Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
- Helen Keller

Three Levels of Leadership

three levels of leadership James Scouller

This model, whilst deceptively simple to explain, contains artistry in the distillation and integration of many leadership models that came before it, building on their strengths, addressing their limitations and adding ‘presence’.

By integrating psychology, leadership, presence and practice James Scouller (2011) has gone some way to exploring why even the leaders most dedicated to learning their craft sometimes have a gap between what they say and do.  More importantly it underlines the need for leaders to first demonstrate self-mastery in order to earn the respect of those who would follow them.

This blog weaves the central ideas from Scouller’s work with subsequent work that has built on his model to provide a tangible overview to signpost 10 areas where leaders can develop.

Starting from two premises 1) “leaders are made, not born”, and 2) “practice trumps raw talent” leads us to the heroic endeavor of becoming a leader, that is someone who leads by authority (buy-in), not power (position). 

Personal Leadership

The innermost circle of the model is “personal leadership”, this is where the journey to leadership begins and never ends.  It consists of three parts:

  1. Psychological self-mastery (e.g. beliefs, emotions, unconscious habit, self-esteem)
  2. Cultivating the right attitude towards others (e.g. interdependence, service)
  3. Technical competence (e.g. vision, strategy, communication, accountability)

A leader who has mastered their own mind can exercise choice in how they respond to events and has the courage to show up authentically.  Knowing your core values and beliefs as a leader provides a foundation of certainty and consistency of behaviour that contributes to leadership presence, and which cannot be achieved through ‘knowing better’, ‘rhetoric’ or ‘acting as-if’. Knowing yourself also affords you the ability to flex your behaviour as circumstances change, while remaining authentic, i.e. true to your core values.

This inner work is the work, and those who might try to skip it will discover, sooner or later, that the work must be done if they are to have any real impact as a leader. 

Those who aspire to leadership positions later in their career would do well to start here long before the opportunity to lead others arises, and we all will return to it continuously.

Private Leadership

This is the realm of interpersonal skills and behaviours, more specifically influencing another person in a one-to-one situation. Demonstrating empathy, building rapport and having powerful conversations are all in the domain of private leadership. It consists of two parts:

  1. Individual purpose and task (e.g. selecting, appraising, holding to account)
  2. Individual building and maintenance (i.e. recognizing and nurturing rising talent)

Often leaders refer to ‘team’ or ‘groups’ of people, “private leadership” is a reminder that although we often organize ourselves into groups, those groups are still made up of individuals. The same is true of marketing professionals – there is no ‘market’ only large numbers of individual prospective clients.

Public Leadership

The final, outer-circle, of the model is public leadership: the ability to influence two or more people at the same time. The behaviours here are more readily correlated with bottom line financial performance.

  1. Thought leadership (e.g. setting a compelling vision, staying focused)
  2. Mobilising effort (e.g. organising, planning, giving power to others)
  3. Removing road blocks (e.g. ideation, problem-solving, decision-making)
  4. Achieving results (e.g. executing the plan)
  5. Talent development (e.g. group/team building and maintenance)

This is typically where many leadership programmes focus because implementation skills are easier to learn than the so-called soft skills of self-mastery… which ironically is where most of the hard work gets done!  I am proud to have designed many successful leadership programmes on behalf of enlightened CEOs who recognize the need for all three levels.

The Three Levels of Leadership model also lays a strong foundation for those who believe in the Servant Leadership philosophy (more on Servant Leadership in my next blog).

Q: What great resources have you used to develop your personal leadership?

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