01 October 2011

Chiseling of a Leader

"I saw the angel in the marble and I chiseled until I set it free."


Mount Rushmore National Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, celebrates its 70th anniversary on 31 October 2011.   It took the American-born sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, son of Danish immigrants, fourteen years to complete this monumental task. 

While he is also responsible for the carving on the side of Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, Georgia, the head of Abraham Lincoln, which sits in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., and the North Carolina monument at the Gettysburg battlefield, Borglum's most notable work is Mount Rushmore. 

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are displayed in 60-foot granite heads carved mostly with dynamite.

When viewing this edifice I wonder if these leaders were born or made.  Or, was this select group of Americans chiseled over a lifetime?

On the way through life have you ever stopped to think about the importance of strong character and how it develops?  Does it happen by being battle-tested in various assignments?  From life's experiences?  Is a crisis the way in which true character forms?  Or is it from a combination of success and failure?  What is the role of disappointment or rejection?  

And how do you know who anyone is in an age of self-constructed digital images? 

Lincoln once observed that giving someone power was the best way to find out who they really are.

How long did it take Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln to develop as leaders?  Longer than the decade-and-a-half it took Gutzon Borglum to finish sculpting their faces on the side of a mountain.

The outsize display of four great men begs another question.  Why is so much attention given to formal leadership programs and so little to the nonformal, character-building experiences, where people spend the vast majority of their time?

What are the experiences that contribute to shaping and influencing leaders?

The Center for Creative Leadership offers five worth noting:
  • Start something from scratch
  • Fix or turn around something
  • Enlarge your responsibility
  • Take on special projects
  • Endure hardships

It's not enough to have these experiences.  It's what you take away from them that makes this kind of chiseling worthwhile.  

If you are persevering through the economic crisis, what, if anything, will your management team take away from a time of testing and hardship?    

We tend to lose our memory as things improve which explains why the mistakes of the past will likely be repeated in the future. 

All four presidents on Mount Rushmore probably engaged at some point with the experiences on the above list. It wasn't that they went through difficult times.  Many do.  It was how they did so that made a difference in the outcomes.

Something to be mindful of throughout your career is the value of conversations.  Some will be long, and more will be brief.  Under the right circumstances, these exchanges can be a source of insights that are essential to learning, growing, and changing. 

Our perspective can be limited.  Listening to others, and viewing things through a different lens, has the potential to clarify our vision and improve our options for taking the next steps.

Coaching is quite popular with many--and it has its place.  However, the right mentors coming in and out of your life, along with trusted friendships, may be more important in the longer term.   

Does it feel as though you are currently being chiseled, even with what seems like dynamite?

If so, then you are likely enrolled in the same leadership development program as the four American presidents who grace Mount Rushmore. 


(C)  Bredholt & Co.