New Rules of Leadership

Jan 24, 2019

Most organizations prefer to believe the business world is based on reason and populated by a reasonably lucid, cognitive and caring citizenry. But no one lives in this utopia. Business practices are often messy and unpredictable. The fairy tale of order and logic leads to stagnant and unimaginative workplaces. This is not to say that parables hold no weight in the corporate world.

Our collective consciousness places great importance on the hero’s journey. Whether principles are expressed through the bedtime stories of the Brothers Grimm or the theatrical spectacle of Star Wars, people willingly lend their support to warriors and wizards. By replacing the practical and sterile mythos of business with these tried and true cultural archetypes, an organization can flourish into a far more productive and innovative corporate force.

Two decades of research trace a strong shift in leadership roles. Most leaders traditionally follow two very limited frames: the caregiver and the analyst. Analysts emphasize rationality and logic. Caregivers stress the importance of relationships. Both analyst and caregiver roles are necessary for organizations and societies. However, in limiting themselves to these two profiles, managers become myopic and constrained. Ultimately, this stifles leadership and hobbles organizations.

Resourceful managers need to employ the warrior and wizard attributes to boost a firm’s proficiency. By learning and honing the basic skill sets of each archetype, leaders enlarge their roles and assert their presence. They bring clout and hope to organizations that have become ineffectual.


Warriors naturally thrive in a theater of conflict. They welcome competition and office politics rather than avoid them. Microsoft’s future would be radically different if not for the business pugilism of Bill Gates during the federal antitrust trials in the late ‘90s. Warriors effectively align purpose with power through four basic skills:

1. Know the psyche. Professional success gets less complicated the more confidence and commitment is developed among colleagues. Masterful leaders must first be students of the psyche. Once the fears and aspirations of opponents and supporters are understood, a leader can begin to manage and engineer collective hopes to a company’s advantage. By tapping into the economic frustrations and wants of professional women, Mary Kay Ash built a cosmetics empire. Ever conscious of the competition, she was no stranger to a good fight. Her warrior traits led journalist Morley Safer once to describe her as a “pink panther whose instinct for doing business and making money is as finely tuned as a jungle cat going for the kill.”

2. Recruit allies. When entering combat, it’s always best to have a strong support system at the ready. To gain a vast and loyal group, a leader needs compelling arguments to boost support for an impending fight. While inherent charisma makes this task easier, those without the natural talent can hone their “horse-trading” skills. Regardless of his overall political principles, Tom DeLay is a master of recruitment. He plays close attention to every House member’s district, interests and family. By enlisting a strong group of allies through favor-trading and goodwill, Delay created monumental party support when ethics indictments threatened his stronghold in 2005.

3. Rally the troops. Without a well-honed, highly motivated team, victory is impossible. The warrior needs to maintain the fighting spirit amongst the ranks. A leader does so by creating an offer too attractive to refuse. A leader establishes an agenda that carries significance beyond personal gain but also encapsulates immediate, individual concerns. Every employee likes to belong to a “bigger picture” but also needs personal reassurance. The motivational efforts of George S. Patton, the legendary general, were Shakespearean in their magnitude. Uniquely gifted in profanity, Patton related to his men’s sensibilities and cultivated their heroic urges in order to accomplish the bigger objective: win the war. By using crass language and addressing the individual concerns of each soldier (i.e., fear and death), he rallied and united his forces to produce legendary results.

4. Negotiate for the win-win.  Every negotiation has short- and long-term implications. A principled warrior creates win-win situations to reap immediate rewards while building solid business relationships. William Ury and Roger Fisher pioneered the theory of “mutual gain” while bargaining. Most managers allow room for only a few initial options before focusing on negotiations. A leader must keep options open, since an increase in options also increases the opportunity for better decisions. He or she worries as much about making the pie bigger as about getting the biggest piece.


Wizards bring imagination, insight, creativity, vision, meaning and magic to their workplace. They are visionaries with a flair for drama and a yen for symbols. It is no mistake that thousands of employees and millions of customers reinforce the Starbucks patois every morning. Wizards create excitement and commitment to a business’ culture through four methods:

1. Set values. Behind every high-performing company stands a core set of widely shared beliefs and conventions. When values are deeply engrained, a verbose mission statement isn’t necessary. People do great work because the company’s ethics are etched in their hearts and minds. Values are self-enforced by the individuals and their peer groups. Formal dictation of rules isn’t necessary. Google sets its culture with one simple sentence: “Don’t be evil.”

2. Be symbolic. People become emotionally attached to icons and emblems. During a seminar concerning culture in federal agencies, a GAO official discounted the effects of symbols. A participant from the U.S. Forest Service asked if that applied to Smokey the Bear. When the speaker said yes, the U.S. Forest Service official got mad enough to extend a familiar one-fingered symbol as his rebuttal. Leaders must learn to respect and revere the power of iconography. Once understanding and reverence are established, a wizard can create or build on the symbols that bolster a company’s spirit.

3. Celebrate your culture. Ceremony connects colleagues by building relationships, reaffirming values and deepening the collective identity of your team. One way that the founders of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, built the culture was a taped television show for Home Depot’s employees. The playful and often humorous presentation connected the founders with their people. It also reinforced Home Depot’s core values and informed employees about important company news. Unique rituals such as the Bernie-and-Arthur show fostered dedication and solidarity at the workplace. A subsequent leadership change replaced the beloved wizards at Home Depot with a relentless warrior. Profits are up, but morale and customer satisfaction have deteriorated.

4. Tell a good story. Everyone loves a good story. We read novels, go to plays and rent movies to immerse ourselves in other lives and other worlds. Although fully aware of the fiction, we still invest in principal characters and plots. But underneath the intricacies and conventions lies a theme. Stories attach significance to mutual goals. All religions employ stories to increase belief in their practitioners: Christian and Sufi parables, the Jewish Haggadah, Taoist allegories, Zen koans, and Native American legends are a few categories. What works in churches and temples, can also be applied to the office. A solid anecdote boosts morale and reinforces lessons far better than a quarterly report.

In exploring the oft-neglected wizard and warrior personas, leaders can expand insular organizational dynamics into an expanse of limitless potential. To be truly effective, each leader must embrace the skills of both warrior and wizard. Operating within this paradox is tricky, but vital to leading a firm through a constantly changing business environment