It’s one of the oldest maxims in recorded human history: “know thyself.”
That may seem like a simple instruction, but in my experience it can be deceptively complex, especially for business leaders who really do need to know themselves since other people are affected by their actions.
For example, if you think entrepreneurs and CEOs are interchangeable leaders you could be in for a surprise. Some entrepreneurs are better in supportive and creative roles. They know how to get things started. But not all of them are good at leadership once a company is launched and the day-to-day operation of the enterprise is at stake.
On the other hand, a capable CEO focuses more on a leadership style that lends itself well to running a company.
Given these differences, entrepreneurs who want consistent success should consider various career paths after their company’s startup phase, depending on their strengths. They may want to put the company’s leadership in someone else’s hands while they assume a role that’s a better fit for them.
So what are the traits of different types of leaders? Let me highlight four major leadership-personality types that can be found in both entrepreneurs and CEOs.
- Urgent/Reactive. This is a “fix it and forget it” person – someone who is always two steps behind where they should be. This leader creates and thrives on an almost crazed atmosphere, where he or she can ride to the rescue, put out the fire, be everybody’s savior, then move on to the next problem. In other words, they fix it and forget it. I’m afraid this leadership style is characterized by action without introspective vision and premeditated guidance.
- Ever Optimistic. This is a “things are great” person – someone who is either one step ahead or one step behind. You might enjoy this person’s sunny leadership because of the can-do attitude. Early success in a venture can create or encourage this confidence, which may or may not be justified. Unfortunately, when a good run ends, people with this personality often don’t know how to react.
- Reflexively Pessimistic. This is the “batten down the hatches” type – another person who can be either one step ahead or one step behind. This is the flip side to blind optimism. This leader isn’t playing to win; he or she is playing to survive. The business pessimist is paralyzed by anxiety and doesn’t know how to begin to grow. While he or she may survive the next economic crisis, this leader remains hobbled when times are good.
- Steady/Proactive. This is the “I’m as ready as I can be for the challenges I’ll be facing” person – someone who is always striving to stay two steps ahead. In my view, all business leaders should aim for steady and proactive. These are individuals who value productivity and profitable growth and know how to achieve both. They know how to course-correct no matter the weather and know how to balance offense – growth – and defense – survival. These leaders are clear in what they know and don’t know. This person has moved beyond a revenue-only focus and now devotes time and effort to understanding what boosts stock value, using this knowledge to push the valuation ever higher.
Now it’s time to “know thyself.” Which type are you?
Author and Serial Entrepreneur at The Decision Center
Randy H. Nelson has a long history of entrepreneurial leadership, stemming from his educational, military, and business backgrounds. He has co-founded two successful businesses and served as CEO to both. He has written books on entrepreneurship and now seeks to help entrepreneurs and CEOs everywhere through coaching, consulting, workshops and public speaking.
Latest posts by Randy H. Nelson (see all)