I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently; and the various types of leader that I’ve encountered in my corporate career. Here are some of the stereotypes often spotted in the corporate wilds:
Military leader – Style, a lot of style. These people reverberate with power and gravitas. They are the centre of the business universe. They rule with a degree of fear, they are certainly the most likely to scream at their employees, but also seem to bring a judicious amount of calm and will arbitrate in a logical manner. You often feel that you don’t understand their decisions or what is motivating them but you are swept up into their orbit and sense that as long as you remain on their side they will protect you. You find yourself desperately wanting to please this individual, but find it difficult to understand what they are trying to achieve, and suspect that you disagree with quite a lot of their personal beliefs and politics. They like anything which can be construed as momentum or forward progress – graphs with lines trending upwards will be very much appreciated.
Jolly Good Chap(ess) – This is a uniquely British (or possibly English) leader. They are almost always exceedingly clever, well turned out, deeply political. They are without exception careful with the words that they use, and for those not in the club interpreting the code word ridden language they talk in can be a challenge. A challenge which you deeply suspect is purposeful and if you can’t understand it then you are by definition not welcome in the inner circle. They play into the psyche of the deep rooted English class system. They rarely discuss their personal lives (apart from the picture perfect photo of their wife/husband – they are always married – and 2.4 children that they keep on their desks). They never seem to actually go home, but you are certain that they live in a lovely house somewhere in a nice part of the home counties. Their success is a slight mystery, but they have the midas touch and if you can just break the code and make it into the circle then their elite golden touch will surely spread to you. Be warned, they seem to be the perfect gentleman/woman but have a vicious streak, more Sir Humphrey than Downton Abbey.
The Turnaround Guru – Quite often has a background in finance. Always enters a company as an external hire to sort out a specific issue the Board has identified. Will not often be seen in the office. The grim reaper follows in their shadow as the (often deeply needed) changes they will make to the company will inevitably leave a body count. Not a leader in the traditional sense of the word, they are difficult to get to know and being too closely associated with them might make it awkward with any remaining colleagues after they have departed (which will be sometime between 18-24 months after they start). Conversely not being someone they “know” is probably also not wise. Employee one or more of these stratagem; find something long term and indispensable to do, keep your head down, formulate an exit plan.
Shiny, shiny star – This job is a way-station on the route to the next one. This person is always younger than average and has a glittering career. Often this person is fantastically personable, seems to genuinely care about the people in the business and will be motivated to help other bright young things. However, they have an agenda with a single item point – success. They will quickly prioritise one or two things that they are going to make a success, will identify the fastest possible strategy for achieving their goals and will charge full speed to realise their ambition. From the moment that they enter the company everything that you do needs to help them, or at least be phrased in a way that makes it sound like it is totally on strategy. Be critical to their success and you will be rewarded. Whatever you do don’t get in their way – you will be run over so fast that you actually see stars.
Dumbledore – The wise (often older) company guru. Insightful and insane in equal measures. Has often been at the company since it started and knows the business inside and out. Often the original genius behind the idea or technology that the company is founded on. Sometimes these leaders appoint a strong leadership team and take on a more emeritus position as a figurehead that the staff look up to. Occasionally they are also brilliant business leaders still fully in control of all elements of their company. However sadly some Dumbledores are of the type that are less brilliant at running larger scale companies and often unwilling to let go of the business reigns and find themselves sidelined by the board and confined to a corner office where they grow bitter. Respect the genius of this individual, they will be keen to share their wisdom and often have a lot to teach.
In reality often leaders straddle two or more of these stereotypes; and I suspect that the best leaders can tap into the great qualities of all of them. I want to write more on this subject soon, in the interim let me know if there is a leadership type you’ve encountered that I’ve missed.