If InnerWill is the courage to act on your values over time, despite pressure to do otherwise, is it something we are born with or something we can develop?

As any leadership skill, for most healthy individuals, InnerWill is like a muscle that can be strengthened over time with training and commitment.

1. Be clear on what you value. As InnerWill is grounded in our values, being clear on what we believe is a first step to developing InnerWill. Also important: realizing that our understanding of what we value will evolve over time as we grow and mature as leaders.

2. Stick to what you value. InnerWill takes grit – or the ability to stick to a goal over time, working hard to develop the skills necessary to succeed. As Angela Duckworth, a researcher at UPenn has found, grit can make the difference between a successful student and an unsuccessful one. It takes grit to stick to one’s values over time.

3. See setbacks as challenges, not failures. Resilient people do not believe that failure is permanent, but rather an opportunity to learn. They believe that they will be successful, eventually. Developing InnerWill requires resilience. The next setback you have, try not to beat yourself up. As long as you’re breathing, you have another chance. As a Swahili proverb says, “Standing is still going.”

4. Focus on what you can control versus worrying about what you can’t. We can easily be paralyzed by our own negative thinking. We typically make the consequences of our actions to be much worse than reality, and that keeps us from acting on what we believe. If we recognize this negative self-talk, and intentionally steer it to focus on what we can do, it will help us build the momentum to take action on what we believe.

5. Remember that you get to choose. In most situations, we get to choose our behaviors and always get to choose our attitude about our circumstances. We can choose to be victims, choose to see ourselves as failures, and choose to believe that we are not good enough. Or we can choose to see ourselves as works-in-progress, and that with effort and tenacity, we can succeed if we stick to our goals over time. InnerWill is ultimately about choice – choosing to act on our values.

6. Recognize that you are powerful. If InnerWill is about choice, then we can choose to be powerless, or we can choose to be powerful. Those who feel powerless stay down after they get knocked down; those who feel powerful get back up. InnerWill means getting back up.

7. Practice. Acting with InnerWill is not a one and done activity – it requires that we act on our values again and again over time. And just acting on our values is not enough. To be effective, we must be authentic with skill – in other words, be the best version of ourselves. And that takes practice. Imagine that you value integrity, and you want to be honest with others about their performance. The first time you give someone feedback, you might be hesitant or unclear or bail out at the last moment. The 100th time you give someone feedback, you will likely be much more effective. Over time, if you keep at it, you will develop the skill to be effective and authentic to who you are.

8. Our InnerWill evolves as our values evolve. I once believed that I did not value family – and came to see I make most of my decisions with my family in mind. My value for family has evolved to include my closest friends – my framily. My InnerWill has to keep up; if I truly value my framily, then I will need to develop the courage to act on that value over time.

Cultivating InnerWill does not always have to be hard; it does take intention and practice!



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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