The 4 Leadership Zones – Are Your Leaders Contributing to or Detracting From the Organisation’s Strength?

Remember the organisational strength model below from my last post in which I discussed the need for the ‘Inspired Leadership’ pillar - the central pillar - to be the most prominent contributor to organisational strength? 

This led to a discussion of the ‘4 Leadership Zones’ and the presentation of the next model. Were you a little curious to know what ‘Leadership Label’ the two question marks are referring to?


While you may be pleased your self assessment didn’t rate your leadership style as ‘dysfunctional’, you may know colleagues whose traits you would assess as being at this level. Perhaps you might even rate the organisation’s overall leadership performance as this too?

Dysfunctional leadership is often a result of the internal (not external) environment. And in truth, organisational performance is all about the environment that leaders create. The environment shapes behaviour and the behaviour shapes results. Dysfunctional leaders believe they are not able to change the culture. They are very quick to tell others there are problems in the team but take no responsibility for being able to address or resolve those problems.

The moment one of these leaders does recognise that it’s not a good enough excuse to accept that staff are the problem (they’re not skilled enough, they have a poor attitude, there are too many personality clashes etc), they can be ‘released’ from that constraining view with the realisation they CAN AND DO have an impact on the environment. With that minimal level of insight, and via coaching, learning and development comes a level of empowerment that assists transition into the orange zone.

While possessing a leadership style not characterised as ‘dysfunctional’ can be somewhat celebrated, leaders in this zone can feel a little agitated. They know there are still workplace issues they are avoiding. Anything more than getting the normal day to day operational tasks completed can be pushed to the background (including resolving employee conflicts and performance issues). These leaders look like, feel like and are ‘Treading Water’.

They are just holding it together and are doing this by either ‘looking busy’, trying to be everyone’s friend or both. These leaders when questioned by higher management will admit there are issues and will agree to address them. However without skill development, a detailed action plan and being held to account for progress against the plan - not much changes. 

In the ‘Treading Water’ zone, Managers want to change things but they just don’t know how. They don’t seem to have the energy or skills to change the way they are leading and managing. Leaders in this zone can feel overwhelmed.  Staff can see the Manager has good intentions and they are expectant of improvements to come. Over time, staff feel let down. They stop expecting more and stop giving more.

Staff working with both Dysfunctional and Treading Water type leaders have low levels of engagement. A 2017 Gallup report noted companies of disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In organisations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.

If your organisation believes profit is the best indicator of success, then the  reality will be that most of the leaders around you are operating in either the dysfunctional or treading water zones. When an individual leader or the organisation’s most senior leaders decide this is not good enough, contact Workplace Harmony Solutions to discuss how we can support leaders individually and collectively to ‘move on up’ toward the blue zone, to be ‘Inspiring’. 

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.