Why leadership always comes back to doing the “inner work”

Marte Siebenhar
5 min readSep 2, 2022
Marte Siebenhar facilitating; Photo by Ekaterina Juskowski

I entered the workforce straight from music conservatory, with only a few jobs under my belt as a waitress, private music teacher, and performer of paid gigs. I didn’t see it at the time, but those roles-server, teacher, and performer-had one thing in common: the expectations were extremely clear. It was easy to tell when I was excelling or failing.

When I started working in office environments, I began to notice that the definitions of success for my role were vastly different and often inconsistent — sometimes within the same organization. I soldiered on, motivated by the mission of each organization I chose, and desperately eager to please.

I usually succeeded.

To very small, scrappy organizations, I brought strategy, entrepreneurial habits of mind, process, systems thinking, and creativity that helped us innovate, experiment, and reinvent how we did our work. To highly stratified, large organizations that had loads of resources and a glut of talent, I brought specialized skill sets, big ideas, and a mission to learn, connect, and collaborate.

I also failed. At the time, I saw one layer of truth:

Wherever I landed, I consistently thought I was doing everything “right.” I’d formed good relationships, I was getting results, I was learning, creating, and felt I was adding value.

And yet, I kept hitting walls. It hard to tell when I was excelling or failing.

For instance, many workplaces avoided conflict. Which meant that honest, consistent, process-oriented feedback was hard to come by. The annual review was a dreaded moving target, as in these spaces, lack of feedback meant I didn’t have a true sense of how it was really going. And when it wasn’t going well, I was defensive and deeply hurt. I hungered to learn and grow, but it was hard not to take even small failures personally. So, I blamed them.

In other organizations, culture set strategy. Which meant that although we talked about innovation and bold work, we then rarely ended up doing it, for a host of reasons, including…