Shoring up the parts of leadership nobody (but God) sees.
By Gordon MacDonald
In June 1872, the Chief Engineer of the project wrote: "To such of the general public as might imagine that no work had been done on the New York tower, because they see no evidence of it above the water, I should simply remark that the amount of the masonry and concrete laid on that foundation during the past winter, under water, is equal in quantity to the entire masonry of the Brooklyn tower visible today above the water line."
The Brooklyn Bridge remains a major transportation artery in New York City today because, 135 years ago, the Chief Engineer and his construction team did their most patient and daring work where no one could see it: on the foundations of the towers below the water line. It is one more illustration of an ageless principle in leadership: the work done below the water line (in a leader's soul) that determines whether he or she will stand the test of time and challenge. This work is called worship, devotion, spiritual discipline. It's done in quiet, where no one but God sees.
Today there is a tremendous emphasis on leadership themes such as vision, organizational strategy, and the "market-sensitivity" of one's message. And it's all great stuff (stuff I wish I'd heard when I was real young). But if it is all about what's above the water line, we are likely to witness a leadership crash of sorts in the coming years. Leaders blessed with great natural skills and charisma may be vulnerable to collapse in their character, their key relationships, their center of belief, because they never learned that you cannot (or should not anyway) build above the water line until there is a substantial foundation below it. A re-read of the life of Moses (which I've just done) is the best example of this. The man spent 80 years preparing for his more visible work.
My opinion: the test of a leader is less what he or she accomplishes before 45 years of age and more what happens after. Call it sustainability! The trick is to last and grow stronger, wiser, more focused with the years.