change-leader-types-2In this previous post I set out four types of change leaders. I now realise that the definitions were unhelpful

In particular, the post suggested that some leaders don’t lead change. I think this is false. All business leaders will lead change. The differences lie in their approach to change (are they proactive and persistent, or reactive and ad hoc?) and their focus when leading change (is it about removing problems or about raising the bar and driving new growth?).

Of course, we are all a mixture of these generic types, but in my experience most managers have a default both in their approach and their focus. This creates four types of change leader:

  1. Fire Fighter. This change leader responds to problems as they arise. Often they will seek to deal with symptoms, rather than root causes, and do little to put in place corrective, preventative or contingent actions that will eliminate the problem from reoccurring. Working in a team led by a Fire Fighter can be exhausting and demoralising, as team members know that all their time is focused on responding to real time events and not creating the space and time for them to really improve performance.
  2. Process Perfectionist. Unlike the Fire Fighter, this change leader is proactive and systematic, although she is still focused on solving problems, rather than bar. “Get it right first time” is the mantra of the Process Perfectionist, and  she ensures that root causes are attacked, and both preventative and contingent actions are put in place to reduce the likelihood and impact of reoccurrence. This leader can be highly effective in an operational and process role, such as a manufacturing plant or systems manager, but can block momentum and create frustration in more innovation-focused roles and organisations.
  3. Glory Or Bust. This leader is focused on innovation, rather than problem solving. Minor problems are tolerated, and attention is, instead, focused on raising the bar and finding ways to drive new growth. However, as with the Fire Fighter, the Glory Or Bust leader deals with change in an ad hoc, hit and miss manner. If the first version of the new growth project fails, they will give up and turn their attention elsewhere. Their team can become cynical, knowing that nothing is likely to stick and their commitment will also wane in the knowledge that sustained follow-through is unlikely.
  4. Systematic Innovator. This change leader is permanently raising the bar and finding new ways to deliver step changes in performance. Although far less concerned than the Process Perfectionist in ensuring that processes always run smoothly, they can create major leaps forward in developing new products and services, business models and organisational approaches. Ideally suited to marketing and business development, the Systematic Innovator can create frustration and tension in more operational roles, where many team members are focused ensuring effective order and quality of existing systems and processes.

So, which type of change leader are you and which do you wish to be?

© Stuart Cross 2009. All Rights Reserved