There is No Them

Lessons on leadership from the world of game development

The Four Roles Leaders Need to Master

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Great leaders know that their teams need different things from them at different times. Even when the leader has a preferred style or approach, they often need to wear a different hat to best set their team up for success. While there are many possible variations these hats may take, over the years I’ve come to see that most of the various approaches can be categorized as one of four different roles, which I introduce below.

I’v presented this model at various conferences over the years, usually calling it the ‘Progression of Needs’ model. I don’t like that title anymore, for reasons I’ll discuss below. But first, I’ll introduce the model itself.

There are four main roles that a leader needs to be able to fill, to best set their teams up for success, briefly described below:

  • Teacherskill acquisition – sometimes leaders need to help their people obtain fundamental skills, whether the leader does the actual teaching or not. Leaders need to recognize that sometimes their people don’t have the right tool for a given challenge, and must help them acquire the right tool.
  • Coachskill application – sometimes people have the essential skills, but are unsure how to apply them. Coaches help people develop the skill of using their skills, and/or direct the team in application of these ‘meta skills’.
  • Mentorwisdom of experience – when what is lacking is the wisdom that comes from experience teams need the leader to take on the role of a Mentor. Mentors are not directive, using questions and advice to help the team discover the approach they will take.
  • Peer – independent perspective –for some situations the most valuable thing the leader can do is provide the perspective of someone not deep into the details, not with the intent of directing an agenda, but merely to point out what the team may have missed by being too close to the problem.

There is no one ‘right’ way to be a leader. True leadership is being what your team needs most to be successful. Not every leader is bound to be equally excellent in all of these roles, but the leader who would do what they do well instead of do what their team needs to succeed should reconsider why they are leading.

There are a variety of more formal models of leadership that capture this same idea. The above model, that I’ve been sharing with my teams for many years now, has been the most impactful for me personally. If you are interested in going into a much deeper model that is similar in approach check out Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model and related works. (I first articulated this model before I understood Blanchard’s, as has happened several times since I began to better understand this thing called ‘leadership’.)

In the past I called this the ‘Progression of Needs’ model, but I no longer like that title. It implies that the movement in the model is one way, from Teacher, to Coach, then Mentor, and then Peer. But many years of experience has taught me that the model does not move in one direction that its not even necessarily sequential.

Any given person, on any given task, at any given moment, may need the leader to take on a different role. The leader’s job is to be constantly assessing the needs of the organization/person, diagnosing what it needs, and putting that role into place. Even if that means switching from Coach to Peer (bypassing Mentor) or from Mentor to Teacher, etc. Instead of seeing the model as having a ‘start’ and an ‘end’, the mature leader knows that what their team needs can change moment to moment, and thus their need to change their approach moment to moment.

With this model both leaders and aspiring leaders have a clear framework to work from. It provides a common language for teams to use. Just as leaders should be working to understand what their team needs, so should members of the team. A healthy team knows how to ask for a Teacher, or how to tell a Peer they really need a Mentor, etc. When a healthy team has great leadership (from the leader and from within) its on its way towards becoming a truly high performing team.




Written by joshuahoward

June 10, 2014 at 11:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] a previous post I introduced the idea that leaders need to take on different roles at different times, given that […]

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