There are a lot of articles out there about different leadership styles. No matter what you do, there’s probably a style that defines it very clearly.
I don’t care much about those.
I’m a practical man. I don’t care how unique you are. I want to know what you are good for. So should you: knowing what kind of role suits you better will help find a place where you can be both efficient and yourself.
I have noticed that leaders end up in one of three roles, plus one extra. Yep, for all of the uniqueness of your style, I pile leaders into a handful of heaps.
Good leaders understand one simple truth about their role: it’s not about them. It is never about them. It’s about a greater cause, which itself is usually about other people.
Keeping that thread in mind, let’s have a look at my three (plus one) heaps of leaders.
A Figurehead is a human incarnation of an organization, a message or a cause.
Figureheads are important because they exist to make an abstract concept relatable. It’s also to firmly keep the attention on themselves.
Granted, many Figureheads are driven by their Mount Everest-sized egos, but the best ones stay focussed on the fact that it isn’t about them. Sometimes they are mouth-pieces. Sometimes they are visionaries. Sometimes they are exemplars. And sometimes they are distractions.
Startups often define themselves by their CEO, who’ll take the role of a Figurehead. His role is often less to build and grow his business than to propagate his vision and draw attention to what the startup is doing.
In a time of crisis, you will often see a Figurehead taking charge and issuing orders, acting as a focal point for people to rally around. The rest of the time they will focus their leadership on vision and high-level direction rather than day-to-day execution.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.” — Laozi, 6th century BC
The Servant-Leader fundamentally understand that it’s not about him, but about others, and focus on that. Servant-leaders don’t always get the credit they deserve, but their influence can be felt wherever they go.
Servant-Leaders seems to always lead with the same question: “What can I do for you?”. They will remove impediments to other’s work, put people into learning situations for they can surpass themselves, and grow them into leaders in their own right.
Working behind the scenes, they use active listening followed by indirect action to find and remove obstacles often without anyone noticing. They try to figure out the root cause of problems rather than wasting time fixing symptoms.
Often instinctively, they will develop triadic relationships with people, meaning that instead of building one-on-one relations to control the flow of information, they will act as matchmakers between two other people who would benefit from direct contact. They build robust networks that can continue to grow without them. They mediate tough conversations. They simplify complex org chart-driven relationship by connecting humans.
Good servant-leader might do their best work discreetly, but they can have a tremendous influence over an organization. From grooming the next leaders to removing red tape and all the way to reshaping the flow of information in an organization by building networks, they can be the primary movers and shakers in the company.
All that without issuing a single direct order.
The Everyman Leader
If you don’t think you are cut to be a leader, then maybe you’d make a good Everyman Leader.
Everyman Leaders are all around you. They are the ones who see you struggle, take five minutes to teach one neat trick and show you that you can do it too. They’re the ones who will make that little bit of extra effort that will make your day. They are the ones you know you can trust when you need something done right.
Everyman Leaders can come from anywhere and do any jobs. It doesn’t matter if they handle important accounts, coordinate projects or wash dishes. They have work ethics, are genuine, helpful, and they want to make a difference, regardless of the scope of their impact.
That’s the easiest path to becoming a good leader. Just look at how you can make a difference for what you dot and for the people around you. You just need to care and act.
In a time of crisis, you will notice Everyman Leaders rise to the occasion, help people around them rally and organize, and work cooperatively to resolve the part of the situation they have some influence over.
Wait, you’re missing one!
Now we come to the mysterious fourth role, the guy who bark orders and manage people.
During a crisis, leaders are granted authority given control over a situation to help the organization through the challenging moment. A good leader never has to ASK for that authority: people will naturally look to the leader for guidance.
A Boss works differently. Control is the name of the game here, namely, how to achieve and keep it. To do so, they need to create situations of perpetual crisis, so they can retain their authority, and thus control, making it about them. Too much work for the capacity, predictive planning that everyone knows will be off the mark, office politics, information control, all of these are tactics to perpetuate situations of crisis artificially.
People don’t always do that consciously, and often that is how the whole organization function. But that doesn’t change the reality of it, and that doesn’t make it right.
As such I cannot classify a Boss as a leader. Sorry. Being in charge just isn’t enough.
I know that because I was once a boss myself.
I didn’t know any better because I only operated in environments where I was tasked with keeping control over projects and teams. I wasn’t a bad boss (I’m sure opinions may differ…), but I was a crafter, planning perfect solutions and expecting proper execution. I tended to dismiss dissenting opinions, under the belief that I was in a position to know better. The organizations I worked for used all the tactics mentioned above to perpetuate states of constant crisis and trained new bosses in that environment.
I had to hit a wall before I could even realize the system was wrong. I have since dedicated my career to help organizations solve and resist crisis, to help bosses become leaders and to help people grow and develop to reach their potential.
While you don’t have to change your career as drastically as I did, you can still make a different and become an agent of change wherever you are, in whatever position you have. Everyman Leaders do that every single day.