The Leadership Polarization Profile is a simple questionnaire that aims to place leaders in the middle of multiple spectrums. It draws inspiration from many sources, including Jocko Willink’s original leadership dichotomies, Ben Horowitz’s Peacetime vs. Wartime CEO, the Holland Code RIASEC Assessment and many other psychological and vocational tools. It’s also a valuable tool in the Cultural Cascading process.
The Leadership Spectrums
For purposes of creating a Leadership Polarization profile, I define a total of 13 leadership spectrums:
- Transformational/Coaching vs. Transactional/Directing;
- Peacetime vs. Wartime;
- Contrarian vs. Consensual;
- Micromanager vs. Distanced;
- Conventional/Structured vs. Artistic/Flowing;
- Committing vs. Abandoning;
- Risk-Seeking vs. Stability-Seeking;
- Vulnerable vs. Defensive;
- Realistic vs. Investigative;
- Enforcing vs. Allowing;
- Optimistic vs. Pessimistic;
- Exclusive vs. Open;
Each one of these provides your specific position as a leader within a bigger spectrum.
1. Transformational/Coaching vs. Transactional/Directing
Transformational leaders “are the right person” while transactional leaders “do the right thing”. Transformational leaders tend to focus more on the long-term symbolism and culture while transactional leaders tend to just want to get things done and move on. Transformational leaders focus on coaching and guiding others to learn while directing focuses on them performing. Transformational teaches them how to fish, transactional gives them the fish.
In their extremes, transformational leaders sacrifice short-term results for long-term loyalty and culture, while transactional leaders do the opposite.
2. Peacetime vs. Wartime
Peacetime leaders focus on the stable growth, culture and development of the people, long-term partnerships, education and other factors. Wartime leaders focus on surviving, getting to the end of the month, being scrappy and fighting every second.
In their extreme, peacetime leaders think too long-term and can’t see the details. Wartime leaders think only about the immediate future and ignore the big picture.
3. Contrarian vs. Consensual
Contrarian leaders have no problems in going against others’ opinions – in its good and bad shadings – while consensual leaders tend to draw consensus from those around them, involve them in the decision-making process and other topics.
In their extreme, contrarian leaders not only do not care about others’ opinions, but completely disregard them, while consensual leaders need validation from everyone and is paralyzed to move forward.
4. Micromanager vs. Distanced
Leaders focused on micromanaging will tend to verify and validate every action taken by their reports, while distanced leaders will tend to give them high degrees of autonomy without verifying or double-checking.
In their extremes, micromanagers will force reports to do everything their way, while distanced leaders will have no way of doing things and leave everything to their reports.
5. Conventional/Structured vs. Artistic/Flowing
A dimension of the RIASEC assessment. Conventional leaders tend to prefer structured, repeated work, while Artistic leaders tend to focus on innovation, self-expression and unstructured, flowing work.
In their extremes, Conventional leaders tend to only be able to perform in highly structured, repeating situations, while Artistic leaders tend to constantly innovate and be unable to follow rules or structure.
6. Committing vs. Abandoning
Leaders that commit do not abandon projects or plans until the very end – they “burn it to the ground”, while abandoning leaders tend to be perfectionists, abandoning projects or plans at the very first tinge of imperfection.
In their extremes, committing leaders stay in there no matter what, while abandoning leaders stay only while things are perfect. A past coach I met had as a motto “It’s not what you do, it’s what you deal with”; Committing leaders are about the “it’s what you deal with”, abandoning leaders are about the “it’s what you do”.
7. Risk-Seeking vs. Stability-Seeking
Leaders that are risk-seeking have a higher amplitude of action, taking higher risks in order to gain potential higher rewards, while stability-seeking leaders prioritize the opposite.
In their extremes, risk-seeking leaders will have irregular behavior, full of big successes and failures, while stability-seeking leaders while have constant, but almost imperceptible results.
8. Vulnerable vs. Defensive
Vulnerable leaders are open about their mistakes and past problems, while defensive leaders have their guard up and don’t share easily.
In their extremes, vulnerable leaders share too much and are too emotional, while defensive leaders share nothing and don’t let others in at any cost.
9. Realistic vs. Investigative
Another RIASEC dimension. While Realistic leaders will have a tendency to focus on people, things, places, in the real world, Investigative leaders will have a tendency to focus on data, abstract reasoning.
In their extremes, Realistic leaders prefer the real world and are incapable of abstract thinking, while Investigative leaders will be obsessed with data and be indifferent to people and elements of the real world.
10. Enforcing vs. Allowing
Enforcing leaders have a clear code of conduct and set of rules that others must follow, while allowing leaders let their team be autonomous and do things on their own terms.
In their extremes, enforcing leaders give zero autonomy to reports and enforce strict rules, while allowing leaders enforce zero rules and let anybody do what they want.
11. Optimistic vs. Pessimistic
Last but not least: optimistic leaders tend to see only the positive, the excitement, the big picture, while pessimistic leaders tend to focus on the details and hedge risk, but possibly lacing the initiative to act easily.
In their extremes, optimistic leaders act quickly and rashly without scrutinizing the details, while pessimistic leaders evaluate so much and focus on so many details they enter paralysis by analysis and cannot move forward.
12. Exclusive vs. Open
An exclusive leader considers their organization, team to be a select group of extraordinary individuals, while an open leader considers them to be open to any background and style.
Depending on the company, you will want to be on different positions along the spectrum. For tech and asset management companies, for example, the goal is to have a culture predominantly exclusive, where people view themselves as a selected team, a Special Forces performing a demanding mission. Other companies, for example retail companies providing mainstream goods will benefit more from an open culture.
(Caveat: being on the exclusive side of the spectrum is not an excuse for discrimination. Exclusive companies consider themselves elite or secret, but in terms of values, never of race/gender/personal background).
Finding out your Leadership Polarization Profile will allow you to identify not only possible strengths and weaknesses, but also the type of culture you are instilling in the people that report to you, and the effects that might have on performance, well-being and/or growth of the people around you.