These are the four leadership styles in business — and when each one works best

These are the four leadership styles in business — and when each one works best
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  • Robert Jordan and Olivia Wagner, authors of "Right Leader, Right Time," say there are 4 leadership styles: fixers, artists, builders, and strategists.
  • The most effective leader for a company depends on the circumstances there at the time.

Having the right leader is crucial to a company's success. But figuring out just who that is depends on what the business looks like at the time.

Robert Jordan and Olivia Wagner have spent years finding leaders to helm companies at critical junctures as co-founders of interim executive search firm InterimExecs. In their book "Right Leader, Right Time: Discover Your Leadership Style for a Winning Career and Company," they identity four types of business leaders: fixers, artists, builders, and strategists.

To be clear, each leader needs to be able to put on various hats during their tenure. But one leadership personality is generally stronger than others in each person.

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"Any effective leader is a combination of these four styles," said Jordan. "But there tends to be a go-to mode they develop, and more than that, they tend to keep on reinforcing and making that even better over time."

Here are the four types of business leaders Jordan and Wagner identified:


The fixer

When things are turbulent, it's time to bring in the fixer.

"The fixer leader is really drawn to chaos," said Wagner. "If you think of a dysfunctional organization, maybe there's a toxic work environment, revenues declining, employees leaving. This leader has an ability to go into that type of situation and cut through the mess, get the organization back on track."

Once fixers do this, they often move on to another company in crisis.

"They're wired for repeat turnaround situations," said Jordan. "All leaders have to be great at fixing a crisis occasionally or one time, but the fixer is drawn repeatedly."

Jordan expects 2023 will be "the year of the fixer" as organizations face challenges like inflation, persisting supply chain issues, international exposure amid Russia's war on Ukraine, and recession fears.


The artist

Driven to create, artist leaders are most beneficial when a company risks becoming stagnant.

"The artist can invent something from scratch, or in many cases, they're looking with a fresh perspective to reinvent how something has been done," said Wagner. "Any organization, big or small, that is looking for innovation, needs to make sure that they are encouraging the artist leader to step up."

The builder

The builder is well-equipped to lead smaller companies looking to become dominant in the market.

"Every company reaches kind of a ceiling in growth at some point in their journey, and that's where the builder tends to shine," said Wagner. "They step in and put foundation, process, structure in place to enter new markets, to really zero in on the people, the process, the product."

As Jordan adds, "The mantra for the builder is market."


Like the fixer leader, the builder doesn't usually stick around forever, often leaving for another organization once the job is done to start over again.

The strategist

If a leader's been around for a while at a large company, odds are they fit the strategist mold. Unlike the other types of leaders, who often flit from one company to another as a situation suits their leadership style, the strategist is generally more loyal to an organization.

You might also think of them as the conductors, quarterbacks, or pilots of their companies.

"With so many teams, divisions, projects at play, the strategist can really see the whole playing field and bring people together, align the team, typically around both short- and long-term vision," said Wagner. "They can take that vision and turn it into executable plans."

Knowing who is right — and when

To make the best leadership decisions, companies should frequently take stock of where they're at and where they're headed.


"As organizations change, the leadership needs to change," Wagner said. "The wiring needed is going to change along with the growth that takes place."