Andrew was a top executive working for one of the world's largest multinational companies. A specialist in organizational design, he was renowned throughout the industry for successfully revamping his company's culture. When the CEO of a major competitor approached him with a promotion offer and the opportunity to play on a bigger stage, he jumped at the chance. His mission was to develop and launch a complex and important organizational redesign that the company's CEO hoped would vault the company far ahead of its competitors.
At his last job, Andrew had thrived on top-down leadership. He was used to leading without involving his employees, and—at least for a while—that had worked out fine. But his new company was less bureaucratic. Its leaders were more open and transparent, and employees were used to being involved in decision-making.
As the stress and responsibility of his new position mounted, Andrew doubled down on what had worked for him in the past. He defaulted to commanding his people instead of engaging them.
But Andrew's command-and-control tactics were beginning to create discord. Complaints started trickling up to the CEO, and she brought me in to help ensure that Andrew's leadership style didn't interfere with the project's success.
Ultimately, the project failed. The business wasted 18 precious months and millions of dollars, veering the organization dangerously off track. Andrew was let go.
What is it that makes some leaders successful, while others can't get traction with their people, their customers or their organizations—no matter how hard they try? Why do some people seem like they were born to lead, while others struggle to gain the loyalty and engagement of their people? Why can't everyone in a position of leadership inspire those around them to reach higher and aspire to more?
In my book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness (Portfolio, 2017), I reveal seven archetypes of leadership that the most successful leaders embody: Rebel, Explorer, Truth Teller, Hero, Inventor, Navigator and Knight.
Each archetype's rise is fueled by activating a distinct set of valuable traits, but these same talents hide a shadow side. When faced with challenges and uncertainty, it's not uncommon for soaring leaders to be debilitated by the shadow side of the very traits that made them successful. Some examples:
- Rebels have the confidence to forge forward, but they can feel like imposters and have self-doubt.
- Explorers use their intuition to find solutions, but they can become exploiters who manipulate others.
- Truth Tellers speak with candor, but they can become deceivers who create suspicion.
- Heroes are courageous in the face of fear, but they can also become fearful bystanders.
- Inventors lead with integrity, but they can become corrupt destroyers.
- Navigators create practical and pragmatic solutions that people trust, but they can become fixers who behave arrogantly.
- Knights are loyal and dedicated to those they serve, but they can become self-serving mercenaries.
So, how do great leaders avoid the fall?
By deliberately rethinking what they know and don't know and using this new perspective to evolve into the optimal version of themselves.
The power to embrace uncertainty during challenging times is the difference between merely effective leaders and great leaders. By understanding their archetypes—and their gaps—leaders have the power to conquer the fear of the unknown and welcome it as a means for fostering growth and development.
Lolly Daskal is founder of Lead from Within, a global leadership, executive coaching and consulting firm based in New York City.