How our psychological wiring can determine our effectiveness as leaders

How our psychological wiring can determine our effectiveness as leaders


The Three Levels of Leadership” by James Scouller, 2011 (390 pages).

Published by Management Books 2000 Ltd, 2011.


What makes for successful and fulfilling leadership? Many have been and many still are the theories that dive into this topic. Judging by the general popularity of books, lectures and trainings in leadership, it is pretty clear that many of us who find ourselves in roles of leadership are eager for input on how to carry out our role well.

Most leadership theories end out either in more or less vague descriptions of desirable traits and behaviours or in long check lists of tasks to be handled by leaders. However, what is typically missing are instructions on how to travel the road towards these characteristics and/or task handling. James Scouller’s ”The Three Levels of Leadership” does fall into the check list making category. However, what is truly interesting are his thoughts on self-awareness and self-mastery.

Three Aspects of Leadership

As leaders we engage on several levels. A lot of work is performed in group settings (teams, departments, divisions, company). This is the discipline of Public leadership. We also engage one-on-one with individual people, whether they be subordinates, superiors or other stakeholders. This is the discipline of Private leadership.

In both the Public and Private leadership areas we must focus on both task execution and on managing the development of the people, resources and structures we have in our care. Tasks here include ensuring a clear and shared vision, ensuring results are reached, ensuring team and individual motivation and interaction are good.

As leaders we need a suitable degree of domain and general knowledge, knowledge of how to deal with other people and knowledge of how we need to deal with ourselves. In order for us to perform public or private leadership well, we must also continually engage with our self. This is the discipline of Personal leadership. Without a well-functioning self, the public and private leadership roles will suffer.


Which is more likely to gain our respect and commitment: leaders focused on their appearance and status or leaders focused on being their authentic selves and having everybody reach their full potential? We have probably most of us in our careers met with the first type of leader. Perhaps we were even enthralled for a little while with the vibrant and articulate image that is presented to us. However, once we glimpse the lack of depth and what machinations it takes to obtain and maintain this leadership facade, we may very well have become disillusioned with the leader.

The second type of leader is more rarely encountered, but has much more profound and lasting positive effect on people and organizations. What sets the second type of leader apart is what James Scouller defines as “presence”. This way of being is characterized by the ability to control responses to outer events, a high and realistic self-esteem that does not depend on comparison with other people, a drive to grow, being in the now and having achieved inner peace of mind, being our true self.

Now, that may sound like a tall order, and it is important to point out that no one enters or holds a leadership role with the expectation of having perfected the art. Rather we should be willing to continually work with and improve how we use our self.

Limiting Beliefs and Self-mastery

What do we believe to be absolutely true about ourselves? Do any of these beliefs make us pass negative judgement on ourselves and so make us feel insignificant, inadequate, unlikeable? The key to unlocking our growth and presence is to find and deal with any of such limiting beliefs and the fears and defense mechanisms that come with them. Our beliefs control our thinking, our interpretation of the world around us and following on from that our actions and the habits we form.

False beliefs may have been generated in us during our formative years by our own thinking or by external influence from family, friends and peers. False beliefs are so ingrained that we may get the impression that we in fact are these false beliefs. Our relationship with situations and people come to center on protecting us from the negativity and fears that are the basis of our false beliefs. The results may manifest as standoffishness, domineering, or need for control.

The important step we can take is to stop our identification with our negative belief. We can ask ourselves for evidence that the negative belief is in fact always true, and if it should not in fact be replaced by another, non-limiting belief. Ridding ourselves of our limiting beliefs opens us up to an honest appreciation of our self, including its weaknesses, and makes it easier for us to genuinely connect to others and to move towards our purpose.


Our beliefs create the world we live in, the opportunities that come our way and the outcomes we get. If we hold limiting and negative beliefs about ourselves this will spill over into how we interact with other people and reduce what we will be able to achieve. James Scouller’s work on leadership gives ideas for working not only on the public and private leadership areas, but also how we may identify and replace any limiting beliefs we may have picked up over the years. Inner peace and outer presence can be put within our reach.

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