Guest Article: Jenean Merkel Perelstein – 5 Principles of Leadership – Part 1

Since Ben and I welcomed the birth of our son I’ve been navigating the extra layer of time called “Motherhood”. It’s great and it means I get the opportunity to bring you wonderful weekly content partially from me and partially from guest experts.

Our next expert is Jenean Merkel Perelstein, a Sociocultural Anthropologist and Business Strategist.

5 Principles of Leadership – Part 1

While Kim is tenderly loving on her little babe, I wanted to give her a break and share with you some leadership principles that will help guide you on your journey toward reaching brand new shores. Whether that’s digging in and finally writing your book, or positioning yourself as a thought leader so that you can share your stories with the world, I know that change is hard, and I’d like to help.

The following are principles of leadership that have helped guide countless pioneers through treacherous adventures; whether through unknown lands or local boardrooms.  I’ve taught these principles in many forms throughout the years and they’re worth keeping your eye on as you endeavor to challenge and change our results moving forward.

Lesson 1: Trust Yourself

One of the strongest muscles you can strengthen for good leadership is to build your awareness; both externally and internally.

We, as humans, have done an excellent job at learning how to control our environment around us to create useful and comfortable lives.  We use tools, produce food, and enjoy such extravagances as efficient transportation and electricity.  We’ve done this by finding ways to control our surroundings.

But what happens when we reach the limits of the environment around us that we can actually control? Nature has a way of controlling us.  When we’ve farmed too much the soil becomes depleted.  When we waste resources, we must do without.

Have you ever seen this play out in someone’s leadership before?  They begin by controlling their environment and become successful because of it.  Their control over forces can lead to favorable outcomes for a good long time until the day that it doesn’t work anymore.  For some, their need to have control over a given situation versus working with it will lead to their eventual demise. There is such a thing as too much control.

As you look to your surroundings and what new areas you want to affect change around, notice when the forces of nature are asking you to work with it instead of trying to control it.  Good leaders will know the difference.  They’ll know when it’s time to stop pushing and reassess the situation.

One of my favorite sayings is a Chinese Proverb.
When the winds of change blow, some will build walls and others will build windmills.

Constantly ask yourself if you are building walls or windmills.  Are you using your external environment to help create change with you or are you trying to shore up the foundation to keep external forces at bay?  I guarantee you that if you attempt to control too much, too often, the winds of change will blow you off course.

The other kind of self-awareness that I find necessary for good leaders is of the internal sort.  In fact, you could say that the bulk of my life’s work lies in this arena.  I am a HUGE fan of studying what I believe is the most important topic in life: yourself.  In fact, as an anthropologist, I take very seriously the true meaning of the word anthropology.  Anthropos is the Greek origin of human or man.  And ology, of course, is the science, branch of knowledge, or study of such a thing.

Hmm, the study of man.  Sounds pretty exciting eh?  And what if that study were of the particular man (or woman, certainly!) that is YOU? Now we’re talking.

It is in this vein that becoming aware of the machine you’re working with in your lifetime is of the utmost importance.  And to be perfectly clear, while I do place value on your physical self, most importantly, I want you to know about your mind.  Your heart, your guidance, your beliefs, and your behaviors make you achieve your results in life.  It’s ever helpful for you to focus on the boundaries of your strengths.

Naturally, it is important for all leaders and successful individuals to have a good inventory of what they’re good at.  This brand of self-awareness will continue to be necessary no matter what new endeavors you approach.  The more you know about your strengths, the more efficient you are likely to be.  Efficiency, by the way, is one of my favorite tools in getting on with life.
But what many people also fail to do is to take note of where their strengths end.  People will commonly think that they’re very good at something only to reach the outer limits of their abilities and fall flat on their faces.

You’ve certainly seen this.  This is the gal who knows she’s a natural story-teller only to try to bullshit her way through a meeting and get in over her head.  Or the guy who knows he’s good at negotiating only to get crushed by his competition who he underestimated.  This is also the CEO who runs an amazingly successful mid-size company then fails at scaling into an international phenomenon.

While these are all excellent growing opportunities, they can also be warning signs to tell you that you need to know where your strengths end.

It is up to us to know when we must surround ourselves with people who are better than we are at the things we need to do.  Trust me on this, if you want to upgrade your outcomes, you must be willing to upgrade the teams of people who compliment what you do well.  In order to do that effectively, you must know your strengths, and also when your strengths have reached their limit.

Lesson 2: Trust the Fear

It’s taken me some time to learn how to trust the fear that I experience as I reach for something new, but these days I work with it all the time.  As a matter of fact, I rushed up against this test to stretch myself to write my book.  I had to knowingly lean in to the fear of being uncomfortable.

In order to change your outcomes and results, you will need to do something differently.  It is your brain’s job to keep you safe; read: the same.  Part of being comfortable means doing things as you’ve always been doing them.  But as we all know, doing the same things over and over will undoubtedly yield the same, or similar results.

Breaking out of the comfort zone means making choices that will, by definition, make you uncomfortable.

Discomfort could show up for you in many different ways.  For me, I often feel it as a physical symptom in my body.  Every time I’ve really pushed beyond what feels normal for me, I feel a bodily discomfort that is so unsettling I want to shake it off.  In fact, that’s what I often do to work through this kind of discomfort.  In the spirit of full disclosure, in the process of writing my book, I periodically got up out of my chair, paced the room, and shook my body like a wet dog.

While this doesn’t necessarily cure my case of the bad-feels, it does settle my nervous system enough to plough the discomfort of change for a while longer.

But that’s just me.  Everyone feels change differently.  Some people will be so excited they can’t sit.  Others will feel like there’s an elephant sitting on their chests.  What is it for you?  Part of self-awareness is to know what your body, mind, and/or spirt will do to you to keep you “safe.”

In trusting the fear, you must know it when it shows up, see it for what it is, call it out, and then find a strategy for carrying on.  Yes, I said call it out.  See it for what it is and call it a name if necessary.  “I see you, fear.  I know you’re trying to slow my progress.  I know you want me to sit on my couch and eat bon-bons and drink beer.  I’m not going to.  I’m going to carry on and do amazing things!”

Whatever you do to it is up to you.  For me, shaking like a dog does the trick- for a while. Knowing if physical cues show up for you will be necessary in changing your outcomes, and in doing this work you will be challenging your comfort zone.  But magic doesn’t happen for people who stay comfortable all of their lives.  It happens for those of us who periodically shake like a dog.

Check back in for Part 2 next week where Jenean will share the next 3 principles: Trust the Momentum, Trust the Magic, and Trust the Systems.


As a Sociocultural Anthropologist and Business Strategist, Jenean Merkel Perelstein has studied behavior change across cultures. From the markets and prisons of India to the boardrooms of the United States, Jenean has created and implemented change strategies that have saved lives and made fortunes.

Jenean worked as a medical anthropologist under programs sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Center for Disease Control and the McArthur Foundation. Today, as a Business Strategist, she mentors and empowers professionals and organizations to grow and realize an expanded version of themselves.

Jenean thrives when she is helping people stand in their strength so that they can be the powerful, recognized leaders they’re meant to be.  As creator of Internal Alchemie: The Welcoming Abundance Blueprint, and author of Finding Your Lighthouse: A Leadership Guide to Navigating Change, she guides her clients to create lasting change in their lives, and welcome the success they deserve through proven leadership strategies.

Learn more about Jenean here.

Kim Galloway
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