Guiding Leadership, Inside Out

I have had the privileged benefit of a long-term mentorship in business. My mentor had been the CEO with one of the largest companies in our Province. Early in my mentorship, he spoke of the difference between “IQ” and “EQ”. His conviction led him to hire his leadership team with a bias toward EQ. His reasoning was that when the pressure came, EQ would hold.

Think of a soft-sided ball. The ball can be attractive, and bounce ok under normal conditions. However, if we place the ball into a deep pool of water, the deeper we take the ball, the more pressure the ball receives from the water. Under pressure the ball will collapse if there is nothing inside. Alternatively, if there is substance inside, it will either hold the shape of the ball, or seep through as the pressure builds.

The inner life holds form, or seeps through, but the hollow self implodes.
“Public behavior is merely private character writ large.” (Stephen Covey) Covey’s research indicates that we have gradually switched from an emphasis on character to behavior. Behavior may or may not work in the moment, but there is no certainty that behavior will be repeated without character. Character runs much deeper, providing a solid foundation for trust. How can we trust in behavior alone, whether our behavior, or others?

A head full of knowledge is not necessarily wisdom, and does not automatically lead to character. Wisdom is knowledge applied, and character is the substance, the ability, to apply wisdom: to do what’s right and deal with the consequences.
Character is not gained through head knowledge, but through experience. We come up against a crisis, and we are forced to make a choice. The choice we make reveals the substance of our character, but it also has the opportunity to grow our character through testing.

“If people skimp on their inner work, their outer work will suffer as well.” (Parker Palmer) We can’t buy character like we can with knowledge through education, so how do we develop character; what is the inner work?
Inner work requires introspection. We can listen to ourselves as we interact with others, and then take time to process in solitude, to examine our thoughts and motives. This is a great start, but left to ourselves we are prone to ignorance and subjectivity. We don’t know, what we don’t know. We need a compass to help us navigate the darker recesses of our heart. We may think that “left” is “north”, but that does not make it north. North exists outside of our dictate. All we can do is discover it in relation to where we are. If truth is left to subjective interpretation, we are in big trouble, as individuals, and as a society. Some, sincerely stating “its just business”, leave carnage in their wake. We need a compass!

Once we have a compass, the next step in maturing character is interpretation; we need a guide. A guide teaches us how to properly utilize our compass as we journey. This is the beginning of knowledge: understanding of truth. North is north. There is a false north, and there are declination values. Here’s a brief excerpt I found online at “The Compass Store”: “A declination value represents the error between magnetic North and True North, for a specific location. Declination degree values can be either expressed as Easterly and Westerly, or as positive and negative values…your current location could be represented as a Westerly declination of 15 degrees, or as a declination value of -15 degrees.” It is not enough to hold the compass and start walking. We must have instruction in how to use the compass.

A guide also challenges us in relation to the truth that we have learned. Like it or not, we can all be prone to laziness, distraction, justification and self-flattery. We should love ourselves enough to keep ourselves from these things, and rather seek to discover the truth of where we are, and where we need to be. Anything other than truth will lead us to regret.

We can be leaders without doing the inner work, without being men and women of substance. Leaders are people of influence. Gifted as such, it is not a question of whether people are following, but rather “where will we be leading people to?”

We can take short cuts and swap out image for substance. We can grab a quick fix or profit instead of steady gain. However, ultimately the outcome is bankruptcy. A quick study reveals that bankruptcy, corporate, personal, and moral, are all too frequent.
Under pressure, are you imploding? What is seeping out? What is your compass? Who is your guide?