small group with leader

A friend recently introduced us to the book Mastering Leadership, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams, which conducted doctoral-level research on what it takes to grow as a leader. They administered a massive survey of adult development work, researching the ways others have tried to quantify and measure aspects of leadership and how people grow. They identify and describe two very different types of leaders: reactive and creative.

Whether you are a creative leader or a reactive one, leadership plays out in two main areas. The first area concerns tasks: leaders are in charge of getting stuff done. They need to put together a system that works for their business, with multiple moving parts that involve different people in different roles. They need to be strategic, understanding what the business needs to grow, understanding money, culture, management, and any number of other task-related issues.

But leaders also need to deal with people- employees, vendors, investors, partners, and so on. Said simply, strong leaders are good both relationally and with the business of getting stuff done.

Let’s take a look at both kinds of leaders.

Reactive Leaders

The reactive leader functions from a place of insecurity and fear- based decision making. Their reactions are informed by their own self-interest and self-protection. These reactive leaders tend to respond in three different ways:

  1. They comply with others to a fault, letting others dictate decisions that should be made by the leader, because they are afraid of being misunderstood, or not liked. They play things safe and just try to keep everything calm.
  2. They protect themselves at the expense of other people. This can look like keeping themselves distant, or being arrogant or critical of others.
  3. They control others, through fear, manipulation, or other methods.

Often, a combination of two or even all three of those responses can play into a reactive leader’s behavior, especially when dealing with relationships. Have you ever worked for a leader who was passive-aggressive? They don’t say what they are really thinking but somehow expect you to understand them and get angry when you don’t. That is a sign of reactive leadership.

Relationally, the reactive leader views others as adversaries. They have a win-or-lose mindset, and they seek out wins at any cost. If anything goes wrong, they blame others and deflect responsibility so that they don’t have to accept that they “lost.” Mistakes are never their fault.

This mindset is informed by their deep fear of losing control. Reactive leaders are trying to preserve themselves and maintain a tight grasp on their leadership power. The business’s success becomes all about them—their success, their survival, and how they’re going to use the people around them to maintain their power and get more if possible.

Reactive leaders can be ambitious, driven, perfectionists, and autocratic. For those reasons, they might be amazing at executing the tasks of their business. However, even if they’re incredibly good at getting stuff done, they do the tasks out of a desire for self-promotion—they’re not healthy relationally, at all.

Often, reactive leaders succeed in getting promoted, which means they have an immense amount of control over people who work underneath them. They have the power to react with an iron fist, which can mean employees are scared of their wrath, will jump to appease them, and may hide mistakes. If there’s any kind of conflict, it’s nasty. There’s no possibility for healthy conflict with a reactive leader—because, remember, they’ll always win, and anyone else will always lose.

Let’s take a second to consider the best and worst-case scenarios of what could happen for a reactive leader. Best-case scenario: your business grows to the level of Amazon. You’re an impressive, impossible, incredible success story—and no one likes you. You’re remembered as a shrewd, cutthroat dealer who wouldn’t let anyone stand in your way—including your spouse, children, parents, and closest friends, who may or may not still have relationships with you.

Worst-case scenario: your business fails, and still, no one likes you. A reactive leader does not have the ability to cultivate a Passion & Provision company for their employees or for themselves. Passion & Provision employees are inspired, feel empowered, feel trusted by their leaders to use their gifts, and seek to grow the company in the best way that they can. A controlling, reactive leader cannot accommodate the level of trust needed to afford employees those privileges. Likewise, the reactive leader can’t genuinely enjoy work, because of the underlying fear that acts as their main driving force.

Creative Leaders

A Passion & Provision company can only be accommodated by a leader who has enough faith in their employees to give them ownership over their roles. The leader has to be secure and confident enough to roll with the punches as events unfold. There may be more failure that way, but everyone who works at a company like that will feel more excited about what they’re doing, and ultimately produce better work.

This kind of secure, positive leader is the creative leader. The creative leader operates with a purposeful vision and leads with love. Yes, we said it, “love.” The term sounds scary in the business realm, but “loving people” simply means the leader has genuine care and concern for others. Rather than operate with a self-focus, they’re outward-focused on the success and well-being of others.

Creative leaders can be distinguished by their hallmark attributes, which Adams and Anderson identify as:

  1. Relating: Creative leaders show an interest in meeting other people and learning about them. They are collaborative rather than controlling. They foster team play and actively mentor and develop others.
  2. Self-awareness: They know their strengths, weaknesses, and potential triggers. They are working to grow in needed areas.
  3. Authenticity: They demonstrate integrity and are courageously genuine.
  4. Systems awareness: They are able to do the right things at the right time to keep the company going. They ensure there are systems and planning in place to support the big picture, and they can work both in and on the business.
  5. Achieving: They’re able to accomplish needed tasks and achieve results. They can create sustainable productivity.

These creative leaders are not only strong relationally, but they also have some solid chops in the task area. They’re purposeful and visionary but make a point to bring others along with them in a positive and encouraging way.

When Adams and Anderson were doing the research for Mastering Leadership, they hired outside companies to test their model, to either validate or invalidate their conclusions. The outside researchers found that there is a direct correlation between creative leadership and a company’s profits and success. Creative leadership consistently has been shown to result in more profits and more success than companies led by reactive leaders. In fact, the top 10 percent of high-performing companies in over 500,000 companies surveyed had leaders that scored in the top 20 percent in leadership effectiveness. In contrast, the bottom 10 percent of companies had leaders that scored in the bottom 30 percent of leadership effectiveness. The conclusion: better leadership leads to more profitable companies, full stop! From employee retention, to a return on equity, to the numbers on both finance and people, creative leadership brings about better numbers with greater overall success. And what produces a creative leader? A healthy inner game.

A leader with a healthy inner game moves others through inspiring them. There are some famed military generals with amazing reputations as inspirational leaders. Supposedly, when General Patton visited his World War II troops at the battle lines, he inspired wholehearted adoration among his soldiers. The Bing Crosby movie White Christmas features a character supposedly based on General Patton and his soldiers sing, “We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go.”

When workers love, honor, and respect their leaders, there is a natural and healthy devotion that follows. People will go to the ends of the earth for you if they know you care about them. They’ll care about what you care about, and they’ll “follow you wherever you want to go.” They’ll give you their best, and they’ll be happy about doing so. In order to be a leader worth respecting, you need a healthy inner game.