Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Personifying your leader label – the three label types

Leaders perceive themselves in different ways. Whatever they want to perceive themselves to be, leaders are people – persons – and if you like, individuals.

There is something deep-seated about an individual and their behaviour. This is particularly the case when a person stands out from a group – be it as a manager, father, mother, CEO, or President.

But, do you ever look at the leader you are through the lens of a private label? Moreover, a label that personifies behaviour in the eyes of the led and other observers? Ask yourself what your leader label embodies. Go further and link the leader personification or labelling by those around you, and effectiveness at work. Can a leader label, a small tag if we may call it so, influence the efficacy of a leader?

After all, leadership accords leaders extraordinary powers over the led. And if the latter were true, why should a leader lose sleep over the possible adverse effect of his or her leader label on worker productivity? In effect, leaders can use power to force optimal productivity out of the led.

Well, if it were that simple, Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution in China should never have undermined productivity plus almost destroyed the Chinese economy

Leader labels and the impact on productivity:

It is true that leaders, including those of you that are parents with teenagers, are labelled by the led and other observers. Whoever yields a certain quantum of power, is likely to have a level of control over other people.

When you control others, you can be perceived in two ways:

  • You are either someone that gets on well with others while at the same time squeezing every ounce of productivity out of them
  • Or, chose to be the opposite of the above. Someone that gets optimal productivity from others by coercion, fear, and manipulation.

While both leader labels may impact the organisations bottom line positively, the question has to be: ‘what is the maximum productivity-elasticity, and is the team reaching its full potential?’

The above question leaves OD. practitioners like the Effectiveness lab in a quandary. Why do some leaders coerce the led to get them to become optimally productive, while their peers use softer means to achieve the same result if not better?

We now get into the personification or labelling of the leader and its impact on productivity. The Effectiveness lab outlines below three general types of leader labels

1. The adversarial label

Leaders with this kind of label are the aggressive, manipulative, and confrontational type.

It ought to be noted that while some leaders can be passively adversarial – they still fall under the adversarial label. Whether you kill someone by lethal injection or firing squad, you still have denied them life. Adversarial labelled leaders put power first and will use it to get the led do whatever they want to be done for the organisation.

Leaders with this type of label borrow a lot for their personification from lawyers and the legal fraternity.

Lawyers are very adversarial and the system they and the prosecutors work under revolves around the principle of survival of the fittest. Lawyers and prosecutors win power-battles when they exert mental torture and disorientation on their victims, as well as making them sweat profusely in court. They want to leave their challengers for dead

Like their mentors above, leaders with the adversarial label tend to harshly enforce policy and work practices.  They put those they lead on the defensive all the time. Like a lawyer or prosecutor before a judge, such adversarial labelled leaders want to win all the time. You rarely witness a win-win or even win for the led. The adversarial labelled leader always wants to have things go their way – it is [their] way or the highway.

Sadly, leaders of this type sack all the positive energy from the led. The result is a bad work climate, demotivation, ultimately sacrificing productivity

Adversarial labelled leaders carry labels like:

  • slave-driver
  • weirdo
  • emperor or empress
  • generalissimo
  • governor
  • tyrant

2. The benign label

Benign labelled leaders are of the gentle disposition.

Like the adversarial leader, their ultimate goal is worker optimal productivity. However, they invest time to get their teams on-side first. For such leaders, it is personal goodwill and human relationship first; productivity comes second. Benign labelled leaders take their time to study their teams and get to understand what makes each individual happy. It’s only when they have mastered the people part that they move on to address matters related to work and productivity

Unlike their adversarial peers, their personification manifests in personal behaviours like:

  • ‘prefer to be called by their first name and not a title.’
  • ‘run an open door policy.’
  • ‘mixes with the rank and file at the office.’
  • ‘very empathetic and puts people first.’
  • ‘willingness to defend rights of the oppressed at work.’
  • ‘gives candid feedback but in a respectful manner.’

The led do love working under benign labelled leaders. Under such leaders, the led shall thrive, are open to learning as well as pushing boundaries. They come to work every day wanting to take the brand to the next level above and not below.

Do not assume that leaders that are personified as benign are wimps. A leader can be both benign and tough on accountability. Indeed, effective benign labelled leaders bring both attributes to the table

Can a leader personify a label other than their natural own?

In many instances, a benign labelled leader may find him or herself working in an organisational culture that befits the adversarial labelled type or vice versa. Should a leader adapt to a new label? Is it even possible to change the leader label?

Well, we are starting to witness interesting shifts in leader personification. Moreover, it is being forced on especially the adversarial labelled leader, by a generational tsunami in the labour market.

The tyranny of numbers brought about by the millennial generation (born 1982 -2002/4) is forcing a change to leader labels at work. Millennials hate stress and unnecessary pressure. They like emotional stability and will choose it over employment. Moreover, the internet provides the millennials opportunities for self-employment, flex hours, etc. When you don’t treat them well, the millennials vote with their feet. They don’t always need your job to survive – whether true or not, that is how they think

This renaissance of the worker, as we called it in our last blog, is forcing the adversarial labelled leader to embrace the benign label. In many ways, adversarial leaders are being forced to change their DNA.

The result of the above is a third leader label, the designer leader

3. The designer label

This kind of leader label is designer in nature. The designer leader adapts to the times and is not authentic to one’s inner character.

Designer leader labels are fashionable and trending.

  • This type of leader is forced by circumstances to put people first.
  • While their DNA is adversarial, for them to survive as leaders, they have to adapt to the demands of the benign label.
  • Human nature being what it is, unawares, the designer leader tends to revert to the adversarial label – after all, it is their natural label space

We conclude that the adversarial labelled leader will not do well at a bionically balanced entity.  They are likely to create organisational bionic-imbalance instead, driven by their poor people management skills.  While designer labelled leader may succeed at the bionically balanced entity, the tendency to oscillate between labels tends to leave the led confused. One can’t be a good people manager today, only to behave in a dictatorial manner the next day. The latter equally results in bionic imbalance at the organisation – Uber’s example is never far from us

Have you personified your leader label? Are you the ‘conflicted’ type living in the designer label?


2 responses to “Personifying your leader label – the three label types”

  1. Personifying your leader label – thank you for that piece. Please have us a piece on Organizational politics


  2. Prince Maloba Avatar
    Prince Maloba

    finally have reached kamuli,hope you give me contact reliable person in nakabuku can reach meet their projects,help me reach to busete village. am having two weeks conference in kamuli on permaculture. thanks Prince


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


%d bloggers like this: