November 20, 2018

What kind of leader are you?

Leaders are a diverse bunch

Introvert, extrovert, risk-averse, willing to try anything once, detail-oriented, big-picture, and everything in between.

Even so, most leaders — and most leadership positions — fall roughly into one of four categories.  It’s critical to know which is the right fit for you, so you maximize your potential and choose positions where you will excel and your team will thrive.

The launcher

Do you love building something from the ground up?  Are you a little scrappy, a little caffeinated and all about breaking new ground and taking a big plunge?  You are a launcher or startup leader, built for taking an organization from bright idea to reality.

You might be starting an entire company, or starting a new venture within an existing organization.  Either way, you’re comfortable with uncertainty and risk.  The occasional failure is just the price of dreaming big.

Serial entrepreneurs come to mind for this type of role, but you don’t have to leap right after realizing your vision.  However, most startup leaders don’t stick around for the 40-year gold watch. They tend to move on to the next big idea once they have had a successful launch.

The reformer

Organizations get blown off course.  Mistakes happen.  Messes blow up in everyone’s faces.  When these scenarios unfold, often the best next step is to turn to someone outside the organization who can move in and fix things.  That’s where the reformer comes in.

Whether they come on board to address a gradual, creeping problem that has become serious or to deal with a major, splashy mess, the reformer is going to have to make some tough calls and probably won’t forge a lot of friendships in his or her new role.  That’s OK.  It’s not about friends.  It’s about digging deep to understand the roots of a problem, and then pruning those roots to fix it.

Reformers have to let people go, rewrite rules, turn budgets upside down, rein in bad behavior.  This is not easy work, but people who excel here can be a godsend to the institution they help clean up.

A reformer needs a thick skin and an ability to maintain composure when emotions run high.  And because these roles are by definition short-term, reformers also need an exit strategy.  Don’t accept a role like this without having an idea of how you’ll know it’s time to leave and where you will go next.

The steward

Are you an operations expert?  Someone who has the ability to optimize without fixing things that aren’t broken?  Are you looking for a longer-term professional home?  You might be a steward.

Leaders in a stewardship role serve as the steady hand on the wheel of a ship.  You are visionary but you’re not there to upend the trajectory of your organization.  You’re there to keep it smoothly on its path.  Your job is to take a well-functioning company, and keep it that way.

There might be less drama than in a startup or reformer role, but stewards are not necessarily risk averse or resistant to change.  They manage risk when needed and embrace change if it’s good for the company.  But risk and change are not the defining forces of this role.

The uniter

When companies or even departments in a single institution are merged, someone must oversee this transition.  Mergers can be disastrous when not managed properly.  Managed well?  The new organization is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is where the uniter comes in. The uniter shares some traits with entrepreneurial startup leaders, but this person is more interested in bridge-building between existing structures, teams and cultures than starting from scratch.  Uniters must be systems-level thinkers whose “meta” perspective lets them see connections and synergies that others don’t.  They understand culture change as a human and organizational function. And they know how to manage well.

Uniter roles are often relatively short-term, though they don’t have to be.  People who thrive in these types of experiences tend to see one union through, then move on to the next.

Understand your role

Whatever career move you’re considering, you’ll want to think through the type of role you’re pursuing and whether it’s right for your style.  Already in one of these roles?  Look around you and determine where your colleagues and staff fit.  This will help you leverage their skills and promise by assigning the right types of tasks.  You and your whole organization will benefit.

What type of leader are you?

Let us know in the comments!

Last updated November 20. 2018