Three kinds of leaders.

Cool Bird Formation by deapeajay

Cool Bird Formation by deapeajay

Today, I was at an event called Vancouver ChangeCamp, which is a “participatory event to imagine and build new ways to collaborate for social change in the digital age.” Similar to the BarCampBank events I’ve attended and organized over the last several years, but focused on social change in Vancouver.

One session today was on leadership, and a man in the session said that in any organization there are three kinds of leaders: hierarchical, raw talent and popular. I’ve never thought of it that way, but it struck me as a very simple, effective and clear way to describe leadership opportunities.

I reflected on the times in my life when I’ve been a leader, and which of those kinds of leaders I was.

When I first moved to the States when I was 22 years old, I was the assistant manager of a chain retail store called Natural Wonders. I was in a position of hierarchical leadership, but honestly didn’t care about the company. I was in change because I was installed in that position, but hadn’t earned the mantle of leadership, and didn’t particularly want it. I was purely a hierarchical leader, a leader in name only.

When I made films, I was perhaps a popular leader. People were attracted to be a part of my productions and often gave me their time, equipment or services for free or a greatly reduced price. I was always humbled by this, but people believed in me and my projects and wanted to be involved.

I thought of my early days in social media, when this blog became a centre-point for my interest in this emerging field, and I gained a leadership position due to my thought leadership, and ability to communicate my thoughts. That was perhaps a demonstration of a raw talent leader. I was invited to speak at numerous conferences and events and, over time, was seen as a leader both within my organization and beyond.

For the past five years, I have been a leader within my organization, managing managers and their staff. I am glad this has happened after achieving the other kinds of leadership positions, because I have learned from each type (without knowing the vocabulary I heard today) of leadership opportunity I had.

I take leadership very seriously. I think of the great bosses I’ve had and what I learned from them, and how they coached me in ways that went far beyond that job or company. In fact, I consider leadership to be sacred, helping people achieve things, understand their strengths and limitations so they can harness them or rise above them. It’s something I’m honoured to do, and truly love doing. It’s a trust I wish more hierarchical leaders took seriously.

I like the idea of these three types of leadership, and will think about how to harness all three together in a meaningful way.

What other kinds of leadership do you see?

8 thoughts on “Three kinds of leaders.

  1. Hey, William – haven’t read your blog in awhile, like this one! It seems to me that, like for female archtypes a la Sex and the City (are you a Carrie, a Charlotte, a Miranda or a Samantha?), I would say that very few leaders are one of these characteristics – hierarchical, raw talent and popular – but are most often a blend of all three. (BTW, I think I’m a Carrie/Miranda…!)

    Sometimes one’s leadership is popular and it feels easy. Other times, seat of the pants works thanks to some charisma and raw talent. But sometimes, you’ve got to pull rank to shut down a rebellion or a troubling employee or stakeholder – and that’s when you’re going to be called hierarchical. I think if we’ve got a bit of all three, together that makes a leader (along with some courage to make tough decisions that will upset people or be unpopular).

    My three and a half cents 🙂

    • Thanks Lesli. You’re right, it’s a matter of knowing all three and pulling on the one you need, and I would say using hierarchical the least. It’s only for emergencies and when you intend to pull that trigger.

  2. I can appreciate that William, but also know that being a role model and sharing your thoughts to inpsire and motivate others will help build more leaders.

    I see that level of leadership as living your life to support others versus self. It is living your life through your values, ethics, and beliefs and letting that shine through for all to see.

    People follow you because of who you are and what you stand for, not because of your title.

    • Thanks Devin, that means a lot to me. Inspiration is a great outcome. Leading for developing other leaders is an interesting concept.

      Andy, are you reading this? What do you think?

  3. I love what you’re talking about here. It’s very similar to the four types of influence/leadership I share in my Leader Effectiveness Training workshops:

    -Power: based on the promise or actual use of rewards and punishments, it is used primarily keep the leader in control and the group in submission.
    -Knowledge: derived from experience, technical know-how, expertise, and training, it typically gives way to group members’ acceptance of the leader’s direction.
    -Job Definition: leadership based on one’s job description and/or position and group’s acceptance of the leader’s legitimacy.
    -Contract: leadership and influence derived from a mutually-acceptable agreement between two or more people.

    Great leaders know how to influence their teams through a dynamic combination of knowledge, job definition, and contract. An indiscriminate and exclusive use of power, however, creates not a leader but a bully.

    From what I’ve seen, it’s tempting for leaders at the extreme ends of the experience scale to rely on power. For the inexperienced, it allows them to gain the compliance (but not loyalty) of the group because either their pride or inexperience doesn’t allow the other three to flourish.

    For the very experienced, using power is much easier and less time-consuming than relying on the other three types. It gives them an excuse to boss people around because they’ve been around – at the expense of creativity, group cohesion, and group-centered decision making.

    Your post helps leaders remember how important it is to make the group look good, which involves a constant commitment to self-development and accountability. The leaders who fall out of that practice may get some results in the short term but will ultimately become fossils.

    Thanks for slogging through my mini-blog post of a comment!

    • Thanks Andy. I love your perspective, especially on issues like this. Your four types of influence/leadership. Similar but different.

  4. Great thoughts here William. It seems to me, and perhaps you alluded to it, that there is another type of leadership that can be added. A level that goes above hierarchical. A state in leadership where I would say you are at today.

    What are your thoughts?

    • Thanks Devin. That’s very flattering

      How would you define that kind of leadership? One of the things about leadership is remaining humble and not letting posts like this go to my big head!

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