Last week I took the opportunity to attend the Nova Pro Forum – a conference that brings together some of Sweden’s top talent professionals. The theme of the evening was one ability often requested, but rarely reflected upon – leadership. During the event we participated in several discussions about what qualities a good leader should possess, how to lead effectively, and managing people from different cultures and backgrounds. Even though the talk generally revolved around WHAT constitutes good leadership, I could not help but think of WHO great leaders really are.
When I think of great leaders, the first images that come to mind are those of commanders from my favorite movies. Russel Crowe portraying Maximus, the general turned Gladiator in the 2000 film of the same title. Tom Hanks depicting Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan. And above all, I think of Mel Gibson playing the role of William Wallace in Braveheart, the knight fighting for Scottish independence. When sitting through a discussion on what software to use when communicating with team members abroad, all I could hear was the cry of “Freedom” echoing in my mind.
What does these individuals have in common? Essentially, what I think connects them is their will to serve and fulfill a vision rather than themselves. Whether it be about a free Rome, the completion of a mission condemned by his own men, or an independent Scotland, the visions of great leaders live on even if they do not. Because if you are a good leader people will follow you, but if you are a great leader people will follow your vision.
I know what you might be thinking. Leaders like these would be of great advantage when you go to war, but we are trying to transform our business. How does this relate to us? The way I see it, the problem is not the lack of leaders. The problem is to attract, nurture, and retain the right leaders. In a Harvard Business Review article, consulting partner David Rooke and professor William R. Torbert describe a number of leadership “action logics”. These are different paradigms that leaders assume when interpreting their surroundings. After working with thousands of managers, professionals, and leaders during 25 years of research, the authors discovered seven types of leaders.
There is the Opportunist, the self-oriented, manipulative leader focused on winning any way possible. The Diplomat who wants to belong to the group and obey the norm in order to avoid conflict. The Expert, seeking rational efficiency, rules by logic and expertise. The Achiever who is well suited to managerial roles because of his action and goal orientation. The Individualist, creating unique structures to resolve gaps between strategy and performance. Together these five leadership styles represent 95 % of all leaders surveyed.
However, the two remaining leadership types, the Strategist and the Alchemist, are the ones truly capable of driving organizational and social transformations. Focusing on the big picture, long-term impact, and handling resistance to change, these leaders are the William Wallaces of business. They create shared visions across different action logics to inspire both personal and organizational development. Though it is possible to transform oneself into a Strategist or an Alchemist, it requires a lot of work and support from corporations. Even so, where will your business be if you are not investing the time and resources needed to attract, nurture, and retain the Braveheart of your business transformation?