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Leading Your Life by Creating Great Moments - THE GENIUS IN CHILDREN

Leading Your Life by Creating Great Moments

by Rick on April 24, 2018

Last Friday, the results of my PET scan revealed that the three metastases in my lungs and the one in my liver are gone. Gone! Nivolumab administered intravenously every two weeks seems to be working.

My loved ones are breathing a sigh of relief. But it’s funny that my feeling isn’t, “Oh, good. I’m not going to die,” (After all, I am going to die, right?) I’m just feeling alive. My motivation to get back to leading a life has returned, and it’s all about creating great moments with other people.

Leading a life. Leadership, hmmm. That word is heard in so many different ways, that we have lost what it is really all about. “What is great leadership, anyway?”

A few years ago, when I was asked this question at a conference, a 15-month-old popped to mind, and I found myself telling a story about a moment when my wife Victoria and I were waiting in Los Angeles Airport for a flight to San Francisco.

We had just been told that our flight would be delayed. As we grumped into our seats that looked across the concourse at gate 70A to wait, a family of four caught our attention on the other side of the concourse. A woman with a 15-month-old on her hip stood calmly with her husband while their toddler son attacked his stroller in a rage.

We watched this painful scene in empathic agony for a while. Then Victoria said, “Look! A couple of your clients.”

I smiled at her joke, but as I kept watching this family in pain, my face changed. I got an inkling. “Hmmm. A couple of my clients,” I said to myself. I watched a little longer, and then, taking a small risk, I got off my seat, walked across the concourse and went up to them with no idea of what I would say. As I got within smiling distance, I smiled. When I was in speaking distance these words popped out of my mouth: “I just want you to know how impressed I am with how well you are handling this difficult situation.”

The parents smiled, relaxed, and we started talking about kids as the two-year-old continued to rage on. While we talked, the mother put her daughter onto the terrazzo floor of the concourse. Barely able to walk, this little sister walked over to her big, raging brother and gave him a hug. He hugged her back, stopped raging and peace reigned again at gate 70A in LAX.

As I told the story, I realized it was a story about a great moment, not a great person. Victoria had exercised leadership by saying: “Look a couple of your clients.” I took leadership by deciding to do something—I didn’t know what. The mother exercised leadership by releasing her daughter, who showed up as the hero of the scene. It’s as if that 15-month-old had been sitting on her mother’s hip saying, “Put me in, coach. I know how to handle this situation.” Her actions changed the emotions of her big brother making him relax, harmonize with the community, bring peace back to gate 70A. And we shouldn’t ignore the father. He exercised leadership by standing calmly, doing nothing, just being there. Sometimes, the best leadership is bearing witness to leadership in others. Each of us defined ourselves to the situation in our own way and our leadership created the conditions for bringing out the leadership in each other. Yes, Carl Jung, there is a cosmic unconscious.


Herd animals that we are, humans have a propensity to look for alpha individuals as exemplars of leadership, people who can be counted on to keep us safe and victorious. But looking for leaders to emulate is a distraction from the real work of life.

Leadership is not limited to a few special people, or a certain kind of person, or the position a person holds in an organization. Leadership doesn’t have to be a big deal. The last thing leadership is, is an ego trip. If leaders are “lonely at the top,” they are not doing it right. Leadership is available to each of us at every moment of our lives.  Leadership is defining yourself to the situation.

Leadership is a matter of (1) getting together with others, (2) thinking creatively, and (3) creating something new that is beautiful, truthful and graceful. We miss our leadership opportunities, when we get seduced by feeling lonely, bored and useless. We have a natural obsession with Self, but the solitary self is a fiction we fabricate. I, actually, am my relationships. Secondly, our brains, a composite of past experiences, forget that we are also blessed with imagination. Finally, we are prone to allow ourselves to be defined by our social context, the culture of our group.


Leadership is practicing the disciplines of liberating our brains from these natural tendencies, bringing our whole selves to the table, and creating something new. Defining ourselves to the situation is a matter of accessing our genius, our muse, the voice of our character, the origin of our integrity. Following it where it leads can sometimes feel a little scary, but have faith; it works. Others are looking for opportunities to create moments of beauty, too.

My wife the playwrite-actress has taught me that every moment of our lives is an opportunity for us to work on our lines. It’s a great focus for the continuing project of defining ourselves to situations in creative ways that bring out the leadership in others.

In the last few months as I was taking a drug that would help my T-cells get rid of the melanoma cells that were compromising my integrity, it became more obvious to me than ever that there are only three serious diseases: loneliness, boredom and uselessness, and that the cure for them is the triple threat: collaboration, creation and contribution.



{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Gruber April 24, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Ah, the wisdom of Victoria! Glad to hear you’re back on the recovery road and more than holding your own. May try to connect with you in Oakland on June 9 if possible and convenient. Seems like a ways off but really not all that far into the future. S is flying out to Denver and I’m planning some time with friends. Will let you know closer to that time what might work in my schedule and yours.

Bart Nourse April 24, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Sandria and I are delighted with your medical report, Rick. The 15-month old story reminds me that Japanese pre-school teachers do not intervene but wait for children to resolve their own conflicts.

Damon Kerby April 24, 2018 at 5:26 pm

Great news about your improvement, Rick. You’re such a positive person. . . I’m sure that has something to do with it. Keep it up!

Rosalind Hamar April 24, 2018 at 9:18 pm

So relieved and happy to hear you are in the clear! I love this post for so many reasons!! The story is so powerful and you make such wise observations about leadership! Bravo!

