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Henley Leadership Group Blog

Your Most Important List Isn't What You Think

To Do vs To Be List  - 600x300

Here’s a news flash: The most important list you create every morning isn’t your to-do list; it’s your “to be” list. Now, I’m not suggesting that you abandon your to-do list — that accounting of the three or thirty things you plan on tackling that day. (Although if you’re like me, it’s now an app that you continually add to as you go.) But I am suggesting that it’s not the most important thing for you, as a leader, to think about each morning.

Consider this: You can plan how to be. You can choose the perspective you’ll take throughout your day, no matter what task or conversation you are engaged in. Curious, respectful, tickled, helpful, truthful, radiant — there are no right or better states of being. It’s a creative act. And you get to choose what you want to be. 

And it’s the choosing that matters. 

Making “To Be” Part of Your Routine

Michael Fisher of CCMHC is explicit about what is on his “to do” and “to be” lists. As he explains: “I never purposefully gave thought to whether there’s a way to be really intentional about how I want to show up every day. So I’ve added a ‘to be’ list to my repertoire. Today, for example, I want to be generous and genuine.”

Often, we let our state of being choose us. We wake up grumpy or distracted or anxious. And we let that carry on without realizing that we actually have the power to shift out of it at our will. 

I’ll admit, this is a muscle to build. You have to give up the idea that you don’t have a say in how you show up. So maybe start out with just an hour a day or so. Think of it like easing into a workout routine — you don’t want to strain and hurt yourself! 

Try being intentional in your next meeting, whether virtual or not. You could tell yourself that you are going to show up as spontaneous, or energetic, or present, or welcoming. These states of being are all possible for you. You simply have to choose it, and then lean into whatever you think you would do differently if you were being that. 

After you have built some ability to choose your being for an hour in a meeting, go for longer periods of time, like a half day. Stretch your skill and ability in this way. 

Here are some choices to inspire you:


Your to-do list is not the most important thing for you, as a leader, to think about each morning.

Previously published on Forbes