Four types of flawed leader

12 November 2013 -


Being made boss doesn’t automatically make you a leader. The best organisations are run by those who take the best traits from these four archetypes and avoid the worst

Whether you are a board member, a middle manager or a grassroots employee, it is highly likely that you have encountered – or even currently work with – someone who thinks they know how to lead, but actually does not.

That individual would not necessarily be a workplace liability. Indeed, they may have qualities that are worth learning from. But as management structures in the workplace become flatter, their flaws are likely to be thrown into sharp relief.

Time to meet them…

Hands-on Harry

Got a problem to solve or a project that needs finishing quickly? Harry’s your man. He sits at the same desk as everyone else, not in a separate office. Harry’s tactics make work feel easy, but, if this sounds like you, be careful to make the lines between friend and boss clear. Otherwise discipline can be hard to employ and you might find yourself being taken advantage of.

Strategist Stella

Stella was a hippy in another life. With her endless talk of the “big picture” and her poorly defined ambitions it can be hard for team members to decipher her instructions. Stella must get to grips with specifics, and a schedule, to get more out of her team. Theories are a good foundation, but a bullet-point plan is the only way to turn a Stella idea into a workable project

Figurehead Fred

It took Fred many years to get to the top and now he’s there the rest is a distant memory. Multiple management levels separate him from his workforce, so it’s easy for messages to be lost and miscommunications to occur. The company could do with a rejig – and that should mean Fred taking a leaf out of Harry’s book and regrouping with the team.

Interfering Ingrid

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.” This is the mantra by which Ingrid lives her life. Although this can be true, Ingrid doesn’t give anyone else a chance, even if she has good intentions. If you have Ingrid’s controlling tendencies then lock yourself away, sit on your hands, do whatever it takes to give someone else a go and yourself a break!

Why leaderless doesn’t always mean rudderless

A community, campaign and school’s existence with a flattened structure gives grounds to the possibility of successful organisations without formal hierarchies.

Betafo, Madagascar

The small community of Betafo on the island off the coast of Africa is entirely devolved. After being abandoned by the central government of Madagascar the people of the town had no choice but to begin managing their affairs autonomously. All decisions are made democratically, from the building of a new well to criminal justice. In relation to the latter, lynching is carried out where required provided permission is given by the accused’s parents.

Occupy Wall Street

The 2011 protest movement in New York is said to have been based upon Betafo’s structure. Anthropologist David Graeber visited and observed the Madagascan community for 20 months and became one of the early instigators of the Occupy campaign. The movement’s decentralised nature and collective, participatory decision-making are direct products of Betafo. Such leaderless activism is also evident in the Tea Party movement and the Arab Spring.

Summerhill School

The private boarding school, founded by AS Neill in 1921, is based on a self-governing community. Decisions are democratic, made via school- wide consensus at meetings where a five-year-old pupil’s opinion is as valuable as the head teacher’s. Students are not forced into anything – even attending lessons is optional. Still living by Neill’s principle “Freedom, not licence”, the school was even rumoured to have made wearing clothes optional.

The hidden leader

Sometimes leadership is about letting go and allowing people to manage themselves.

If you are a master, be sometimes blind...

Good managers know when to take a step back. During the Cuban missile crisis, President John F Kennedy (JFK) held consultations with a group of advisers to find a solution. Sensing that this might not be getting the most out of individuals, he divided them into smaller groups, encouraging each to make suggestions. JFK did not attend these meetings, knowing that he might influence discussions.

If you are a servant, be sometimes deaf...

Good employees know when to break the rules. When working at 3M, inventor Richard Drew was told to go back to his work in quality control and stop working on a project exploring gentle adhesives. Drew ignored his boss and from his defiance masking tape was born – as was 3M’s 15% rule, where employees are able to spend 15% of their time on personal projects without permission.