Marilyn Price-Mitchell April 25, 2018 at 3:26 pm

So delighted to hear your news, Rick. And, in your usual Ackerly form, you always share such valued wisdom!

Pat Rose April 25, 2018 at 4:20 pm

So glad to hear the good news of your improved health. We are all rooting for you and you’re always in my thoughts xo

Susan Porter April 25, 2018 at 4:31 pm

I was going to say, “Welcome Back!”, but because of your amazing optimism, you never were not here! So I’ll just say, “So glad you’re healthier, feeling alive and leading onward!”

Ginna M April 25, 2018 at 6:46 pm

Love the team effort that you’ve highlighted in this post … and the pure love for fellow beings that you, Victoria and the other family enjoyed with a virtual glass of champagne. You’re as inspiring as ever. Like your other fans, I am THRILLED with your health report and sending sending imnmense good energy and warmth to you, Victoria, and all who surround. God bless! and much love. 🙂

Kara April 25, 2018 at 8:06 pm

Thank you for these words of wisdom! Also glad to hear your optimistic outlook about
feeling alive and making progress towards eliminating the cancer within.

Jeff F April 26, 2018 at 8:05 am

My mom sends your posts to me every now and then and I particularly appreciated this one both for the positive news about your health and for the story and life lesson. As a still relatively new parent and as a lifelong learner, the reminder about how the definition of leadership can be expanded to encompass way more of how we move through the world is a powerful one.

Your spirit makes me think of a concept a former boss liked to promote—squaring the aging curve. The idea bring if you charted age and health, health commonly starts angling downward the older we get. Squaring the curve thus meant living at (relatively) maximal health until the very end. He was a health and fitness buff but the concept has stuck with me and seems to be equally if not more important for a larger richness of life.

Cheers to living fully.

Walt French April 26, 2018 at 9:07 am

Of course Virginia & I are thrilled by this news, too.

And tickled how you turn everything into a learning experience, deepening the meaning of life: “… there are only three serious diseases: loneliness, boredom and uselessness, and that the cure for them is the triple threat: collaboration, creation and contribution.”

Thank you and Godspeed.

Doug Phelps April 26, 2018 at 9:36 am

Rick, Good things SHOULD happen to good people! I am overjoyed for you and your family. Keep fighting the good fight.
All my very best,

Bryan Hickman April 26, 2018 at 10:36 am

As your story illustrates, a good hug can do wonders. At our charter high school for boys, we use the same technique. Visitors often ask how we get a whole school full of teenage boys of color to behave so well and study so hard. The secret is love and patience. Punishment simply does not work with kids whose entire lives are punishment. Your life example is of love and patience, so keep up the good work.

Debi Snith April 26, 2018 at 11:58 pm

Best email ever!!!! This is great news Rick – much love to you and V!!!

Susan Raisch April 27, 2018 at 11:41 am

We haven’t connected in a while, Rick. This is a great post. We need you! Stay healthy!

Sally Morris7 April 27, 2018 at 11:54 am

Absolutely terrific news and a great story to share with all of us out in virtual land. My best wishes to you for continued good health and yes, leadership!

Kare Anderson April 27, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Rick,via Tom Morrison I discovered this blog post and was moved deeply by the inherent lesson in it, so core to what I believe in too + methinks you would enjoy reading Dan and Chip Heath’s book The Power of Moments on how to make moments meaningful http://heathbrothers.com/the-power-of-moments/ and I look forward to learning more about your work

Rumsey “RumRum” Young April 28, 2018 at 5:09 am

It’s dark. You’re charging ahead under full sail. You are with good ship-mates It seems like all is well. But then you hear breaking waves somewhere ahead. Hmmm? What to do?
You did it!

Keep on keeping on big guy!


Sara Suchman April 29, 2018 at 6:49 pm

First, my ears teared with the good news about your health. Then, my ears teared with your gentle, honest and inclusive story of leadership–truly, truly seeing the worth in all participants in every scene. You are a blessing, Rick Ackerly!

jon madian May 1, 2018 at 4:00 am

SIGH :)) Haul LAH Lou Yah!! never knew how to spell that one!!!

Rick, what a rich blessing to have you back fully in our world for a while longer!!!!!!

Your writing is so spot-on! to the point, insightful, graceful. . .

Let’s visit soon…. hugs home, jon (& karen)

Annie Fox May 4, 2018 at 11:07 am

Wonderful news, Rick! Here’s to your continued courage and energy. And yes, to leadership and the daily opportunities we all have to make things better for someone else.

Julie Elam May 11, 2018 at 11:48 am

Rick, your news was so great to read. I’ve been thinking of you, sending positive and healing thoughts your way, and always appreciating both your writing and the wisdom and love you share with all of us.

Elsa Townsend May 20, 2018 at 6:11 pm

Terrific news, Rick! You’ve got pluck and gumption right down to your marrow – does wonders for T-cell production – yes?!! Thank you for sharing the wisdom you gained while looking the beast squarely in the eye. You’re always on the qui vive when it comes to life’s most important lessons and I always look forward to reading – or better yet, hearing – your contributions to the cosmic conscious!!

Betsy Cordes June 5, 2018 at 7:27 pm

Rick, I was so thrilled to hop over to your blog today and find this post. We three Cordi have had you in our thoughts and this was a welcome update, for sure. Also wanted to say how much I love your prescription for what ails us (collaboration, creation, contribution). All those “c” words show up repeatedly for me (along with connection and celebration) when I consider what I value most in this miraculous human experience. Sending a big hug and wishes for your continued good health.

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