The 3 Faces of Leadership

What is the style, conduct and core of who you are as a leader?


Dr. Tim Irwin—business consultant, author and speaker—explains the three faces that make up every leader. They are:

1. Style: “This is our behavioral epidermis,” he says. “This is how people experience us when we're in social situations, it is that outward facing part of us.”
2. Conduct: “These are all the actions of a leader,” he explains.
3. Core: “The core of the leader is the person living inside,” says Tim. “All of us have this person living inside us who thinks and feels, and comes up with opinions, has beliefs.”

Watch the video to learn more from Tim about these three leadership faces.

When I was in college, I had a period where I was very restless. And I began to think about my life, and what was my purpose, and how could I find significance in my life? How could I not just end up in a job where I was fighting gridlocked traffic every day? But how could I also have an impact?

And that restlessness turned into a career-long study of people that had great impact, as well as those people who, unfortunately, are headed to a good impact, but take a detour and head down this terrible path of personal destruction. And so in my research, I've attempted to understand that more fully and to find out is there a way we can direct people toward having an impact? Because I sense that all of us desire to have an impact with our lives, particularly the leaders. I think that's the reason leaders begin to lead is that they want to show some kind of impact with what they do.

I want to explain how I came to this conclusion because I believe that leaders have three faces. And the outward face of the leader is the style, the style of the leader. This is our behavioral epidermis. This is how people experience us when we're in social situations, is that outward facing part of us. And the style is perfectly normal. It varies with different individuals, but it's the way people come to know us.

A favorite story of mine is about a man who was out of a job and so he was looking in the want ads and saw this very interesting want ad. And the want ad said, "Must love animals and acting skills are a plus." Well, he kind of fancied himself as an actor and so he began to look. He began to talk with these people and what he learned was that it was a zoo. And the gorilla at the local zoo had become ill, and couldn't be out in the cage anymore. And so the zoo didn't have any more money and they wanted to see if they could dress up a man, and pass him off as the gorilla until the gorilla got well. So he said, "Hey, this is crazy, but I'm willing to try anything." So they put this suit on him, zipped it up, brushed the fur over the zipper, put the head piece on. And the man's torso was such that he was pretty passable. If you didn't get close, you wouldn't realize that he wasn't a real gorilla.

So they showed him a video of what gorillas do all day, put him in the cage and said, "Do your best." Well, as it turned out, the man went by the first week and actually liked what he was doing. It was relaxing and he didn't have to do too much. Children would come by, he'd beat on his chest and they'd squeal and run away, and it was kind of fun and he was enjoying it. So several more weeks went by, and finally, it was the big holiday. He decided that he was going to demonstrate his gorilla skills to the ultimate degree. There were some trapezes up on the top of the ceiling, and he'd seen in the circus how people swing on one, do a flip, and then grab on the next trapeze. He said, "They'll never forget me. I'll be the most famous gorilla that's ever lived."

So he reached out, grabbed the trapeze and started to swing himself. And he was swinging himself, and finally, he threw himself up in the air, went into a tuck, and tried to find the next trapeze. But he completely lost his bearings. He'd thrown himself so hard up into the air, he actually went over the wall of the adjacent cage and landed on the bottom. Well, people started to scream, children were crying, it was terrible. And as he kind of came out of being stunned, he looked up and he had fallen into the lion's cage. I mean, it was terrible. The lion was very agitated, to find this interloper here in the lion's cage and the lion was stalking back and forth. And finally, the lion spun around and started to walk directly toward the gorilla, and the man didn't know what to do. But he was just on the verge of screaming, and finally the lion leaned over and said, "Shut up, you fool. We'll both be fired."

Well, I like that story because the fact is we all wear some kind of suit. Some of us wear a gorilla suit, some of us wear a lion suit, some of us wear a bear suit. We all wear a suit and that's that outward facing style. It's perfectly normal; it's perfectly understandable. The problem is that some people don't know who's in the suit. In fact, I've found among derailers that very often a lack of self-awareness, a lack of self-awareness is a common denominator among people that derail. They don't know who's in the suit. They think the suit is really them. And that's why I think self-awareness is so important.

The second face of the leader is the actions or the conduct of the leader. And this is what the leader… we all know leaders build teams, they recruit strong people to their team, they set direction, they provide strategy. These are all the actions of a leader and are very, very important. Many of the leaders that I have studied are rock stars of confidence. They do a phenomenal job of leading their companies and leading their teams with strategy, and direction, and so on. And this, interestingly enough, is typically not the reason people derail. It's not a problem of their competence. They're often rock stars of confidence.

The core of the leader, the third face, is where the problem really resides. The core of the leader is the person living inside. All of us have this person living inside us who thinks and feels, and comes up with opinions, has beliefs. And by the way, if you hadn't noticed, that person inside us talks. I sometimes ask groups, "Hey, do you talk to yourself?" And finally, a few people admit it. But we all talk to ourselves and if you're quiet enough, you can hear that person. We can also speak to that person living inside us. It's that person inside us.

Dr. Tim Irwin

Dr. Tim Irwin has consulted with a number of America’s most well-known and respected companies including SunTrust Banks, Chick-fil-A, Bank of America, Corning, Inc., IBM, The Coca Cola Company, Hoechst-Celanese, Gerber Products Compan...

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