The Seven Transformations of Leadership

3 minute read

There are many different approaches to segment leadership styles, and depending on the situation might be more or less useful. This one is from D. Rooke and W. R. Torbert (2005), titled seven transformation of leadership, which I appreciate as it put emphasis on these not being identities but behaviours — and thus, changeable.

In this model, the seven ways of leading are (quoting them):

OpportunistWins any way possible. Self-oriented. Manipulative. Might makes right. Rejects feedback.Good in emergencies and in sales opportunities.
DiplomatAvoids overt conflict. Wants to belong. Obeys group norms. Rarely rocks the boat.Good as supportive glue, helps bring people together.
ExpertRules by logic and expertise. Seeks rational efficiency.Good as an individual contributor.
AchieverMeets strategic goals. Effectively achieves goals through teams. Juggles managerial duties and market demands.Well suited to managerial roles. Action and goal oriented.
IndividualistInterweaves competing personal and company logics. Creates unique structure to resolve gaps between strategy and performance.Effective in venture and consulting roles.
StrategistGenerates organizational and personal transformations. Exercises the power of mutual inquiry, vigilance, and vulnerability for both short and long term.Effective as a transformational leader.
AlchemistGenerates social transformations. Integrates material, spiritual, and societal transformation.Good at leading society-wide transformations.

It’s important to note here that while each role can have a good role to play in specific circumstances, some don’t create a positive working environment. Opportunists are probably the ones most clearly creating a negative impact, but also Experts might as their leadership is more about a subject than people management, as such they can create problems if they get into roles where they have reports, and they will shine instead as principals.

Diplomats are great in managing people, so they will create a positive morale, but they might get too much invested in the status quo, so they will shine in roles where they can focus on managing people and pairing up with other more strategic leaders.

The Individualist can be a challenging one to integrate, but also one that can drive change in the right organization. They have a drive that makes them to re-evaluate the processes and rules and if listened the kind of personal initiative they bring in can transform the processes, thus being in support of innovation instead of a challenger to the system.

Strategists can be considered Individualists that have awareness of the personal relationships, organizational relations, and market developments, and are able to transform processes instead of jumping over them. They can handle people resistance to change, they see the various conflicting perspectives — and they push to unify them toward a shared vision, with pragmatic steps.

Finally, Alchemists are very rare, because they can reinvent themselves and the organizations within the broader social context, and they have high moral standards, focusing on the truth and working beyond the boundary of a single entity.

The key understanding here is that these aren’t static, and people can learn the skills to switch from one to another. There’s an implication in this framework that these roles however don’t define just styles of management, but a progression where the next one is “better” than the previous. This can be useful, but I personally find models that provide different alternative strategies as more useful: the Six Styles of Leadership for example can define specializations, but also says that one can switch from one style to another if the situation changes. Implying there’s a single progression for leadership to me seems… limiting.

Still, it’s a relevant model, and its linearity — while limited in some ways — can provide guidance for progression by answering: “what’s next for me?”.

Thanks to Kirsten Clacey for the chats and suggesting this specific model.