The Individualist action logic recognises that neither it nor any of the other action logics are ‘natural’; all are constructions of oneself and the world. This seemingly abstract idea enables the 10% of Individualist leaders to contribute unique practical value to their organisations; they put personalities and ways of relating into perspective and communicate well with people who have other action logics.
What sets Individualists apart from Achievers is their awareness of a possible conflict between their principles and their actions, or between the organisation’s values and its implementation of those values. This conflict becomes the source of tension, creativity, and a growing desire for further development.
Individualists also tend to ignore rules they regard as irrelevant, which often makes them a source of irritation to both colleagues and bosses. “So, what do you think?” one of our clients asked us as he was debating whether to let go of one of his star performers, a woman who had been measured as an Individualist. Sharon (not her real name) had been asked to set up an offshore shared service function in the Czech Republic in order to provide IT support to two separate and internally competitive divisions operating there. She formed a highly cohesive team within budget and so far ahead of schedule that she quipped that she was “delivering services before Group Business Risk had delivered its report saying it can’t be done”.
The trouble was that Sharon had a reputation within the wider organisation as a wild card. Although she showed great political savvy when it came to her individual projects, she put many people’s noses out of joint in the larger organisation because of her unique, unconventional ways of operating. Eventually, the CEO was called in (not for the first time) to resolve a problem created by her failure to acknowledge key organisational processes and people who weren’t on her team.
Many of the dynamics created by different action logics are illustrated by this story and its outcome. The CEO, whose own action logic was that of an Achiever, did not see how he could challenge Sharon to develop and move beyond creating such problems. Although ambivalent about her, he decided to retain her because she was delivering and because the organisation had recently lost several capable, if unconventional, managers.
So Sharon stayed, but only for a while. Eventually, she left the company to set up an offshoring consultancy. When we examine in the second half of this article how to help executives transform their leadership action logics, we’ll return to this story to see how both Sharon and the CEO might have succeeded in transforming theirs.