Two Types of Leadership Action

In a recent con­ver­sa­tion with an exec­u­tive I found myself explain­ing the dif­fer­ence between what I spon­ta­neous­ly called “Type I” and “Type II” lead­er­ship action.

Type I is when a leader inquires infor­mal­ly about the expe­ri­ence of peo­ple, say over a cup of cof­fee or part of hall talk, wel­comes a gen­uine­ly open exchange, learns some­thing impor­tant about how the work is going and then col­lab­o­rates with staff on mak­ing need­ed improve­ments and changes. As in, “Wow, I did­n’t know most peo­ple see the staff meet­ing as a waste of time. What can we do about that?” This is right in line with the cul­ture change meth­ods I dis­cussed in a June post, Lessons in Snow and also harks back to an ear­li­er post, Why Talk About Lead­er­ship? For me, the capac­i­ty to ini­ti­ate and fol­low-through on Type I con­ver­sa­tions has every­thing to do with what is described as “employ­ee engagement.” 

Type II is when a leader intro­duces some sort of need­ed work, change, or ini­tia­tive above and beyond typ­i­cal dai­ly work, the result of evolv­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al needs. This could be a new strate­gic plan, an inno­va­tion or cost cut­ting effort, or a new tech­nol­o­gy. In the­o­ry at least, in Type II, the leader also col­lab­o­rates with staff to com­mu­ni­cate about, plan, man­age, and imple­ment the change. 

Type I emerges from the expe­ri­ence of staff. Type II comes from shift­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al direc­tions and demands.


Detail: Fishing Boat

My sense is that a great many lead­ers believe their job is real­ly only Type II. They may assume they already know staff con­cerns and issues, whether they actu­al­ly do or not. Despite the fact that Type I is essen­tial to the health of the enter­prise and gives peo­ple in lead­er­ship roles an oppor­tu­ni­ty to active­ly demon­strate their con­nec­tion and engage­ment, it is typ­i­cal­ly less valued.

We then come to the stag­ger­ing sta­tis­tics. Here’s one, from a Forbes arti­cle titled, “When CEOs Talk Strat­e­gy, 70% Of The Com­pa­ny Does­n’t Get It,” by well-known pro­fes­sor, change man­age­ment author and con­sul­tant, John Kot­ter and col­league, Jim­my Lep­pert. Aus­tralian researchers found that in high per­form­ing com­pa­nies about 70% of staff could not cor­rect­ly pick their own com­pa­ny’s strate­gies out of six pos­si­ble choices.

Per­haps it’s only me, but I find it an almost mag­i­cal coin­ci­dence that 70% is the same num­ber of unen­gaged and active­ly dis­en­gaged work­ers (includ­ing man­agers), as deter­mined by the Gallup organization.

At least, per­haps, these two 70%‘s over­lap like a Venn dia­gram?

A clos­er read­ing of the Kot­ter arti­cle reveals some clues. Of the three actions the authors sug­gest to increase align­ment with strat­e­gy (a Type II prob­lem), none have any­thing to do with Type I action. All that is present is 1) a sug­ges­tion that lead­ers be clear about the vision, 2) exhor­ta­tion to “cre­ate a move­ment” and excite­ment around these larg­er goals, and 3) encour­age­ment to cel­e­brate con­tri­bu­tion after the fact. There is not one word devot­ed to find­ing out how staff actu­al­ly feel about the goals, dis­cov­er­ing the needs they have or assist­ing them in reduc­ing the chal­lenges they face. Not one word about the par­tic­i­pa­tion of staff in the design of the strat­e­gy. I sus­pect if the option for Type I action came up in the con­text of strat­e­gy imple­men­ta­tion many would say it is just assumed lead­ers are in touch with their staff and know the prob­lems. And many oth­ers might express blame either for those staff mem­bers who do speak up or for those who do not. Those who speak up with­out being asked might well be labeled as com­plain­ers while those who do not as unhelp­ful victims. 

As a con­se­quence of the fail­ure to acknowl­edge Type I, Type II results (and the strate­gic align­ment they are sup­posed to accom­plish) are actu­al­ly pret­ty tough to achieve.

By the way, I am not sug­gest­ing that Type I and Type II are kind of a trade-off, as in “I have to sat­is­fy those per­ni­cious staff hygiene needs in order to get the work done.” The real prob­lem is deep­er, in the mind­set that wor­ries about exact­ly that kind of “bar­gain” and real­ly believes “we should­n’t have to deal with that stuff.” It is in the mind­set that believes employ­ee sur­veys han­dle the chal­lenge of “employ­ee atti­tudes.” It is in the one that sur­rep­ti­tious­ly believes that because peo­ple are paid for their work, they should­n’t actu­al­ly think too much. 

If this false Type I, Type II dichoto­my is the past, tell me, what do you think the future looks like or ought to look like? How can we break down the walls?


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  • Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) wrote:

    Dear Dan,
    May I sug­gest what we call in Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Net­works a “Bot­tom Up Approach”? In oth­er words, start by talk­ing to your peo­ple, know what they can do and like to do, cre­ate a reli­able link (hon­est con­nec­tion) between you and each one of them, syn­chro­nize your work with theirs, check and cor­rect errors if any, cre­ate dif­fer­ent net­works of peo­ple hav­ing sim­i­lar capa­bil­i­ties, inter­con­nect these net­works to pro­vide a coher­ent inter-net­work (i.e. Be the glue). Then con­sid­er the com­pa­ny goals, dis­cuss them in a lan­guage that could be under­stood by every­one, divide your goals into small­er tasks. Find out what type of channels/resources you need to have to car­ry those tasks, and fill in the gaps between what your dif­fer­ent net­works of peo­ple can pro­vide as ser­vices and the require­ments of the need­ed chan­nel (i.e. train them, pro­vide coaching).
    Obvi­ous­ly, what we have now run­ning in most orga­ni­za­tion is the “Top Down Approach” and that’s what is caus­ing the dis­en­gage­ment of most employees.
    Anoth­er great post that made me think­ing, Thank You!

