Just What Does it Mean to Lead With Your Best Self?

I have been signing-off Reading for Leading for 15 years with the line “lead with your best self.” What do I mean by that? And, more importantly, what do you take from it?

Here is perhaps the acid test of leading with your best self. A story. I moved back to Detroit when I was 28. Ten years earlier, I had left for college, then run a neighborhood center in New Orleans, gone to law school, and returned, impassioned to make a difference in my home city. I really thought I knew a lot, and I  wanted to challenge the way things were running which, at the same, seemed abysmal. I got a great job in county government, got active in school board politics, and was reaching out to find out how I could contribute. Somebody told me I should meet with  Detroit’s director of parks and recreation; he was a minister, a great guy, I was told. And he agreed to have lunch with me.

I remember that I was confrontative. I wondered, perhaps rudely, how he could deal with the city’s seeming complacency, as more people moved out, racial animosities continued to divide us, schools were being closed, and crime was the only consistent thing going. He din’t take the bait, never got defensive. All he did was encourage me! All he did was ask me my thoughts and opinions. All he did was calmly explain what he and others were trying to accomplish and ask what I thought and how I could help. His kindness disarmed me. His intellectual curiosity kept me from maintaining my judgmental attitude and arrogance. That was in 1988.

I was lucky enough to have my life thread in and around Dan Krichbaum’s for the next 26 years. I am still terribly shook that he was hit by two strokes — and died last week. I honestly can’t imagine Detroit and Michigan and the world without him.

If you were lucky enough to know Dan, then you would have experienced the leadership litmus test in person. Dan “led with his best self.” And just what was that chemical-litmus effect that he seemed to always have? When you were exposed to Dan, you walked away closer to YOUR best self.

How did he do that? Lead in that way? I think Dan’s gift was two-fold: Kindness and genuine curiosity. He was a widower who had raised 4 young children on his own; I think that opened his heart, humbled him and gave him deep gratitude. After 30 years with his second wife Susan, he seemed around her like a newlywed. She seemed to lead with her best self and to uplift him in turn.

Dan did big stuff. Ran the Interfaith Roundtable. Was director of the State Department of Civil Rights, earned a PhD, was a pastor. He served as my wife’s chief operating officer when she was Governor. He did big stuff.

And while he did, he made you feel like you were big stuff. My last lunch with him a couple years ago he kept saying, “I think you have something really big in you. You’re on to something.”

Find somebody today, and be kind, and see their greatness, and you’ll — like Dan so often did — be

Leading with your best self.

  • Dan,
    Thank you for writing this great tribute to Dan! It is hard to image Detroit without him. I was fortunate to have worked closely with Dan at the Roundtable. He shaped who I am today. I, like so many other, am deeply shocked and sadden by our loss.

  • Insightful, humble, and inspiring. Thanks for reflecting, digging within, reaching out, and sharing. – Malcolm

  • Dan, thanks for sharing Dan Krichbaum’s story with us. I feel grateful to have known several individuals like him (yourself included) whose kindness, curiosity, and patience helped me not only remove the giant chip I carried on my shoulder, but also take time to examine it closely. I have come to believe that “leading with your best self” involves many steps, but really concentrates on two major efforts: first — focusing the effort and energy used to build those ever-present chips outward to help others, and second — concentrate on fixing the problem instead of fixing the blame. Perhaps, humility is the key — not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

  • What a great share, and tribute to your friend Dan, and shows Angles do walk among us.

    In a similar, although imperfect example, in the early days of the space program, there was discussion about what would the rocket ships push against in space. On earth, the engines pushed against the ground, but what would they push against in space? and would they work at all.

    Turns out they did work as we know, they pushed against themselves. I think we do better and go farther when we push against who and where we are too,

    That sounds like leading with your best self.


  • When I opened your ELW column and saw a photo of Dan Krichbaum, I expected an uplifting article regarding Dan’s leadership. What a shock to learn he had passed away. I met Dan in the early 1980’s when I participated in Leadership Detroit IV and was involved in a Belle Isle project. At the time I was living and working in the Birmingham area, becoming frustrated with the suburban attitude that there was no reason to have anything to do with the City of Detroit. Dan as you pointed out did “big stuff” to bring change to Detroit. Dan encouraged me to change direction and get involved in the city, and that advice led to a career in public policy with the Detroit Regional Chamber – then known as the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce. In the end your article was uplifting. Like Dan Krichbaum, may we all “lead with our best selves.” Anne

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