By Ryan Scholz
According to Michael Maccoby, a globally recognized expert on leadership, there are three distinct roles of a leader. Those roles are strategic, operational, and relational. It is important for the success of any organization to have leaders who can competently carry out each of these roles.
involves setting direction. The strategic role should not be limited just to leaders at the top of the organization. Every manager or supervisor should be identifying opportunities for improvement and setting goals. I find that too many lower level leaders just worry about the day-to-day operations and do not spend enough time charting a future course for their area of responsibility.
Strategic leadership creates a common purpose for those in the organization. When people have a clear picture of what the leader is trying to accomplish, they are much more likely to support the leader’s goals. Goal oriented leaders are strategic leaders.
involves ensuring that everything gets done so that goals are achieved. The operational leader identifies obstacles or barriers which stand in the way of goal achievement, comes up with possible solutions to overcome the obstacle, and then turns the solutions into specific action steps. We call this the goal achievement process.
Leaders who are skilled as operational leaders are excellent at prioritization and time management. They know how to allocate resources towards the achievement of goals. Part of this is being a master of delegation.
involves connecting and bringing people together. Relational leaders have high empathy and the ability to understand and relate to others.
Relational leaders build strong relationships throughout the organization. They encourage team work and collaboration and are role models for others.
Although having equal competencies in all three leadership roles is highly desirable, very few leaders possess natural talents in all three. One of the assessments that I use in my work is called the Attribute Index. It measures a person’s natural ability in these three areas. The relational role is called empathy, the operational role is called practical thinking, and the strategic role is called systems judgment.
Most people have what we call masters in some of the dimensions and blind spots in the others. By knowing and understanding one’s masters and blind spots, leaders can learn to compensate for these limitations.
One way that leaders can compensate or adapt to a blind spot is to have someone on their team that has a master in that dimension and be willing to involve that person in key decisions. For instance, if the leader has a blind spot for strategic thinking, it is important to have someone who can see the big picture and challenge the long term impact of key decisions.
Likewise, a leader who has a blind spot in the relational dimension needs to rely on someone with a master in that dimension to ensure that the impact on people of key decisions is considered.
Although a balanced perspective on all three dimensions is usually desirable, there is one potential downside. Leaders with balance in all three dimensions sometimes can get paralyzed in the decision making process because they want to make sure that all three areas are considered. Sometimes this creates internal conflicts because what may be best from a strategic viewpoint might not work operationally or have a negative impact on people.
The other way to address blind spots is to make a concerted effort to develop that dimension. While improvement is always possible, we find that these tend to be ‘hardwired’ into our subconscious as part of brain development and are difficult to change.
An analogy would be aptitude for certain subjects in school. Some people have a natural talent for math (a master) and maybe no talent in writing (a blind spot). The person with a master in math will have a much easier time making a good grade in math than someone with a blind spot in math. Despite concerted study the person with the blind spot in math will never be as accomplished as the person with a natural master in this subject.
A colleague, Jay Niblick, has written a book titled What’s Your Genius?’ The book is the result of research into what makes outstanding performers (or geniuses) in a certain field different than everyone else. The key finding of his research was that high level success was not the result of possessing certain talents, but rather being in a position where the person’s natural talents were being used to the fullest.
Leaders will be most successful when their natural talents are matched with the leadership role that they are in. I once worked for someone who was viewed as the turnaround specialist in the company. He would go in to an operation that was ‘broken’ and fix it. He had a high operational talent. However, once he fixed the problem, the company had to get him out as soon as possible because he had a very low relational talent. Someone else had to come in and clean up the relational mess that was left.
As a leader, do you know what your blind spots and masters are? If you are having difficulty, maybe it is because your role requires different talents.
About the Author: Ryan Scholz works with leaders whose success is dependent on getting commitment and high performance from others. He is author of Turning Potential into Action: Eight Principles for Creating a Highly Engaged Work Place. For more information, visit his web site at