Thoughts on leadership in an island scenario…

I read a lot of leadership posts and books. I guess in fairness I am a leadership junkie. Mostly because over the years I have worked for some great leaders and some leaders that frankly shouldn’t have been where they were.

Let’s take the leadership concept of well being on an island. When a leader has a concept, idea or innovation that is new and different sometimes they end up on an island. When they are on the island you can quickly find out in the end what kind of leader they ultimately are.

Types of leaders (island perspective)

  • Bunker
  • Attack
  • escape

Bunker is the leader that fortifies the island and prepares for attack as a defensive measure. They often won’t take risks beyond the initial situation that caused them to withdraw. They are quite content to have their followers lob grenades at the attackers. This leader is most likely to defend his or her people, regardless.

Some leaders attack not just the ideas but the actual people that disagree with them You have to be careful with leaders like this. They do not care who or what you are doing if you end up in their way. They also may attack without provocation. This leader has very loyal followers.

Leaders who seek egress instead of fortifying and attacking are the ones in the end we all love to follow. They are willing to compromise to reach a solution and in the end they are most likely to move around problems. They however are very likely to run over their own people at times to get to a solution.

People, and leaders are people, cycle through all three. In some cases, as defined many years ago in the Art of War we have to consider what our enemy has. Knowing the what of your enemy only makes you stronger. Knowing the what of your specific leader can help you be successful in moving around their sticking points.

As I said in my opening statement I’ve worked with a number of good leaders and bad leaders over the years. A good leaders knows which of the three styles they are adopting for a scenario and is willing to move around that issue/style/problem by listening. So above the reality of the three styles leaders adapt to, they also need to listen.

I guess in the end good leaders listen. Great leaders hear.  The difference sometimes between listening and hearing is the reality of human nature. If you are in one of the three modes above (remember these apply to island situations only) listening is preparing to reply to the person speaking. Hearing is actually stopping, not replying and in the end potentially never replying. Simply accepting that you are in island mode and moving away. Avoiding island mode is the last modality of leadership in the island scenario. It requires a leader willing to hear what people have to say. Sometimes it means the leader has to accept fear as a potential outcome.

In the end you work with good leaders and bad leaders your whole life. A bad leader is the one that let’s a bad thing happen without notifying the person or people involved. They move to bunker mode before they let the team know something is wrong.

It can be scary when you realize what kind of leader you are following. Not to mention following a good leader can be a lot of fun.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow