The three legs of leadership


A brilliant friend came up with an interesting concept, a triad of factors for describing good employees. Although he was thinking about musicians, his theory could apply to any job. What he suggested is that how well you do your job is only one element of your overall effectiveness. Equally important are two additional components: understanding work environments and forming symbiotic relationships.

Every Move We Makeā€¦
This friend's theory made sense, but I had to find out for myself if his argument stood up to research and literature and, by golly, it did. As I thought more about his triangle approach, I saw that a leader's personal brand is made up of the same three factors. Leaders must be competent in the job, understand their influence on organizational environments, and know the effect of their actions on employee behavior.

I was the guest speaker for a group of aerospace managers and engineers once. I'm not sure why I was asked to speak (maybe they couldn't find anyone else), but the fact remains, I spoke.

In the middle of my talk, I blurted out something I must have heard somewhere else but it finally made sense as I was saying it. The line, "Every move, every action we leaders make affects someone and something else in the cosmos."

Chaos theory finally hit home. Something as simple as not greeting fellow employees with "good-morning," a non-action action, could affect employee morale for months to come. Leaders must be aware of our every action because we are scrutinized for our knowledge of the job, our place in the working environment, and our ability to relate.

Skill and Leadership
Leadership skill is an ability to maneuver through and manipulate systems without making waves. The skill of leadership is essentially a measurement of how well we do the job of managing.

Being a manager isn't just about leading; there's a huge element of managing involved. Managing is our adeptness of setting up systems and processes to get the work done. Leading is the part of management that relies most on emotional intelligence, that ability to perceive mood, morale, and worker strengths. The ability to combine managing and leading skills is the stuff of learning cultures.

Environments and Leadership
Environments are the rules that govern behavior. For example, such things as parking lots, operating hours, time clocks, and hierarchical structures are environmental components. They're those things that just are.

Although leaders have some control over environmental factors, some environmental components simply can't be changed. For example, parking lots at many organizations are several miles from the workplace requiring employees to ride shuttles to/from work/parking. It may not be feasible to build new parking lots closer to the workplace.

As leaders, we may not be able to change environments, but we need to understand environmental dynamics because they affect employee behavior. And, if an environment can be changed for the better, make the change.

Relationships and Leadership
Relationships, the third leg of this stool, represent the cold hard fact that we work with people, and every move we make changes their work-life some small extent.

Relationships are the areas where emotional intelligence is most likely to shine. Emotional intelligence is that fine motor skill of sensing the little things of leadership. Leaders high in emotional intelligence are good at setting up work environments of participative management and bringing peace to any situation, are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and are frank (no beating about the bush), influential, and involved.

Leaders need to know that building strong relationships is just as important as how well they do the job. By fostering collaborative cultures, emotionally intelligent leaders activate emotional well-being, better work performance, stronger commitment/satisfaction, and lower attrition. The short story: people relate.

Personal Brand
Eliminate any of the three legs (skill, environment, relationships) and the stool is apt to fall. If any one of the triad is weak, it will take time to strengthen that part. The result is worth the effort because that's the stuff of personal brand. Strong personal brands are powerful factors in organizational value.

Improving your personal brand may take time, for two reasons. One, change is slowly achieved through small, almost imperceptible improvements. Two, people don't forgive and forget easily. Remember the adage, hit a dog with a newspaper (which I would never ever do) just once, and that dog will never trust you or a newspaper again. Memories are indelible.

Don't expect to get there overnight. Or as Keith Richards put it, "Change is not just the larger visuals but the little things you surround yourself with..."

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About The Author

Duane Dike
Duane Dike

Duane Dike is the manager of creative production for a large entertainment company in Southern California. He has a doctorate in management and organizational leadership and an MBA in management. He is a popular guest speaker for education and management groups on subjects related to innovation, leadership and thinking.

Older Comments

Hi Duane, Great article, I would like to add some additional thinking to your model. I am currently applying this model for sports teams at schools, however as we can see from your article it can be applicable in the work and home environment. If the 3 legs were skills(your own personal strengths), purpose (your contribution to the company/society) and vision(where you want to go) and add each triangle to the 3 personal leadership legs of understanding yourself(skills, purpose, vision), understanding your peers/employees(skills, purpose, vision) and understanding your company/team(skills, purpose, vision). The result could be the strengthening of organizational value from multiple inputs.

Scott South Africa

Thank you for this article. i will in addition add that getting involved in pushing the lorry out of the mad will in a big way connect a leader with his/her team - imagine the joy of success when manager and staff look at their soiled clothings.

Albert Mulele Nebbi - Uganda