Tony Morgan’s Leadership Continuum

Tony Morgan’s Leadership Continuum

Tony Morgan, the author of Killing Cockroaches and Other Scatter Musings On Leadership, has a useful paradigm for understanding the necessary shift in leadership styles as organizations change and grow.  His ideas are outlined here.

Although Morgan focuses largely on church growth, I’ve adapted his ideas for any setting. By considering where you fall on this leadership continuum, you may be able to identify next steps for yourself and your organization.

The four styles on the continuum are: leading by example, leading others, leading leaders, and leading by vision.

At an organization’s inception, leaders often begin with leading by example. In a new company, the leader is able to influence others directly, modeling valued behaviors and best practices for others in the organization. This type of leader does everything. If something is happening in the company, the founder or CEO is directly involved.

As a mom, I most often employ this leadership style in my home. As I interact with my daughters, my life and actions are the example they are learning to follow. But in the business world, this style has limited value, as leaders can only effectively teach and mentor a few individuals. If leaders stay in this stage of leadership, their company’s growth will be circumscribed.

Next on the continuum is leading others. In this style, leaders delegate tasks to others. Using this style, a leaders can accomplish more. However, this style is still limiting because even though tasks are distributed, ownership and leadership in the organization is still centralized. Others are only involved in carrying out the details of the leader’s plans, often not understanding their importance or significance.

The third style on the continuum is leading leaders. A leader working at this level is purposefully empowering other leaders, allowing them to own and direct certain aspects of the organization. By focusing energy on developing and launching other leaders, the leaders multiply the ability to get the work of the organization done.

The final stage of the leadership continuum is leading by vision. Leading by vision involves presenting a clear and compelling vision for an organization and becoming less consumed with details and more concerned with its overall health and function.

The third and fourth stages allow for the most growth but also present the biggest challenges. Empowering other leaders is difficult. Developing and communicating a clear vision for our organizations is a formidable and ongoing task. Yet without a concise purpose, it is difficult to lead anyone  — we have to know where we’re going before we can invite others along for the journey.

It is important that both vision and the steps needed to get there can be easily communicated to and understood by others. This happens from the start.  Leaders construct a strong foundation through the first stages of a company’s development, when CEOs or entrepeneurs are involved in the day to day operation of the company. The next generation of leaders will be the ones adept at articulating the company’s vision and values.

When we are less involved in tasks and details, we are free to reinforce the vision and values of our company.

Which style are you using? How does it suit the life-stage of your company or organization? What is necessary for you to move to the next stage?

This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.

Filed As:  vision, leadership

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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  • Becky, great and as always, a well-written post. I’m not familiar with Mr. Morgan’s work, but you’ve definitely added a “to-do” item to my reading list.
    I love the different dimensions of the leader that you and Mr. Morgan highlight. I struggle a bit however as viewing them as much as a continuum as I do…as dimensions. Certainly, a leader that is capable of articulating vision and reinforcing values is a mature leader. I also can imagine good and capable leaders working in and drawing on the skills for the other dimensions at varying points in their daily lives. I’ll look forward to reading more of Mr. Morgan’s work and bouncing back to share my thoughts.
    Thanks as always for the great and thought-provoking post!
    -Art

  • I struggled a bit with that myself, Art. The idea of the continuum is linked to SIZE of an organization. In a smaller and newer organization, it is possible for the CEO to be more involved in the details of the company. As the organization grows and matures, the leader needs to shift to the other stages in order to be more effective and allow for growth. Don’t know if that helps, any. I look forward to discussing this more after you read Tony’s post. (If you met him, you would know that he is not “Mr. Morgan.” 🙂

  • Agreed- I was a little confused by Tony’s continuum too. I have worked under leaders who employed “all four” methods at once- which made for an unbelievably awesome organization. But, I think leaders also exist who tend to lead by vision and maybe even by example (lions, for you personality analyzers) but skip over the middle parts. This creates confusion and hurt for employees, as everyone is bumbling about, searching for their role in the organization while simultaneously trying to carry out the leader’s impossible plans.
    I haven’t read Tony’s book- maybe he addresses this in more detail there?

  • Hi Laura,
    Thanks for dropping by. As far as I can tell, this topic is not covered in the book. I checked through the table of contents looking for it when I wrote my post. I am reading it haphazardly, though. I did link to his article about the topic (on his blog he calls them leadership stages.) I’ll be sure to let you know if I find any answers or clarification.

  • I’m somewhere between stage 2 and 3 right now with my volunteer team. I’m ultimately going to get to the point where I just tell them where I’d like them to end up and however they get there is up to them. I can’t wait for that day… although it’s hard to completely hand over those keys (and really we’re talking about the pink slip to the car at this point) it’s a necessary move if I’m ever going to get to move my position into anything else… like say web development! 🙂

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