8 types of leader


Last week I talked to a former Harvard Business School professor about leadership. He said he he was surprised how little leadership appears on the business school curriculum. Sure, there’s one required leadership class first year, but it’s often not taken as seriously as the other subjects. It is sometimes perceived as a soft, fuzzy, even unteachable, skill.

Yet, leadership is the single most important thing we can do. Great leaders can move mountains. I’ve been fortunate to have known some great leaders in my career. Different leadership styles are needed in different situations.

I like this footage of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey at a town hall meeting for his new company, Square. Square is a mobile payment system. It would be easy to think of a payment system as merely a transaction from point A to point B. But listen to how Jack uses the Golden Gate Bridge as a metaphor for how a payment system can mean so much more. Think how much greater a product Square will be as a result. That’s the impact a leader can make on a product, a service, or a team.

“So, this is why design is important and this is why this coordination is important, and this is how we’re leading and building this company. So, your homework for the weekend is to cross this bridge, think about that, and then also think about how we take those lessons into doing what we want do, which is carry every single transaction in the world.”

I like Jack’s description of leadership as editing:

“I think I’m just an editor, and I think every CEO is an editor. I think every leader in any company is an editor. Taking all of these ideas and you’re editing them down to one cohesive story, and in my case, my job is to edit the team, so we have a great team that can produce the great work.”

What models for great leadership have you seen?

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post. I’ll pick one comment by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

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21 Comments

  1. Failed clairvoyant says:

    Great – I’ve worked for and with many of those. But you missed my favourite;) the Easter Island Mono lithe: sees nothing, says nothing, makes people wonder what the hell is going on, and occasionally tops over on people.

  2. Christine says:

    All you need is that Vision…everthing else can follow.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Lead from where you are . . . since different styles of leadership are needed in different situations it often takes several people to Lead. Thereby, we can lean on each others strengths. The visionary can establish the big picture, the coach can help set the plays and the cheerleader can encourage us, etc.

  4. Sherry Ryan says:

    The real challenge is to find a balance of vision, coaching, drilling, operating, compromising… and then figure out which one to let out of the bag at what point in time. :)

  5. Wendy says:

    My favorite is the Seagull…flies in, makes a lot of noise, cr**ps all over everything and the flies out.

  6. DBW says:

    Each week, I post your marketoon to Linked In because your infographics are “edits” of our marketing realm. Jack Dorsey’s leadership provides inspiration about the path and the end result.

  7. Bill says:

    A favorite topic. I would like to suggest a few more styles I’ve seen:

    The Action Hero:
    No real vision, but good at blowing stuff up.
    The Referee:
    Primary contribution is to blow a whistle and throw a flag whenever something out of the ordinary happens.
    The Legacy:
    Only qualification for leadership is a bloodline.
    The Evangelist:
    There is only one true way, which will be repeated it at every meeting, every day, forever.

  8. Carlos Sicilia says:

    A real leader shows his tru leadership prowess in the way he handles mistakes. In my country leaders love to show off only when things go right. But the real leader has to have the courage to avoid assuming guilt …if he really is the guilty one. I’m from Venezuela, and around here, that’s the number one leadership deffect. “It was not my fault”.

  9. Linda says:

    It takes all types of leaders working in all kinds of industries to get @#$% done.

    Here’s another POV. Identifying the gaps within a given leadership stype should inspire team members to fill the need, add value, and potentially claim job security. You know what they say, “Mind the Gap”

    Thanks for shining humor on the situation.

