How to Move From Don’t-Want to Do-Want Leadership

Most people walk around with a big don’t-want inside.

When I ask people what they want, they inevitably tell me what they don’t want.


Don’t-want leadership:

Frustration and pain point the way for don’t-want leaders. 

Some disguise a don’t-want as a do-want. One of the most common ways leaders disguise their don’t wants is by wanting less of something. “I want less stress,” for example. It’s difficult, but safe, to pursue less of something.

Some run from the reality and responsibility of what they really want by focusing on what they want from others. “I want the people on my team to step up and take more responsibility.” Don’t-want leaders sabotage themselves by taking more control in order to help people step up.

It’s safe to want others to change. 

Challenging questions:

The challenging questions for don’t-want leaders include:

  1. What are my positive aspirations for myself?
  2. What am I doing that sabotages my aspirations?
  3. How do I need to change my assumptions?
  4. Why does it matter?

Do-want leaders:

Uncovering what you really want is like giving birth. It hurts. You push through distraction, doubt, ignorance, and fear before the truth emerges.

The desire for less stress might become calmness in spirit. More deeply, it might be living purposefully.

Do-want leaders explore what matters. The transition from ‘how to do’ to ‘what matters now’ became clear to me while composing an email to a leader. He received feedback that he wasn’t as good a listener as he thought. We might rush to learn ways to be a better listener.

Perhaps listening is about helping people feel heard. It’s vulnerable and courageous to ask, “What needs to change about me that helps people feel heard?” More deeply, why even care if people feel heard?

How do you uncover what you really want?

How might leaders help others move from don’t-want to do-want?