You Say You Want to Lead?

The term ‘leadership; has so many definitions. In fact, if you search for leadership on Amazon, over 215,000 tiles come up in a pursuit of leadership books. Many business executives are avid readers on the subject and many organizations invest heavily in the development of leadership. Given that, the question becomes why don’t more managers embody leadership?

The truth is learning concepts do little to support the awakening of leadership in the individual. You cannot become a leader by understanding a concept, no matter how apparently it is shared through a book or training program. Ultimately, leadership requires a shift in one’s perception that is generated from the inside out.

What Is Leadership?

That said, it is still critical that we clearly define leadership. Based on our experience working with hundreds of leaders over the past twenty years I say leadership generates a context that brings out the best in others leading to high performance and profound outcomes in service to a great mission. The primary competencies of such leadership include the ability to be:


A Person of Integrity

A Visionary

A Team Builder

A Leader By Example



A Relationship Builder

Passionate & Driven

Core Shift Required to Enter a Leadership Mindset

One of the fundamental shifts an executive must make, and the biggest challenges they face as they rise into the mindset of such leadership is moving out of the 'individual contributor mindset.' Why is this a challenge? Because up to this point in their career, the executive or manager has received a lot of positive reinforcement and rewards for engaging this more self-centric way of operating.

Bob Anderson, the creator of The Leadership Circle Profile, says that the embracing of this self-centric mindset is a natural part of our evolution as a human being and this self-centric way of operating gives us meaning for much of our adult lives. Through his research Bob indicates that as we reach this stage of development we find motivation in one of three ways:

  • As a high controller or one has a strong drive to win or achieve
  • As a high Protector or one has a strong motivation to be intellectually sharp and a high  desire to be right.
  • As a high complier or one has a strong desire to be feel liked and appreciated.

And organizations highly value achievement, intellectual horsepower and having those in their organizations who are team players. However, when a person rises into leadership these qualities that were once highly valued now begin to detract from the executive’s success.

  • High controllers have a hard time letting go of their view what has to happen to get results. They tend to micromanage and tend to disempower those that report to them.
  • High protectors tend to judge others harshly and find it difficult to take in new ideas.
  • High compliers have a tendency to placate others too much and lack decisiveness. In addition, these tendencies strength do not scale as the leader expands in their responsibilities.

In other words, as the executive’s or emerging leader’s scope of leadership broadens, their self-centric ways of operating tend to cause more problems and mute their ability to forward results as a leader.

The current state of these skills get in the way of expressing key leadership traits including the ability to build alignment, inspire and develop others, hold their team members accountable and moderate conflicts that emerge. For those skills to emerge, the executive requires an entirely new mindset. The adage, 'what got you here – won’t get you there,' applies. Therefore the leadership development process must support this shift, which requires an upgrade in the operating system of the human being.

Key Development Pathways

As I note at the start of this article, more traditional training methods that teach leadership concepts like thinking strategically, empowering and influencing others, etc. do not work because they do not foster the necessary shift to a leadership mindset. In fact, such conceptual learning can actually reinforce current habits that get in the way of leadership when there is no expansion in self-awareness. The cause of this resistance is an inherent fear that if executives start to challenge their approach, it may damage their ability to succeed.

These executives fail to realize the 80/20 rule. This well-known rule states that 80% of your success comes from 20% of your efforts. Typically the 20% that most supports the rising executive’s success includes skills they will carry forward as a leader. These competencies include the executive’s passion, drive, substantive expertise, strong business acumen and focus on results. Certainly, these skills must be in place to succeed in any organization.

However, if an executive wishes to ascend into leadership, they must transcend the more reactive tendencies found in the high controller, high protector or high complier. The real question becomes how to upgrade the behaviors that get in the way and allow the leadership competencies mentioned earlier to ‘boot up?’

The following are five foundational practice areas that most support leadership development.

1. Understand the truth about what drives the human experience. The rise into a leadership mindset requires you to understand the interpretive nature of the human experience. This starts with helping the executive to know how they make sense of the world. By doing so they will gain greater clarity around how others do the same.

2. Become aware of the one who is aware. At the core of leadership development is expanding one’s self-awareness. By doing so, the executive gains access to a deeper level of resourcefulness that enables them to be more creative in the moment to forward key results. To build this skill requires the student of leadership to engage practices like meditation and self-inquiry or reflection.

3. Develop leadership presence. The growth of leadership presence relies on increasing one's ability to engage from one's center moment-to-moment. By doing so, you are more present and can deal more powerfully with arising opportunities and problems.

4. Engage a strategic mindset and a results focus. Some executives have this already built in yet the key is to deepen their intention and focus so that they not only begin to see the world around them more strategically but they help others around them to do so as well.

5. Recognize the basis of productive efforts by understanding and applying the generative power of language. Understanding the ontology of language supports the leader in being more efficient at not only communicating vision, strategy, and direction – it helps them to create mutual commitments that forward what is most important more powerfully.

These five practice areas are the pathway to awakening a higher order of leadership in anyone who engages them. As a leader fully engages them, they report greater ease and begin to understand the value of engaging others in a different way. To use a sports analogy, most of the leaders I have taken through this process say they feel the game comes to them rather than feeling they are chasing after the ball. After all that resistance, they just relax and lead.



About the Author David

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