Colin Hubbell Led With His Best Self



Each RFL concludes with the simple, hopefully provocative line: “lead with your best self.”  There’s always a choice about what self you’ll be – in every precious, present moment.  Your best self is an ethical self that chooses the right thing because it’s the right thing.  Your best self is a courageous self.  Courage, especially for those “everyday leaders” who appear to be followers, who have titles like assistant or deputy, receptionist or associate, teenager or middle child, or first man, which always means second person :).  Gosh, there’s a lot of titles for a lot of everyday leaders.  Our best self steps up through these roles, when we’re not paid to, not expected to, or in some cases not welcome to speak, to act, or to lead.  Conversely, for authorized leaders leading with your best self sometimes means doing the right and courageous thing by admitting you don’t know, asking for help, or giving away your power.


Maybe what’s most true of “leading with your best self” is that it’s your authentic best self.  Which brings me to Colin.  Colin Hubbell.  Perhaps 10% of you know Colin.  Maybe some of you who do, don’t know that he died on Thursday night; sorry to bear that sad news.  Our first question when we hear someone has died always seems to be “how old was s/he?” – as we gauge ourselves against a lost comrade.  We’re quietly relieved when they are older than us, as it means we “should” be safe for a while, but we are more troubled when they’re younger than us.  Colin was only 49.  So, for many of us he rings the bell of urgency.  For those of us on the senior side of 49, we’re piercingly reminded, as Colin told many of us in his 2-1/2 year battle with cancer:  Each day is a gift, never a guarantee.


Colin Hubbell exquisitely led with his best self – his real, authentic self.  Colin was a white, professional father of four who lived in and loved Detroit, when others were complaining and fleeing.  He worked for the buttoned-down Mayor Archer, and he supported and befriended the so-called hip-hop Mayor Kilpatrick.  He rode his bike 15 miles to work and then to meetings, any season of the year.  Like all great best-self leaders he saw people as individuals, not as types; he would reach out to anyone and was not fooled by appearances.  He ran a sub-3-hour marathon, but seemed to take greater delight in Trish, his wife’s midlife running craze.  He loved his alma mater Catholic Central, but sent his sons to rival U of D High.  He developed lofts in mid-town Detroit and sold them when people said he was crazy and it couldn’t be done.  He talked openly with his associates, friends, and even children about his bladder (then bone, then liver) cancer.  He was at moments positively defiant.  He laughed at the drugs that made him loopy.  And he was not afraid to say he was scared and to cry.  He was always real.  WYSWWHW – what you saw was what he was.  He knew he was mortal.  He was real every minute, which we’re reminded is all we have. Lots of us thought Colin was crazy.  You never knew what might come out of his mouth.  But you never doubted that it was Colin’s view – nobody’s else’s.


Colin Hubbell was Colin Hubbell.  Thinking of this man I loved and admired makes me ask myself:  Am I being the Dan Mulhern that only I can be, or am I squandering that chance?  And you?  No one else has the chance or inkling of what it’s like to be you.  Are you trying to please others, worried about their critiques, afraid of their silent judgment, fitting in with them, and thus missing the chance to be the best you you can be?  What a tragedy to live someone else’s life, to try to be what others want you to be, and to miss the chance to be the unique and marvelous you, to truly


Lead with YOUR best self!


  • Situational Leadership is a refection of leading with your best self according to another man named Colin.

    Many managers mistakenly assume that leadership style is always a function of personality rather than strategic choice. Their leadership style is based upon their innate signature talents and this represents their default leadership behavior. However, leaders can choose a different leadership style that best addresses the demands of a particular situation.

    Being unaware that we can change our leadership style to match the situation at hand, we unconsciously engage our default behavior. Only when we become aware of something, are we able to make choices as to the action we wish to take. The ultimate leadership responsibility is modeling the behaviors you expect from others. To a large degree, leaders operate in a fishbowl. Employees are constantly watching the leader–and learning from him or her.

    Throughout his long and storied career, Colin Powell has resisted chasing the latest management trend or fad. To anyone who would listen, Powell has always advocated the benefits of adopting a ‘situational approach’ to leadership instead of the ‘one size fits all’ approach that is favored by so many management consultants these days.

