LEAD

13 Ways of Looking at a Leader

Want to be a better leader? Or find management inspiration, at least? Here you can learn from a baker's dozen of the most prevalent types.
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Our endless fascination with leadership has inspired an endless parade of leadership books, many of which strive to identify distinctive styles of top-doggery. Whether CEOs can learn to lead from the prescriptions of academics, consultants, and management thinkers is open to debate. For those wishing to try—or at least to be inspired—here are a baker's dozen of the most prevalent types of leaders. We have also cited a book associated with each leadership style, as well as some real-world examples of each archetype.

1. Adaptive

In normal times, there may not be easy answers, but at least there are answers. In times of crisis or King Kong–scale change, leaders must devise entirely new approaches to doing business. Adaptive leaders rise above the noise to interpret dynamic situations, adjust their values to changing circumstances, and then help their people stretch to meet the unfamiliar without sacrificing their trust, says Ron Heifetz, director of Harvard's Center for Public Leadership. Sam Palmisano, late of IBM, is one such change maestro. Ford's Alan Mulally is another.

For more: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, by Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky, and Alexander Grashow

2. Emotionally Intelligent

Psychologist Daniel Goleman correlates leadership success with awareness of one's own feelings and the feelings of others. Emotionally intelligent leaders are expert managers of themselves and their relationships with others, and consequently they are masters of influence (but in a good way). Howard Schultz and Warren Buffett fill the bill. Though neural hard-wiring plays a part in emotional intelligence, Goleman believes even nonempaths can learn it.

For more: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, by Daniel Goleman

3. Charismatic

These are the folks who put the I in Iacocca. Charismatic leaders influence others through sheer leaderishness. Ninety years ago, sociologist Max Weber described charismatic authority as deriving from exceptional character, heroism, or sanctity. These days, it is more often a function of personality and, consequently, tough to teach. Though charismatic leaders are tremendous motivators and often run fantastically successful organizations, they tend to suck up oxygen, and their reigns can grow cultlike. Think Jack Welch, Theodore Roosevelt, and Voldemort.

For more: Charismatic Leadership in Organizations, by Jay A. Conger and Rabindra N. Kanungo

4. Authentic

Authenticity—like passion—is a potent word thinned to pablum by overuse. But it still felt fresh when former Medtronic CEO Bill George used the term to describe leaders with integrity and character. That was in 2003, two years after the collapse of Enron and eight years before Medtronic, under a different CEO, paid more than $23 million to settle claims that it paid physicians kickbacks to implant its pacemakers and defibrillators in patients. That said, authentic leaders—like James Goodnight of software giant SAS—are polestars of constancy and discipline. By contrast, "shooting stars" rocket to the top, with no time to reflect or deepen.

For more: Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, by Bill George

5. Level 5

As defined by business guru Jim Collins, Level 5 leaders pursue goals with the ferocity of lions while displaying the humility of lambs. This very rare breed (Good to Great identifies just 11 examples) bestows credit generously, shoulders blame responsibly, and puts organization before self. Although many entrepreneurs consider Level 5 the gold standard, it is not for those whose egos won't fit in the overhead bin. (Good to Great lauds such nonhousehold names as Darwin Smith, former CEO of Kimberly-Clark, and Colman Mockler, former CEO of Gillette.)

For more: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don't, by Jim Collins

6. Mindful

Too many leaders cruise through life on old assumptions and unquestioned rules of thumb, according to psychology professor Ellen Langer. If those leaders paid close attention to their environments—noticing, probing, analyzing, and, most important, listening to others—then they would ask smarter questions, detect nascent change, and become better learners. Mindfulness plays to entrepreneurs' love of novelty and is probably easier for founders of young companies, who have not yet developed rigid habits of thought. But corporate giants have birthed mindful leaders, too, such as former Procter & Gamble chief A.G. Lafley, who loved talking to customers in their homes and grocery stores.

