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Leadership: 8 Archetypes Explained

A company's success depends on putting together a leadership team that possesses complementary skills. That first requires identifying what type of leader you are.

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, the author of The Hedgehog Effect: The Secrets of Building High Performance Teams, says that many leaders fail because they do not have a team of top executives who complement their weaknesses. 

Kets de Vries, a leadership development professor at INSEAD, the international business school, studies executives and their patterns of behavior, and has come up with eight different leadership archetypes. The skills associated with each archetype must be aligned with the company's needs, he writes in the Harvard Business Review."[A] lack of fit between a leader's archetype and the context in which he or she operates is a main cause of team and organizational dysfunctionality and executive failure." 

Below, Kets de Vries outlines eight of the most prominent archetypes:

The strategist believes in "leadership as a game of chess," he writes. This leader can deal with surprise developments and issues with vision and direction.

The change-catalyst is best at "turnaround activity." "These executives love messy situations," he writes. "They are masters at reengineering and creating new organizational 'blueprints.'"

The transactor makes deals. Kets de Vries says this archetype is "skilled at identifying and tackling new opportunities" and is a natural negotiator.

The builder is an entrepreneur at heart. This type of leader has the talent, creative power, and determination to bring ideas to reality, he says.

The innovator is creative and generates new ideas. "They possess a great capacity to solve extremely difficult problems," Kets de Vries writes.

The processor is all about efficiency. "These executives like organizations to be smoothly running, well-oiled machines," he says. This leader has a knack for implementing systems and company structures.

The coach is all about nurturing people's skills. "These executives know how to get the best out of people, thus creating high-performance cultures," he says.

The communicator is magnetic and articulates clearly. Kets de Vries says this type of leader is an influencer and has a big positive impact on the company.

The single omnipresent ruler is a thing of the past, Kets de Vries writes. Successful companies are led by a team of self-aware executives who band together with "distributive, collective, and complementary leadership." The starting point in effective leadership is to identify yourself as one of the archetypes and find where you need support, he says.

"Working out which types of leaders you have on your team can work wonders for your effectiveness as a group. It helps you to recognize how you and your colleagues can individually make their best contributions," he writes. "This will in turn create a culture of mutual support and trust, reduce team stress and conflict, and make for more creative problem solving."


Last updated: Dec 20, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter,

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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