Leif Meneke: The Future of Leadership is Human 


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Leif Meneke is the founder of Grey Fox Consulting, a boutique leadership coaching and consulting firm. For nearly 25 years, Leif worked in leadership development and human capital management, most of that time serving as either an internal or external consultant on and around Wall Street for global organizations such as American Express, Pfizer, and Deutsche Bank.

Leif began his professional career in leadership coaching in 1999 while pursuing a Master’s degree at the New School for Social Research in New York City. There, he studied Executive Coaching under Bob Lee, the founder of the renowned consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison.

Back then, coaching was relatively unknown outside the context of sports. As one of the key pioneers in the field of coaching, Bob had a profound impact on the professionalization of coaching in the business world, and Leif was privileged to learn from one of the best.

While in graduate school, Leif was recruited into a highly selective leadership development program at American Express (Amex), which, according to Leif, was a “leadership lab.” Not only would Leif step into the role of people leader while at the company, but it was there that he studied the art and science of leadership, which would form the foundation of his approach to leadership.

Leif says, “The future of leadership is human” and promotes what he calls Whole Human Leadership, which recognizes and embraces the entire human experience. In this model, Leif fosters a workplace culture of authenticity, connection, community, and optimal performance, and it is gaining traction among businesses and leaders globally.

During our conversation with Leif, we discovered various dimensions of his leadership approach and style that make him a powerful and inspiring leader. His ability to integrate different disciplines and his commitment to placing the well-being of employees at the forefront make him a leading figure in the field and one of our Top Leadership Coaches for 2023.

Mirror Review (MR): What is your take on the current scenario of business leadership? How has it changed during the last few years?

Leif Meneke (LM): We currently face a global crisis of leadership. This is playing out in every sector, industry, and region. Report after report demonstrates that employee engagement, trust in leaders, leadership capability, leadership credibility, and bench strength are at all-time lows.

To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem to matter how much money we throw at the problem. We invest approximately $366 billion globally ($180 billion in the US) annually in leadership development programs. By companies’ own admission, as much as 3/4 of that money is wasted with no discernible ROI or impact on the business.

The old models of leadership, based on scientific management that basically treats people as machines, have failed.

What I see emerging is a new approach — one that honors and embraces the whole human. I call this new approach “Whole Human Leadership.” More and more businesses and leaders are embracing humanity, human connection, community, and authenticity in the workplace.

Even management guru Tom Peters’ new book is called Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism

This is a truly exciting time to be in the field.

MR: Tell us about the establishment of Grey Fox Consulting and what inspired you to start this company.

LM: Business leaders and businesses hold the greatest potential to move the needle on practically every crisis we face as a species, from climate change to social inequity. The problem is that so many of our best leaders are out of alignment, burned out, or worse.

I was one of them. While working as VP of Talent and Leadership for a global investment bank, I got so sick that I was forced to leave my job to focus solely on my health. I nearly cashed it in.

This was a huge wake-up call. While recovering, I realized that although I taught leadership to the highest levels of the organization, I couldn’t lead myself. I was out of alignment and suffered the traumas and dramas of my past. This set me off on a journey to reclaim my health and life.

This is why I am so passionate about my work. Leaders can serve more people and have a greater impact in their businesses and the world when they lead from a foundation of health and wholeness.

MR: How are your services different from your competitors’ offerings?

LM: Much of my personal healing and integration came through indigenous ceremony and ritual, which has deeply influenced my work and life. Modern science is only now catching up with the wisdom of our ancestors. Our ancestors couldn’t fly to the moon or split the atom, but they knew what it meant to be human. Many of us have forgotten this.

Our approach blends modern science, neuroscience, psychology, and leadership research with indigenous science and wisdom traditions. We focus on core issues around identity and guide leaders to literally create new versions of themselves so they can serve more people and help build a better world. Some of our clients call their experience “initiatory.”

Our clients end up not only being better leaders and business owners but also better human beings.

MR: What types of clients or businesses approach you? What are their most common pain points?

LM: Our clients are primarily business leaders who have built their dream business into a monster that sucks the life out of them. Most have figured out how to consistently get the results they want from their business; the problem is that the way they get those results wreaks havoc in their lives and the lives of those around them.

Most clients approach us because they are at a pivotal point in their business. Some want to sell, others want to scale, but all want to shift their relationship with their business and prepare it for what’s next.

In terms of common pain points, we find that clients often struggle with time management, stress, burnout, ineffective teams, and cash flow stressors. These are, however, often surface-level symptoms and usually point to something deeper.

MR: Could you share with us how your coaching has helped your current or previous clients?

LM: I often say, “Transform yourself, transform your business.” At Grey Fox Consulting, we are in the business of human transformation. We guide our clients to reinvent their relationship with their business by recreating themselves from the inside out. From there, we align their team and organization to get the business going in the desired direction.

MR: How do you measure the success of your coaching?

LM: We obviously track business and financial results; however, there are two core metrics we also track for our clients: their sleep and stress. We know that if our clients have better sleep and lower stress levels, they are getting the results they desire, and they are doing it in a way that is in alignment.

MR: As a leader, how important is your team?

LM: Team is critical, regardless of where you are in your leadership journey. It is especially important to have all the right people on the team when you want to scale, sell, or take your business to the next level. If you have the wrong team, it is unlikely you will accomplish your vision without tremendous personal sacrifice.

MR: Can you share some insights on how you keep your team motivated and efficient?

LM: This is one area where so many leaders get it only partially right. Leaders often have critical team members or members who lack a sense of ownership, are distracted or unengaged, or are simply not doing their job. If you built the team, or even if you inherited it, if your team is not performing at the level you desire, this is your responsibility.

In terms of motivating your team, you can’t motivate other people. The stick and the carrot don’t work in the context of higher-level teams.

To lead a successful team, you must first get the right people on board, then set the conditions for success and trust them to do their jobs. Keep in mind that the “right” people may not necessarily be the same people who got you to where you are today.

I was fortunate to be mentored by a woman named Lisa Westlake while at American Express. Lisa was one of the few female CFOs in financial services in those years. She told me, “You can only trust your team as much as you trust yourself.” Meaning, if you don’t trust in your ability to lead a team and your ability to coach, and bring out the best in your team, you will likely fail.

MR: What are your hobbies and interests outside of your business?

LM: I am an avid outdoorsman. I spend as much time as possible in nature, hiking, camping, backpacking, and adventuring. I spend a lot of time in ceremonies, sitting with and learning from Native American elders. I also love food, cooking, film, theater, and reading. I have lately become very interested in stand-up comedy.

MR: How do you maintain a work-life balance?

LM: I don’t buy into the concept of work-life balance. To me, it’s about being intentional about where to invest your time, energy, and focus.

What are 3 tips you would like to give to modern-age business leaders?

  • Lead yourself before you lead others: If you are leading from a place of ego or misalignment, you are going to burn yourself out. 
  • What got you here won’t get you there: The mindset, skills, and habits that worked in the past may not be sufficient for future success. Focus on developing a new system.
  • You can’t do it alone: Every successful leader needs a coach, mentor, and personal board of directors.


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Also Read: The Top 10 Leadership Coaches of 2023

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