    In Powell’s experience, flitting furiously from fad to fad only serves to create confusion within your team and diminishes your credibility as a leader. Worse still, blindly following a particular management theory can also generate unnecessary rigidity in your thoughts and actions. This, argues Powell, can be disastrous. To quote Powell, “Some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose leashes. Leaders must understand that management techniques are not silver bullets or magic mantras, but simply tools that can be reached for at the right times, as circumstances dictate.”

    Managers often fail to appreciate how profoundly the organizational culture can influence financial results. Organizational culture is influenced by leadership style—by the way that managers motivate direct reports, gather and use information, make decisions, manage change initiatives and handle crises. Changing the organizational culture happens by one enlighten manager at a time improving his or her department’s unique culture.

  • Great message today, Dan! Colin sounded like my kind of guy. I sometimes speak without discernment, yet, it is of truth. I really admire people who live THEIR life, not planning and conspiring to create a falsehood of their essence, in order to acquiesce into a particular position or place. Some have called me a renaissance man….flattered to a small degree, but as I explain….I’m just me, being me… life with pursuit of interests, happiness, and understanding. Not always agreement, though! 😉
    Regarding bladder cancer…….don’t drink the city water.

  • I too was fortunate to know Colin and work with him but more importantly, to connect heart to heart with Colin. His was yes, real and transparent as I and no b.s.! Colin was not about power as so many leaders are and just selfishly feeding their own egos. Colin was about connecting with those that crossed his path in real ways, in loving ways, in understanding ways, in helping ways and you could always feel Colin’s love and respect. Colin could always make you laugh and he was willing to share his personal experiences to help you have better insights to whatever you may be struggling with or facing. Colin was a real true leader who operated with integrity in our crazy city and for Colin, I thank him and will miss him and send my love to him and his family; for our city just got emptier without Colin’s high energy spirit and just do it attitude with love that we will always remember! Peace out Colin, Love Deb

  • Thanks for your comments about Colin and the value of living an authentic life.
    One of the amazing things about someone else’s passing, is the way it invites us to look at the quality of our own lives. Colin’s story makes it clear that while what we do may seem important, who we are as we do it leaves a much deeper impression.

  • Your writing about Colin reminded me of the last lines of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day:

    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?”

    I’m not Wendell Berry, Colin Hubbell, or the guy on the treadmill next to me. Temptations to try to be can get in the way of living MY “one wild and precious life”. Thanks Dan, especially for the last paragraph. As admirable and heroic as another person’s life may be, I have the truly unique opportunity to live my life in this world as me. I certainly will use my admiration of others to challenge myself where I tend to be lazy, but as Mary Oliver reminds me, it’s the choices of what I DO that determine how and who I will be and in what directions I will grow. One big goal I have is to be able to say with Mary Oliver, from the same poem, “I do know how to pay attention”.

  • I was one of those who met Colin Hubbell, though only through his participation as a presenter at Leadership Detroit. His passion for the city was inspiring and that will be missed.

  • Colin’s foot steps are definitely the foot steps to follow; A leader’s memories will be carried on to the next leader, and the next, and the next…….

    I definitely want to live my life to the end, doing something that other’s could pass on. A leader thinks about the future of other people, which I can see that Colin had done.


    Thomas K. Burke

  • Thank you Dan for celebrating the leadership of Colin Hubbel in your column. Michigan is a better place because of Colin, who built beautiful bridges that connected so many of us. I am one of those fortunate 10% who knew Colin, having served with him on the Governor’s Land Use Leadership Council in 2003. We became good friends and we shared the land we love with our families… a magical August picnic with Trish and the four kids at the top of the Clipper chairlift watching a splendid Northern Michigan sunset, and a night in Detroit, touring his developments and experiencing his enthusiasm and commitment to rebuilding the great city of Detroit. Though we will miss Colin, we have a job to do. We must continue to engage in rebuilding the Michigan Colin so loved and find joy in the process.

    • Chris,
      I didn’t know you knew Colin – his reach was far.
      I was up at Crystal Mountain last week, and it was as beautiful in summer as when blanketed by snow. You’ve got one of MIchigan’s most beautiful places there, and that’s saying a lot!

