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Two Tools for 4D Leadership

This article proposes a breakthrough leadership idea.  An idea whose time has come.  An idea that makes it easier for leaders to lead.  An idea that also makes it easier for companies to build the atmosphere they want.  Not only that, it explains how you can apply this idea using two new tools.

But let’s start at the beginning…

I’ve learned that experienced executives find it difficult – sometimes impossible – to define leadership in a way that helps them perform their jobs as leaders.  Yes, when pressed, they can define it in an intellectual way.  But when I ask, “How much does that definition guide the way you lead and where you place your attention week to week?”, they say it doesn’t.  They don’t have a practical useful definition of leadership.  So what?  It makes it harder for them to lead.

But there’s something lurking in the background that makes it harder still.  I find that although leaders come up reasonable definitions of leadership, that’s not what guides their behaviour and decisions when they’re leading.

People’s Hidden Mental Model of Leadership

What’s guiding their behaviour?  Well as I explain in this video in my 10-part series on my YouTube channel, the Leadership Mastery Suite, it’s usually a belief that runs like this:

“Leadership is a difficult undertaking done by impressive people with impressive qualities who get impressive results and are respected and admired by those they lead.”

The words vary, but that’s the essence of it.  I’ve found it’s true in every country for all age groups.

Is this mental model a problem?  Yes.  You see, it makes individual leaders compare themselves against this invisible, fuzzy but incredibly powerful idea that they should be superheroes in their organisation.  And guess what?  They feel inadequate.  What does that do?  It encourages defensive behaviours.  As I said in the video, some people overemphasise task outcomes and ignore the need to engage and connect with people while others strive for popularity and neglect results.  I’m over-simplifying, but it makes it harder for leaders to lead successfully.

But it gets worse.

If I go on to ask clients, “What’s the purpose of a leader?” they usually reply, “To provide leadership.”  What does this mean?  It means in their eyes there’s no practical difference between “leadership” and the concept of “leader”.  They conflate the two ideas.

So what?  It means they believe that “leadership” rests entirely on their shoulders.  And of course leadership, according to them, is a heroic enterprise done by supermen and women.  What does this do?  It only increases the sense of inadequacy, driving them towards fear and unsuccessful behaviour.

The Four-Dimensional Model of Leadership

Can we replace this old, fuzzy, unhelpful model of “leadership” and the leader’s purpose with a more practical idea?  Yes, we can, if we adopt a new line of thinking and see leadership as a four-dimensional process.

I define leadership as the process of addressing four dimensions simultaneouslyMotivating Purpose, Task Progress & Results, Group Unity and Individual AttentionI summarise it with this diagram:

Motivating purpose is the first building block.  After all, how can you have leadership without a sense of shared destination?  By definition, leadership involves direction; it means leading and being led somewhere.  Thus, a clear motivating purpose is the first step in aligning people’s efforts and engaging their collective talent.  The key word here is “motivating”.  People must care about the purpose.  It must matter to them.  It must tap into their values.  It must evoke enough desire to take action and keep going despite obstacles, surprises and disappointments.  This dimension, I find, is usually poorly addressed.

Task Progress & Results is the second dimension. This is the one that dominates most companies’ efforts and usually needs the least explanation.  If you don’t translate the motivating purpose – in the form of a vision or goal – into purposeful action and results, the purpose isn’t a purpose, it’s just a dream.  So you have to ask, “Do we have the right people on board?”  Of course, it involves people rolling up their sleeves to make things happen.  This involves planning, solving problems as they arise, following up on actions and checking people are completing their tasks well, on time.  And of course it includes staying agile and adjusting plans when failures occur or surprises happen as they always do.  It’s also about creating a structure and climate where creative fresh thinking and a readiness to take the initiative thrives.

The third dimension is Group Unity.  This is about creating and upholding a sense of “we” and “us” while addressing Task Progress & Results.  It involves people putting the group’s motivating purpose ahead of their selfish interests and supporting one another for a cause that matters more than personal gain.  The French call it “esprit de corps”; in English we call it “team spirit” or, on a wider scale, a “high-performance culture”.  I find that senior executives pay little attention to building and preserving Group Unity.  Many don’t even realise it’s a key ingredient of leadership.  Others do see group unity as linked with leadership, but think it’s an optional extra, a naïve utopian ideal, but not central to motivation, task, progress and results.  They are making a mistake.

