My wife's brother recently experienced a bizarre accident. While kick-starting his motorcycle his foot slipped and the full force of the kick-starter smashed into his leg, causing his kneecap "to look like an egg thrown against a wall," to use the patient-friendly metaphor used by the attending orthopedic surgeon. This one-in-a-million accident was one of those moments -- a time when, in a blink of an eye, the direction of one's life suddenly changes. My brother-in-law will be fine, but it will take time and his future life will be different. I feel his pain -- six years ago I broke my leg in nine places in a skiing accident. Though I recovered fully, his accident causes me to recall mine, and I have recently been reliving the trauma in my dreams. We often hear about people who, when suddenly confronted with the loss of a loved one or a devastating illness, vow, from here on, to change their priorities and lives. They make resolutions about behavior, attitudes, friends, and family, about the relationship between work and life, and redefining what really matters in their lives. In the aftermath of my brother-in-law's accident, my wife and I played a game: "What would we do differently if either of us were confronted with one of life's wake-up calls?" Would we be kinder? Spend more time away from work? Play more? Travel more? Give more? Love more? All the obvious questions one asks after a wake-up call. We decided that what was most important to us was not to wait for the wake-up call, but to engage in full-capacity living now and always-to use each day fully. Frederick Perls got it right when he said: "I don't want to be saved. I want to be spent." As leaders, how do we live? Are we leading with spirit and passion? Do we engage with followers and each other in ways that will never cause regrets? Do we lead others with a generosity of spirit? Do we avoid sweating the small stuff? Do love, compassion, courage, and fun characterize our leadership style? Are people enriched and inspired because of our leadership? Will each brief encounter with others genuinely improve their lives? Can we say, that if ever we receive a wake-up call (and every one of us most surely will), that we would not change a thing, that we are leaders who need no wake-up call? The quintessential leader lives in the moment and leads from the heart. When people still believed that the earth was made of four elements -- earth, air, fire, and water -- they held that the stars and planets were formed from another element, which they called the "quintessential" or, the "fifth element." Our ancestors believed the quintessential was essential to everything, even holding the key to healing all disease and to immortality. We don't believe in this as a single solution anymore, but the notion of "quintessence," the modern legacy of quintessential remains as the definition of the purest essence of a thing, and the quintessential element of great leadership is inspiration. This is a new year, a good time to ask questions and to make changes. Perhaps this is the perfect moment to ask yourself if you possess and demonstrate the quintessential characteristics of a great leader. Are you making sure that you are not waiting for a wake-up call before deciding to live your life differently by leading with more brilliance and inspiration? And since work is simply a part of life, are you practicing at work the same values you use at home to lead and inspire others? As we enter a new year, ask yourself this question: "If I were faced with a wake-up call at this moment, how would I choose to change the way I lead -- in every aspect of my life? And if the notion of making some changes comes to your mind, what sort of changes? Why wait for the wake-up call? Why not make these changes now? Lance Secretan is an advisor to leaders, a public speaker, and a recipient of the International Caring Award, presented by the Caring Institute, Washington. Author of nine books, including Inspirational Leadership, Destiny, Calling and Cause (1999, CDG Books).