Leadership Finesse (Guest Blog by Mark Mathia)

The following blog post is part of the Bennis Blogger Battle. Support Mark by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment and sharing it on your social media! The blog with the most hits, wins.


There are many formulas that lay claim as the best pathway toward great leadership. Just the other day a friend, who is an exceptional leader, raised a challenging notion. He remarked that the secret to great leadership doesn’t lie within a predetermined set of principles. He claimed that even though there is much written about great leadership it’s not what great leaders know but how they apply what they know that matters. He felt that great leadership is found in the finesse of its execution.

Then he did the unthinkable – he issued a challenge – Why not write about that?

Since that talk, this idea of leadership finesse has haunted the leader within. If leadership is really more about finesse or how we execute, then how does someone interested in growing leaders communicate that? The execution of principles comes in the form of a slight shift of wording or an empowering expression that compels people toward positive action. It’s more than learning a formula, even a proven one.

It was easy to agree with the hypothesis but defining what finesse looks like was when the heavy mental lifting took place.

The Merriam Webster dictionary offers these definitions of finesse:

1: refinement or delicacy of workmanship, structure, or texture

2: skillful handling of a situation: adroit maneuvering

3: the withholding of one’s highest card or trump in the hope that a lower card will take the trick because the only opposing higher card is in the hand of an opponent who has already played

The first two definitions definitely relate to this discussion. However, they didn’t really offer the kind of practical application needed to communicate this leadership idea. That left the final definition about a card game. This definition sounds crazy. The temptation was to slam the dictionary shut and give up.

Then, like a lightning bolt – inspiration hit! The third definition came through for me; in fact, it offered the answer I was searching for. There are two plainly visible characteristic of leadership finesse expressed in this definition.

What was initially disregarded as irrelevant was beginning to prove to be the key to greater understanding.

Characteristics of Leadership Finesse

1. Humility

The value of humility is that it allows a leader to ‘withhold one’s highest card or trump.’ Leadership finesse starts with being humble to the core. My favorite definition of humility comes from John Dickson, author of the book, Humilitas.

“Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others.” – John Dickson

This definition allows people some freedom to fail. There are times when having all the answers actually becomes a hindrance to team growth. In reality, great leaders understand that you can be completely right and still be wrong. Not every situation requires the “most-correct” answer. Why? Because time has shown that great leadership is a journey, not a destination. It’s a slow growth process that needs many different experiences to develop and strengthen ones ability to execute.

The fact remains; in the absence of true humility, leaders don’t own the necessary “finesse” to develop greatness in others. Therefore, organizational effectiveness is diminished.

2. Hope

Finesse in leadership offers people real hope that a lower card will eventually ‘take the trick.’

Offering hope is more than simply being a blind optimist. Truly great leaders set and articulate a clear and concise vision that allows followers to see past problems towards a better future.

Leadership finesse requires that leaders constantly identify the cause of struggles and then, with relentless determination, make the best of their current reality. All this is done in preparation for a glorious future.

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Using a building metaphor, if the concrete of leadership finesse is humility – then the building blocks are hope. How does one become an expert at leadership finesse? Start here and then let’s work together to figure out the rest of the equation.

What would you add to the essence of leadership finesse?

Mark Mathia is a Christian blogger, writer, speaker and co-founder/CEO of Tiburon Financial, LLC.  He is passionate about helping others succeed in business and life. Please support Mark by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment below and visiting his personal blog: www.markmathia.com. You can also find Mark on Twitter @mmathia!

10 thoughts on “Leadership Finesse (Guest Blog by Mark Mathia)

  1. I love how you were able to use the third and most obscure definition you found to effectively explain what you wanted to get across here!

    To answer your last thought: I think the next step is a dual-edged sword. That is because a good leader will know how to build a team to accomplish the objectives set forth, but the team will also (generally) follow the leader and band around them constantly. Therefore, the leader does not need to be capable of selecting a team, because they draw the appropriate people to match their own personalities and leadership qualities.
    What do you think?

Comments are encouraged!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s