The Fundamentals of Team Leadership
What does it take to put together a winning team in business?
Volumes of articles and books have been written on the topic over the years, offering advice on how to avoid the dysfunction that often renders teams ineffective. We have all been part of groups that failed, either because of hidden agendas or personalities that didn’t quite mesh.
In my experience as an executive and a consultant, I’ve come to believe the personal style of team members has the greatest influence on a group’s success. More important than any technical skill a team member brings is the ability to work closely together, free of backbiting and political maneuvering. The key is having the right mix on your team.
The Four Types of Employee
By and large, there are four archetypes of people in companies: magicians, warriors, sovereigns, and lovers. You can easily define them using the Jungian framework introduced by psychologist Robert Moore and mythologist Douglas Gillette.
Magicians. They are the rational yet imaginative souls in your organization. They think a new idea or insight is the only thing that can move the world. In truth, they’re obsessed by ideas. Their answer to feeding the troops is to pull a rabbit out of a hat. These types of people think a mere argument over an idea equals action.
Lovers. For them, everything comes down to human relations. They’re pragmatic but emotional. They focus on building the winning coalition. They are obsessed not by ideas but by feelings. They consider agreement an action.
Sovereigns. They are the emotional and imaginative types. They focus on the big picture and judge everything on whether it leads to where they want to go. They redefine what people consider is possible. They are obsessed by beliefs. And they consider direction a form of action.
Warriors. They are rational and pragmatic. They’re focused on the next battle and can only see clearly what’s directly in front of them. They hold people accountable to systems and the fairness of those systems. They’re obsessed by facts. For them, action is finding the critical factor to get something immediately accomplished.
Apple’s Steve Jobs is clearly a magician. Watching him introduce a new product on stage (BusinessWeek.com, 7/6/07) is like watching a master magician pull a rabbit out of a hat. Microsoft’s Bill Gates, with all his competitive juice to dominate his industry, is a warrior. IBM’s (IBM) Tom Watson, who plastered the walls of Big Blue with “Think” signs, was a magician. Could anyone think of GE’s Jack Welch (BusinessWeek.com, 12/7/07) as anything other than a warrior? Indeed, one of the most fascinating campaigns in all of business is the attempt by Welch’s successor to transform a warrior company like GE into a hothouse of ideas. Jeff Immelt, whose “imagination at work” vision for GE is an extreme departure from the Welch years, will have a hard time of it without more magicians on his senior team.
Maintaining the Balance
Obviously, this framework is a simplification, but there are logical implications for any leader assembling a team. The most effective teams maintain a balance by having a healthy variety of types in key roles because each type is good at doing different things. A mix of magicians, warriors, lovers, and sovereigns will get you the best team possible.
When one type dominates, friction and conflict can occur: a fall-off of creativity, a lack of flexibility, risk aversion, and paralysis. That’s why the most effective leaders know who they are and surround themselves with people who complement their strengths and offset their weaknesses. The warrior needs a magician, a sovereign, and a few lovers. What often happens in organizations is you get a group of warriors, and they don’t like the magicians so you don’t have any of them on your team.
Clearly, there is beauty in balance. That is the place where individual team members become more sensitive to each other’s needs. Too many magicians and your team will be pondering opportunities all the time, but will lack decisive action, even though the thinking will be excellent. Why? Because magicians are more concerned with having it done “right,” rather than having it done. They’re especially vulnerable to pursuing superior technology at the expense of something that customers would buy. And a group of them in a room will look more like a debating society than a high performance team. Too many lovers and you have another set of problems. These employees value consensus to the detriment of results. They hold far too many meetings. They do too much talking and not enough acting. The lover excessively relies on outside advice and often appears to lack both competitiveness and edge.
The Right Mix for Your Team
Too many warriors, on the other hand, will experience difficulty if anything in the environment changes. They won’t be proactive and will consequently miss opportunities competitors may exploit. They appear as a parade of soldiers, and they can be innovation-challenged. Too many sovereigns will often pull an organization in too many directions at once, or will radically change direction often. Sovereign-dominated teams will have no center of gravity and will keep many unresolved business issues up in the air all the time. They appear fragmented, with poor communication, and they often struggle with strategy and direction.
That said, some companies require a predominance of one type or another to effectively pursue certain strategies or values. Magicians are the best fit for innovation-based companies in which discovery is crucial to success. Warriors are ideally suited for highly competitive environments that demand a conquering-the-world mindset.
Do you have the right mix on your team?
With Richard Rawlinson and Simon Gilles, vice-presidents at Booz Allen Hamilton.