A Crises in Leadership (the lack of depth)
I have many friends who work on Capitol Hill. In the United States Senate there is a casual reference to two types of senators: Show horses and Work horses. “Show horses” are those national representatives that you constantly “see” on TV; they have immediate reactions, opinions, are constantly in the limelight and seem to have an expert opinion on every issue. “Work horses” are those national representatives that actually read the bills! They work closely with their legislative teams on drafting legislation. They want to understand all sides of an issue – are willing to listen – and know when and how to collaborate. The informal network of legislative aides on Capitol Hill may call them “work horses,” I call these traits, “depth”.
When a leader has “depth” she or he portrays a comprehension beyond a surface knowledge or shallow relationship. There is a desire for wanting to know more about the issue or a yearning to know more about the person. They think about the issues. They are concerned for the person. They portray wisdom versus a spouting of facts. This “depth” is not just where the leader spends her time, it is deeper and more instinctual – it is who they are at their core.
I have spent over 30 years in working with and observing leaders’ organizations worldwide. I teach that leadership is a large topic with multiple dimensions. However, as I grow older and get more experience, I am convinced that people follow leaders for their “depth” – depth of character, depth of competence and depth of connection.
I pause when I say this, but “leadership” may be that simple – depth!
Depth of Character
There are leaders whose character is surface. They change quickly with popular opinions. Their interests are self-generated. They talk a good game – but when you peel back the layers there is emptiness. Depth of character includes certain core values and beliefs. With these leaders, their actions speak volumes (both what they do and don’t do). You know you can trust their word – but more importantly you trust their heart! They are going to do the right thing – not for themselves but for the organization and the greater good.
You know where you stand with these leaders. They have established their “yardstick” (another political term) and you know the answers to questions that fall within the value-based “yardstick”. (Issues outside that yardstick can be debated, discussed and compromised).
These leaders don’t have to constantly talk about how good they are, how honest they are acting, or how smart they are – you know “who” they are because of their character depth. This is their “authentic core.”
Depth of Competence
Leaders with depth actually read, study and think about issues and problems. They take time to understand concerns. They listen. They don’t always know the answer but are willing to explore options. They know when to be forceful and when to enable. They are interested in reaching the best solution in the most efficient way. They seek others opinions. They are wise.
In my experience there is a gap between leaders who are knowledgeable and those who are wise. As an internet post once said, “People with knowledge, know a tomato is a fruit. People with wisdom know you don’t put a tomato in a fruit salad.” Wisdom is an application of knowledge that manifests itself in leadership depth. It comes from observing, thinking, and stepping back from the immediate situation. Sometimes silence is a wise man’s best friend. Taking time to think builds wisdom. As a young boy, my grandmother told me “Think twice – Speak once!”
Competence depth does not mean the leader is omniscient. It does mean he or she is willing to ask the tough questions and genuinely wants to know the answers.
Depth of Connection
Depth in relationships moves beyond a casual greeting. It is wanting to know the person and what makes that person tick. It is taking the energy to focus on the person and being present in the moment. It is asking questions because you are concerned and value the individual, not because you have “say how was your weekend” on your development plan. Leaders with depth want to know about people because they believe in the inherent good in all people and that everyone has something to contribute. It is a real heart-felt concern and manifests itself in true conversations.
When leaders who have depth talk, we feel a connection to them and their lives. When we talk, they listen, and we know they have our best interest in mind and feel as if we are the only person in the room. Remember Maya Angelou’s quote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Many people believe character, competence and connection are things on a “to do” list and immediately say “I don’t have time to hear from everyone on the team”, “I don’t have time to read everything that comes across my computer screen” or “dig into every issue”.
Depth is more about being – than doing.
Depth is radiating that you want to know, that you want to help, and you will do the right thing every time. It is establishing a mindset and philosophy and living by that mindset. It is who you are versus a perception of who you are.
Leaders with depth can ask the deep questions. They are comfortable without knowing all things – and trust those around them who do know. They have a security and confidence without having to constantly saying how good or smart they are. People trust them – they know their character, trust their competence and have made a real connection.
Mike Comer has personally worked with over 115 companies in 18 countries as an executive coach, team facilitator and leadership trainer. His book (co-authored with Dr. Merwyn Hayes) “Start with Humility” offers practice suggestions for leaders to live and work most effectively.
Michael D. Comer, D.M.
Mike is President of The Hayes Group International, Inc. He has over 30 years consulting experience with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, non-profits as well as smaller organizations in organizational and team development, leadership assessment and development (executive coaching), and training development and delivery. In his role as President he oversees the work of 28 senior-level consultants. Mike started his career at Andersen Consulting (Accenture)… Read more »