Your Leaning Tower of Leadership

Leaning Foundation

What’s wrong with this picture?

The picture above of the Leaning Tower of Pisa reveals the normally bent-over tower shown to be standing up straight (well, almost…) This classic icon, known for centuries to be erected on a weak foundation, is posing in this slightly twisted picture as a strong monument that is built to last.

This altered image intimates that the strong tower is built on a strong foundation that will not yield over time. But we ALL know the truth… It’s failing for all to see.

A Firm Foundation

Leaning Tower of PisaUnfortunately, the image of an over-correcting pillar that is trying to compensate for a weak foundation is the very image of many leaders today.

They manipulate their image to make it seem like they are standing tall on a foundation that will last.

But in reality, they are nothing more than a pile of rocks standing on a weak and collapsing foundation.

They spend a lot of time shaping their reputation as their entire world is falling over.

Building That Foundation

In over 3 decades of leadership, I’ve hit on one quote and eleven “premises” on which I have based my approach for being an authentic leader who does so from a firm and stable foundation. While we don’t have room here for all eleven, I wanted to list my Top 3 Premises on which the best foundations are created

One Quote

The quote that sticks with me as the defining one on leadership comes from the author Rick Brookhiser:

“One hundred percent of leadership is showing up, and doing the right thing – and doing it again, and again, and again.”

That’s about as simple a definition as I’ve ever seen.

Strong Foundation

Top 3 Premises

The Top 3 Premises that build the strongest elements in a leadership foundation are these:

1. Who you are is more important than what you do.

This says character trumps everything else.  Try as you might, massage it all you can, you can’t escape basic character.  You can do all the “right things” as a leader — and it’s good to do the right things — but who you truly are (under the skin, so to speak) is, eventually, who your people will come to know.

Good News & Bad

  • So the bad news is you can’t “fake” (at least not for very long) who you are.
  • The good news is you can change your character based upon the choices you make.

It’s not easy, and it’s not quick. Breaking habits never is; but it can be done.

Don’t believe it?  Talk to the people in AA.

Therefore, as a leader, the options are stark: choose character first.

2. Leadership is about influence, and influence starts with connecting emotionally with others.

As John Maxwell says, a good definition for leadership is that “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”

And while it’s a cliché, it is true that “people don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care,” about them and their situation.

And this brings us to the litmus test of leadership: Getting people to do what you want them to do, because they WANT to do it.

How is that possible without an emotional connection?

People have to realize that you know something about them, see that you’re invested in them, understand that you care about your relationship with them, and believe that your relationship has meaning beyond the utility of the work and achievement of the goals.

In other words, it can’t just be about the work, or achieving the goals.  People exist in spheres outside of the job, and your connection to them must extend out there as well.

3. Ultimately, all motivation is self-motivation.

In any field where people are on their own to do things on your behalf, they have to WANT to do things right, not just know how to do things right.

  • Besides a gun to someone’s head, why do people carry out mundane, deadly, disagreeable, or unpleasant things that they’d rather not have to do?
  • Why do soldiers attack an enemy position when death is all but certain?
  • Why do condemned prisoners walk into the execution chamber, rather than be carried or dragged?

They do it because – for some reason, at some level – they choose to do it.

People cannot be coerced to do a good job or to do the right thing.  At some point, coercion breeds backlash, leading to micromanagement, and attrition.

This is not a good way to go through life…

Therefore, I believe this is clear: A leader cannot motivate people, They can only create an atmosphere where people want to motivate themselves.

Is there any doubt this is true?

There are LOTs of good resources out there.  Like you, I’ve read a bunch of them, and in addition to Maxwell, the author who really put it together for me was Ron Willingham, whose 1997 book The People Principle, was the foundation and touchstone for a leadership seminar I taught for almost ten years.

So who are you as a leader?  On what premises have you used to construct your foundation? Are you an authentic person who leads others, or are you twisting the truth for appearances? What principles guide your leadership philosophy and actions?  How important is it to have a consistent set of principles worked out and available? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Scott Crandall
is Principal of Trinity-Lincoln Consulting
He specializes in Leadership, Coaching, Training and Project Consulting
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Skype: scrandall31 | (864) 787-1087

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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Chad Miller on April 8, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Right on Scott. Right on the money. Great piece here and I look forward to more!

  2. Curtis Marshall on April 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Your first point about “choosing character first” really resonates with me.

    I’m a strong believer that integrity and character far outweigh any set of leadership skills. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, good speakers or bad, the example that we live is the most important aspect of leadership we can possibly portray.

  3. increasing workplace productivity on April 10, 2011 at 10:56 am

    These are all very insightful. All of these can really serve as an eye-opener, especially for leaders who do not really think outside the box.

  4. Scott Crandall on April 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Chad/Curtis — Thanks for your responses. It sounds like we’re in “violent agreement”. Besides character and example, the other quality a leader needs is “competence”. Without competence, example withers, and character becomes almost an irrelevance. What do you think?

  5. Curtis Marshall on April 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm


    I think that competence is relative. In order to lead something, you must be competent in that area; but that doesn’t mean it has to be an area that we normally associate with leading.

    Take children for example. They may not have much competence, but their example and character is what allows them to positively lead (read “influence”) their peers.

    If competence is required to lead… how much is enough?

    • Scott Crandall on April 11, 2011 at 8:53 am

      Curtis — I think you’re right about its being relative, and I think the relativity is around what your people expect from you in your “leader duties”.
      For example, if you are an infantry platoon leader, your people expect you to know tactics, land navigation, fire support, proper communication protocols, using the chain of command, etc.
      While they’ll cut a “newby” a little slack, you’d better pick it up quickly, ask for help when you need help, don’t act like you know more than you do, and put it all together as soon as possible. They don’t expect George Patton, but they’d better not have Beetle Bailey.
      Back in the ancient days of Vietnam, I heard more stories of young officers being “fragged” because they were a danger to their men, those those who were simply hated, or were too “gung ho”. So that’s my take.

  6. Curtis Marshall on April 11, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Great analogy Scott… As an officer in the military, I can definitely relate. I agree with your point… a lot depends on what you’re leading

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  8. Susan Bailey on April 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, but I am having trouble with the concept of changing one’s character and the example of AA doesn’t help. AA is about changing behavior not character. To say it is about changing character implies that those who participate have some sort of character flaw that causes them to drink and AA helps them fix it. Can individuals really change their character, i.e., who they are?

    • Scott Crandall on May 1, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      Susan — I’m sorry this is late, but was out of the country. Perhaps we’re talking semantics here — and what the AA citing might be is behavior as “manifestation of character”. In any case, individuals CAN change their behavior, and if the accretion of behavior contributes to character, and I think it does, then you can change your character by changing your behavior — by the choices you make, as I said in the article. Hope this helps.

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