Business leadership styles

Every team needs the right mix of intelligence and assertiveness. Chris Ingram looks at the different personality types and styles of leadership found in every office and how best to manage and motivate them.

There is a theory that everyone in a work environment can be put into three basic personality types: action-oriented; influencers; and affiliators.

Action people are results oriented: they want to get on with it. Setting targets for these people is good and financial incentives are likely to work very well.

Influencers are more thoughtful and consider the effect of what they are doing. They can be good strategists, but sometimes they can also be highly political, unlike the ‘action men’.

Affiliators are true team players – for them, it’s very important to get on with people. It is more about ‘we’ and not ‘I’. Unlike the first group, they can worry that incentives are divisive, for example.

Many people have a blend of two of these qualities, but often one comes to the fore and it’s important that you find this out if you are to get the best from your team.

I remember, three years after starting CIA, the media agency, I took the management team of seven away for a couple of days with a management coach. He encouraged us to fill in a questionnaire and found that six of us were at the extreme end of ‘action’ – apparently we lived on a diet of raw meat and iron filings. The exception was equally clear-cut: he was a born affiliator.

Unfortunately, I’d screwed up the casting because the lovely guy who wanted to get on with everyone was our FD. It should never be important to your finance director that he/she is liked, and sadly, this incredibly loyal guy eventually had to go. Although the team was not well balanced, I found it easy to lead, not least because I had largely the same personality.

Winning was hugely important to them and I created both internal and external targets of all types – buying prices; new business wins; league tables; client satisfaction surveys and, later, share option schemes. This was all wrapped up in a ‘can do’ environment and, although the team had to become more balanced as we became much bigger, we kept a disproportionate number of action-oriented people. If you want to build a business quickly, you need these people in most of the key positions.

Against that, I started another business where I wanted the very smartest practitioners I could find to take a position in the market of ‘thought leadership’. The intellectual debates internally were great, but unfortunately over-analysis became a problem so that quick decisions were impossible and there was more interest in doing a perfect job for the client, thereby creating delays and hitting our profitability. This team’s strategic thinking was excellent, but it was unbalanced and lacked commercial skills. I saw it too late and didn’t create the time to change things – a mistake that cost me serious money.

In real life, of course, it’s not as simple as dividing all employees into three big groups. There are many motives that come into play in the office. Here are just four examples:

Business Personality Type 1 – The ambitious

Highly ambitious people are generally easier to motivate. It’s usually easy to see their motives and these will be a combination of power, status and money.

You need ambitious people around you in order to build a successful business, but you have to identify the occasional shallow, ruthless ones who are in a rush, will cut corners when you are not looking and won’t invest the effort but are happy to scramble on other people’s backs.

Business Personality Type 2 – The self-starters

This is an aspect of being action oriented, but these can often be very driven people with something to prove. Just point them in the right direction and off they go! Whereas some people require a lot of praise and find criticism difficult, this group are not looking for compliments: they are doing it for themselves. They will, for example, want anything they work on to be finished ‘first’, or be recognised as ‘best’ or ‘perfect’.

I remember that, if my boss criticised a job I’d done, I’d be furious with myself and swear that there was no way she was going to find a reason to make a criticism like that again. In a way, I was responding badly, but the result was beneficial to the company.

I always find this group easy to motivate, but their energy needs channelling in the right direction. They can very easily be seen as selfish and inconsiderate because they are so focused on getting the work out. Such obsessiveness can create a very narrow outlook unless they have that other great quality…

Business Personality Type 3 – The plate spinners

This is the quality possessed by multi-taskers: they can run several projects at once and still have time to help someone else without getting stressed. This is a great strength and particularly important in small businesses, where the unexpected often happens and there is very little cover when people are absent or positions are vacant. Women believe they are much better at multi-tasking than men and, grudgingly, I think they’re right!

Business Personality Type 4 – The institutionalised

Beware of institutionalised people who have usually been in the same organisation for far too long. They will be cynical, think they know what is going to happen better than you ever will, and say all the right things superficially but have no intention of changing anything about the way they work.

They are worryingly prevalent in the civil service, government and academia, but they can be found in small companies as well as big ones.

We can’t all be naturally inspirational leaders, so the better you know your audience, the better leader you will be.

See also: What type of leader are you?

Chris Ingram has considerable experience of building and managing rapid-growth companies and is widely regarded as the inventor of the modern media agency. He started CIA in 1976 with 3 people and £10,000. It grew into Tempus Group and was sold to WPP for over £430 million in 2001. In 2002 he launched Genesis Investments, a private equity business, and, in July 2003, The Ingram Partnership, a strategic brand building and communications consultancy.

Chris Ingram

Chris Ingram

Chris Ingram is a businessman, entrepreneur and art collector who was judged London Entrepreneur of the Year' in 2000 in the Ernst & Young awards and was founder of the CIA advertising agency.

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