Leading people is not easy, and a single approach will not work every time; as situations change, so do the leaders and followers 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 and came to the realization that you can have strong warriors and caring magicians on the same team, trying to achieve the same goal but clashing over competing organizational priorities.
The psychodynamic approach to leadership considers archetypes amongst other factors. Archetypes, according to the Penn State World Campus (PSU WC, 2019, L. 3), are “strong patterns in the human psyche that persist over time (L. 3, p. 7).” There are many relevant archetypes in leadership, but the Warrior and the Magician are two of the most popular ones considered in business thus far. In one hand, the warrior is the stereotype that most people have of a leader – one who is strong and effective. Warriors are competitive, confident and 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 effective, a warrior leader is not ideal in all situations.
In contrast, a magician is someone who is adaptable and encourages flexibility amongst the team. Under this leader, which some may consider as ideal, teams engage emotionally, forego personal gains and 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). Their approaches and priorities 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 hand, 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 hand, I have a magician who exemplifies supportive leadership and is concerned about the needs and well-being of their subordinates. This approach aligns with 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 the table opposite to that of the “warrior” senior leader.
The competing priority was a military event that was at risk of cancellation due to forecasted inclement weather. One senior leader 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 it had cost for his team to put the event together, how much it would take to break everything down and how much more it would cost to postpone and execute it at a later time.
Fortunately, our organization is extremely fortunate because regardless of their contrasting styles and concerns on opposite sides of the spectrum, both of these outstanding leaders have something in common – the goal of doing the right thing, 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 (to include local weather forecasters), the event was kept on schedule; albeit rainy, it was exciting and memorable for everyone who came out that day.
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