What’s Your Picture of Leadership?

I just returned from an amazing trip to Antarctica - I had the opportunity to see something I've been talking about for almost a decade. I've asked leaders around the world to think about what leadership really looks like. Have you ever thought about it? What does leadership look like?

If you had to draw a picture, what would you draw?  Over the years, I’ve found this to be a powerful exercise – when faced with a problem, challenge or opportunity, I often try to represent it in a picture.  I’m no artist, but it almost always helps me clarify my thinking.
When Chick-fil-A was working to accelerate our process for leadership development, one of the conclusions we reached was that a picture would be helpful.  The image you see is a very nice rendition of the very crude drawing we created.  We think an iceberg is the perfect picture of leadership.
Like an iceberg, there are two fundamental parts to leadership: that which is easily seen – above the waterline and that which is more difficult to see – those qualities below the waterline.  If you follow the metaphor with me, we believe the part above the water represents the skills of the leader; the part under the water line represents the character of the leader.  Both are critical to be an effective leader… and yes, like an iceberg – 90% is below the waterline.
Some say that leadership is all about character, I disagree.  Think about someone you know with impeccable character that couldn’t lead themselves out of a room.  In their case, the inability to lead has nothing to do with character –it is clearly a skill deficit.  Flip the coin over and the opposite is also true.  Some believe that leadership rises or falls exclusively on skills.  Leadership certainly requires more than skills.  Think of someone you know who has the skills of leadership that you would not want to follow.  Why not?  I’m guessing your hesitancy can be traced to concerns about their character.
Character and skills - any picture of leadership that fails to include both may leave you cold.

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Justin Miller

11 years ago

Congratulations on the site launch. It looks amazing! I'm thrilled that leaders everywhere will now be able to access the incredible wealth of knowledge and experience that you possess. I'm excited to be on this servant leadership journey with you! Thanks for the iceberg illustration... what a powerful picture of leadership.

Herb Tyler

11 years ago

Awesome site and blog excited to join you on the journey !

Scott Goodspeed

11 years ago

Well said Mark. I agree that leadership is not a simple thing. It's a complex thing with many parts; a fact which should not only make us think more deeply on the subject but call us to humble ourselves and work to be better at it all the time.

Alan Wootton

11 years ago

What a great resource this will be! Lead on!

Andy Lorenzen

11 years ago

Mark- Thanks for sharing your perspective on this with the world. It is an insight that continues to be proven true again and again. Businesses rise and fall on the character and skills of the leaders they have--you have to pay attention to both to grow your business and the talent within it.

Andy Cook

11 years ago

Great article. I'm looking forward to getting some regular infusions of Mark Miller wisdom into my leadership through the blog.

Amy Hunter

11 years ago

It's neat how your recent trip to Antartica helps bring this to life in a new way. I know that with so many recent business failures, if you look closely at the facts, you will find character and integrity issues with the leadership. Like Peter Drucker said, "the quality of character doesn't make a leader, but the lack of it flaws the entire process".

Jennifer Gormally

11 years ago

Congratulations Mark! So glad to have this as a resource for our team.
Jennifer Gormally


11 years ago

Glad to see you using another media to teach us! The best thing is that you model what you teach.

Randy Gravitt

11 years ago

Great job on your first post Mark. Welcome to the blogosphere. I look forward to learning from you on this site.

Steve Spoelhof

11 years ago

It's always a pleasure to hear your voice. Thanks for using this media to articulate fresh messages. Looking forward to your perspectives.

My great Wordpress blog | Just another WordPress site | The Heart of Leadership

9 years ago

[…] 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 […]

Great Leaders Serve | By Mark Miller | The Most Important Part of Leadership (It’s Not What You Think)

8 years ago

[…] 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 […]


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