Precious Mettle

by  Tristan Bishop  |  Leadership Development

“We’re running low on leaders”

Due to the demographics, huge numbers of accomplished leaders will soon be leaving the workforce. This wise guidance is not easily replaced, but we’ve got to try and we need to begin planning now. Because so many mentors have fewer than five years left alongside those who’ll follow, there is little time for trial and error. To ensure that organizations can move powerfully forward, it’s imperative that we choose successors carefully AND correctly.

But how do we decide who should lead in the coming decades? Which character qualities will future leaders require?

I assert that one of the chief characteristics needed for future success is “Mettle”.

Mettle is defined as “the courage and fortitude to carry on.” The need for mettle is obvious. Economic uncertainty continues to grow. Public trust in authority is alarmingly low. It is not an easy time for the inexperienced to experiment.

So how do we predict which potential successors are packed with precious mettle? Consider the way “precious metals” are obtained. Precious metals are mined from hidden locations, brought up to the light and then purified through fire. In the same way, precious mettle must be found deep within new leaders, from every hidden corner of our organizations, and then fanned into flame by passionate mentors. To forge a successful future, today’s leaders must mine their organizations for those who already possess the following qualities:

  1. A Mind like a Steel Trap
  2. An Iron Will
  3. A Heart of Gold

Steel-Trap Mind

Here are a few ways to assess whether or not a potential leader has a “mind like a steel trap”:

  • Steel-minded leaders study (and avoid) the errors of others
  • Steel-minded leaders brave an issue before it escalates into an impasse
  • Steel-minded leaders know when to reason with and when to empathize with

Iron Will

Here are some ways to discern whether or not a leadership candidate has an iron will:

  • Iron will leaders believe success seeks the steadfast
  • Iron will leaders use stumbling blocks as stepping stones
  • Iron will leaders mold obstacles into opportunities

Heart of Gold

Here are a few ways to recognize whether or not a future leader has a heart of gold:

  • Golden heart leaders look at acorns and see oak trees
  • Golden heart leaders believe empathy powers progress
  • Golden heart leaders choose inspiration: They refuse to use intimidation

Even the most magnificent mentor can’t turn bronze into platinum. To build successful new leaders in trying times, we must find the people who demonstrate key character traits and then train them in crucial skills.

I think the future belongs to the organizations that can identify and inspire the next generation of leaders. What do YOU think?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

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What People Are Saying

Thomas Waterhouse  |  10 Apr 2011  |  Reply

I don’t think it’s necessarily “we” who decide who leads in coming decades. Those who have character will emerge, and sometimes character remains dormant, waiting for the perfect moment to become manifest. I think the process is organic and if we simply invest in that person on our left or right today, speaking “Life to potential, healing to pain, and light to darkness” (I can never resist getting that tagline in) then we have done our part. I think ours is to “love out of character” (the theme of Simple Encouragement®) planting and watering right where we are, then life will ultimately spring forth in all of its magnificent forms. Sometimes this “life” will be a spectacular leader! My concern is that if we only “mine” where we think the next leader will be, we might become blind to our responsibility and the “real deal” (yet-to-be-revealed) right there in front of us. Tristan, your concern is well taken, and your thoughts have GREAT merit. As a recovering “product-guy”, I think almost totally in terms of “process”. I try to stick with my nearest duty, which is to love out of the worldview that I am inspired to express. This being said, I don’t believe that “product” and “process” is an “either/or” proposition; I just fall on the “process” end of the continuum. I also understand (I think) that you are speaking from an intra-organizational perspective where the search may have importance, and I am simply painting with a broader brush. Regardless, I hope it adds to the discussion. I always love your contributions, Tristan. You’re bright, well thought out, and inspiring of this community. Thank you so much for doing that yet one more time!

Tristan Bishop  |  10 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Thank you so much for your perspective, feedback and kind words! You encourage me every day.

When I speak of mining for those with mettle, I do speak from within the enterprise corporate world. The conventional promotional path emphasizes experience. But in a world that’s changing at a blurry rate, I think that particular experience in a job may not be the best predictor of success.

Since I have limited cycles, I find myself noticing co-workers who have extraordinary focus and passion. It serves the company and the customers when I pour my mentoring cycles into them in a concentrated way.

I agree that everyone deserves encouragement and I aim to offer it everywhere I go. But, though all may merit mentoring, I am a finite resource and am forced to focus.

I’m curious what our friends will offer? Do we mentor as we go? Do we find and focus? What has worked best for you all?

ellen weber  |  10 Apr 2011  |  Reply

What a wonderful reminder, Tristan, to leave the next generation more precious metals than counterfeit coins. In that case – as you remind us so well, we still have significant work yet to do. I agree with you that “the future belongs to the organizations that can identify and inspire the next generation of leaders.”

Before we leave the next innovational leaders on their own let’s:

a) Support innovationby engaging novice leaders to share novel ideas
b) Question and wonder more – rather than talk and deliver
c) Target improvements together rather than critique their mistakes
d) Expect quality differences rather than foster traditional similarities
e) Encourage multiple resources throughout workplace, not just reward talents at top
f) Reflect to ask – where to from here? – and help them to move forward daily
g) Inspire them to treat all people as capital
h) Model how to facilitate in ways that show how all can learn to lead
i) View knowledge as shared, and practice genuine transparancy
j) Teach innovation tactics as an engine forward together across silos

Those are a few more precious coins I’d like to see added to their mix. As we offer a legacy of support and trust, the next generation is predictably going to nudge us all closer to mountain peaks where new visions await us. Thanks for that inspired reminder Tristan! .

Tristan Bishop  |  11 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, Ellen!

What a spectacular set of suggestions. Your comment merits a post of it’s own. Such a terrific list of practicals to complement the article’s imagery. Bravo.

We have much work to do in days ahead. So glad noble mentors like you stand ready to roll up your sleeves.


Georgia Feiste  |  11 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Tristan – you continue to engage and create thought wherever you go! Thanks for a great post. And the comments have been wonderfully enlightening, as well.

I agree with your response that “the conventional promotional path emphasizes experience. But in a world that’s changing at a blurry rate, I think that particular experience in a job may not be the best predictor of success.” Most companies promote those who have done the work well, rather than look for the visionary who can take the work to the next level, and has the passion to wrap themselves in the idea and the process. This limits us to “doing what we have always done”.

Vision, values and deep and abiding respect for others. That is what I looked for as I promoted and mentored leaders within my organization. Those who operated from that perspective did extremely well.

Thank you again for a wonderful post.


Tristan Bishop  |  13 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Thank you so much, Georgia!

You’ve said what I’d hoped to say even more effectively than my attempt. The constraint of only promoting those who can ‘do what we’ve always done’ can deprive organizations of the leadership to do what’s next.

I always appreciate your insights. Very grateful.


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