Finally there is Attention to Individuals.  The old sayings that “the team is more important than individuals” and “there’s no I in team” are trueBut here’s the paradox: teams are made up of individuals.  This is important because people differ.  We are individual.  We have different skills, different levels of confidence and resilience, different ambitions and different private lives.  So one size doesn’t fit all if you want to connect with and influence group members and see them perform at their best.  We are more likely to feel included, confident and excited about the group’s aims if leaders show they notice us and respect our unique backgrounds, talents, know-how and ambitions.

There’s more to say about the four dimensions, but those are the key points.

Shifting to This New Mental Model of Leadership

There are two steps in shifting to this new four-dimensional mental model. And it does need a conscious shift because the old idea of “leader as wise hero” is powerful. It is deeply embedded in humanity’s collective consciousness. So what are the two steps?

The first step is to understand the new model. This means:

  • One, understanding the problems the current, invisible, “superhero” model causes you.
  • Two, grasping, in detail, what each dimension involves (here I’ve only given you a quick executive summary).
  • Three, understanding that although the four dimensions are distinct, they are not separate. This means – and this is good news – you can create a “systemic”, hugely beneficial effect on your team or company’s culture.
  • Four, understanding that if you address the four dimensions simultaneously, you will automatically tap into the four intrinsic motivators. And that means superior performance.
  • Five, grasping two facts. First, that leaders always share leadership. Second, that there’s no one way of being the leader.

I’ve explained these five points in more detail in my YouTube videos: On the Four Dimensions of Leadership.

The second step, once you’ve made the mental shift, is to build a habit of approaching leadership through the lens of the four dimensions. You need to learn two habits. One, to constantly ask yourself if you and your colleagues are balancing your attention across the four dimensions. Two, even if you are, whether you have hidden issues lurking in one or more dimensions. I use two tools with clients to help them in this:

The first is a one-to-one coaching or self-reflective tool.  It’s a table with four quadrants.  Each quadrant represents one of the four leadership dimensions and contains a dozen questions.  If you’re a leader, it deepens your understanding of what’s inside each dimension.  It also lets you reflect on and surface the key issues and, from there, craft an action agenda.  It will help you see if you and your colleagues are under-addressing any of the four dimensions.  Even if you have balanced your attention well, it will help you notice which parts of each dimension need action.  Either way, your findings will form the basis of a leadership to-do list.

The second is an organisational diagnostic.  You see, the coaching/self-reflection tool has a weakness: it depends on your mental perception filters, your blind spots, and therefore you may overlook crucial issues.  Indeed, from my experience with coaching clients, leaders always fail to see key problems.  For that reason, they marry it up with my 4D organisational diagnostic tool.  This involves a 4D survey of your employees to find out how they are experiencing the four dimensions of leadership.  It looks and feels like an engagement survey, but it isn’t.  Using a “traffic light” scoring method (Green = all looking good, Amber = concerns, Red = danger), it tells you how each dimension looks overall and, even if the scores look good at high level, where the unaddressed hotspots lie within each dimension.  Once again, it deepens your understanding of the four dimensions and helps you create an action agenda, but this time it’s free of your perception filter.

By making the mental shift and applying the two tools, you will leave the old unhelpful model of leadership behind.  That gives you the best chance of building the atmosphere and getting the results you want.  And if you are the official leader, it means you’re more likely to enjoy your job, because now you have something to guide the way you do it.

If you want more detail, you can read the first two chapters of my book, The Three Levels of Leadership (second edition).  Or you can watch my new YouTube series, On The Four Dimensions of Leadership.

I hope this has helped.

James ScoullerThe author is James Scouller, an executive coach.  The second edition of his book, The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Knowhow and Skill, was published in September 2016.  You can learn more about it at If you want to see its reviews, click here: leadership book reviews.  If you want to know where to buy it, click HERE.  You can read more about his executive coaching  services at The Scouller Partnership’s website.


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