  10. Omar Abedin, Brand Hotline says:

    The key to great leadership is flexibility – in every way. You have to know that every situation requires a different ‘mode’ of operation. If you want an analogy, then if the only tool in your toolkit is a hammer, then you are kind of forced to look at everything as though it were a nail :) I’m not talking about values that change with the winds – on the contrary, your behaviour and modus operandi can evolve while your core values must shine through in each incarnation. The question is – can this be taught? I believe so, and it needs to be focused on so that aspiring leaders can start learning about their own styles, and the many variants of those possible styles…

  11. Helen G says:

    Leadership is an uncomfortable topic for business because it requires comfort with some degree of ambiguity or “gray.” Leaders know when to act – and when not to. When to pay attention to the numbers – and when to ignore them. When to listen – and when to boldly state. Many folks in business are only secure when things are black and white and can be quantified.

  12. Gail says:

    Leadership must be taught, modeled, and begins as small children. It is a basic human characteristic we must all strive to embody and inspire others to do the same:
    - Develop a balanced ego that passionately pushes forward with the right amount of humility to learn and listen.
    - Set standards and dream higher than you think you possible.
    - Simplify your focus and work harder than you expect of anyone else.
    - Be a good person: be kind, generous, honest, and respectful of others so that you will respect yourself.

  13. Marty says:

    I just saw this quote earlier today and wanted to add it:
    Managers get people to do what they did yesterday. (Maybe faster. Maybe cheaper. Maybe.)
    Leaders push the enterprise forward. (And they know they need a team to do so.)
    We need both. (We also need to know the difference.)
    - Seth Godin

  14. Eileen Doyle says:

    Certain people are given the “authority” to lead, but real leaders are always chosen by their followers

  15. Allen Roberts says:

    Hi Tom,
    The few really good leaders I have seen personally combine some elements of all your characters, in a way that reflects their own style and personality. Without exception, they have thought deeply about how they want to lead, and have tailored their style to be comfortable with their natural demeanour, and work hard to be consistent. They also tailor their approach to individuals with whom they have personal contact, seeking the best way to engage with that individual.
    Great cartoon.

  16. Dale Stout says:

    I’ve been 7 out of 8: not bad.

  17. BrianSJ says:

    If you look at the US management science literature, it is about nothing but leadership. I think your ex-professor needs to have his medication checked.
    Given that evidence-based management (Pfeffer and Sutton) show that leadership does not have a big effect, this is strange.

  18. tomfishburne says:

    Hi all, I love of the inspired commentary this week.

    Particularly brilliant additions of the Easter Island Mono Lithe, Seagull Manager, Action Hero, Referee, Legacy, and the Evangelist. You all might also enjoy this cartoon I drew on different management styles last year: http://tomfishburne.com/2010/10/the-8-types-of-manager.html.

    I do see a difference between management from and leadership and appreciate the Seth Godin quote. Great distinction.

    This week’s cartoon goes to Stephanie. I like the insight that it takes several people to lead and we can lean on others’ strengths. Some of the best leadership I’ve witnessed has been the result of pairings, where a strong visionary is matched with a strong operator. The combination can spark friction, but that friction can make organizations stronger than one style alone.

    Many thanks, everyone!

    -Tom

  19. Chikanma John Chima-Abia State says:

    behind every successful leader,there must be a successful follower.this generation are tired of blind leaders.the followers will never bear any fruit until the unproductive leader is been removed.give us a visionary leader and we will posses the world with integrity,courage,vision,empathy,consistent and communication.

  20. doug says:

    You can make a good leader better
    You cannot make a poor leader good

    Some people have the skill most don’t

    Great leaders inspire their teams, bad leaders terrify them.

  21. EK says:

    To me, whatever form a leader takes is not immaterial . There is a chinese saying 上善若水。( readers good at Chinese pls help to translate) .
    All organizations are facing different situtations in thier staff, organizational strucutre, issues to handle and the dynamics of their working environment etc etc. Different situtations call for a differnt style of leadership. What should be consitent therefore is the “humanity leadership”; leaders who are more interested to know what is right rather than who is right. Leaders who really have staff in their hearts rather than the drive and desire to achieve results to prove their legitimate leadership.
    True leaders will know what forms to assume, they transient beyond the forms, but a true belief that whatever they do are for the betterment of their staff and the organization.

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