What sort of executive are you?

Features - Workplace Management Series

Understanding various leadership styles can help you adopt the right one in various situations.

April 3, 2014

You may know your business or your industry well, but do you know anything about yourself? Forward-thinking executives and business leaders evaluate their employees and clients to help better understand work styles and personality types. Sales trainers try to understand the types of buyers their salespeople are talking to and how those buyers will make purchasing decisions. Marketers try to understand the personality types that they can reach out to and how those personalities will receive a message. Understanding the types of people you work with is important knowledge, especially for executives.

Peter F. Drucker put forward a simple and basic mission for executives: “Get the right things done.” Knowing what motivates clients and employees makes it possible to know what those right things are, and being an effective leader enables doing those right things. Successful executives examine their own leadership styles to learn how they affect the ability to get the right things done.

Depending on what needs to be done and who needs to take action, an executive’s leadership style can be quite different from moment to moment. If an organization is preparing to launch a new service offering to its client base, a good leader would make sure the offering is crafted correctly and talked about effectively. If that same executive is taking a group of salespeople to a trade show to attract new clients, then he or she would need to cheer on the team as it tries to win against competitors for client orders. In the normal day-to-day course of business, executives tend to default to their most comfortable or most natural personal style.

What sort of executive are you?

The general

The General likes organizational discipline and takes a rigid and sensible approach to managing the workforce, defining missions and conquering objectives. He or she likes to spend time strategizing, studying competitors and the business environment for signs of weakness or opportunity.

The General sees business as war, competitors as enemies and his or her employees as troops. This may seem like an antiquated idea in an era where war is no longer one nation versus another, but there are many important aspects of the General persona that can help executives.

Sun Tzu’s advice in The Art of War is still being used by business strategists. Carl von Clausewitz’s Principles of War is still a best-seller. An executive who understands organizational discipline, cohesive and consistent training processes, supply-line management, contingency planning and the collection of intelligence is going to be successful.

The downfall to the General is that experimentation, innovation or discussion often are not allowed. If a change or initiative is to take shape, it must come from the top down.

The tribal chief

The Tribal Chief is not just a political or military leader as the General is but also leads in the areas of culture, lifestyle and belief systems. A tribe does not have to be an extended family group, but it often feels like one.

Tribal Leaders usually are intertwined with legend. There are some great examples in American history of how effective tribal leaders can be. Think of Tecumseh of the Shawnee. He quickly inspired a large number of people to move with great intensity toward a common goal. Look at some of the modern tribes in present-day American popular culture: Jerry Garcia and his friends in the Grateful Dead created a tribe that followed them around the world supporting their jam philosophy; George Clinton of the Funkadelic still leads a tribe of funk fans who support his idea of outrageous enjoyments; and Steve Jobs became a Tribal Leader of Apple product devotees. (Wouldn’t every business executive want to lead a company with a following like Apple’s?)

The difficulty with being a Tribal Chief is that they can fall out of fashion and tribal members often leave to follow other interests. Tribes can break up as easily as they form sometimes.

The sports coach

Whether or not you are a sports fan, you have seen one coach or another become the figurehead of a school or a city. The idea of gathering your team for a quick tactical review huddle before putting them back out on the field where they make the big play in the last seconds of the game to win the big trophy is very appealing. The hard fact about coaching is that for every second of point-scoring exhilaration, there are hours and hours of recruiting, training, practice, study, research, discussion, preparation and anxiety. Sports and business do share some commonalities. Recruiting, training, research, preparation and anxiety are some of them.

A Sports Coach knows his or her business is all about the fun and the thrill of victory, but they also understand clearly how that all relates to cash flow and asset appreciation. However, a leader with the style of a Sports Coach can fall short when people in the organization do not relate to sports analogies or are not driven by team competition.

The spoiled brat

Sometimes a boss always wants to get his or her own way. Some executives are not interested in the talent their people bring to the team but only in production. These types of executives usually like to bark orders and berate people who don’t complete tasks exactly the way the executive wanted them done.

At times, the Spoiled Brat will have a temper tantrum or suddenly change his or her mind about a task just to throw people off balance. There are times the Spoiled Brat will confuse himself or herself with the General. But, the General will remain composed and keep the battle plan in mind even under pressure. When under pressure, the Spoiled Brat overreacts and lashes out until someone offers a pacifier.

The advantage the Spoiled Brat has is that people do react quickly and try to make this type of executive happy to avoid those tantrums.

The downside of the Spoiled Brat is just that: He or she is a spoiled brat!

The right persona

Many personas could describe an executive’s default leadership style. The keys to being an effective executive are to know the strengths and weaknesses of your default style or persona and be able to adopt a different persona as conditions or circumstances require. You may need to be the strategizing General today while you prepare for a long-range planning retreat with your board, and tomorrow you might need to be the Sports Coach, cheering for your company at a meeting of midlevel managers. Which persona is going to get the right things done in which set of circumstances? That is the executive you should be.


Tron Jordheim is CMO of StorageMart, a privately held self-storage company with locations across the U.S. and Canada. He has helped lead the company to double-digit revenue growth for the last four years by embracing digital marketing and call center support. With more than 40 years of experience in sales, marketing and training, he continues to be sought after as a public speaker, sales trainer and consultant and has spoken at trade events in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Spain and Mexico. More information is available at www.storage-mart.com/blog/author/tron-jordheim.