Introducing the Leadership Wheel

Staying with the ‘engage to achieve’ concept, it is now possible to begin separating true leaders from Impostors based on how well they cope with this interrelationship. The Leadership Wheel (Figure 2.1) identifies four broad categories of leaders according to their ability to intertwine the leadership (engage) and management (achieve) roles.

I do not intend the Wheel to be viewed as a personality profile of leaders, but it does describe the general types commonly found based on how they consistently perform and behave over the long term.

Where a leader sits on the Wheel most of the time results from their capacity to engage or alienate their people plotted against their propensity to achieve or underachieve when it comes to results. The center of the Wheel shows the four categories of leaders:

  • • Genuine Leaders.
  • • Nearly Leaders.
  • • Deflating Impostors.
  • • Toxic Impostors.

Keep these four overall categories in mind, as we will be referring to them continuously from now on. The Wheel highlights that there are two groupings of what are deemed positive leaders - Genuine and Nearly — with two classes of Impostors — Deflating and Toxic - those who underperform when it comes to engaging employees, achieving results, or indeed both. The inner ring of the wheel (in grey) shows the most common type of leader found in each category, while the outer ring (black) shows the minority, which in the case of the Genuine Leaders, for example, means that Nurturers are the most prevalent whereas Stars are less often seen.

The Leadership Wheel

Figure 2.1 The Leadership Wheel

As a bit of fun, and to help provide initial meaning for the Wheel, outside of a work context, where would you slot the following present and past political leaders against the above four categories (ignore the sub-categories for the moment until we explore them a bit)?

  • • Barack Obama.
  • • Theresa May.
  • • Donald Trump.
  • • Bill Clinton.
  • • Boris Johnson.
  • • Tony Blair.
  • • Angela Merkel.
  • • Vladimir Putin.

Once you learn more about the categories, you will be quite surprised how quickly you can plot some people against the Wheel, and how others are a bit harder to categorize.

Now, maybe your initial thoughts are that all of this seems suspiciously like pigeonholing to you. These catchy little categories cannot be a realistic portrayal of what goes on in organizations every day when it comes to leadership, can they? Actually, the Wheel works well when you accept some important points that lie behind it:

  • • All leaders are, of course, individuals; each has his or her own personality and possesses distinctive strengths and weaknesses. Every one of them has the capacity on occasion to rotate between the four categories, to some degree at least. We all have an inner Impostor within us which surfaces from time to time — hence the wheel idea - and leaders can at times show the strengths or weaknesses associated with different categories. That is just normal human frailty in action. But over the long term, when sustained performance is considered, I have seen how leaders tend to spend more of their time in a single category based on how, and how well, they perform. In other words, leaders tend to display the characteristics and behaviors associated with a specific leader-type most of the time.
  • • The Impostors Leaders do not necessarily ‘fail’ as such, for outright failure would not be tolerated for very long in any organization today. What they do, though, is consistently underperform in different ways and for different reasons. They are designated Impostors not because of infrequent lapses, instead, they are repeat offenders and frequently display negative behaviors which cause them problems. More of the time than not, they are stuck in Impostor mode.

So, the Leadership Wheel has little to do with individual personality and everything to do with common patterns of behavior and enduring quality of performance. For that reason, it works well because it is reflective of the real world. 1 have encountered all these leader types many times over the years and as mentioned when you get to know them better, no doubt you will have too. Isolating the most frequently seen types of leaders also helps to define the benefits that Genuine Leaders bring to the table, or the damage that each of the Impostors can cause in organizations which will be helpful as you reflect on your own capabilities as a leader and in making the case why all leaders should seek to aim for Genuine Leadership.

In reading ahead, it is as useful to think about the qualities and behaviors associated with all leader categories and types as it is to focus on any one category. Try to reflect on what talents you share with the positive leaders and the shortcomings you might repeatedly display in common with the Impostors.

A quick snapshot of the four categories is provided here, but the following chapters will take a more detailed look at what they do or do not do that earns them a particular label.

  • • Genuine Leaders. Meet the Manaleaders. Far from perfect or infallible by any means, these leaders do however possess the required talents to lead effectively and they make a concerted effort to apply positive leadership approaches based on the notion that employees are partners, not followers. They focus both on improving their own abilities as a leader and on optimizing the remaining drivers of engagement with the result that they have a high capacity to engage their people and a strong propensity to achieve results. What impresses me about the Genuine Leaders I have met is that they consistently get the leadership-management balance right by focusing on the needs of their employees without taking their eyes off organizational goals; they are relationship-orientated, but results-driven.
  • • Nearly Leaders. These leaders do not achieve the same levels of excellence seen in Genuine Leaders but for the most part their hearts are in the right place. For this reason, it would be wrong to tar them with the Impostor brush even though their performance does not always succeed in getting leadership and management in alignment. I find that they are doing their best to engage their people, but several personal failings prevent them from reaching the highest levels of performance.
  • • Deflating Impostors. These guys are not all bad of course and generally they are not completely malicious characters. But their behaviors, intentionally and otherwise, tend to sap the enthusiasm and passion out of employees over time. I have regularly seen how they fall down on the engagement side not only because of their own poor leadership capabilities but in relation to the other drivers too, like the culture they create or in how they actually reduce the challenge of work life. Ultimately, they are not so good for people, process, or performance because they create a highly controlled, or at times stifling, working environment which increasingly alienates some or all of those who work for them. This in turn means they have a greater propensity to underachieve in terms of the results they generate.
  • • Toxic Impostors. These leaders are a dangerous bunch and as a result deserve a lot of attention. They can, and do, achieve positive results within the organization but it is in how they do so that creates the problems. Toxic Impostors not only alienate their people but can inflict a fair degree of pain on some of them too, emotionally speaking of course. I have a strong disliking for them. They pay little or no attention either to their own leadership capabilities or to any of the remaining drivers of engagement and as a result they must push their people hard to get the results they want. They are only results driven.

At this stage, it is worth making what may be an obvious point concerning the various types of leaders found in any company. From my interactions across many different industries and organizations, I have noticed that there are many factors at play which determine the mix between positive leaders and Impostors seen. Sometimes, it is the nature of the industry which has a role to play in it. Certain fields, particularly where there is potential for high financial reward, can encourage a specific type of Impostor behavior. It can often be a badge of honor to be an aggressive go-getting browbeater. Think Wall Street here, if in any doubt. Of course, the opposite is true too and other fields can provide a rich environment for different types of Impostors.

National and organization culture too can influence the mix. Some workplaces suffer from ‘macho’ cultures where there is a belief that only the fittest can survive and prosper, others are more collaborative in nature. Even the type of employees, what they are collectively prepared to accept and how much power they wield can often be an important contributor to how extreme the Impostor problem is. Individuals can also be a factor, some people are drawn to bad leaders, or others lack the capacity to deal with them. The goal in any organization should obviously be to create the conditions that promote positive leadership and discourages Impostorism.

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