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Leadership Looks Different on Many Levels: Understanding Action Logic

Over the years, there have been multiple studies done on types of leaders, personalities of leaders, and style of management. According to a 25-year study done by The Harvard Business Review (HBR), there is something else that sets leaders apart. They state, “Rather it’s their internal ‘action logic’—how they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged.” Unfortunately, most leaders are not aware of their own action logic, let alone try to change it.

According to HBR, leaders who take the time to understand this concept of action logic, and develop themselves for the better, will not only transform their own capabilities but also those in their company.

Step one is understanding what kind of leader you are.

The Opportunist

Opportunists tend to focus on personal wins and view other people as opportunities they can exploit. They often will only pursue something if they believe they can control the outcome. Often, they legitimize their poor behavior as just a means of getting ahead in a “cut throat” world. They reject feedback, place blame on those around them, and are known to retaliate harshly.

The upside is, few Opportunists remain managers long, unless they adjust to a more effective action logic.

The Diplomat

The Diplomat tends to approach the world around them in a more sympathetic manner; however, this can have negative outcomes coming from a management role. The Diplomat is loyal to their company, and seeks to please higher-status colleagues, while avoiding conflict. His/her action logic is focused on gaining control of one’s own behavior – more so than gaining control of external events or other people.

As a lower-level manager, this type of professional may thrive as they do well at holding groups together. At the senior-level they struggle as they try to avoid conflict. They tend to be overly polite and have a tough time giving challenging feedback. Initiating any sort of change will inevitably bring conflict, and the Diplomat will avoid it at all costs.

The Expert

Experts are the largest category of leaders. In comparison to Opportunists and Diplomats, rather than focusing on trying to control the world around them and their own behavior, they focus on perfecting their knowledge. They often leverage hard data and logic to gain buy-in for their ideas and proposals.

Experts do well as contributors, as they are always in pursuit of improvement and efficiency, but as a manager they can be problematic. Experts are always positive they are right in any situation. Collaboration is seen as a waste of time, and they often treat people as “less expert” than themselves.

The Achiever

Achievers came in as the second largest category of leaders. Achievers tend to challenge their employees, while also supporting them, creating a very positive team environment. These leaders tend to focus their efforts on deliverables, with the downside being their style inhibits thinking outside the box.

Unlike previous actions logics, Achievers are very receptive to feedback and sensitive to handling diverse types of personalities when resolving isssues. They often clash with Experts, as the Expert will always want perfection, and the Achiever will view things at a higher level. However, this sort of clash is often productive for a company.

The Individualist

The Individualist action logic is different from all others in that they recognize that other action logics are not “natural.” This way of thinking allows Individualist leaders to work well with other action logics in the workplace and contribute practical, but unique, value to the company.

Where Individualists can run into trouble, is they tend to ignore rules they’ve deemed as “irrelevant” and can be thought of as a wild card within the organization. Often times they will leave the company to start one of their own.

The Strategist

Strategists focus is on organizational constraints and perceptions, which they treat as transformable. In comparison to the Individualist, who has mastered communication with different action logics, the Strategists has mastered the organizational impact of actions. They have the ability to create shared visions, across different action logics, that encourage both organizational and personal transformations.

Strategists typically have socially conscious business ideas that are carried out in a highly collaborative manner. While Achievers will use their influence to successfully promote their own company, the Strategist works to create ethical principles and practice beyond themselves or their organization.

The Alchemist

Alchemist are the rarest type of leaders. Based on the research, “What sets Alchemists apart from Strategists is their ability to renew and reinvent themselves and their organization in historically significant ways.” The Alchemist has the ability to deal with many situations, on many levels, simultaneously. They can deal with immediate action items but never lose sight of the long-term goal.

*This article is a brief summary of the types of leaders sited in the Harvard Business Review’s study, to read more about the study, and how to evolve as a leader click here.