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Lead Leaders like they like to be led

Bernie did her very best to manage her poker face. She wasn’t sure if it was working but her boss seemed to be taking it. Inside she could feel her frustration brewing. She loved working for this company, she loved the vision and values. She liked her boss, but she was feeling that her wings were clipped with his style of telling her what to do. She may be young but she was not a novice. She had led in different contexts for many years but she found it so frustrating when she was just told what to do, when she knew involving her in discussions would enthuse her so much more and she had some ideas that could help shape things even more.

Have you ever felt like Bernie? You’re a leader but your leader just doesn’t lead you like you like to be led? If you are a leader of leaders then understanding what type of leaders you are working with is crucial to get the best out of them.

So, what types should you be aware of and how do you get the best from them?

The Centre for Cultural Leadership ( identifies 3 types of leadership culture:

  • Dependent People in authority are responsible for leadership

  • Independent Leadership emerges out of individual actions and heroic expertise

  • Interdependent Leadership is a collective activity for the benefit of the organisation as a whole

This diagram explains how direction, alignment and commitment is achieved in each leadership culture type.

In this research it examines identifying the different cultures of leadership, the best to work with your culture and how to change the culture as the organisation grows. I love the thinking behind this, and would add that often in an organisation you have a range of leaders that require a range of approaches rather than just one approach. If you treat all leaders as one approach there will be frustration. Some leaders like Bernie become very frustrated when told what to do when they have ideas that could shape it even better. Some like John, who heads up a department but just needs to be told what to do and they lead, become uncertain as they just need to be told and they will champion it.

So think about the people who you work with. Think about the leaders who work for you. What type of leadership culture do they need?

  • Dependent Need to be told what to do and will willingly comply

  • Independent Natural leader. Discuss it with them, they’ll evaluate benefits & join in

  • Interdependent Involve in the shaping of it and they’ll engage. They will take ownership and drive it.

Not that long ago, I was working with an organisation that decided to have a development planning session with its wider leadership team. The vision and mission was discussed to remind everyone of the why and purpose of the organisation. This was all starting well. The discussion then moved on to the plan for the next 3 years. Breakout groups formed from diverse departments was established for discussions and came back together for feedback to be collated and key themes pulled out. This was looking like text book leadership team strategy. But then it happened. The ‘Blue Peter’ leadership moment . . . ‘here is one I made earlier’. The senior leaders then produced the plan they had agreed two weeks earlier. There were some similarities but for those leaders closer to the shop floor, they could see the issues that needed addressing were being dismissed by a pre-decided plan. For those too young to remember, the Blue Peter kids TV programme would often make craft or cooking items and because of time would show an end product and use the phrase, ‘here is one I made earlier’. This is fine for explainers and kids TV. This is not good for leadership or interdependent leaders. Now for dependent leaders, telling them the 3 year plan is fine and in fact helpful. For those who are interdependent leaders it is like clipping wings and causes misalignment and frustrates.

Leaders who lead leaders

So, how do we lead leaders like they like to be led?

  1. Know your leaders – get to know them, their capabilities, their passions, their experience.

  2. Bestow to your leaders - Differentiate – adapt your style depending on what will engage them the most. This is not based on badge title, or age, it is based on approach. For dependent leaders share the vision and they will willingly deliver it. You can have some of your more junior leaders may have already developed the ability to be interdependent leaders. For example, my daughter Sophie is 24 but is an interdependent leader. Involve her in the shaping and she will lead it passionately. Have you got the equivalent? Even if your company is hierarchical, look to develop working groups to involve the interdependent leader.

  3. Grow your leaders – Create a culture of movement – look to help leaders move from being dependent, to independent to interdependent. For me, ultimately, you want to get your team to a position of interdependent culture, where you shape vision together. It highly engages the team and creates sustainability beyond yourself.

Leaders - let your leader know how you like to be led

Maybe you are a Bernie. What do you need to do? Well, you can keep gritting your teeth, but the frustration will eventually show. As leaders we have a responsibility to talk to those who lead us and discuss how we work best and what we have to give. In my experience, not sharing this means your frustration can build up and sometimes people’s frustration can boil over or they leave in frustration. Sometimes your leader might not have read an article like this and isn’t doing it on purpose. They just don’t know any better, so help them. If they choose not to work to your leadership type, then it may be time to consider how you use your leadership.


Dissonance is when there is a lack of harmony. Like sound waves not quite in harmony, it irritates. Leadership type dissonance occurs when how a leader is being lead is out of kilter with their leadership type. Leadership culture dissonance is when a leader leads a group in a way that is not aligned to the leadership culture that people are used to. As leaders we need to know our culture, know our leaders and lead them not just the way they like to be led but the way they need to be led.

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