  • I lost another friend and co-worker last week, Rhonda. Rhonda was just 54 when she passed away suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Prior to that, her health seemed just fine. Although Rhonda was a quiet person, she visited six of the world’s seven continents, and instilled the love of travel, and the benefits of a good education, in her three sons, all of whom have received advanced degrees. Rhonda always lived her life to the fullest, and in that, she was a true leader.

  • That was great – thank you for sharing that Dan. It was better than great. It was spiritually moving and revitalizing. Serendipidously, it was just what I needed today.

    • Horace Mann, an education reformer, scholar, and first president of Antioch College in Ohio, once said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” I’ve always associated that sentiment with people like Lincoln and Dr. King, who gave their lives to benefit their brothers and sisters. I never met Colin Hubbell, but from the comments of many people on this website, he accomplished much before leaving us. One can think about this sentiment in regard to his or her own life. Despite living a wonderful life, have you won that victory for humanity?

  • I knew Colin Hubbell as “Ky”. We worked summers together as camp counselors for the City of Detroit Recreation Camp, in Brighton, Michigan.He was unique in his dedication and love for the city, and would speak with enthusiasm about his major;Urban Planning.He was a runner and a lover of good music.He had a quick wit, and a love for people. As the years passed, we would get together with our camp peers, catch up, and laugh about our changing hairstyles! (Ky once had flowing blond locks)As time passed, I would often encounter Ky out running in the city he loved and supported, and we would hug, laugh, and remember. I knew Colin Hubbell, loved Colin Hubbell as an important person who helped shape my life and many others with his life, and the way he lived it. Thank You Ky, you really made a difference, just like you said you would, in June 1978.

  • Dan,
    Thanks for the reminder to treasure the “Colin” in our life if we are fortunate enough to have one. I am one of the fortunates. I have not seen mine in more than six years, though we exchange emails regularly. He will be here to see us in ten days. I will remember to let him know that he is and has been my “true North” before it is too late.


  • Please accept my sympathy on the loss of your friend. It sounds like he was a special person. Thank you for sharing information about Colin and your thoughts. It was very inspiring.

  • Dan,
    Your words describe someone I have never met but wish that I could have known. What a wonderful tribute to a good man who was taken from us in the prime of his life. Judging from your description, this was a man of integrity who was down to earth, found great joy in life and wasn’t afraid of a challenge.
    Your’re right about people’s reactions to the loss. Our own age and life experience gives us a variety of perspectives. As someone once told me when reflecting on their role in their family after the passing of their father and, two years later, their mother, “I’m a grown man but I feel a bit like an orphan. I’m not ready to move up to the front row”.
    May Colin Hubbell’s family and friends find peace, joy and comfort in their all their loving memories.

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Colin Hubbell. Colin truly was one of a kind. A great inspiration and the truest of friends Colin made me want to be a better person and perhaps that’s the highest compliment that I can pay him. His funeral today was a beautiful tribute to who Colin was and what he was about. Cherish what he left, live what he lived, a life of passion, integrity and kindness to all. I will miss his bright smile. Fly with the wind Colin, you are missed already!

  • Thank you Dan, for bringing the heart of this wonderful man to those of us who did not have the good fortune of knowing him. I was reminded of a great “Dennis the Menace” cartoon I’ve saved for years. Hal Ketcham has Dennis sharing his insight with his friend Joey by saying, “The best thing you can do is to get very good at being you.” Such a simple life lesson in one sentence, but oh, so hard for us to learn. Your friend Colin seems to have truly been the exception, learning, and applying it, well. Thank you for sharing his story.

  • Dan, your column was a fine tribute to a good man. Although I only met Colin during his visit to New Orleans, I have often heard you speak highly of him. During our tour of the city last spring, I was impressed with his compassion, engagement and intuitive grasp of the struggles everyone here was facing with the recovery. His love of Detroit was apparent and gave him a sharp insight into the challenges in the Crescent City.
    His authenticity shone brightly – I see why he was a good touchstone for you and others over the years.

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