The Warrior and the Magician – Contrasting Leadership and Competing Priorities
Leading people is not easy and a single approach will not work every time. As situations change, so do the leaders, followers and organizations involved. It is therefore critical to recognize the different impacts these variables can have on leadership effectiveness. I have recently been involved in senior leadership discussions in my organization that made me realize you can have great leaders clashing over competing organizational priorities, even if they are ultimately trying to achieve the same goal. On one hand, you may have those thought to be strong “warriors” while counterbalancing with caring “magicians” on the other.
The psychodynamic approach to leadership considers archetypes amongst other factors. Archetypes, according to the Penn State World Campus (PSU WC, 2019, L. 3, p. 7) are “strong patterns in the human psyche that persist over time.” There are many relevant archetypes in leadership, but the Warrior and the Magician are two of the most popular considered in business thus far. On one side, the warrior is the stereotype that most people have of a leader – one who is strong and effective. Warriors are competitive and confident, and they swiftly attack when faced with danger; they impose their will on others and work hard to achieve goals (PSU WC, 2019, L. 3). Although stereotypical and certainly effective, a warrior leader is not always ideal in every situation.
In contrast, a magician is someone who is adaptable and encourages flexibility amongst the team. Some consider this archetype as the ideal leader; under their guidance and leadership, teams engage emotionally, forego personal gains and strive to achieve collective goals. As opposed to the warrior, a magician does not work for monetary gains and instead sees the goal as its own reward (PSU WC, 2019, L. 3). Leadership approaches and organizational priorities between a warrior and a magician cannot be more different from each other.
Recent discussions with decision makers in my organization cement the fundamental concepts of these leadership archetypes. On one side of the negotiating table, I have a senior leader who is concerned about the relationship between the military base and the local community surrounding our installation. He is a warrior who exhibits task behaviors and directive leadership when leading the team to achieve goals. Additionally, he is commanding and strictly drives people in the same direction. Directive leadership is commonly characterized by instructions, clear standards, rules, expectations, schedules and norms (PSU WC, 2019, L.5; PSU WC, 2019, L. 6; Northouse, 2016).
On the other side of the table, I have a magician who exemplifies supportive leadership and is concerned about the needs and well-being of his subordinates. He encourages involvement at every level and empowers members of the team; undoubtedly, he exercises participative leadership which is a leader’s way of involving others in the decision-making process (PSU WC, 2019, L. 6; Northouse, 2016). A supportive leader respects their followers and a participative leader values their opinions. Fortunately, we have this type of leader sitting on the side of negotiations opposite to that of the “warrior” senior leader.
The most recent competing priority was a military event at risk of cancellation due to forecasted inclement weather. One of the leaders wanted to postpone the day prior so that he could provide the soonest notification to the local community, while the other wanted to wait for cancellation until the day of the event in case the weather got better (which was a possibility based on forecasts).
With contrasting leadership came competing priorities. The directive, commanding warrior is risk-averse and wants to be seen as confident and respected. Although he is very effective and his concerns are considerably valid, his priority is saving face in front of the local community. The supportive magician was concerned about how much work his team had already accomplished towards the event, how much more work it would take to break everything down and how much it would cost to postpone now and execute later.
Our organization is certainly fortunate because regardless of their contrasting styles and having concerns on opposite sides of the spectrum, both of these outstanding leaders have something in common – the goals of doing what’s right, finding common ground and making the best decision for the team and for the community. After considering inputs by the many experts involved in the planning process (to include local weather forecasters), the event was kept on schedule and executed as planned. Albeit rainy, it was exciting and memorable for everyone who came out that day. Undoubtedly, leadership and goal accomplishment are both difficult but recognizing impacts on different levels certainly helps. It is extremely valuable when building teams, especially if you have both warriors and magicians involved in the fight!
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 3: Psychodynamic Approach. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style a& Situational Approaches. Retrieved September 25, 2019, from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 6: Contingency & Path-Goal Theories. Retrieved October 2, 2019, from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules