Which Archetype of Leadership Represents You?

By: Michael McQueen

Think back to your teachers at school. What characterised them? In schools, the approaches to teaching and authority tend to group themselves into four key categories.

These categories apply just as readily to forms of leadership that we come across in workplaces, teams and the public sphere. The traps that teachers fall into are just as dangerous for leaders in any industry and the potential for both harm and good is just as strong.

While three of these archetypes have the potential to be harmful for those being taught or led, one promises to grow students and teams in grit while also maintaining healthy levels of relationship and support – it is this one that will do most good in the future of leadership and teaching.

These four archetypes include:

1. The Apathetic teacher

We’ve all met Apathetic teachers and leaders – the ones who perhaps started their careers with altruism and passion but have become tired and jaded with the passing of time.

The lack of challenge these teachers place on their students is matched only by the lack of support they provide for students who may be struggling. These are the teachers who seek out the path of least resistance for themselves and don’t expect much from students either.

Relationally, these teachers are hands-off and transactional. It’s about getting through each week, each term and each year with as little exertion as possible.

This first archetype is one every school leader and educational system seeks to avoid or stamp out. And with good reason – Apathetic teachers disengage students and devalue the whole process of education.

2. The Authoritarian teacher

The historical view of authority stated that the most effective way of maintaining power was for the one in power to separate themselves from those they were responsible for. The goal was to develop a level of fear and intimidation that would ensure compliance and maintain discipline. This approach to leadership and management is commonly known as ‘Power and Control’ or ‘Command and Control’ and it comes straight out of the Industrial Revolution.

While the Authoritarian archetype is not as common as it once was, I still find it present in many schools. For instance, it is often expressed in the form of teachers who expect (and even demand) to receive respect from students simply because they are the teacher. These are the teachers who yell louder, remove privileges or give detentions to ‘insolent students’ in an effort to gain respect without realising most of these tactics will have the opposite effect.

Both Authoritarian teachers and leaders set high expectations academically but are often reticent to offer too much support in an effort to toughen up their team and students. They tend to be quick to criticise performance, slow to offer affirmation, and highly averse to any move toward self-directed learning. The fear of losing control of the classroom is central.

3. The Affable teacher

This third archetype of teaching and leadership is probably the most dangerous of the four because it can seem ‘enlightened’ and ‘progressive’ despite the damage it can do to students’ development.

The Affable teacher approaches the student relationship with a deep commitment to engagement. They want to win the hearts and minds of learners and are committed to fostering self-esteem. With the absence of high academic and behavioural expectations, this means that effort is praised regardless of the actual achievement. Grades are inflated, poor performance goes unchecked, and unacceptable behaviour goes unchallenged.

Complicating matters further, many Affable teachers make the mistake of equating popularity with engagement. If they are liked then they assume that engagement is automatically ensured. This can sometimes spring out of insecurity on the part of the teacher.

The bar is lowered, and the student is then able to get away with anything. Behaviourally this can set up a perverse dynamic where students start to play power games with the teacher, while academically it devalues education and diminishes the teacher’s authority.

Setting low expectations and removing challenges may inflate a student’s ego in the short term but it is disastrous to the development of the thinking skills and acuity younger generations will need to flourish in the years ahead. As the former U.S. First Lady Abigail Adams famously observed: ‘The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.’[1]

4. The Authoritative teacher

This fourth and final archetype is defined by a commitment to maintaining high standards academically and behaviourally while matching this with a strong commitment to supporting students.

Unlike the Affable archetype, Authoritative teachers and leaders expect their students and teams to apply themselves even when it’s hard. They are willing to push people beyond their comfort zones and resist the urge to step in or play the role of rescuer when the going gets tough. Unlike the Authoritarian, this is not driven by ‘old school’ stoicism but rather a deeply held focus on growth.

In Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Elisa Guerra shares how she uses high standards and expectations as a tool for stretching student’s’ paradigms and assumptions. ‘I overload students with tight deadlines that challenge their belief that they need to have the right answer. My goal is to get them to develop a more fluid, iterative approach to learning.’[2]

As Guerra goes on to suggest, her goal is to develop students’ character and competencies. Two of the hallmarks of Authoritative teaching are authenticity and consistency. In contrast with the Authoritarian teacher, who hides behind their role, or the Affable teacher, who cares too much about what students think, Authoritative teachers operate with an air of certainty, confidence and transparency. They are steadfast in the face of classroom resistance to high expectations and win the respect and trust or students over time.

From the four archetypes explored, which do you most identify with as a teacher or equally as a leader?

If it was the Authoritarian, how can you begin to develop your support for your team, move to intentionally encourage them and make yourself more accessible as a leader? If it was the Affable archetype, what expectations might need to be set for your team and how can you encourage them within a context of growth and achievement?

Who would you most like to be led by?

Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.

About the Author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

Feature image: Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash.