Monday, August 31, 2009

Commanders, Kings and Celebrities

Stop and reflect for a minute. Think about the way you lead people. What’s your style?

This past year, I have purposefully observed thousands of leaders do their thing, as I travel the road and speak in schools, companies and other organizations. I’ve drawn several conclusions—and some have proven to be helpful, fresh insights for me. Let me toss one of them to you here:

Your motivation for leading, will determine your…

  • Duration – If your motive for leading is good, it will impact how long you last.
  • Donation – If your motive is good, it will increase the value you add to the team.
  • Decisions – If your motive is good, it will enhance your wisdom and objectivity.
  • Direction – If your motive is good, it will determine your style and approach.

In other words—why you do something will ultimately determine what you do, as a leader. Let me illustrate with the following popular styles of leadership, and suggest how motivation fits into the style and decisions of each type of leader.


You know these people. They lead with a top-down style. Their behavior is marked by one-way communication. They download only. It’s one person leveraging their power over the team. They may have begun their leadership journey in a different style, but as they aged or grew impatient with people, they got short and migrated to a “just do what I want you to do” style.” It’s an approach that’s more about telling than asking. It’s about demanding and requiring. You don’t have to be a psychologist to see that this leader’s motives are distorted. They now operate from a desire for power. The goal of the commander is to enforce their rules and authority. They want CONTROL.


Kings represent a slightly different style of leader. Their behavior is marked by a drive to maintain stability. Why? Because stability is the best way to remain king. They have a growing love for tradition; they have a vested interest in keeping things the way they’ve been in the past. It’s as though once this leader got their position—their entire goal is to keep their position. These leaders are about managing order. The want order. They aren’t necessarily bad people, but they are likely going to be bad leaders in this ever-changing world we live in. They are compromisers. They won’t take risks unless the risk is about helping to maintain and manage what already is. The goal of the monarchy is to enrich the king; to keep him in power. They want COMPLIANCE.


Celebrities are a third type of leadership style. Their behavior is marked by the pursuit of perks and popularity. If you watch them closely, you’ll notice a keen desire for applause and affirmation. Like the styles above, they aren’t necessarily bad people, but this motivation for recognition not only diminishes their ability to lead well, it clouds their ability to make good decisions. Their perspective is colored by their own needs. They are the proverbial “YouTube” video maker who wants to post videos to see how many people watch them. They love accumulating friends in a Facebook group. Because this is their motive, they want peace between all parties. They want folks to get along, be happy, and look to them for entertainment and fulfillment. They love the fame that comes with their position. They love the attention it affords them. The celebrity performer wants CREDIT.

So What Can We Do?

Although each of these styles are common, they represent unhealthy leadership. Perhaps each of us struggles with one of them, but today’s leader must emerge out of these ineffective styles, especially if we want to lead the next generation. I don’t know of any young person today who is looking for a leader who is a “commander” or a “king” or a “celebrity.” Students can sense that motives are wrong and that progress and purpose are diminished because of the leader.

So, what can we do to change? What is the change we need to make? How should we target our leadership so it is relevant and healthy for a new generation who looks for good leadership? Let me suggest a fourth style below that most young people I know are looking for in a leader.


If leaders will shift their motives away from themselves and their own needs, they will find their style will shift as well. I call the new kind of leader students are looking for today: a “Connector.” The connector is healthy and doesn’t need the team to affirm their value. It isn’t about them. Instead, it is about connecting the players on the team in four ways:

1. The leader connects team members to a “cause”

2. The leader connects team members to other people on the team.

3. The leader connects team members to their strengths

4. The leader connects team members to the leader relationally.

This is not to say the connecter fails to run point. They are definitely responsible for the outcomes. But they know it is a team effort, and their job is to maximize the potential of each team member. This means they understand they lead in an “upload” culture, not merely a “download” one, which only allows the leader to have a say. This leader helps others flourish. Their goal is to turn potential into performance, regardless of who gets the credit. It means the leader recognizes the value of relationships between team members not just their relationship to their team members. It means they share the power. The columns below summarize the shift from yesterday’s leader to today’s:

This kind of leader is described in detail in Habitudes—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, Book Four (The Art of Changing Culture). In it I talk about the leader who connects team members in order to nurture a healthy culture. If you’re interested in discussing this with your team—check out our special on this book to the right.

So, what’s your motive for leading? Here’s hoping you can move from a commander or king or celebrity to a connector…for the sake of the cause and for your sake as well.

Tim Elmore

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