Seven Transformations of Leadership

‘Seven Transformations of Leadership’ is a 2005 HBR article by David Rooke & William Torbert.

The authors argue that great leaders are differentiated not by their personality or philosophy, but by their internal action logic! Action logic is how the leaders interpret their own and others’ behaviours, and how they maintain power or protect from threats.

Based on their research, the authors categorise action logics into seven distinct types. These action logics function as a leader’s dominant way of thinking. Here’s the list starting with the least productive (and least complex):

  • Opportunist: Wins any way possible. Self-oriented. Manipulative. ‘Might makes right’ approach. Opportunists are good in emergencies and in pursuing sales, but few people want to follow them for the long term.
  • Diplomat: Avoids conflict. Wants to belong. Obeys group norms; doesn’t rock the boat. Diplomat is a supportive glue in teams, but can’t provide painful feedback or make the hard decisions needed to improve performance.
  • Expert: Rules by logic and expertise. Uses hard data to gain consensus and buy-in. Expert is a good individual contributor, but lacks emotional intelligence. Also lacks respect for those with less expertise.
  • Achiever: Meets strategic goals. Promotes teamwork; juggles managerial duties and responds to market demands to achieve goals. Achiever is well suited for managerial work, but inhibits thinking outside the box.
  • Individualist: Operates in unconventional ways. Ignores rules s/he regards as irrelevant. Individualist is effective in venture & consulting roles. But, irritates colleagues & bosses by ignoring key organizational processes & people.
  • Strategist: Generates organizational and personal change. Highly collaborative; weaves visions with pragmatic, timely initiatives. Strategist challenges existing assumptions. Generates transformations over the short and long term.
  • Alchemist: Generates social transformations. Reinvents organizations in historically significant ways. Alchemist leads society-wide change.

Interestingly, the same seven action logics can be used to describe teams and organisations as well.

In the sample set researched by the authors, there were 5% Opportunists, 12% Diplomats, 38% Experts, 30% Achievers, 10% Individualists, 4% Strategists and 1% Alchemists!

The most remarkable finding of the authors’ research is that leaders can transform from one action logic to another. Few may become alchemists, but many have the desire and potential to become Individualists and Strategists.

The article suggests ways in which leaders can transform from one action logic to another. Read it here, if you are interested.