In a recent article in Fortune Magazine (January 22, 2015 by Geoff Colvin), Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld presented a very simple model for what they as a company look for in leadership development. Klein stated:
"There is a T-shaped model. The horizontal line across the top represents qualities [we look for] related to analytics, strategic thinking, languages, some math skills, and some international experience. But I also look at depth. A person needs to have the stamina to experience, at an early point in his or her life, something very deep or challenging or frustrating—and getting through it.
And I almost don’t care what it is. If somebody said, “I spent two years in India studying Indian spiritual practices,” and then I find out how the person thinks and what the individual has learned, that for me counts as one of those deep dives.
If you want to lead anything, it doesn’t work to just have the general management skills because there are going to be one or two or three issues where you have to roll up your sleeves and get into it and don’t stop digging until you’ve found the bottom. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to earn respect."
It has been said that genius is taking the complex and boiling it down to the simple. I believe that Mr. Kleinfeld has displayed at least a touch of that quality here. For over twenty years Orrin Woodward and myself have been teaching leadership and seeking to intentionally develop people in their marches toward high achievement. We have talked about the "Science" side and the "Art" side of leadership. We have taught that there are "methods" and "principles" involved in success. We have tried to relate this nuance that there are at least two dimensions involved in all of this. I think Kleinfeld's T-shaped diagram makes a nice contribution to the concept.
If I may, I would like to summarize his horizontal bar as "skills," or "ability." These are things that are not endowed at birth but are rather acquired through effort and desire. The vertical bar is "character" or "fortitude," or things that reflect the deeper composition of a person. So if we label the horizontal bar as "Ability," we could most likely remember a vertical bar labeled "Stick-ability."
How many of us know people who are wide on skills but shallow on depth? You scratch the surface of their existence and they are a quarter inch deep.
On the contrary, how many have known people who are quite deep as individuals, strong and full of character, but their interests are so narrow that they can only talk about their particular vocation and little else.
I suppose we could debate for hours the merits of being on one side or the other.
But really, we should all aspire to be both wide and deep. Our yearning should be to fulfill all of our human potential by broadening our skills and deepening our strength of character and rectitude.
This is what we look for when we hire. It is what we teach when we talk about what is necessary in order to lead effectively. And it is what we demand of ourselves in our daily walk.
What about you?
What intentional and regular steps are you taking to broaden your skills? What new studies have you taken on? What training have you inculcated? What are you doing to add to the variety of what makes you interesting?
Similarly, what about depth? How often to you test yourself and push yourself to the limits? How often do you hold yourself accountable, and who have you enlisted to help in keeping you honest? What steps do you take to stoke the flames of your inner motivations so that your ability to hang tough when the times get even tougher is sufficient for the challenge?
Excellence is a combination of Ability and Stick-ability, and neither are an accident. They are both the result of intentional cultivation.
Thank you Mr. Kleinfeld, your diagram suits us to a T.