Building the Right Leadership Foundation

If you’ve ever watched a building project, the laying of the foundation is critical. It is the foundation that sets the long-term stability of the structure. The way the foundation is dug in, reinforced, and poured or built is so important.

The same can be said for your ability to become a strong leader. The foundation you build will support your leadership structure, framework, and long-term success. Let’s look at the parallels.

First the Preparation

Good construction of a foundation starts with an analysis of the ground underneath. Soil conditions, the level of the nearby water tables, and other elements are checked and evaluated. Foundations being placed in locations with sandy soil, like beachfront lots or lakeside locations usually have to drive pilings deep into the ground to reach bedrock for stability. On the other hand, locations with rocky terrain might not even allow the first footing to penetrate the surface, thus making for bad foundational conditions.

Being able to set the foundational structure into firm ground is the first step in building a solid foundation. Otherwise, the foundation will be likely to shift and ‘float’ once it is built. Movement like that causes weakness in the structures above.

Preparing to be a Leader requires similar searching for solid ground. Learning and knowing your core values is like the bedrock you need. If you don’t spend time digging into the primary motives, values, and principles you want to follow as a leader will be like building your reputation on a sandy beach. It can wash away with the tide.

Next the Substance

Real foundations come in different forms. Many include poured concrete. Yet some are pier and beam structures. Regardless of the technique used, having the right materials configured and constructed the right way is key.

In the case of concrete, simply pouring a big mass of concrete won’t last long. If reinforcing steel is not placed crisscrossing the structure, the concrete alone can crack, warp and break down in time.

Great leadership is made up of a mix of many different attributes. One size does not fit all. However, having the right mix, properly aligned can serve you well. The blend of skills attributes, and abilities are often shaped over time. Experience can provide good insight into ways you might need to adjust your leadership.

Trying to establish yourself as a leader without first assembling a patchwork of skills, abilities, and values can be futile. The right mix of the right substance can set you on a course for success as a leader.

Making Adjustments

As time goes on, foundations may need further work to lift, adjust, and reinforce them. I live near the gulf coast of Texas. Our soil has a tendency to float on a very shallow water table. That may be more technical than you care to know. But it means we have to have foundation work done sometimes. After 30 years of solid performance, my home started to show signs of shifting and settling. SHeetrock cracked and doors stuck. The foundation repair company was called.

We had to dig 15 piers across the front of my house. Once the piers were set, the jacks were installed and the ‘lift’ happened. Within minutes, all the cracks and door jams were once again square. My foundation had started settling across the front. Getting it lifted just fractions of an inch helped return the structure to ‘square’.

Your approach to leadership can likewise settle or shift in time. You form habits. Maybe you get complacent about certain things. Or you let a few bad experiences warp your view of values and principles. You need to perform your own valuation and review of your leadership.

Get feedback from peers or your direct reports. Be open to honest feedback. Determine whether adjustments need to be made to get your leadership foundation back on square.

Gettbricking the Right Help to Build Your Foundation

As with any construction, hiring the right contractor to build the foundation is important. If you are just now starting out on your leadership journey, consider hiring a coach to help you put together the right foundation solution to best serve your needs.

Friends can help you shape some ideas, but someone with proven experience in more senior leadership roles can do more to help you put together the best foundation for your use as a leader.


Doug Thorpe
Doug Thorpe
With 25+ years in executive leadership, Doug is a been-there-done-that kind of leader. He has senior management experience in all major sectors; the military, Fortune 500, entrepreneurial, and non-profit. He has also enjoyed success as an entrepreneur, building several companies and non-profits. Doug’s clients realized significant cost savings, more effective operations, and higher profitability by using his business expertise. Doug provides executive coaching and business consulting services for executives and owners seeking fresh ideas for development of C-suite talent, high potential leaders, and team development. His firm is Headway Executive Coaching. Doug is the author of The Uncommon Commodity.

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