The Most Important Part of Leadership (It's Not What You Think)

Most leaders don’t understand what REALLY determines their success. We mistakenly believe our trajectory is determined by what we can do. This is a half-truth. As I look back on my career, I’m not sure when I discovered this – regrettably, it was MUCH later than I should have. Do you know what is required to be a great leader?
In the first post published on this site, I asked What's Your Picture of Leadership? I believe the iceberg is the perfect metaphor for leadership. Think back to 5th grade… Do you remember how much of the iceberg is above the waterline? Yes, about 10%. The other 90% is below the waterline.
The portion of our leadership most easily seen by others is the 10% - this represents our leadership skills. Certainly, no one wants to follow a leader who cannot lead! The ability to cast vision, engage people, allocate resources, reinvent the systems and processes that move us toward the future, and more are critical for leadership success. However, and this is where leaders often get derailed, we forget these essential skills represent only 10% of the success equation. The other 90% is determined below the waterline...

Ultimately, our leadership character determines our leadership success.tweet_bird

You may be skeptical. You may believe you can be successful based on your skills alone. Be careful. What trips up most leaders and limits their impact and influence are issues of the heart. Our actions flow from below the waterline. If your heart is not right, no one cares about your skills.
That’s why I was so intrigued when I saw the photograph above. Alex Cornell captured this image of a flipped iceberg. In the natural world to see below the waterline of an iceberg is extremely rare. However, the more I thought about it, I realized the people we lead DO see below the waterline in our lives. They see our actions that flow from our character.
Leadership character is the topic of my book, The Heart of Leadership. So, as not to just recap the book here, I want to give you a few questions to help you see below the waterline in your own life.

  • Are you open to coaching and feedback? Do you seek it out or wait for it to manifest itself? Would people describe you as a life-long learner?
  • Do you see the best in people and circumstances? Do you find the good in difficult circumstances? Are you grounded in reality?
  • How quickly do you give praise? How often do you accept responsibility when something goes wrong or fails to meet expectations?
  • Would your team describe you as a courageous leader? Are you willing to take an unpopular stand on issues? Are you willing to act alone if necessary?
  • Do you put the needs of others ahead of your own? Are you a serving leader or a self-serving leader? Would your team say you think others first?

The photo above may provide a rare glimpse below the waterline of an iceberg – don't forget, our people see our leadership character on display everyday.[GLS_Shield]


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