  • Hi Dan,
    You hit the home run on this when you said Type I and Type II don’t need to be bargained.

    Lead­er­ship is about see­ing and liv­ing the whole. See the big pic­ture goes far beyond just the busi­ness vision.

    It includes every­thing: inspir­ing, lis­ten­ing, crit­i­cal think­ing, guid­ing, set­ting lim­its, and the list goes on and on.

    No need to choose just Type I or Type II — embrace what is and that’s the whole truth!


  • Dear Hoda~

    Thanks, Hoda. Your list of what a leader can do is excel­lent. For me, in the ide­al, Type II and Type I or top down vs bot­tom us would meld more toward a more inte­grat­ed whole sys­tems approach. Too often the effort to cre­ate mean­ing­ful change is so one-sided! If we can see that tra­di­tion­al one-sid­ed­ness, we can then begin to exper­i­ment, open doors, ask ques­tions, explore the sys­tem as a whole — what it is , who it is. While such explo­ration leads us out of lin­ear process and may increase rather than reduce ambi­gu­i­ty, it is also in the end a much sur­er path than pre­tend­ing things can be done lock-step. Thanks so much for adding your vision of where we could go!

    All the best

  • Dear Kate~

    Exact­ly — this is what I believe, too. No need to choose or chan­nel ener­gy in some for­mu­la­ic way. Just dis­cern by ful­ly see­ing and lis­ten­ing. Be curi­ous about what is and you can do so much more to fos­ter what might be!

    All the best

  • Dear Dan,

    I tru­ly loved your post.
    I found it inter­est­ing and yet eye opening.

    I want to say, its great to dis­tin­guish types, like Type I or Type II — but as we know, we are human beings, with a lit­tle of both types and as lead­ers we must remem­ber to bring all of human­i­ty to the work we do and the life we are leading.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Love your mind and heart.


  • Dear Lol­ly~

    You are so right. We must look into our own human­i­ty as part of reduc­ing the dis­tance between Type I action and Type II. There we will nat­u­ral­ly see how these forms of lead­er­ship inevitably must blend.

    One things lead­ers can do is reflect on their own hearts: what would hap­pen if they were asked and felt safe to tell the truth about those hearts, and had some­one to work with who want­ed to help ful­fill their heart’s desire? 

    If a per­son can get in touch in this way with their own gen­uine expe­ri­ences and desires, they can then turn to oth­ers and become curi­ous about the expe­ri­ences and desires they, too, hold. From know­ing our own hearts we can reach out to others.

    I remem­ber a con­ver­sa­tion in which a leader said to me after invit­ing feed­back from some man­agers, “I hat­ed to hear what they had to say. It was real­ly dis­ap­point­ing.” This is so often the bar­ri­er to ask­ing, isn’t it? — not want­i­ng to hear where improve­ment might lie and feel­ing respon­si­ble. Yet by going into this dark­ness togeth­er we dis­cov­er where the switch is and with a lit­tle effort begin to turn on the lights.

    As always, it’s won­der­ful to see your words here and share in your soul­ful advice.

    All the best, Lolly!

  • Dan,

    In Type 1 and Type 2, an ingre­di­ent need­ed in both is clar­i­ty. In Type 1, clar­i­ty in under­stand­ing the per­spec­tive of oth­ers is essen­tial. In Type 2, clar­i­ty in why change is need­ed is essen­tial. In both cas­es, clar­i­ty of con­ver­sa­tions needs to be absorbed by those involved and then act­ed upon. Con­se­quent­ly, in addi­tion to clar­i­ty is an action of absorb­ing and adapt­ing based on what was heard and exchanged.

    It is inter­est­ing to see how lack of under­stand­ing match­es up with lack of engagement.

    Great post again!


  • Dear Jon~

    Your riff on clar­i­ty is such a beau­ti­ful expan­sion of the post. Clar­i­ty is a pow­er­ful val­ue and strat­e­gy in its own right. With­out it, Type I and Type II hard­ly matter. 

    It is such a com­mon chal­lenge and need­ed dis­ci­pline. We think we are being clear, but often our words and con­duct are not as clear as we imag­ine. As a con­se­quence, oth­ers may come away from us feel­ing mis­un­der­stood despite our inten­tions to be help­ful, and they may also mis­un­der­stand our actions because we haven’t clear­ly con­veyed the “why” behind them. If the water isn’t clear, why would I drink it?

    A bril­liant point, Jon!

    Thank you~

  • Dan — The 70% in both stud­ies impact­ed me like the old V‑8 ads! (Thanks for just smack­ing me in the forehead!) 

    Seri­ous­ly — what an awe­some connection!

  • Dear Chery~

    It hit me in the head, too. I think it means lead­ers need to do a great deal more than “announce” strat­e­gy and then imag­ine it will just hap­pen. They con­fuse one-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion with engage­ment, then com­plain about “resis­tance.” Oh my–there’s a lot of work to do! 

    All the best to you

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