everything to do with the world and the experience we’re creating. This is where true leadership manifests: at any point in time, we can choose to become authors of our own lives. That is what we mean by “response-able”: able to respond. The more we are aware and more sensitive to what is going on in the world around us, the more capable we are of making that choice. As responsible beings in this world, we want to grow as true leaders, and we want to expand the size of the world for which leaders are responsible.

Why Is It Important for Everyone to Be a Leader?

CTI has created leadership training for organizations to help their employees transition from a place of self-responsibility and self-management. This is especially true for large organizations, where so much of the people’s creativity and energy is trapped inside a structure that isn’t very alive. People at the bottom of the pyramid in these organizations with hierarchical structures find it difficult to become leaders. For these people — who form the majority of organizational staff — it becomes challenging to truly take responsibility because they lack self-authorship. They are incapable of managing themselves because they have to rely on the structure to give them permission to act.

CTI is working to change all this. The Co-Active leadership training program motivates people to collaborate — to allow offices to become places of aliveness, creativity, and self-responsibility, where there is leadership at every level. That is what self-management does: it frees up people to be responsible and to be leaders at all levels of the organization.

True Leadership and Human Consciousness

When true leadership is enabled, it means that everyone in the organization, as well as the organization as a whole, is tuned into an evolutionary purpose. By looking at our life purpose, values, and drivers as individuals, as well as that of the organization and its systems, we become able to tune into knowing both why we are here as individuals and the purpose of the organization.

Each of us must be responsible for our world and be “respond-able” to our world, and that means being a leader. Human consciousness has evolved to the point where we are ready to take a massive, unprecedented leap to look beyond our own survival for the good of the whole. We have to take on this responsibility and become true leaders. Sure, we are still concerned about our personal survival, but now we can think beyond ourselves. It is not about self-sacrifice, but about being grounded enough in our own humanity that we are able to expand beyond ourselves and hold our world.

A Look at the Co-Active Leadership Model

The Co-Active Leadership Model is based on the evolution of human consciousness and allows for a variety of leadership styles. This model speaks to people, even those who have never heard of Co-Active. This model is about experimenting with different dimensions of true leadership.

Leader Within

Above is a diagram of the Co-Active Leadership Model. At the intersection of all the spheres is a diamond. The dimension of Leader Within — our best selves and our purpose — is represented by that diamond. It is about following our purpose, honoring our values, and being the author of our own life. We’re not acting out of ego or victimhood. We are in control of how our life is moving, and it’s purpose-driven.

The diamond essentially serves as a foundation for selecting any of the other dimensions. It’s difficult to move into other dimensions if we are not truly grounded, if we have not chosen ourselves, or if we have not chosen our own self-authority.

Leadership development is about developing everyone to be a powerful and strong Leader Within because that is the point of choice. That is what distinguishes us from others and allows us to choose the other dimensions of true leadership. And it’s important to note that no one is superior to others. There is no hierarchical order, and all individuals matter in this leadership model.

Leader in Front

What we commonly think of as true leadership is embodied by the Leader in Front. These individuals have a vision. They speak with authority and step out into new territory. They also pay attention to those who are following them. When a Leader in Front fails, the main reason is that they have forgotten about the people around them. We see a lot of examples of this type of leadership in our world, where the person in front of us is simply charging off. These leaders can become completely disconnected from those who are following them. That is why the Leader in Front must learn when to step back and begin leading from behind.

Leader Behind

Leader Behind is about service and anticipation. The Leader Behind is the one who is completely serving what is moving forward in a powerful and responsible manner. They are not a servant who simply does what they are told, but they are serving the purpose and the vision that is unfolding.

Sometimes that service entails questioning, noting whether or not the leader is moving toward the vision, and then reminding them and reconnecting them with that vision. It’s an act of service in the true sense of service, as opposed to the passenger form of service, which is merely about tolerating and waiting. It is a very active form of leadership that ensures that everyone is connected and moving in the right direction. It is also about empowering people and bringing forth true leadership and coaching from others.

Leader Beside

Leader Beside, also referred to as co-leadership, frequently implies that we, together with other people, will collaborate and divide the responsibilities. But Co-Active Leader Beside is more than that. It’s about a collective dance between two people: they finish each other’s sentences, they give themselves complete permission to disagree, and they even argue at times. Most importantly, if they stay in that dynamic conversation long enough, they will arrive at a different conclusion or solution, known as the third way, which neither of them could have thought of on their own.

