Guest Post: Deep Leadership

Martina McGowan is a friend of mine who thinks deeply about leadership.

 Martina is a physician, business woman, mother, grandmother, coach, licensed minister, blogger, writer, and speaker. She has practiced medicine for over 30 years, including solo private practice and in the mission field of Haiti. Martina is a life-long student of human behavior, and has a particular interest in the care of sexually assaulted children.

Martina is passionate about leaders, and how deep leaders strengthen themselves and the people around them.

You can find out more about Martina at

“Leadership is influence.”

John C. Maxwell

Often people write and talk about the characteristics and qualities that we expect or hope for in our leaders. This seems to be a hot-button topic especially when someone we have all looked up to has fallen. Look at the mess that General Patreus has found himself in.

We usually try to place an idealized version of what we see in ourselves, or what we think we see in ourselves, and add that to some broad list of qualifications.

For instance, if telling the truth is important to you, then you would never expect your favorite leader to prevaricate. But, we are adults here and we know that this is not how the world works or how humans make their way through it.

Born or Made

There has been a great deal of controversy over the years about whether great leaders are made or born. I think it is probably some middle ground, but a little different recipe for each of us.

We each come into the world with some inborn set of values. As infants, our only concern is having our immediate needs met. These are then molded and morphed by our parents (who are also mere mortals), by life’s experiences and life’s lessons.

There is also often disconnect, or a severed connection, between the who is a leader and who are those who lead. Simon Sinek, in his TED talk on “How great leaders inspire action,” makes a great point.

What’s the difference?

Leaders generally come with a title and their authority springs from that and with that title. They usually have spent a fair amount of time, money, energy and human capital getting where they are in life. And, they are probably more focused on the next mountain to climb, the next office, the next level up. than they are on the task at hand. This is not to imply that they are negligent, but these people are on their way to somewhere else.

Those who lead, and some people from the first category may be found here as well, are different.

These are people who can always be counted on to get the job done. No matter what the job is. They seldom have titles or written authority commensurate with the level and weight of power they carry and wield. When these people speak, folks listen and move without a moment’s hesitation.

This is the “Zen” of leadership or the heart of the servant leader. This is deep leadership.

How do you become this type of leader?

You must first be in-tune with what’s happening around you.

You must see the vision at least as clearly as the vision-caster, perhaps better. You must know what the next logical step is on a level so deeply that you resonate like a kid in a candy store.

You must be a master communicator. You must understand and communicate with people well, on their level, in ways that they can clearly understand and in a way that speaks to their passions.

You must always be prepared for disconnections, misunderstandings and roadblocks. This doesn’t mean you have to be a babysitter, but you’ve got to understand people.

You can see several steps ahead in any discussion about the project.

You must execute. This step alone will separate you from the rest of the field.

Know and do!!!

I will grant that some of this may be innate. But I also know that much of it can be learned, harnessed, honed and matured.

You must seek to understand other people. And, no I don’t mean in a manipulative way. Find out what makes people tick. Figure out what about the current project or objective gets them excited. What fuels their passion? But be careful. If you are only after manipulation, it doesn’t take people long to see through you and your games. Be sincerely interested in other people.

The single most important key to deep leadership is to know yourself well.

Pay attention, pick up on any and every cue and clue, listen carefully.

Think, rotate your perspective, and then…


Thank you, Martina.

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  • Peg Gillard (@gracinginfinity)

    One who leads has found the core of, the very heart of true leadership. The passion that feeds them comes from the compassion that feeds those they lead. Great post Martina on how the connections we make are what create those who lead. The flashy leaders aren’t always those who encourage people forward. Sometimes they hold folks back. Sometimes it is those who work in the “basement” shoring up the foundation of all and building the support who are the true leaders. I have received much from both of your posts today. Enjoy your Thanksgivings!


    • Martina

      Thanks, Peg. You are correct. Great leaders are the guides, the support, often the unsung and unseen heroes. They are the people who know what they are about and can be relied upon to get things done. To paraphrase Loa Tzu, they leave things and people better, although people don’t always know how or why this is so.

      • Strategic Monk

        Thank you, Peg and Martina!

        Yes, leadership is not limited to certain personalities. Each of us has opportunities to lead in our own way. The challenge can often be getting down to our own foundations and discovering or discerning who we are. On our journey, as we explore, we find possibilities to become the leader we can be.