Based on research at Harvard, Stanford, and my own studies, there are 5 distinct styles of leadership. Which one are you?
The descriptions and leadership quiz outlined below will help you uncover which of the 5 styles matches your approach.
The Visionary Leader
Visionary leaders are people who see the world not how it is, but how it could be. Some examples of visionary leaders include Steve Jobs with Apple, Indra Nooyi with PepsiCo, and Jeff Bezos with Amazon. In each of these three cases, they saw the world slightly differently than the rest of us did.
“Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs saw a world with products that unleashed human potential. Indra Nooyi saw a company that needed to move towards healthier snacks. And Jeff Bezos saw a world that used digital technology to shorten the distance between consumers and the brands they love.
What are some techniques Visionary Leaders can use to improve their effectiveness?
Keep your messages simple and make sure they’re emotionally appealing to your audiences. When possible, communicate them in groups of three. And if you can tie your organization’s goals to each individual’s goals, your messages will resonate more deeply.
The Empathetic Leader
Empathetic leaders lead from a place of teamwork, culture, and partnering. Their gift is that they make people feel included in the organization’s larger cause and direction. Well-known empathetic leaders include Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, and Oprah Winfrey.
“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” – Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey became a billionaire for a number of reasons – she’s incredibly intelligent, her timing is spot-on, and her empathy for her followers shows through in just about everything she does.
I have never met Oprah, but just watching her engage with her audiences and her guests is a case study in how to be kind, thoughtful, and empathetic.
Melinda Gates is the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is an organization that, at its core, is based on empathy for impoverished people around the globe.
Sheryl Sandberg, who is the former COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, has worked hard to ensure that the operations are running smoothly at Facebook while at the same time being empathetic to those she leads.
The challenge with being an empathetic leader is that there are times you have to make tough decisions around hiring, firing, and promotions.
If you’re too empathetic, then making the difficult decision to fire someone can sometimes get in the way of that. So empathetic leaders should focus a lot of their attention on their mindset.
By centering their attention on their thoughts and the actions that arise from those thoughts, an empathetic leader can overcome some of the challenges of being thoughtful and kind.
Leaders who are builders are people who take something already established and have the drive and smarts to build it into something better than before. Examples include Howard Schultz with Starbucks, Tim Cook with Apple, and Ginni Rometty with IBM.
“If you dream small dreams, you may succeed in building something small. For many people, that is enough. But if you want to achieve widespread impact and lasting value, be bold.” – Howard Schultz
Howard Schultz was not the founder of Starbucks. He was hired as the director of retail operations and marketing for a brand that had a few locations. But he was also a builder and took the foundational components of the brand and built it into what it is today.
In similar fashion, Ginny Rometty became CEO of IBM in 2012 and proceeded to reinvent more than 50% of the organization’s portfolio. She built a $21 billion hybrid cloud business and established IBM’s leadership in AI, quantum computing, and blockchain.
And Tim Cook (who is also listed as a Sequential leader) took what Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started and built it into the behemoth it is today.
What are some techniques Builders can use to improve their effectiveness?
If your goal is to take an existing business or division and grow it into something larger and more expansive, then learning how to manage others will be critical to that task.
Remember that 80% of the problems you’ll face are likely to be fixed just through better communication – I know that’s hard to believe, but I’ve seen it play out time and time again.
So, keep good communication at the forefront of your management style.
Disruptors are people who see the world as an imperfect place that needs to be fixed.
They understand the world as it is, but also have the drive to make it a better place.
They’re slightly different from visionary leaders in that they’re more operationally focused. In other words, they don’t just create a big, all-encompassing vision and then set their course for the stars (the way visionary leaders do). Instead, they see a problem, be it large or small, and work relentlessly to fix that problem. Examples of disruptors include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates.
Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla, SpaceX and a variety of other game-changing organizations. He has had success because he disrupted the way most of us think of the world around us.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1993 until her death in 2020. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton and was generally viewed as a moderate consensus-builder.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg
And, of course, Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft and now helps impoverished people around the globe through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
One of the driving forces for most leaders who fall into the disruptor category is a passion and a drive for how they see the world. They tend to be less focused on success in any traditional sense and more focused on changing their corner of the world.
If you feel as though you fall into the disruptor category, then you probably feel comfortable bucking the system or going counter to the conventional wisdom. Entrepreneurs, creative types (e.g., musicians, artists, etc.) and solopreneurs often fall into the disruptor category.
The Sequential Leader
Sequential leaders are people who lead from a place of organization, attention-to-detail, and careful planning. Tim Cook with Apple, Marillyn Hewson with Lockheed Martin, and Robert Smith with Vista Equity Partners are all examples of sequential leaders.
To be honest, when Tim Cook took over for Steve Jobs at Apple, I figured he wouldn’t last more than a year or two. Jobs was a visionary and Cook was an operations guy who was going to be compared to Jobs for the rest of his career.
It turns out I was spectacularly wrong about Tim Cook – he helped turn Apple into the first company with a market capitalization of $1 trillion. And then, just to top it off, he added another $1 trillion in market capitalization just 18 months later.
“It’s about finding your values and committing to them. It’s about finding your North Star. It’s about making choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything.” – Tim Cook
Marillyn Hewson is the chairman, and former president and CEO of Lockheed Martin. Her attention to detail and her operationally-focused mindset has helped her succeed in an industry that’s notoriously male dominated.
And Robert Smith is the founder, chairman, and CEO of investment firm Vista Equity Partners and was listed in Forbes as one of the 100 greatest living business minds.
“You got to have grit. And grit mean getting turned away from thing 14, 16 times, calling someone every two weeks, everyday for 5 months and then finally it materializing in something that you want.” — Robert Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners
Sequential leaders tend to be operationally-focused. They’re attentive to details, excellent with follow-through, and see the business world as a chess match where the organization wins the game of business by thinking long-term rather than short-term.
Which of these best fits your leadership style?
Are you a visionary? A builder? Are you empathetic? A disruptor? Or are you a sequential leader?
You can find out by taking this short quiz on the Unspoken Rules of Leadership website. When you get your answer, you’ll also receive tips and techniques on how to leverage your leadership style for good.
About the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, professor, consultant, and speaker who has helped employees at The Coca-Cola Company, Holiday Inn, Microsoft, Verizon and others do a better job leading, managing, and mentoring others. To have him speak at your event or organization, email him at: Jamie@JamieTurner.Live