What sort of leader are you? – Amanda Cullen


This month I am delighted to welcome Amanda Cullen as a guest on my blog.  Amanda is also an executive coach specialising in working with leaders to support them step up into their potential.  Amanda has written this thought provoking and practical article to help you consider what type of leader are you and how you might experiment with different styles to support your leadership growth.

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” —Andrew Carnegie

OK, here’s a quick exercise for you.

If I say the word “leader” who do you think of?

Take a moment to pause and, before you read on, conjure up a picture of this leader. It could a real person, dead or alive, or simply an image that symbolises a leader for you.

Imagine this leader standing in front of you right now. Think about what they look like. Listen to them speaking.   Now, make a few notes answering the following questions:

  • What attributes do they display?
  • What situation do you imagine them leading in?
  • What do you admire about them?
  • What, if anything, do you dislike about them?

Done that? OK, you can read on now.

The Cullen Leadership Classification (CLC)

“It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” – Adlai E. Stevenson II

In my view, there are several different types of leader.   So, when thinking about your leadership style and goals, it’s helpful to be clear what kind of leader you want to be, and to get comfortable with your approach.

Some very eminent people have done studies to classify leadership styles, including Daniel Goleman (of Emotional Intelligence fame). My version is less scientific – and has evolved from a combination of what I have been taught and what I have observed.

Here’s the Cullen Leadership Classification. Which type of leader do you think you are now?

  • Collaborative leader – brings people with them, consults and builds consensus; is sometimes less high visibility than other leaders. Think of Mark Benioff (CEO of Salesforce.com, or a great sports coach.)
  • Wise leader – has an aura; leads through knowledge, whether academic or spiritual. Think of Mother Theresa or Gandhi.
  • Fighter leader – has a combative approach and leads through force of personality and challenge so can be scary. Think of Margaret Thatcher or Boadicea.
  • Innovative leader – generates new ideas and leads through inspiring others with their enthusiasm. Not afraid to try new things. Think of Richard Branson or Steve Jobs – or Harry Selfridge from the eponymous TV series.
  • Nurturing leader – leads from the perspective of acting in the common interest; is caring and cosiderate. Can be great at developing others but can also have a tendency to over-protect. Think of a parent or other significant carer from your childhood – or Sister Juliana from Call the Midwife.
  • Stately leader – exudes an air of calm authority and strength (though may not be quite so calm underneath). Inspires confidence in others. Think of David Cameron – or Mary Poppins.

You’ve already formed an opinion about your current leadership style. Now, close your eyes and visit each of the leadership groups in turn, imagining yourself as part of that tribe. Try on the style as if it were a coat, and see how it fits.  What do you like about being that type of leader? What makes you uncomfortable?

Altering your leadership style

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” – John F Kennedy

Think back to the leader you conjured up at the start of this article. What kind of leader are they?

Now think about the leadership styles you tried via the Cullen Leadership Classification. What did you discover about yourself?

Are you already the kind of leader you want to be? If so that’s great. How can you step more fully into that style of leadership?

If you don’t feel comfortable with your current leadership style, you can experiment with another one. Imagine putting on the coat of the style you most admire. How different does it feel to your normal style? Do you think you can wear it for a day or a week? What will you do differently while you’re sporting this new look?


Profile portrait navy smiling cropped

Amanda Cullen is a coach who helps executives to become better leaders, and to step up to their full potential.

Before training as a coach Amanda spent over 30 years in the pensions industry. During that time she managed major accounts and led large teams, and specialised in providing governance advice to pension scheme trustees.

She now runs her own coaching business, Coaching with Amanda. Much of her coaching is done via phone or Skype, and her clients are based all over the world, although she also does face-to-face coaching in London and Surrey.


On Linked In: linkedin.com/in/amandacullencoach

On Twitter: AmandaCcoach

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