Guest post by Robert Jordan
Your frame of reference affects your perceptions. For example, take four friends—an architect, a chef, a graphic designer, and a financial analyst—and sit them down around a table on launch day at the hottest new restaurant in town. When asked to describe their experience, chances are:
- The architect might note the structure of the building, its space, how the light streams in, how the look and feel of its configuration serves and welcomes you (or not).
- The chef could well focus on the presentation of the meal while identifying the unique flavors and spices at play.
- The graphic designer might instantly be struck by the look and feel of the signage, menu or any iconic elements
- The financial analyst could visualize how much investment went into the restaurant and what kinds of returns success would mean for the investors.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “only that day dawns to which we are awake,” – we tend to see the world through our own frame of reference. Likewise, accomplished leaders have a frame of reference that results in an elemental quality or leadership mode that defines their highest and best use.
We screened thousands of executives at InterimExecs to form a trusted go-to team that could be deployed into fast-growing or troubled companies, and from that experience identified four distinct modes, or styles, of leadership.
The four styles of leadership are: Fixer, Artist, Builder, and Strategist (FABS for short). Pair a leader operating in his or her best FABS mode with a team, division, client or company in need of that type of leader and you’ll increase chances for genius results.
What fits you best? Here are the four leadership styles:
The Fixer: This leader sees what’s broken, and one or more ways to fix it. Fixers are drawn to the most dysfunctional, even toxic situations. They bring order out of chaos. Send a Fixer into a company that is hemorrhaging, and they’ll stop the bleeding. Send a Fixer into a stable situation and, at best, they will be bored. At worst, they’ll break something just so they can fix it.
The Artist: This leader starts with a blank canvas and creates a work of art, whether a new product, service, technology, message, meme, or something else. They are about innovation, ingenuity, and revolution. Send an Artist into a company in need of a jolt, and they will energize. Send an Artist into a company in need of stability, and chaos will reign.
The Builder: This leader thrives in growth mode. They know how put the structure and process in place to ramp up a company, product, or division from small – even a handful of employees – to multimillion- or multibillion-dollar success. They are the right leader for an organization that needs help getting past a ceiling in their growth. But once the organization reaches scale, don’t expect the Builder to stick around. It’s time for them to move on to the next growth market.
The Strategist: This leader operates at scale, turning complexity and mass into repeatable, defensible systems with long-term sustaining advantages. Strategists are the right leader for the organization in need of forward movement far beyond anyone’s personal span of control. They have an ability to quicken the cadence of an organization and see the many pieces at play on the field and get various teams and divisions moving in the same direction, aligned on mission and vision.
Most leaders operate readily in more than one mode. However, our observation of exceptional leaders is that they will intentionally favor and reinforce a strong suit, and then seek out situations, roles and organizations to best advantage both for themselves and the organization based on their best fit.
As organizations change, needs change. It might mean a need for a different product set, a different channel strategy, or some other shift. But that shift likely also means fresh thinking about how teams are best configured.
It’s no surprise then that we’ve seen the most effective leaders have a handle on their highest and best use – the opportunities where they can best utilize their strengths and preferred leadership mode. In those roles energy and successful outcomes skyrocket.
Turnaround expert, David Johnson, says it best: “I think it’s incumbent on every leader when they look at a situation to not only be able to advocate for themselves and say ‘Yes, this is exactly what I do, I’m the best person for you,’ but also to say, ‘This is too far afield for me. This is not the thing that I am best at.’”
Some try to be the jack-of-all trades, willing to jump into anything and everything. Sure, you can force fit yourself for a time. As Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” The immediate challenge could well be met. But its likely to fail over time, driven by a scarcity mindset that other opportunities are not bountiful.
The most successful leaders are selective about what they take on. Knowing yourself and your best leadership mode is not just about business success. It’s also about personal satisfaction.
Power comes from recognizing, knowing, accepting, and acting wholeheartedly in alignment with your unique wiring. The best leaders are in touch with their best leadership mode and know both what to embrace as well as when to hand off the relay baton to someone else. As actor Clint Eastwood’s character, Inspector Harry Calahan, aka “Dirty Harry,” said in the movie Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
About the author:
Robert Jordan created Online Access, the first Internet-coverage magazine worldwide, landing on Inc’s 500 fastest-growing company list. After the sale of the magazine, he launched InterimExecs RED Team (Rapid Executive Deployment), matching rock star leadership with companies seeking to achieve extraordinary results. Jordan is co-author of Right Leader Right Time: Discover Your Leadership Style for a Winning Career and Company, author of How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, and publishing partner for Start With No, Jim Camp’s bestseller on negotiation. A lifelong Chicagoan, husband & father, he shares an Instagram account with his dog Norman @Norman.clature.