While football season is upon us, today’s blog has little to do with the common expression we shared as kids in the park, setting up passing plays with our best friends.  Those were great times with great friends.

Skills & Behaviors

In this case, I am speaking to the heart of leadership – the perverbial peeling of the onion.  The most common development approaches I’ve been taught and used deal with the behavioral aspect of leadership.  These are the programs targeting skills like communication, that often offer up steps one through five.  First this, then that.  While sometimes helpful, we quickly learn that this approach has it’s shortcomings.  For instance, we quickly learn that one size does not fit all.  People are not machines.

I often use competency models to help organizations better define and develop their leaders.  This provides companies a behavioral framework, without the prescriptive steps to be used with all.  Even with this approach, we inform our clients that competencies alone do not equate to job successs.  We suggest they position them with performance objectives and organizational priorities.

Peeling the Onion

I have also learned that just because people have an idea of what you expect, and clarity on how they can be applied, they often don’t choose to use them when called upon.  Sometimes they didn’t receive enough practice to make the change, other times they have people around them that don’t support the new style of management, sometimes training is not the right development solution, and other times, people are missing the critical elements of personality and character to manage the change.  Sending people to training is easy to do, but often doesn’t lead to the change we ultimately desire.

The Heart of Leadership

It seems if we focused on character and skills, our chances for success would dramatically improve, and you’d be right.  Still, there is a deeper level of insight we need to address.  Simply put, everything begins with trust and trust only comes from faith – faith in ourselves, faith in others, and faith in a higher being.  As much as I have learned, as much as I have experienced and taught others, I also believe that there is so much more that I will never understand.  Why do people say they’ll do one thing and not folllowthrough?  Why are so many leaders derailed by greed?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

While we need a development system to plan and develop leadership skillls, we must also select people with the character and fit of our culture.  Finally, we need the faith in ourselves, in others and in God that our trust is well placed.  We need to be comfortable with the fact that we and our organizations don’t have the full answer to what happens in our world and the world of work.

Three Level Model

I’m fascinated with models and illustrations – competency models, business models and models that help me describe the world around me, and how it works.  In most cases they help me understand the substance but also the movement and flow of things. 

In this case, picture a triangle or an iceberg.  At the top of the iceberg – above the water line are skills and competenices.  These are important for leadership development, and are often the easiest to develop since we can see and observe people currently as well as what we want them to become as they improve.

The next layer beneath skills and competencies is character.  Character fuels our intentions and actions and often is formed at a very early stage of our life.  As trainers and consultants, we have little to do with molding and changing it.  It is what it is. Our best chance is to carefully select people who’s character and personality type will fit into our organizational context, or help them discover the character that makes up their personality.

Finally, we have faith as the next level and foundation within our model.  Having faith in ourselves and in others builds trust; trust that is essential to a successsful career and building the type of organizational leadership that sustains growth and progress.


Leadership is difficult work.  It not only takes a commitment to the role by those accepting the challenge, and a focus on the needs of others, but requires us to take a deeper look into our motives, character and faith.  In the end, we develop our skills, discover our character, and trust in our faith of others.