What is your Leadership Role?

The 7 Steps to Frontier Leadership II (2021)

 Freddie Guilmard: Adrian Spurrell: Nick Isles

Step 4: Choosing your Role

What is Your Leadership Role?

This is an important question and your first choice. Leaders have a big influence on an organisation. Even if you have a ‘non-hierarchical’ or self-managed organisation, there is usually someone or some people who others will look to for leadership. And it’s worth noting the two different words here – leader and leadership. Frontier Leaders encourage leadership throughout their organisations, but the organisation will look to Frontier Leaders.https://the-redthread.co.uk/frontier-leadership/

Leadership is what happens when people stop complaining and blaming other people – they take ownership, show initiative, hold themselves accountable, make things happen. Leaders, in our view, do three things – enable purpose and direction to emerge; help shape culture; and allocate resources and build structure. In doing so – they need to think about the role they are taking upon themselves. Do they see themselves as a Hero – who will rescue the organisation, as a conductor who makes the organisation play together, a coach growing and nurturing the talent in the organisation, or a custodian of what is important.We like that latter and think that is the true role of a leader – to help a business remember why it exists, what is really important and to hold people true to both of these.

We will talk about that more in the following sections, but for now we’ll throw a bit more light onto the choice of role. Rooke and Torbert, in their take on sense making (see Step 2) identified seven very different roles that they saw leaders take – often linked to the frequency with which modes of sense making they deployed. Their roles are:

The Opportunist Plays to win, believes that might makes right, may well bend the rules to get what they want, sees the world as there to be exploited. They seek to control situations and others to make a deal and see other people as competitors. As a result, they can push the boundaries and be mistrustful – but in their eyes, this is just part of the nature of the competitive arena. They can create an exciting high paced can do culture where colleagues start to believe they can do anything, as long as they continue to deliver. They are good in an emergency and often relish high pressure sales.

The Diplomat Diplomats glue the organisation together and smooth and avoid conflict. They are seeking to belong and will often put their interests last, seeking to control their own behaviour to fit in rather than going through the often bumpy process of shaping a new consensus. This desire for harmony often means they will avoid initiating change.

The Expert Driven by their expertise, they bring a highly rational approach to the role. They drive efficiency, continuous improvement and productivity. And because they use watertight logic, they believe they are right and won’t listen to others unless they consider them more expert than themselves. As a result, they are not always good at collaborating and can find complex and ambiguous environments, where their expertise starts to cease to be valid, challenging. As we have already noted – in an environment such as that created by a pandemic, it is arguable that no one is an expert – at least not on how organisation’s need to perform to be successful in a pandemic!

The Achiever Creating a high support, high challenge environment, achievers focus on delivering. They are open to feedback and understand the need to work with people. They are great at delivering one to three year strategies, balancing short and long term objectives and building great teams. They frequently clash with Experts, since they deliver their results through people, not through their expertise. They focus on delivery and prioritising to achieve that. The Individualist Individualists communicate well with leaders who have taken on other roles. They are aware of the potential conflicts between an organisation’s values and what it is actually doing; between its purpose and its practice. They often don’t follow the rules and can frustrate others as a result. Rather than challenge people, they challenge the whole organisation and how it is choosing to operate and if given freedom will deliver in unconventional ways.

The Strategist Engaging in genuine enquiry with wide stakeholder communities and continually challenging themselves as well as others, Strategists genuinely transform organisations. They build shared and motivational visions that reflect not only the internal dialogue and hopes of the organisation, but also those they serve. They believe transformation is an iterative process that requires the organisation and people to continually notice themselves and watchfully experiment. They are more comfortable with conflict than the other roles and are adept at encouraging others to change. They are fascinated with the interplay between people, between organisations and within the context in which they operate.

The Alchemist Alchemists don’t just transform organisations – they significantly reinvent them. And will probably be doing so for more than one organisation at a time, finding the time to give them the attention they deserve, but never being hurried or hassled. Usually charismatic and personally aware, they have high moral and ethical standards and focus intensely on the truth. They are able to catch those moments in organisations, or societies, or countries, and create symbols or metaphors that capture the hearts and minds of all – enabling the reinvention to happen.