For more: Mindfulness, by Ellen J. Langer

7. Narcissistic

Aesop taught by negative examples. Similarly, many business authors write almost as much about toxic leaders as terrific ones. One breed worthy of attention is the narcissistic leader. Narcissistic leaders don't listen, they don't learn, they don't teach, and they don't brook dissent. But they are not all bad, psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby explains. "Productive" narcissists, in whose ranks Maccoby includes Bill Gates and Andy Grove, thrive in turbulent times and attract followers with their compelling visions. Just as important, they have "obsessive" operational sidekicks (say, Steve Ballmer and Craig Barrett) to keep them grounded. It's a Don Quixote–Sancho Panza kind of thing, Maccoby says.

For more: Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, by Michael Maccoby

8. No-Excuse

The military is a seemingly endless source of vivid leadership lessons and metaphors. No Excuse Leadership is the title of a book about the U.S. Army's elite Ranger Corps by ex-Ranger Brace Barber. But the concept applies to any approach that emphasizes accountability by both leader and led and a knack for making decisions quickly, despite incomplete information. No-excuse leaders don't have to act tough, but they must display mental toughness. Is it a coincidence that a 2006 study found that companies led by ex-military CEOs outperformed the S&P 500, and that such leaders lasted longer in their jobs? Ask Frederick Smith, the ex-Marine who has run FedEx for almost 40 years.

For more: No Excuse Leadership: Lessons From the U.S. Army's Elite Rangers, by Brace E. Barber

9. Resonant

Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee contend that emotions are contagious: Morale rises and falls with the mood of the leader. Hopeful, charged-up leaders infect their troops with enthusiasm. That's important to remember as you design your company and calculate how much space to leave for your life. Among Boyatzis and McKee's favorites is Southwest Airlines president emeritus Colleen Barrett, who makes time for reflection and to reconnect with what's important to her.

For more: Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting With Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion, by Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee

10. Servant

The servant leader's dictum—"wash each other's feet"—speaks volumes. Such leaders desire first to serve, then choose to lead so as to serve better. They are empathic, aware, and healing. Former AT&T executive Robert Greenleaf introduced the idea in 1970, although the authors of the New Testament laid the foundation a bit earlier. Not surprisingly, companies known for servant leadership are perennials on best-places-to-work lists. See Southwest Airlines (Herb Kelleher) and W.L. Gore & Associates (Bill Gore).

For more: Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, by Robert K. Greenleaf and Larry C. Spears

11. Storytelling

Leaders must tell stories: about themselves, about their companies, about what employees do now, and about what they will do in the future. Arresting stories evoke emotions in ways data can't, argues Harvard education professor Howard Gardner. No surprise, then, that this style of leadership is especially well suited for entrepreneurs (Richard Branson, Steve Jobs), whose stories are by definition their own.

For more: Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, by Howard Gardner

12. Strengths-Based

Strengths-based leaders identify and invest in their own—and their individual employees'—talents. Are you an excellent executor, an incomparable influencer, or a superb strategic thinker? Pick one and run with it. Tom Rath and Barry Conchie cite such examples as Teach for America's Wendy Kopp (execution) and former Ritz-Carlton CEO Simon Cooper (influence).

For more: Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

13. Tribal

Cultures are shaped by naturally occurring tribes or amalgams of tribes—groups of 20 to 150 that may make beautiful music together or choose to bludgeon one another with their instruments. The leader's job is to understand those tribes' shared values and beliefs and unite them under a common culture. Consultant Dave Logan urges leaders to help organizations discover, or rediscover, the "sacred flame" that makes them great. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is a proud torchbearer.

For more: Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright

Editor's note: Some leaders we have named as examples are suggested by books' authors; others we nominated ourselves. And bear in mind that many leaders fall into multiple categories. Herb Kelleher, for example, exemplifies both emotionally intelligent and servant leadership. Steve Jobs was both charismatic and a darn good storyteller.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: May 29, 2012

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor at Large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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