Forbes Coaches Council Member

What Kind of Leader Are You?

I was meeting with a young leader interested in executive coaching. Halfway through the conversation, he told me I reminded him of the performance coach on Billions, the Showtime drama starring Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis and Maggie Siff.

I hadn’t heard of the show, so the comment meant nothing until I watched it. When I did, I wasn’t sure if I should feel flattered or offended. Oh, who am I kidding. Of course, I was flattered.

Maggie Siff plays Wendy an executive coach “loves swimming in the waters with alpha men. She’s very comfortable there, but the tools she’s employing to live there are really varied. She’s as strong and sharp and intellectual as any of them, and she has balls, so to speak. But she’s also very comfortable using her sensuality and her humor and a bunch of other things that put these guys at ease. And she’s completely unapologetic about her tactics, whatever they may be in the moment. An interesting archetype, I’ll call the executive coach dominatrix (because that’s what she literally plays on the show).

Why is this important? Because the thinking behind our pre-conceived judgements fascinates me and the pattern-defining how we categorize people and things is exquisite. It helps us understand both ourselves and others.

As leaders, we think it gives us a gut read on who’s sitting across the proverbial table from us and what they’re capable of. I like the way the author of “The Eight Archetypes of Leadership” in Harvard Business Review, describes these patterns and categorizations — as a way for leaders to “see and understand that their attitudes and interactions with people are the result of a complex confluence of their inner theater (including relationships with authority figures early in life), significant life experiences, examples set by other executives, and formal leadership training.”

So, how do you describe yourself as a leader? According to the author, these eight archetypes are most prominent. Which ring true for you and your leadership style?

  • The strategist: leadership as a game of chess. These people are good at dealing with developments in the organization’s environment. They provide vision, strategic direction and outside-the-box thinking to create new organizational forms and generate future growth.
  • The change-catalyst: leadership as a turnaround activity. These executives love messy situations. They are masters at re-engineering and creating new organizational ”blueprints.”
  • The transactor: leadership as deal making. These executives are great dealmakers. Skilled at identifying and tackling new opportunities, they thrive on negotiations.
  • The builder: leadership as an entrepreneurial activity. These executives dream of creating something and have the talent and determination to make their dream come true.
  • The innovator: leadership as creative idea generation. These people are focused on the new. They possess a great capacity to solve extremely difficult problems.
  • The processor: leadership as an exercise in efficiency. These executives like organizations to be smoothly running, well-oiled machines. They are very effective at setting up the structures and systems needed to support an organization’s objectives.
  • The coach: leadership as a form of people development. These executives know how to get the best out of people, thus creating high performance cultures.
  • The communicator: leadership as stage management. These executives are great influencers, and have a considerable impact on their surroundings.

See any resemblances? Shoot me a note, I’d love to hear the ones you identify with – and I’m happy to tell you the ones I think you identify with.


Find more leadership advice in my book “From the CEO’s Perspective” where I interview 20 top CEOs on how they are developing leaders in today’s world.

Watch my latest CEO Forum coverage on Leading Multi-Gen Workforces with advice from Ken Alterman, CEO of SAVERS/Value Village, Kimberly Harris, CEO of Puget Sound Energy and Kevin Klock, CEO of Talking Rain. Thanks to our sponsor, Regence.


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