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Follow the leader – but which one? The leadership styles of top leaders

Posted by Deb Muoio

Feb 4, 2014 2:08:00 PM


What type of person is most likely to be a successful leader? Is it the hands-on leader who works down in the trenches with the rest of the troops? The one who sets goals, rewards dedication, and sets problematic employees straight? Or is it the mentor who empowers, guides, and inspires?

How about all of the above?

Impossible? Not according to a study we conducted on leadership styles.

From a sample of 34,700 people who took LEAP (Leadership Potential Assessment), we selected people who occupy a leadership position and used their most recent performance ratings to categorize them as excellent, good or average/poor leaders. These are the leadership styles that emerged:


(28% of excellent leaders; 43% of poor to average leaders)

Leadership strengths:

  • Develop their staff to become self-sufficient, confident, and independent.
  • Practice “tough love.”
  • Continuously set goals and inspire others to achieve.
  • Have an energetic yet firm demeanor that commands respects.
  • Give credit when it’s due and will compensate hard work and dedication.

Leadership limitations:

  • Will not delegate responsibilities – they draw a line between leader and follower.
  • Will not endear themselves to others. These are no-nonsense leaders who are outgoing but will keep their relationship with their staff strictly professional…they will not become anyone’s friend.
  • Can be short-tempered and might be difficult to get along with sometimes.
  • Don’t possess a great deal of long-term vision – focused on accomplishing short-term goals. 


(22% of the sample of excellent leaders; 17% of the sample of poor to average leaders)

Leadership strengths:

  • Hands-on leaders who will roll up their sleeves and work just as hard as the next person. They encompass the true value of hard work.
  • Know exactly what they want to achieve and how to get there. Very ambitious and goal oriented, with a clear, long-term vision.
  • Very determined and perseverant - once they set their sight on an objective, they will not stop until they attain it.
  • Firm leadership style – slackers will be set straight immediately.
  • Have a great deal of respect for people who are willing to work hard.

Leadership limitations:

  • Will not delegate their leadership responsibilities – which can often mean they will work longer hours to get things done, because they don’t trust anyone else to get their part of the job done well.
  • Don’t mince words or use flowery language to inspire others. They dictate orders and expect them to be done without question.
  • Are not skilled in developing people. Would work better with an established, experienced staff.
  • Can be “rough around the edges.” Not the type of leader to be trifled with, as they are not likely to give too many second chances. 


(17% of the sample of excellent leaders; 23% of the sample of poor to average leaders)

Leadership strengths:

  • Strive to bring out the best in those they lead, and willing to spend the necessary time and effort to do so.
  • Will progressively delegate tasks that involve more and more responsibility, in order to empower employees and increase their confidence and independence.
  • Will not give up on troublesome or difficult employees; they believe that everyone deserves help and a second chance. And third. And fourth…
  • Believe that people are the most important resource a company has.

Leadership limitations:

  • Would rather work as a leader “behind the scenes.” They are not comfortable directing a large group, and prefer to work with people one-on-one.
  • Not a very outgoing or charismatic leader.
  • Would not thrive in management of production and operations. They are people-oriented, not product drivers.
  • Don’t possess a long-term vision; they focus on the day-to-day functioning of their staff.


(1% of the sample of excellent leaders; 1% of the sample of poor to average leaders)

Leadership strengths:

  • Big-picture leaders who are master networkers.
  • Good at schmoozing and drawing in customers.
  • Possess a dynamic and charming personality.

Leadership limitations:

  • More of a figurehead than leader. They are not very involved with their staff and prefer to simply pass orders down the chain of command.
  • Not very hardworking, at least not in a practical sense. They delegate the more nitty-gritty tasks to others.
  • Understand the importance of nurturing and motivating staff…but will leave that duty to someone else.


(32% of the sample of excellent leaders; 16% of the sample of poor to average leaders)

Eclectic leaders have it all – they’re like chameleons, able to change their approach based on what the circumstances require. This is the style of 1/3 of the excellent leaders - and likely the reason why they are considered “excellent.” Their repertoire of leadership skills is all-encompassing. They can draw from and use all the different leadership styles, depending on the situation or the people they are leading.

So why don’t poor to average leaders use this style more? Because for the most part, they tend to fall in two extremes: they either focus too much on the performance/production side of leadership (Sports Coach style), or they focus too much on the people side of leadership (Mentor style)…to the detriment of both.

Nowadays, leaders need to wear many hats. They need to be able to develop both the human side and product side of a business – if you have just one or the other, you greatly limit yourself and the success of your business. The days of barking out orders and running staff like an assembly line or, on the contrary, spending the day on the golf course while your assistants run the companies is becoming obsolete. 

If you’re interested in using LEAP (Leadership Potential Assessment) or other tests for HR purposes, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.


Request your free trial of ARCH Profile!

Topics: Leadership Development, Personal Development, Management Skills

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