Four Leadership styles

In his HBR article, Bill Taylor postulates that there are four styles of leadership. I both agree and disagree with Taylor’s model.

First, I agree with Taylor’s premise: as we “gain clarity about the leadership style” we better “understand … ourselves” and are “more effective … [at] marshaling the support of others.”

Taylor postulates that there are four styles of leadership:

  1. The Classic Entrepreneur
  2. The Modern Missionary
  3. The Problem Solver
  4. The Solution Finder

I find these definitions too constraining. Here’s why:

The Classic Entrepreneur. Taylor quotes John Doerr, as saying that entrepreneurs do “more than anyone thinks possible with less than anyone thinks possible.” He defines this style of leadership as characterized by the “thrill of competition and the quest for success.” He notes that “no-nonsense variables, such as costs, quality, profit margins, and savvy deals, are the metrics that matter.” He says that these leaders care about the values their company stands for, “but it’s the dollars-and-cents value proposition that matters most. They love to build killer products and butt-kicking companies.” 

The Modern Missionary. Taylor talks about leadership that “aims for more than mere business success; [modern missionaries] aspire to success and significance.” He continues with “Winning is less about beating the competition than it is about building something original and meaningful. Success is less about making money than it is about making a difference and having an impact.” Interestingly, he says that “these leaders may take risks that classic entrepreneurs won’t, even if the short-term returns aren’t obvious, or they may turn down deals that others might accept, because the financial payoffs aren’t as important as the broader impact they hope to make.” 

The Problem Solver. To Taylor, these leaders “worry less about dramatic impact than about concrete results. They believe in the power of expertise and the value of experience.” Taylor says that “[d]isruptive technologies and blank-sheet-of-paper business models may be reshaping markets and industries, but past success is a good predictor of future impact [for Problem Solvers].” He describes these as leaders who “rely on the advice of colleagues, but ultimately they fall back on everything they’ve learned and seen to guide the organization into the future.”

The Solution Finder. This style is about “incremental results and concrete solutions, but these leaders believe that the most powerful contributions often come from the most unexpected places–the hidden genius of their colleagues, the collective genius that surrounds their organization.” These leaders feel “ultimately responsible for business results, but they believe that achieving those results is everybody’s business.” And he says that they tend to be “humble, self-effacing leaders [who] don’t make headlines, but that doesn’t mean they’re not ambitious. They believe that humility in the service of ambition is the right mindset to do big things in a world of huge unknowns.”

Fundamentally I believe that each of these styles can and should be used by leaders. I understand that it can be helpful to better understand (or profile) our current or “natural” leadership style, but our own best selves can develop and improve over time.

And to my business paradigm, we should continually learn and develop! (See more thoughts about learning here.)

So while harvesting what’s good about each of these styles can be helpful, what’s possibly better is to learn to shift between leadership “styles” as needed in order to achieve Taylor’s ultimate goal: “marshaling the support of others” for success.

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