Firefighter or artist? What type of leader are you?

Firefighter or artist? What type of leader are you?

As a leader, do you feel like all you do is put out fires, help others solve their problems and deal with the issues of the day? If so, you might be a ‘firefighter’ leader.

Understanding your leadership type, and its underlining behaviour and internal assumptions, is essential to becoming the leader you want to be and the one your employees will want to work with.

In business, people with ‘artist’ and ‘teacher’ leadership styles will often be the most effective leaders as they inspire creativity, focus, authenticity, inclusion and collaboration. ‘Operator’ and ‘firefighter’ leadership styles will be, on the other hand, reactive, conservative, controlling and passive.

Let’s take a deeper look at the four types of leadership styles and how you can enhance or balance out your competencies as required to become a better leader.

The artist

The artist is a creative leader who can see the bigger picture and break it down into smaller steps. Their strategic focus, as well as their sense of purpose, helps them make decisions for both the long- and the short-term. They are capable of painting a vision of a compelling future, which provides the emotional drive for people to work hard in order to make a difference. Tips to bring out the artist in you:


  • Ask yourself what you want to create.
  • Paint a vivid picture of your desired business achievements and how each individual can contribute to the results.
  • Understand the relationships between people and systems in your organisation and how these could be leveraged to lead to sustainable productivity and continuous improvement.
  • Be open to new possibilities and facilitate the exchange of ideas in the workplace.

The teacher

A teacher leader is a selfless collaborator, mentor and carer who fosters team play and professional development. Their interpersonal intelligence, integrity and composed style facilitate the creation of meaningful, rewarding and productive relationships in the workplace. As the teacher is open to learning about themselves, they continuously improve their skills as an efficient leader. Tips to bring out the teacher in you:

  • Listen with an open mind and without judgement.
  • Try to understand others’ perspectives.
  • Support and mentor others with respect, commitment and interest.
  • Encourage collaboration.
  • Commit yourself to self-awareness and continuous learning.

The operator

Task-oriented, controlling and protecting are all ways to describe the operator leader. They want everything to be perfect and will be very critical of the work done by others. Rather than nurturing relationships like the teacher does, the operator is autocratic and ambitious, with a hint of arrogance. Tips to balance out the operator:

  • Write a list of your tasks and initially select five of them to be delegated.
  • Learn to delegate in an empowering and trusting way.
  • Remain open to different ways of accomplishing tasks.
  • Allocate time each day to step out of the daily detail and look at the bigger business picture.
  • Let others be right once in a while.

The firefighter

This type of leader is constantly reacting to problems. Their passive, distant and conservative approach means rather than proactively visioning change and focusing on opportunities, they are always trying to put fires out. They’re very pleasing as individuals and will help everyone solve their problems, but that will only take them away from the big picture thinking that leaders need to have. Tips to balance out the firefighter:

  • Be aware. Gather information from multiple sources, such as clients, employees, suppliers and stakeholders.
  • Read, listen to and discuss changes happening in the marketplace that might affect your business.
  • Schedule monthly strategic meetings and quarterly strategic planning.
  • Don’t be taken by surprise and forecast necessary changes.

Leaders, like any human being, can’t be good at everything. As a general rule, artist and teacher traits will lead to high fulfilment and high achievement leadership, while the operator and firefighter leadership styles will need to be managed carefully. In the end, what makes a leader great is their focus to strengthen areas in which they’re weaker.

About The Leadership Circle Asia Pacific
The Leadership Circle’s leadership and development program is the first to offer integrated assessment and development tools with workshops, training, research and support technologies that provide a pathway to evolved leadership.


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