"Stances" of a Leader

by Mark McMillan |

As an executive coach I get hired to help my clients to become better leaders. One of my favorite advanced tools to use is the concept of a leadership “stance.” A stance is a persona or archetype that someone occupies in order to be effective with other people. When I introduce this concept to my clients I start with four archetypes: mother#%@*er, archaeologist, marshall, and best buddy. For a stance to be effective, a client needs to be 100% committed to it in the same way that an actor needs to be committed to their role. I use movie clips to introduce the stances as I will do here.

Let me make an important preemptive point — it just so happens that none of these video clips are women. This means nothing! I have many stances that I teach using actresses to illustrate the archetype. The stances presented below are not gender specific — they apply to both men and women.

The “Mother-#$&*”-er (MF) Stance

In the scene below, Alec Baldwin plays a classic MF stance. Pay close attention and then we will analyze it.

As you can see the MF stance is characterized by someone that:

  • Says the brutal truth without regard other’s feelings
  • Doesn’t care about whether or not people like him/her
  • Is impossible to please

Many people have a problem occupying this stance. It isn’t sustainable to always be in MF, but it can be very useful.

The “Archeologist” Stance

This is a great scene from Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams plays our archaeologist.

The defining characteristic of the archeologist is serious curiosity. Robin Williams is fascinated by the world and his client. He wants to learn everything about his client. This stance can be very useful when dealing with customers and employees.

The Marshall

In this clip focus on Tommy Lee-Jones — he is our marshall.

This is a great clip. The marshall arrives into a pressure situation and takes charge of it. A marshall is calm and knows exactly what to do and also seems to know what others are thinking. They wield a cool certainty that others follow.

The Best Buddy Stance

In this one, Al Pacino is our subject. He’s our best buddy.

This is another classic and if you are a football fan, you may be experiencing chills right about now. The best buddy is WITH YOU and he/she is feeling the harsh realities WITH YOU. The best buddy is with you in the land of difficult truth. The best buddy is often engaged in a quiet struggle, he/she is slightly frustrated with you.

The Power of Stances

OK, you may be thinking “That was entertaining, but what is he really suggesting? Is he suggesting that I ACT in a bunch of ways that aren’t me? Is he suggesting that I should be unauthentic?” What I am sharing with you is that:

  1. Leaders possess behavioral flexibility (they have range in how they are with people)
  2. Leaders are willing to do whatever is necessary to get a result — even if it isn’t natural or doesn’t engender affinity
  3. Leaders don’t have “moods”; they strategically pick their behavior based on what is required

If you embrace the stance concept fully, then it leads you to another level of intention. It produces an entirely different level of conscious leadership. We all have different stances that we tend to occupy without thinking about it. The growth edge is to expand your range.

I would be remiss if I didn’t credit Bryan Franklin for teaching this concept to me. Thanks Bryan, you are amazing.