A Leader Beside is something that most of us humans are familiar with from our childhood. Then, for whatever reason, our education educated it out of us. For example, when we were young and faced trouble, we would grab a sibling or a friend to come with us to face the music; that person would be our lifeline. Having that person present would help us feel more confident and comfortable, and we would be able to take risks and stand up for ourselves. They might even sometimes dare us to do something we would never think of doing. And we would do it just because we knew we had someone with us.

For some reason, as we grow older, our ability to be in that relationship begins to deteriorate. At CTI, we believe it is critical to bring it back. The Leader Beside is a truly collaborative and empowering partnership.

Leader in the Field

Being a Leader in the Field is having the ability to access things from the energetic field that surrounds all of life. It means being able to open up your instinct and intuition, receive and trust information for which there is no hard data, and act on it while also being aware of your impact. Leaders in the Field move beyond their rational minds and tap into their instincts and innovation.

Leaders in the Field also feel the flow and sense the invisible cycles that are occurring in a particular space — it’s not just visual or auditory; it’s all of our senses working together to understand what’s going on in this space and in this field. The Leader in the Field is able to sense that flow and movement and communicate it to the people around them, so they too can begin to sense it and move in the direction where they need to go.

One of the best ways to truly understand the Leader in the Field is to consider what happens when this type of leadership is absent. Think of that boring high school teacher who drones on and on, putting everyone to sleep. Or those mind-numbing business meetings with detailed, incomprehensible PowerPoint presentations. Those are examples of leaders who are simply unaware of the impact they are having.

Nobody gets out of bed in the morning and says, “Gee, let me bore people to death. Let me put them to sleep.” But it happens when people are not tuned in to their impact. Leaders in the Field use their intuition, innovation, and instinct and are aware of their impact.

True Leadership: Bringing Our Whole Self to Every Endeavor

To understand and embody true leadership, we must be capable of bringing our entire selves to every endeavor. We must bring our creative self, our rebellious self, our powerful self, our resistant self, and our petulant self everywhere. And anyone or any system that seeks to shut down our entire being is doomed. This is because as we evolve in this world, we cannot tolerate anyone telling us that we must constantly suppress ourselves, that we must do everything we can to fit in, that we must believe what someone tells us to believe or that we must do what someone tells us to do.

Bringing our whole selves to every endeavor allows us to build better relationships with others. When we are authentic and present in our relationships, we can form deeper, more meaningful bonds. Finally, bringing our entire selves to each endeavor enables us to live a more fulfilling life: we are more likely to be happy and satisfied with our lives when we live them with authenticity and purpose.

Overall, bringing our whole self to anyone and everywhere — for our family, for work, for our church — allows us to be great leaders and the best versions of ourselves.

In the Co-Active Leadership Model, we’re never a rider; we’re always responsible for the ride. And so the questions become: How are we riding? How are we participating? What ways and dimensions are we choosing to get ourselves into action?

If we are the boss, it does not mean we are always the Leader in Front. Sometimes we choose different dimensions within the same conversation: we can start a meeting as a Leader in Front, then decide to become a Leader Behind to empower a team member who speaks up. These are choices we want to be clear on and make clearly in every moment of our lives.

Do you believe that everyone can be a leader? For you, what is the meaning of true leadership? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
CTI Logo
Written By

Co-Active Training Institute (CTI)

Since 1992, CTI has been working with coaches and leaders around the world, helping them navigate toward stronger relationships, integral solutions, and creating meaningful impact in the world. The work we do goes beyond training. Through ground-breaking teaching methods and a global network of world-class faculty and partners, the Co-Active difference delivers contextually relevant and experiential learning that ignites transformation and a life-long journey developing the deepest expression of leadership in each human being.

View Website

This website stores cookies on your computer. These cookies are used to collect information about how you interact with our website and allow us to remember you. We use this information in order to improve and customize your browsing experience and for analytics and metrics about our visitors both on this website and other media. To find out more about the cookies we use, see our Privacy Policy.

If you decline, your information won’t be tracked when you visit this website. A single cookie will be used in your browser to remember your preference not to be tracked.