Contemplating Leadership….

“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.” -- Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” -- Dolly Parton, singer-songwriter

Upon reflection, I’ve recently been spending a significant amount of time contemplating the leadership I have known throughout my professional career in physical therapy and in my involvement in multiple non-profit organizations. To be honest, in many seasons of my life, I have felt a true leadership void and a longing for something else, something different that in the past, I couldn’t quite name.

There are thousands of books written about leadership and many leadership models identifying different characteristics and strategies. Situational leaders, Servant leaders, Emotional Intelligence… there is a plethora of information out there. Where does that leave me and how do I desire to be led?

Questions always arise in reflection, and here are a few more:

  • Who have I experienced in my life and career that demonstrates "ideal" leadership characteristics?
  • What are the ideal leadership characteristics and are these characteristics specific to me personally or globally recognized and acknowledged? 
  • What capacity do I have to lead?
  • Who determines what leadership looks like?
  • How is leadership different among men and women?
  • What do I seek in someone to lead me?
  • And finally… Where are the leaders in my professional world?

I keep coming back to, "you’ll know it when you see it.” However, I can’t help but feel the leadership characteristics by which I desire to be led is much like the unicorn… it may not exist. This type of leader feels both mythical and elusive.

This longing desire to be led WELL has produced an identification of characteristics that a leader should possess in order to lead WELL.

This is the compilation of my personal desired leadership qualities…aka “The Unicorn Leader.” I strongly desire this type of leader, and consequently, will make it a personal goal to strive to achieve these ideals in my own domain.  

Ideal Qualities of “Unicorn Leadership”


The heart and intentions of the “unicorn leader” are known by the team and are transparent. There is no mistaking the motive of a unicorn leader. Loyalty exists here.  


Strength goes without saying, however within this strength is the capacity to nurture and grow the members of the team. A unicorn leader is a battle picker and a battle fighter, a force to be reckoned with, fierce when necessary. Still, ferocity is not their default state.


The unicorn leader possesses a quest for justice and fairness for ALL PEOPLE and seeks the truth with the wisdom to understand and incorporate various perspectives.

Brave Facing Adversity

"Overcomer" describes this quality. The leader can face conflict and difficult situations with poise, grace, and strength. The unicorn leader can "deliver a blow but catch the heart" simultaneously. Failure is seen as a means for learning and growing; failure and shortcomings do not define them. Tenacity and persistence exist here.


The unicorn leader pushes boundaries but understands existing systems and structures with appropriate situational navigation. There is openness to the ideas of others.


The character of the unicorn leader is noted in the small things. They can be trusted to keep their word, do the right thing and this is unwavering.


This is a great word (my favorite, actually) and is self-explanatory. The unicorn leader provides team members with appropriate resources, network connections, motivation, and evokes greatness from within the team member.


The unicorn leader is introspective, not afraid to self-evaluate, and “back up and punt” when something is not working. This leader faces constructive criticism without defense, in humility. 


The work ethic of the unicorn leader is resolute and there is no hesitation to get hands dirty and join ranks when necessary.


The unicorn leader is able to recognize and set aside personal bias for the greater good of the team/organization to promote the mission and vision set forth.


The unicorn leader is a visionary (sees the big picture), strategic, with ability to execute and inspire action.


Communication is timely, clear, consistent, direct, professional and open. The unicorn leader performs active listening, seeking to understand all perspectives and help.


The unicorn leader is able to roll with the punches with a cool head. This leader can call an audible after an astute situational read and change course to avoid an impending doom, all the while inspiring the team. Flexibility exists here.


Strong perception and reading skills for people and situations with wisdom to follow the gut instinct. This is where emotional intelligence is crucial.


The team expects and anticipates the truth from the unicorn leader and the leader demonstrates appropriate vulnerability and transparency.


The unicorn leader values promotion of others over promotion of self. Credit is given where credit is due. Victories of the team are celebrated and recognized and the victories of others are never threatening. The unicorn leader is confident in their personal value and self-worth.


The unicorn leader is actively engaged in role modeling, mentorship, sponsorship, and opportunity making for the team. Work ethic is modeled in the personal behaviors of the unicorn leader.


This characteristic goes without saying…the unicorn leader can inspire anyone, anywhere, for anything and can MAKE IT HAPPEN!

This personal leadership dream quest, indeed, seems to be unicorn.  Yet, I remain expectant and hopeful to one day have a “unicorn” sighting.

“As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow.” -- Himanshu Bhatia, Rose International Inc.

"What I have learned is that people become motivated when you guide them to the source of their own power and when you make heroes out of employees who personify what you want to see in the organization." -- Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop


For all of us who are seeking, let’s keep searching for that unicorn…

Lora “Lori” Mize is a board certified specialist in women’s health physical therapy specializing in abdominal and pelvic health. She graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2004 from the University of Central Arkansas. She has worked as a clinician devoted to women’s health and pelvic rehabilitation for 11 years and is now working primarily in academia as an Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy at Lynchburg College in Virginia. She has been an instructor for the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) Section on Women’s Health (SoWH), teaching in the area of pelvic health for 7 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Director of Education for the SoWH. Lori is married to her high school sweetheart and they run the Revealed Image Ministries, which can be found at The Mize’s have 4 beautiful children and enjoy traveling, outdoor activities, renovating old farmhouses, movies and food!