The Heart of Leadership

For many years, I’ve been using the metaphor of the iceberg to talk about leadership. My first post on this website almost two years ago was entitled What’s Your Picture of Leadership? My answer was, and still is, embodied in the iceberg. The problem: for almost a decade, I’ve been talking about only a small part of the story. The Heart of Leadership tells the rest of the story.

Yes, the iceberg still works, but there’s a lot more to leadership than the part above the waterline. That’s the part Ken Blanchard and I wrote about in The Secret. We outlined the things great leaders DO – the tip of the iceberg.
Clearly, leadership skills are essential; without them, leaders fail. However, more leaders fail because of what’s below the waterline than what’s above. Most leaders who stumble do so because of issues with their leadership character. That’s the topic I address in The Heart of Leadership.
Today, I want to quickly outline the five leadership character attributes covered in the book.
Hunger for Wisdom – Leaders understand the importance of their decisions. Countless decisions - people decisions, strategy decisions, resource allocation decisions  – they all matter. Wisdom informs our decisions. The good news: Wisdom can be forged over time. That’s why leaders pursue growth and wisdom.
Expect the Best – Leaders are optimists. They expect the best from themselves and others. They anticipate good outcomes. They believe in the potential of others. This worldview informs all of their decisions. However, it is not a “rose-colored glasses” outlook. Great leaders remain grounded in reality and yet, still see a future that’s better than today.
Accept Responsibility – Leaders, at least the best ones, don’t blame others. They own their outcomes and the work of those they lead. If it happens “on their watch,” they own it. At the same time, when things go well, these same leaders are quick to give praise. Leaders possess a wonderful blend of responsibility and humility.
Respond with Courage – Leaders take action – they initiate. This requires courage -- sometimes small amounts. At other times tremendous courage is required to do the right thing. This often involves unpopular decisions. Leaders accept this as part of the role. Their first accountability is to the mission and values of the organization. No organization thrives without courageous leadership.
Think Others First – This is probably the most critical leadership character trait of them all. In The Secret, we asked a question that seems applicable here. It is THE question that most reflects your leadership character and mine: Are you a serving leader or a self-serving leader? When you and I can cultivate the habit to Think Others First in the face of life’s daily challenges, we’re well on our way to developing the heart of leadership.
Why does any of this matter? If you and I don’t demonstrate these leadership character traits, we will not been seen as leaders. You may be thinking, “But what about my skills?”  Here’s the plain truth about your leadership skills and mine…

If your heart is not right, no one cares about your skills.

How are you doing on these five attributes? Like Blake, the main character in the book, you may have some work to do. Here’s a link to a free assessment you can take to get a reality check on the condition of your heart.[GLS_Shield]

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Dan Forbes

9 years ago

The Heart of Leadership really gets to the Heart of things. Leadership is more than what you do, it is also who you are. Thanks, Mark.


9 years ago

I love this. I just taped it to the wall of my office, great reminder of the type of leader I want to be. The part about expect the best is my biggest challenge and it's good to read this. We are a legal service agency for immigrants. This is extremely challenging work in an often hostile environment so this is a great reminder to be positive. I find I shift more towards 'realism', which is what lawyers can call pessimism.


9 years ago

Thanks, Bill for joining the conversation. Be encouraged, "Realists" can lead well too! Mark

My great Wordpress blog | Just another WordPress site | The Heart of Leadership: Hunger for Wisdom

8 years ago

[…] I referenced in my post last week on The Heart of Leadership, I believe there are five core leadership character traits that set leaders apart from those they […]


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