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What type of leader are you?

June 8, 2007 -- What type of leader are you? I've been encouraged at several points throughout my career to "cast my net widely" and actively pursue a professional reading repertoire. It was in a reading club where we read a book called "The Tipping Point" by Malcom Gladwell (Little, Brown and Com-pany, 2002) and learned about three distinct types of people who Mr. Gladwell calls Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

Connectors know many people and have an innate ability to communicate with groups from diverse backgrounds. Everyone has their own circle of friends and coworkers but some people seem to act naturally in any environment. They are the extroverts in a social setting. The military assignment system (and to a lesser extent, DoD in general) naturally expands this circle through relocations every few years. The longer your career, the more you are exposed to a wider number of acquaintances, especially if you change career fields or are assigned to joint service duty.

You've heard of concept called "Six degrees of Kevin Bacon?" A connector's number, when linked in a professional setting, is probably much lower than six.

Mavens are the idea people. We all know someone that fits the description. I once had a running partner who constantly talked about his ideas, from story lines for the cartoons his children watched to unique inventions that he intended to patent. What I noticed most was his constant review of the course of the day's e-vents, always looking at the world from a different perspective. He had great ideas.

The last types of people described by Gladwell are the Salesmen. They are the persuaders. Why is it that when you find a favorite auto mechanic, you stay loyal for future re-pairs? It is usually some indescribable characteristic that inspires trust and confidence that you're getting an honest deal. That auto mechanic has excellent salesman qualities. You'll also find these qualities in real estate, financial advisors, etc. The point here is that there are a talented group of people who have a knack for convincing people to make a decision.

I'm sure each of you has experienced different leadership styles throughout your career. Why is it that the Air Force seems to place the right person in the right job at the right time? Is it pre-conceived and calculated or purely by accident? What is not an accident is that each unit needs a different leadership style and/or personality that suits the time, place, or even the event and it's knowing when and how to maximize individual talents that makes an effective team. When does a unit need a Maven...or a Salesman? Stop for a moment and consider the type of leader you work for. Does that person have the ability to adapt styles based on the situation?

To be a successful leader, know your own style and limitations and surround yourself with complementary personalities to connect good ideas with the right message at the right time and place. I think you'll find the most successful leaders are not always the idea people, the Mavens. However, good leaders are both Connectors and Salesmen. What type of leader are you?