Three Dimensional Leadership


Leadership is more than something we do or a role we play; it is a deeply human connection that engages our mind and our emotions.  Because leadership requires interdependence, the level of our connection will depend on the degree to which the people we serve can see us and trust who we are. In other words, we reveal key dimensions of ourselves that encourage others to join us as we work towards a common goal.

Most of us have probably had the opportunity to experience a 3D movie. The recent hit “Gravity” was hailed as a movie that was “made for 3D”. Critics raved about the special effects. 3D is a very different experience than the traditional movie. The viewer feels like they are part of the action not just an observer. Applying this idea of “3D” to the context of leadership we can create some interesting comparisons. No cardboard glasses required.

We reveal key dimensions of ourselves that encourage others to join us as we work towards a common goal.

1D Leadership – Authority and Title

“Do as I say not as I do.”

We can spot the 1D leader easily because they rarely leave their desks.  They love to drop into meetings and pontificate about what is going wrong and who is responsible. It feels like they are talking “at us” rather than “to us”. Orders are given via email or in “drive by” style and rarely discussed with team members. In their mind they are always the smartest person in the room. Their uninformed decisions end up creating chaos; leaving the team members to pick up the pieces.  The 1D leader sends us heading for the exits.

2D Leadership – Connections and Charisma

“All style, no substance.”

These leaders charm us briefly. They know how to work the room and they can spin any conversation or presentation to their benefit. We are impressed with the words they use and the stories they tell. Sooner or later we realize we’re talking to an empty shell.  There is no substance behind the story. The role is just a stepping stone to a bigger prize and people are a means to an end. We begin to feel manipulated. When the going gets tough they get going… in the opposite direction. They are master delegators, but not in a good way. The 2D leader leaves us wishing we had ignored the flashy trailer and stayed home.

3D Leadership – Competent, Courageous and Authentic

“WE did it.”

We’re drawn to 3D leaders. They have a gravitational pull. Not because of their title or their panache but because of who they are and what they offer to us. They invite us to be part of a bigger story, as actors, not just observers. They engage our mind and hearts and inspire our trust. These are the leaders that help us learn what we are capable of. The 3D leader leaves us grateful for our shared experience and inspired to pay it forward.

3D Leaders…

  • Master the skills needed for the job and surround themselves with a talented team.
  • Make tough decisions despite imperfect information and follow up with decisive action.
  • Let people know them, challenge them and influence their leadership.

Have you met 1D and 2D leaders along the way? How did that experience compare to a 3D leader? What steps do you need to take to shift your leadership to 3D?

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Image credit- nattavut / 123RF Stock Photo

Scott Mabry is an experienced business executive who is passionate about how we can bring meaning into our lives and our work and translate that meaning into action. He calls this idea “bringing your soul to work.” When you bring meaning to your work you create a better story, and make the world a better place. Let’s start a movement towards meaning.

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