More Substance, Less Style

Let’s take stock of want we’ve said thus far. We have suggested there are areas and attitudes in out leadership lives that cause things to go awry, but there is a solution to each of them.


Now we come to the fourth principle and that is: more substance and less style

One of the best books on leadership to appear in the past 20 years is Bill George’s: TRUE NORTH  which was written in the aftermath of the corporate disasters and scandals of the early part of the millennium. Who will forget the headlines about companies such as Enron, Worldcom-MCI, Arthur Andersen, Barings Bank, Parmalat and others? It was a litany of “leaders behaving badly” which resulted in despair and considerable loss for so many employees, investors, shareholders and pensioners. (In the case of Enron, the courts found CEO Jeff Skilling and Founder/President Kenneth Lay guilty of multiple charges of corporate fraud. Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but after striking a deal the sentence was reduced by 10 years. Kenneth Lay was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but died before the sentence began.)

Bill George writes his book as a plea for more authentic leadership and a return to values such as integrity, openness and accountability. In a talk given shortly after publication, he was quoted as saying: “What we need in leadership is more integrity and less image; more character and less charisma; more substance and less style.” It’s this final phrase that I have jumped upon, but I could have used any of the three.


What do we mean by that?

  • Substance – Think of a leader with substance as a leader who is the “real thing”. S/he is a person of integrity and authenticity – what you see is what you get. There is something solid, trustworthy and credible about such a leader
  • Style – A leader known only for his/her “style” is a leader who places a large premium on looking and sounding good, of projecting an attractive image, of being fashion-conscious and determined to make an impact, but possibly lacking in genuineness and integrity.


Another terrific book on this same subject is Kevin Cashman’s: Leadership from the Inside Out – Becoming a Leader for Life. He talks about all of us as having character and persona (or coping strategies). Character is the “real me”, the person I know myself to be, and Persona is the version of me that I project to others, and it may look quite different to the “real me”. You will recognise the following diagram from the Personal Leadership Programme.



The figure on the left is the leader leading from the inside out. His/her character is very close to the surface; people can see her being true to herself. There is a thin layer of persona, and this is what all of us have, to protect ourselves in circumstances where we feel unsure of who and what we will be facing. She is a great leader to work for as she has an easy presence, you know what you are going to get from her. This is a leader of substance

The figure on the right is the leader who is, for some reason or another, not prepared to reveal to much of himself; he wants to keep his real “self” deep on the inside, protected by a persona which he has constructed, in order to show others what he believes is his “best self”. He puts on an act much of the time, and folk who work with him complain that they never really get to know him. He is a very stressful person to work for, as you never know what you are going to get. This is a leader who is more concerned with style than substance.

When you join us on the “Power of 10” workshop, we will work with you to answer one of the most important questions any leader can ask.


How do I lead with true integrity and authenticity?

As Kevin Cashman puts it:

We need to ask, “Where is my leadership coming from?” We need to consider constantly the origin of out leadership in various circumstances. Do our actions originate from deep within ourselves, or are they coming from a more superficial, limited space. Is our leadership arising from our character, the essence of who we are? Or is it coming only from our persona, the external personality we have created to cope with life’s circumstances.”


 Written by Rob Gee | Senior Partner of The Living Leader | Power of 10

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