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  • Writer's pictureJames Lee

Level Up - Episode 2: MBAR Leadership Model

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

[Video link to Episode 2 here and also imbedded below.]

How often do you think about your own leadership thinking?

Take a look at your cell phone for a moment. Encased within that elegant and simple device is the accumulation of years or research, billions of dollars spent between competing firms, and imaginative ways of thinking by the teams who created the technology. The "operating system" is the phone. The device simply houses the phone.

Your day-to-day actions, the emails you send, the reports you put together, maybe even some of the goals you set for your team... these are simply the housing of your operating system - YOUR leadership model.

So just consider for a moment how often you think about and develop your own leadership model. Could you write it down? Could you trademark it? Could you explain it consistently to different people?

Whether you use someone else's model that really resonates with you or develop one yourself, having a model to follow helps you to center your leadership actions when unfamiliar situations arise. I compare it to learning how to drive.

When you first learn to drive where are your hands positioned? 10 and 2. Where are your hands when you drive today? Exactly. Dominant hand at the 12. Maybe if you're on a long stretch of straight highway you have your hand casually at the 6.

But what happens when you hit a slippery patch of road? Where do your hands automatically go? 10 and 2.

In times of unfamiliar or urgent need, our brains automatically go to our most fundamental learning. Our model for behaving. That's what having a good leadership model can do for most people - it gives you a 10 and 2 to return to when you hit a rough patch.

"A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create." - Mahatma Gandhi

The MBAR Leadership Model

An important self-reflection I have had is that I don't have a preferred learning style. Some people self-identify as a visual learner (seeing), an auditory learner (listening), a tactile learn (doing). But in truth, aren't we all a little bit of each?

The visual sides of my learning led me to the design of what I have come to call the MBAR Leadership Model. The basis of it is pretty simple, but believe me when I say that it takes extraordinary effort to make what is complex into something simple. Here are the basics of the MBAR model.

Inside Out

You can't just "fix" results or just "get more" results. Managers who say they are performance driven but aren't coaching driven say things like:

  • We're going to press on our teams to perform

  • We need to see better numbers or we're moving to a performance improvement plan

  • We just need people who can sell (or insert any specific function)

  • Don't come to me with problems; come to me with solutions

You can't just decide to suddenly have different habits. Anytime I'm not satisfied with a result, my daily activities, or my habits (behavior), I examine my motivators. Each ring on the MBAR model is a self-assessment mechanism. A basic rule for MBAR is whatever aspect you're trying to influence, you actually have to go (at least) one level deeper.

So, if you want better results, you have to work on your activities.

If you want better daily activities, you have to examine your habits.

If you are not satisfied with your routines, you have to look deeper into what motivates you - your why.

EQ and IQ - Head and Heart

As leaders, we all have a sliding range of emotional intelligence and business intelligence. At all stages or rings on the MBAR model, you must tap into both your EQ and IQ. You only enhance those qualities through learning, self-growth, and purposeful curation of your skills.

The more central you go in the MBAR model, the more emotional intelligence you will need to leverage. Emotional intelligence is that ability to self-regulate emotions and effectively manage relationships with others (we are all emotional beings). In truth, we are not rational beings who occasionally feel emotion. We are emotional beings who occasionally think.

Business intelligence or acumen is certainly required of leaders. There's no way around this - you have to know your stuff. In the grand scheme of professional effectiveness, I believe that EQ is the multiplier to your IQ. Whatever special knowledge you have in your field, improving your emotional intelligence has a multiplying effect to your ability to perform and lead a team.

Practical Application

Not only do I use this model to assess and fine-tune my own mindset and activities, I have exclusively used this methodology to coach others. I may have completed forms and assessments provided by my company to fulfill the obligation of checking that box, but in daily practice my coaching resource has been this MBAR Leadership Model.

It's simple enough to get, but deep enough to fit a very wide range of situations.

It isn't a pass/fail tool but rather an assessment tool that people can reference for self-guided reflection, learning, and performance management. Results aren't measured against arbitrary metrics set by someone else (as is the case for most annual performance appraisals). In this model, results are simply an input - a starting and/or end point - to seek correlation to our own activities, behaviors, and motivators.

More simply - the MBAR model is not a ruler. It is a mirror.

Why Am I Sharing This?

I am not asking people to subscribe to my way of thinking, but rather I hope that people might find some inspiration in how I think about my thinking. Try to draw your own leadership model on a single piece of post-it note. The exercise of creating something simple but profound is one that you may find challenging - especially if you've never thought to articulate, much less draw, your leadership model.

NOTE: Try to think of your leadership model always as a hypothesis that you are testing and retesting. It shouldn't be set in stone. Evangelizing your own thoughts and never being open to reexamining them leaves you susceptible to lazy or default thinking. The balance I try to strike is that a model should help you on how to think and not stipulate what to think.

Lead well, my friends. Make your work part of the legacy of your life. I hope you enjoy this episode.

- James Lee

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