040: Leadership Begins Below Your Waterline [Podcast] – Todd Stocker.com

ledership waterline.001If I were to ask you to describe someone you know that you thought was a great leader, what would you say? Most likely, you would describe that persons skills, style, personality, drive and a plethora of other characteristics. But leadership is more that what we see a person do. Leadership is who a person is.


There are two realities of leadership. The first has to do with the skills, strategy, and methods of leading or managing. It is what people see us do. Making decisions, casting vision, leading problem solving are all part of doing leadership.  The second has to do with the heart or character of a leader. They must first watch their own life. They must have control over their emotions, have a servant mindset and take time for solitude.

There have been times when I realize that this is what I was missing and what is the most important part of your leadership. In your mind, picture a sailboat. It is floating on the peaceful ocean a few feet from shore with seagulls hovering above it’s white, flowing mast. The shiny wood deck glistens from the soft morning mist and it’s riggings are ready to go. That was the scene me and 15 other men experienced the second morning of a leadership   workshop in Corpus Christi, TX. Part of the workshop was to have an “out of the box” experience, something that we’d normally not do. Our captain had been sailing since he was a kid and gave us basic instructions. Simply put, he said, “listen and do what I say… that’s it.” We headed out across the bay. Suddenly, the boat lurched to a stop cause most of us to instinctively grab hold of whatever or whomever was nearby. We had hit a submerged sandbar a few hundred yards of the coastline. Immediately, our captain began barking orders lest we tip and sink. He had us go to one side of the boat then the other, shifting the weight to pry us free from the underwater sand. He also had us jump on the count of three to force the weight down then up. It worked and we were off into the water.

Later, I spoke to the captain about the experience and he said that often times, sailors get caught up in looking at the sails but forget about the most important part of the ship. That “most-important” part is what they sometimes call the “guts.” That experience illustrates what good leadership is about. Long term effective leadership begins with what is not seen in public. It is what is beneath the waterline. It is the guts. It is what is inside. It can make or break you as a leader. The “guts” of your leadership needs to be weightier than what is on the outside. My captain said that without a good balance under the water, the ship is easily pushed over. In leadership you can take this truth to the bank. History has thousands of illustrations of fallen leaders. Fallen not because of being externally out-pace, but internally weak. Often healthy leadership is hard to see. The boat metaphor makes me think that that is why we call it Leader-ship.

I was reading an article about a great leader named Dee Hock. He is the man who first conceived of a global system for the electronic exchange of value, becoming the founder and CEO of VISA International. In the article, Dee talks about the fatal move of first thinking about those whom you are leading. From many years of successful leadership he states, “The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self: one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words and acts.” He goes on to suggest that good leaders use a certain percentage of their time in leading oneself. “Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 25% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct.

Did you catch that? 25% managing his or herself so that they bring a full heart into their leadership responsibilities. Frank Vandersloot, Founder and CEO of The Melaleuca Wellness Company said, “You need to be a leader on all levels of your life.” Start with what’s beneath your waterline.

How do you do that?

  1. Practice Solitude.
  2. Discover your wiring.
  3. Continually seek to do first the wise thing.





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