Leadership: using the invisible to have a visible impact

Leadership is an imperfect idea in lots of ways. After all, what, in fact, is it?

Is it a hierarchical position or a type of governance process? Is it a proxy for decision-making, or is it about personal influence? Is it something performed by one person or by several?

The answer is yes to all of the above (and more) and therein lies the problem – not helped by all the ‘big ideas’ on leadership that compete on our bookshelves and our newsstands.

At AGL, our attention tends to be drawn away from the crash-bang-wallop of the eye-catching new fad. Instead, we are interested in things that speak of the lived human experience. And so it is with leadership too.

We care about what it’s really like to work under pressure, take on new responsibility, bring people with you, galvanise energies in pursuit of a shared goal and still be a good parent, child, sibling, friend.

This means we are interested, not just in what leaders do and say, and the impact this makes on the world around them, but also in the attitudes, values and motivations that guide their choices.

And we are interested in the reserves of strength they have to draw upon when things seem harder, more confused – reserves that are often derived from a deep sense of identity, purpose, confidence and self-awareness.

To explore this further, and together with psychologists at the University of the West of England, we have developed a model of leadership that now acts as a centrepiece to our new four-day leadership programme. See below.

We take people through the four layers in turn, exploring in practical, engaging and thought-provoking ways what each one means while building a unique profile for each participant – a profile that they can share with the people around them to deepen their relationships and mutual understanding.

Ultimately, it is our conviction that by connecting our actions to our values, and by drawing on our confidence and sense of purpose, we are more likely to achieve the impact we want to have.

And by making the invisible more visible to others, we show a bit more of our authentic selves. This is vital to building trust – and to taking people with you as you get things done.

The Model

Visible layers

Visible impact on the world

This is the difference a leader wants to make to their organisation and to the world around them

Actions and behaviours

These are the things a leader actually does as a result of their worldview and in order to have an impact

Invisible layers

Attitudes and beliefs

These are the invisible values and the world-view with which a leader approaches their work

Inner strength

Effective leaders must draw on hidden sources of strength, such as confidence and purpose, to sustain their work and morale.