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Relatively few leaders, however, try to understand their own action logic, and fewer still have explored the possibility of changing it. The good news is that leaders who make an effort to understand their own action logic can improve their ability to lead. Our research is based on a sentence-completion survey tool called the Leadership Development Profile. Over the past 25 years, we and other researchers have administered the sentence-completion survey to thousands of managers and professionals, most between the ages of 25 and 55, at hundreds of American and European companies as well as nonprofits and governmental agencies in diverse industries.
What we found is that the levels of corporate and individual performance vary according to action logic.
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Different leaders exhibit different kinds of action logic—ways in which they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. In our research of thousands of leaders, we observed seven types of action logics. The least effective for organizational leadership are the Opportunist and Diplomat; the most effective, the Strategist and Alchemist. Knowing your own action logic can be the first step toward developing a more effective leadership style.
If you recognize yourself as an Individualist, for example, you can work, through both formal and informal measures, to develop the strengths and characteristics of a Strategist. We call these leaders Opportunists, a title that reflects their tendency to focus on personal wins and see the world and other people as opportunities to be exploited. Their approach to the outside world is largely determined by their perception of control—in other words, how they will react to an event depends primarily on whether or not they think they can direct the outcome.
They treat other people as objects or as competitors who are also out for themselves. Opportunists tend to regard their bad behavior as legitimate in the cut and thrust of an eye-for-an-eye world.
They reject feedback, externalize blame, and retaliate harshly. Few Opportunists remain managers for long, unless they transform to more effective action logics as Ellison has done. Their constant firefighting, their style of self-aggrandizement, and their frequent rule breaking is the antithesis of the kind of leader people want to work with for the long term. If you have worked for an Opportunist, you will almost certainly remember it as a difficult time. By the same token, corporate environments that breed opportunism seldom endure, although Opportunists often survive longer than they should because they provide an exciting environment in which younger executives, especially, can take risks.
We felt we could do anything, pull off everything, write our own rules. The pace was wild, and we all just rode it. The Diplomat makes sense of the world around him in a more benign way than the Opportunist does, but this action logic can also have extremely negative repercussions if the leader is a senior manager.
Loyally serving the group, the Diplomat seeks to please higher-status colleagues while avoiding conflict. In a support role or a team context, this type of executive has much to offer. Diplomats provide social glue to their colleagues and ensure that attention is paid to the needs of others, which is probably why the great majority of Diplomats work at the most junior rungs of management, in jobs such as frontline supervisor, customer service representative, or nurse practitioner.
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Diplomats are much more problematic in top leadership roles because they try to ignore conflict. They tend to be overly polite and friendly and find it virtually impossible to give challenging feedback to others.
Initiating change, with its inevitable conflicts, represents a grave threat to the Diplomat, and he will avoid it if at all possible, even to the point of self-destruction. Consider one Diplomat who became the interim CEO of an organization when his predecessor died suddenly from an aneurysm. When the board split on the selection of a permanent successor, it asked the Diplomat to carry on. Our Diplomat relished his role as a ceremonial figurehead and was a sought-after speaker at public events.
Unfortunately, he found the more conflictual requirements of the job less to his liking. He failed, for instance, to replace a number of senior managers who had serious ongoing performance issues and were resisting the change program his predecessor had initiated. Because the changes were controversial, the Diplomat avoided meetings, even planning business trips for the times when the senior team would meet. Eventually, in the face of mounting losses arising from this poor management, the board decided to demote the Diplomat to his former role as vice president.
In contrast to Opportunists, who focus on trying to control the world around them, and Diplomats, who concentrate on controlling their own behavior, Experts try to exercise control by perfecting their knowledge, both in their professional and personal lives. Exercising watertight thinking is extremely important to Experts. Not surprisingly, many accountants, investment analysts, marketing researchers, software engineers, and consultants operate from the Expert action logic.
Secure in their expertise, they present hard data and logic in their efforts to gain consensus and buy-in for their proposals. Experts are great individual contributors because of their pursuit of continuous improvement, efficiency, and perfection. But as managers, they can be problematic because they are so completely sure they are right.
When subordinates talk about a my-way-or-the-highway type of boss, they are probably talking about someone operating from an Expert action logic. Emotional intelligence is neither desired nor appreciated. While these leaders create a positive work environment and focus their efforts on deliverables, the downside is that their style often inhibits thinking outside the box. They know that creatively transforming or resolving clashes requires sensitivity to relationships and the ability to influence others in positive ways.
Achievers can also reliably lead a team to implement new strategies over a one- to three-year period, balancing immediate and long-term objectives. One study of ophthalmologists in private practice showed that those who scored as Achievers had lower staff turnover, delegated more responsibility, and had practices that earned at least twice the gross annual revenues of those run by Experts.
Achievers often find themselves clashing with Experts. Consider Hewlett-Packard, where the research engineers tend to score as Experts and the lab managers as higher-level Achievers. This conflict becomes the source of tension, creativity, and a growing desire for further development. Individualists also tend to ignore rules they regard as irrelevant, which often makes them a source of irritation to both colleagues and bosses.
Sharon not her real name had been asked to set up an offshore shared service function in the Czech Republic in order to provide IT support to two separate and internally competitive divisions operating there. The trouble was that Sharon had a reputation within the wider organization as a wild card. Many of the dynamics created by different action logics are illustrated by this story and its outcome.
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The CEO, whose own action logic was that of an Achiever, did not see how he could challenge Sharon to develop and move beyond creating such problems. Although ambivalent about her, he decided to retain her because she was delivering and because the organization had recently lost several capable, if unconventional, managers. So Sharon stayed, but only for a while. Eventually, she left the company to set up an offshoring consultancy. What sets them apart from Individualists is their focus on organizational constraints and perceptions, which they treat as discussable and transformable.
Whereas the Individualist masters communication with colleagues who have different action logics, the Strategist masters the second-order organizational impact of actions and agreements. The Strategist is also adept at creating shared visions across different action logics—visions that encourage both personal and organizational transformations. As a result, Strategists are highly effective change agents.
We found confirmation of this in our recent study of ten CEOs in six different industries. All of their organizations had the stated objective of transforming themselves and had engaged consultants to help with the process.
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Each CEO filled out a Leadership Development Profile, which showed that five of them were Strategists and the other five fell into other action logics. By contrast, only two of the other five CEOs succeeded in transforming their organizations—despite help from consultants, who themselves profiled as Strategists. Strategists are fascinated with three distinct levels of social interplay: personal relationships, organizational relations, and national and international developments. In , Bavaria founded Trillium Asset Management, a worker-owned company, which she still heads.
In the late s, CERES, working with the United Nations, created the Global Reporting Initiative, which supports financial, social, and environmental transparency and accountability worldwide. Here we see the Strategist action logic at work. Bavaria saw a unique moment in which to make ethical investing a viable business, then established Trillium to execute her plan. Strategists typically have socially conscious business ideas that are carried out in a highly collaborative manner.
They seek to weave together idealist visions with pragmatic, timely initiatives and principled actions. Reichert Verlag A Companion to Ethics.
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