Six Categories of Leadership Roles

What kind of a superintendent will you be? Below are six categories I use to help individuals think about their legacy.

Remember, you can’t be all of them, and don’t try to be something you’re not. Your leadership legacy has very little to do with your abilities, your measurable performance, your strategic savvy. It has everything to do with who you are, as a person, at work. It has everything to do with your natural role, as opposed to your title and responsibilities.

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Ambassadors instinctively know how to handle a variety of situations with grace. They tend to be the people diffusing nasty situations — the ones getting involved in conflicts on behalf of broad constituencies, rather than for their own benefit. They are apt to be persistent in a gentle way — to be persuasive and at the same time respectful.

An Ambassador, for example, might be someone who can introduce a whole host of people-assessment and development frameworks with the result that employees understand and accept the new order easily.


Advocates instinctively act as the spokesperson in a group. They tend to be articulate, rational, logical and persuasive. They also tend to be relentless (in the positive sense of the word), championing ideas or strategic positions. Advocates tend to use both linear and non-linear approaches when they argue a point.

Top managers who are natural Ambassadors may do very well at navigating through rough waters. But for Advocates, being in rough waters is part of the reason they revel in their work. Many Advocates tend to see things in black and white only. Advocates often need Ambassadors on their senior management teams — to help them temper their messages and persuade employees to buy in to their decisions.

People Mover

Think talent-spotter, career-builder, motivator, someone with parental, nurturing qualities. People Movers instinctively take the lead in building teams. They’re also instinctive mentors. They generally have large contact lists; they are always introducing new people to new ideas and new paths. They’re also generally mindful of their employees’ lives outside of work. They view performance through the larger lens of potential.

There is a certain “holiday card joy” that comes with being a People Mover. When people continue to update you on their progress because they know you’ll care, even if you have nothing in common with them and are effectively out of touch with them, you know you’re a People Mover.


Think fairness, good judgment, equalizer, level-headed, process-oriented, scrupulously neutral and objective. This is the only role for which there is a “prerequisite.” Truth-Seekers are unfailingly competent in their field; their competence is unquestioned.

Truth-Seekers instinctively level the playing field for those in need. They also help people understand new rules and policies. They act to preserve the integrity of processes. They try to identify the root-cause issues or pivotal issues. They also step in to ensure the just and fair outcome if the process has failed to yield the same.

Creative Builder

These individuals are visionaries and entrepreneurs — they are happiest and most driven at the start of things. They instinctively see new opportunities. They take ideas and make them real. They’re also often “serial entrepreneurs” over time, even if they remain in one leadership post.

Creative Builders instinctively understand that building is not necessarily about invention but about the process of making an invention real. Builders are constantly energized by new ideas, yet they have the staying power to see them through to fruition.

Experienced Guide

The term “Experienced Guide” conjures up an image of someone very old and wrinkled, with the experience that comes with age. That’s not incorrect, but Experienced Guides don’t have to be old or necessarily experienced.

What they do have to have is an ability to listen and to put themselves in others’ shoes. They have a way of helping people think through their own problems; they are natural therapists. Often, they are seemingly bottomless wells of information on a diverse range of topics. These are the people who can always be counted on to supply the right quotation or the right historical connection.

— Robert Galford