Three Wellsprings of Leadership®

John J. (Jack) Long

The Book

The Origin of the Three Wellsprings of Leadership®

During the time that I was leading the Southeast District of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I sent one of our promising young Staffers to attend a five-day training on Leadership.  When she returned, I stopped by her office to ask about her experience.  She was very enthusiastic about the course, and she asked me to read The 21 Indispensable Qualities Of A Leader (John Maxwell, 1999), a book that had been given to each participant.

I read Maxwell’s book.  There is a chapter devoted to each allegedly indispensable quality.  The chapters contain quotes from other persons, outlines, advice, and slogans related to the different qualities (character traits).  I was left with some questions.

If “indispensable” means “essential”, couldn’t there be fewer than twenty-one qualities or character traits?  Why aren’t there thirty-one indispensable qualities?  (Another writer has stated that more than fifty traits have been identified as “important,” but seven of them are “more important” than the others.)   How does one easily recall all of these indispensable qualities?  Why wasn’t “recognizing one’s weaknesses” listed specifically as an indispensable trait?

Maxwell’s slogan at the beginning of the chapter on “Character” states as follows: “Character: Be a Piece of the Rock”.  What is the significance of that statement, other than being a meaningless slogan? What “Rock”? The Rock of Ages; The Rock of Gibraltar; Alcatraz? In opposition to Maxwell and his fellow “character traits” enthusiasts, I examine “Character” as a phenomenon, rather than being just a bunch of allegedly indispensable qualities or traits.

Maxwell’s indispensable character traits also include, for example, “charisma”, “courage”, and “discernment”.  A twenty-six-year-old individual may not have those traits to the extent that a forty-six-year-old individual may have them.  Can one individual possess the fullness of  Maxwell’s twenty-one indispensable qualities?  And, if not, can that person be a “Leader”?  I say “Yes. That person can be an authentic and artful Leader.”

The Maxwell book was readable, but not instructive in terms of an investigation of the phenomenon and sources of “Leadership.”

When I returned the book to our Staffer, I asked her how many of the twenty-one indispensable qualities she remembered.  She recalled four of them.  Returning to my office, I was greeted by my framed abstract of The Four Competencies of Leadership (Warren Bennis, 1987):

If you ask subordinates what they want in a leader, they usually list three things: direction or vision, trustworthiness, and optimism.  Like effective parents, lovers, teachers, and therapists, good leaders make people hopeful.

Maxwell’s large number of allegedly indispensable qualities, and Bennis’ succinct description of leadership, prompted me to start down the path of trying to identify sources of Leadership.  I have asked my readers to think about “Leadership”, apart  from lists of allegedly indispensable character traits.

I make the case that Character, Hope, and Imagination are seminal sources from which can flow those aspects of Leadership that are relevant to the presenting opportunity or challenge.  I claim that one can be an authentic and artful Leader without having to be preoccupied with the presence, absence, or condition of twenty-one allegedly indispensable character traits, and without having to immerse oneself in the latest leadership craze.

My approach could be described as “ontological” in nature, as opposed to being merely descriptive of alleged leadership traits, principles, and approaches.  I describe Leadership as something that transcends character traits.  The authentic and artful Leader leads from spontaneity and grace, inspired by the wellsprings of Character, Imagination, and Hope.