A Leadership Taxonomy

Leadership is, fundamentally, influence over others.

Influence means that a leader can motivate others in some way.

Authority means that one has the ability to direct action, even if others disagree.

Leadership and authority are not the same thing. For example:

  • A Scrum Master is an example of a leader who has no authority.
  • A project manager who has alienated their staff, to the point where the staff no longer follow the manager’s direction, is an example of someone who has authority but is no longer a leader.

A leader can have:

  • Explicit authority
  • No explicit authority

A leadership role can be:

  • Permanent
  • Temporary

Leadership can be:

  • Inward focused – directed at a group’s members
  • Outward focused – directed at others outside of a group

A leadership role can be:

  • Appointed
  • Elected
  • Informal:
    • Arise through informal influence
    • “Thought leadership” is a form of informal influence pertaining to one’s ideas and influence over the members of a group or community. It can arise because of the strength of those ideas, or because of one’s persuasiveness, or both. In the words of Drucker, such a person is an “inside person.” This is an inward-focused form of leadership.
    • The ability to organize and coordinate can result in others following, because they trust the person’s abilities to mobilize others. In the words of Drucker, such a person is the “person of action.” This is an inward-focused form of informal leadership.
    • The ability to persuade and build far-ranging relationships with external parties to advocate for a cause or a group is a form of informal leadership: CEOs are often expected to have this ability. In the words of Drucker, such a person is an “outside person.” This is an outward-focused form of leadership.

Authority can be:

  • Delegated
  • Given through a vote or other process
  • Arise through the support of others (who can withdraw their support)

Leadership can be focused on particular aspects of the activities of a group. Examples include tech leadership or people leadership.

Different forms of leadership are appropriate for different situations.

Leadership is, to a large degree, a matter of personal style. Some personal styles of leadership, some of which are amalgamations of the forms described here, are:

  • Charismatic – Inspires. May be egotistical. People follow because they trust and believe. Examples: Steve Jobs. Adolf Hitler.
  • Innovative – Able to capitalize on situations. Leads by creating opportunities for others. Example: Elon Musk.
  • Command and Control – Intensely goal-focused and demanding. Leads by explicit authority. Example: A military commander in a live mission situation.
  • Laissez-Faire – Sets an example and advocates. Leads through personal credibility attained through prior achievements, reputation, or status. Example: Lawrence Lessig.
  • Pace Setter – Creates a high-pressure environment of high expectations. Leads through setting an example of working extremely hard. Example: Ross Perot.
  • Servant Leader– Works by enabling and inspiring others. May or may not have explicit authority in some measure, but exercises it only by facilitating collaboration and removing obstacles. Example: a Scrum Master.
  • Transformational – Creates change at a fundamental level, enabling “breakthrough” change to create behavioral patterns that are completely new to those involved. Leads through helping others to understand themselves better and understand their situation better. Example: a group therapist.
  • Political – Adept at negotiating win/wins with others. Leads through identifying – or creating – mutually beneficial situations with others. Example: Any successful politician.
  • Competitive – Sees everything in terms of a zero-sum game. Leads through aggressively out-thinking others. Example: Managers who compete for budget in an organization.
  • Collaborative – Tries to find the solution that is best for everyone as a whole, and involves others to do so. Leads through arranging discussion forums, establishing new paths for communication, and creating a large social network. Example: The authors of the Agile Manifesto.
  • Rule-oriented – Needs explicit authority to lead, and focuses on having clear boundaries defined for who is supposed to make each type of decision. Leads through having authority granted by an accepted source of authority. Example: A police officer.

Leadership can be:

  • Constructive – focused on the success of the group
  • Destructive – focused on the success of the leader

Leadership can create boundaries.

  • Leader Member Exchange (LMX) theory proposes that in a group, an “inner circle” tends to form around the leader: those in the circle remain there by demonstrating loyalty to the leader. This is independent of how the leadership role was obtained.

Everyone is capable of some form of leadership. No one is capable of all forms of leadership.