The 3-D leader

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What makes a well-rounded leader? I’m not talking about a leader’s physique, but a person’s ability to address a fuller range of the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of followers. In “The Leadership Challenge,” James Kouzes and Barry Posner define leadership as mobilizing others to want to get extraordinary things done. People will not accomplish extraordinary things unless they believe that the leader cares about them — about all of who they are.

Leading people to follow and accomplish great goals is more than just developing their skills — it is also about developing and encouraging their person, or the personal dimension, as James Bolt calls it in “Developing Three-Dimensional Leaders.” Well-rounded leadership is at the heart of one of the most popular leadership models called transformational leadership, and is concerned with changing people and organizations through treating employees as full human beings.

However, being a well-rounded leader that cares about people is not a recent emphasis. One of the best expressions of three-dimensional leadership comes from an ancient description of one of history’s greatest leaders, King David of Israel. In a poem describing David’s accomplishments as one of the greatest kings, his three-dimensional approach to leadership is well described: So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands (Psalm 78:72). This description of David’s leadership expresses two parallel concepts for what it means to be a well-rounded leader. Each contains an action of three-dimensional leadership, an internal source that comes from within the leader himself or herself, and the means by which the leader chooses to act.

First of all, three-dimensional leaders like David feed their followers with integrity of heart. They feed the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. They encourage the learning and development of employees at all levels, create a physically safe and healthy environment, and protect the spirit by working to reduce stress while having fun. But this is no temporary good-will gesture to make people think you care for them in order to get them to work harder. The source of this developmental culture can only come from the character of the leader herself — she lives out a genuine care for the needs of others with full integrity and wholeness. That authentic concern for the welfare of others comes from the core of ones being, from the heart.

King David also illustrates how three-dimensional leaders guide others with skill and personal engagement: He guided them by the skillfulness of his hands. Guiding others can take many forms. It can look like coaching (developing skills) or mentoring (sharing wisdom). At other times it may involve teaching, counsel, or even directing. The source of such guidance and direction comes from one’s own skills and experience. Once again, its source cannot be faked — at least not for long — because the competence of the leader is evident to all. That is why the means by which effective leaders guide others originates from their own hand as they show by example the skills they are trying to develop in others. They are personally involved.

Three-dimensional leaders feed and guide. They develop the whole person in an atmosphere of guidance, mentoring, and instruction. Three-dimensional leaders also care for the whole person out of their own character and competence. Who they are as leaders of integrity, and the skills they have personally learned, are equally important in order to motivate others. Finally, well-rounded leaders lead from the heart — from the core of their being — as well as by the hand — by example.

After running companies for 30 years, Kent Wilson now serves as an executive coach with Vistage International and the Nonprofit Leadership Exchange in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at