Strong Point’s Leadership Rule #9: Work with Deep People

The motivation to lead and follow occurs on a deep interpersonal level and through a series of human dimensions and interactions. Leadership capability is forged on many planes of mental, emotional and moral character and is focused through a specific group of professionals endeavoring to get something important done. The influence and impact a leader has is directly affected by the people on his or her leadership team(s).

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. This thought is associated with the law of averages, which says that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. Indeed, in Strong Point’s Leadership Rule #7: Use Your Mirrors, Know Your Impact, I’ve written about the “Top 5” people in your sphere of influence who mirror your core strengths and weaknesses. Strong Point also, through its Leadership Methodology and Skill Building work, teaches the importance of deeply knowing the people with whom you work. Team Setting, and Leadership Team Building are two activities that Strong Point promotes and supports to build leadership capability. Building and maintaining deep relationships with professional colleagues is essential to effective leadership.

In order to strengthen your own Leadership Development efforts, it’s necessary to contemplate what comprises a deep connection. If deep relationships are vital to leadership, then it’s important to consider that forging deep relationships with people may be dependent on working with “deep people.” Defining specific and desired leadership characteristics helps to clarify and strengthen what it means to be a deep person and to have deep relationships and leadership bonds. Depth and character, as well as depth of character, are related to Strong Point’s Rule #9: Work with Deep People.

Stephen Covey often talked about demonstrating personal depth in leadership. Here’s an example:

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.“ – Stephen Covey

Author Albert Mohler, in his book The Conviction to Lead talks about leadership character. He says:

“Character is indispensable to credibility, and credibility is essential to leadership.“


“Leaders of character produce organizations of character because character, like conviction, is infectious. Followers are drawn to those whose character attracts them as something they want for themselves.“

I’ve conducted my own discovery of bosses, mentors, colleagues, and friends, whom I consider leaders, and have often tried to identify and distill the leadership characteristics and personality traits common among them. During one of my contemplative periods, I came across a book by a Christian Pastor, Gordon MacDonald called, Going Deep, Becoming a Person of Influence. It’s now one of the favorite books in my collection. In his book Gordon MacDonald details

The 12 Characteristics of Deep People in this way. They are:

  1. Deeply Spiritual
  2. Genuinely Caring
  3. Calm and Certain during times of Adversity
  4. Unashamed and Confident
  5. Optimistic and Have Great Faith
  6. Influential in the Eyes of Others
  7. Always Growing and are Hungry to Learn
  8. Committed to Doing the Right Thing
  9. Dedicated to Maintaining Healthy Relationships
  10. Respected for their Wisdom and Integrity
  11. Emotionally Aware and Emotionally Intelligent
  12. Loving and are people others Love to be around

In previewing Gordon MacDonald’s characteristics of Deep People, I found it aligns and almost completely mirrors my own and Strong Point’s core list of common leadership characteristics. This list provides, at least, a good starting point for defining the core characteristics of Leadership and Deep People. It should also be noted that Strong Point Strategy supports a Servant Style of Leadership. Leadership characteristics that support an Authoritarian or a Laissez-Faire style of Leadership may differ.
This brings us to Strong Point’s Leadership Rule #9: Work with Deep People.

It is Strong Point’s perspective, that Depth of Character is the stand-out difference between high-performing teams and those that fray around emotional edges and falter under the pressure of project work. Strong Point Solution Teams work to seek out and strengthen leadership depth in the people and partners participating in a project. Deep people stand still and face each other and challenges head-on, with grace, when frustration reigns and results are on the line. Deep people are the brick houses in a storm. They don’t easily wither, bend or collapse under pressure.

Whether or not you agree with the specific 12 Characteristics of Deep People supporting servant style leadership outlined by Gordon MacDonald, as an example, is not as important as naming and finding some core set of these characteristics that are meaningful to you and to your organization. Definitive leadership characteristics can become the building blocks for effective talent acquisition and hiring practices and tools. Declaring depth of character as a key component of leadership and developing character depth in your value system and operating culture leads to consistent and sustainable advancements in leadership capability.

How to Find and Hire Deep People

The translation of leadership characteristics into Leadership Capability requires thoughtful and thorough follow-through action. This translation of thought into action takes time and consistent effort. To illustrate this point, I can recount a specific Strong Point engagement that sought to reinvent the talent search, hiring and on-boarding processes of a large Mid-Atlantic Petro Chemical Company struggling to replace a highly-skilled, highly-dedicated and retiring work-force with an incoming generation that held a different set of values than those of the retiring professionals. It quickly became apparent to the existing leaders of the organization, that they had to define and institutionalize desired Leadership Characteristics in order to maintain current operational effectiveness while continuing to show and support growth. Once key leadership characteristics were clearly defined for new hires, the company worked to evaluate and verify the presence of these characteristics in a new employee’s skills, behaviors and actions at the end of his/her first year of employment. Similar evaluations conducted at the end of Year 2 and Year 3 yielded results that showed a dilution, deterioration or complete disappearance of these valued leadership skills in new hire cohorts. Strong Point stayed engaged with this client for 3 to 4 consecutive years in order to react to, respond to and refine the results of the talent search, hiring and on-boarding processes as they were realized in the Petro Chemical Company’s operating environment.

How to Continually Develop Deep People and Leaders

It turned out, that in order to maintain the “leadership strength and depth” defined by their core leadership characteristics, accompanying and detailed competency models had to be developed for each characteristic. Some leadership characteristics such Commitment to Doing the Right Thing had mixed results depending on the interpretation of an employee. An employee, for example, may have believed that he or she was doing the right thing by not documenting a colleague’s failure to perform mechanical rounds knowing that he or she was suffering some sort of personal or professional struggle at the moment. In an extremely dangerous, volatile and combustible chemical environment, this “doing the right thing” value judgment can lead to unsafe practices and result in catastrophic losses and injury and even death. It was the responsibility of the leadership team to explain to new hires and remind all employees that Doing the Right Thing explicitly meant holding Safety of self and others paramount over Support of self and others and that failure to execute and document core safety protocols was grounds for immediate termination. Specific examples of how one employee’s good intentions of supporting another employee’s lapse in safe action(s) led to unsafe results, made it easier for both the employees and the company to remain compliant to safety protocols while supporting and strengthening leadership capability at the same time. These specific details and examples are the content of competency models that are developed from leadership characteristics and refined through leadership action and results over time.

In The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 17, Issue 4, dated, August 2006, there are a series of Letters between authors George P Hollenback, Morgan W. McCall Jr and Robert F. Silzer about Leadership Competency Models.

“In this exchange of letters, Hollenbeck, McCall, and Silzer exchange views on the value of leadership competency models. Hollenbeck and McCall argue that the assumptions behind competency models are problematic and that the field’s uncritical acceptance of this technique has negative consequences, including a return to the “great person” view of leadership and a disregard for “great results.” Silzer counters with an examination of the benefits of leadership competency models for individuals and organizations. In his view, the developers and users of competency models do not succumb to an overly simplistic view of leadership effectiveness, and the way forward is a more comprehensive model of leadership effectiveness. “

I tend to agree with Robert Silzer. Finding, Hiring and Working with Deep People requires the work of continuous Leadership Development. Not all leadership endeavors allow you to build a leadership team from scratch. Leaders often inherit a team of professionals with whom they are to work. For all these reasons and variances, it is important to clearly define desired Leadership Characteristic and to build talent acquisition, hiring, on-boarding and leadership development programs on them. Investments of time, energy, effort and capital to these endeavors will yield the depth of character desired in individual leaders, teams and the operating culture.

Strong Point’s Leadership Rule #9: Work with Deep People