Is your leadership style more like Elon Musk, Herb Kelleher or Sam Walton?

Leadership is one of the most studied and written topics in the business world. But I recently came exciting new concept that adds an interesting new wrinkle to the subject. In short: how would you describe your leadership style? What if I changed the question and asked you instead: Do you lead with your head, heart or hands?

Leading with your head

People who lead with their head are usually very intellectual and strategic. These people are good at simplifying complexity and generating ideas and answers that anyone can understand. Lead leaders also lead with compelling visions that they can create using their mental muscles.

On the other hand, lead leaders may not always be the best doers or even the most compassionate people. They may also miss follow-up to ensure their ideas are implemented and acted upon. But without a lead leader, many organizations can struggle to see the wood for the trees the way the old saw goes.

A contemporary example of a chief executive could be Elon Musk. He is brilliant and visionary – he has helped build leading companies in the fields of finance, electric vehicles and aerospace. He almost single-handedly changed the way we think about our planet — and the potential to visit others like Mars. But he’s also not someone who’s in the weeds of operations or someone who’s known as a “people person.”

Lead with your heart

Those of us who lead with our hearts have everything to do with our people. They genuinely enjoy and care about the people they work with. These are the kinds of leaders who reap tremendous loyalty from the people who work for them. They are also highly effective at motivating and engaging their teams to pursue visionary goals that they may not have created on their own. But their ability to build cohesion within a team is a superpower.

The late Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, comes to mind as a heart leader. While he was undoubtedly a sharp intellectual with an eye for operations, his secret sauce was that he genuinely cared about people with a passion. As a result, he built a culture based on having fun and influencing the way the airline continues to operate to this day.

Leading with your hands

People who lead with their hands are the people who like to get things done. These are the kind of people who take matters into their own hands and make sure the trains run on time. This leader excels in cultures where results are valued and valued. They are the people who come alive at the opportunity to dig into the details, get their hands dirty and make sure everyone is accountable for the results.

One of the best examples of a hands-on leader that comes to mind is Sam Walton, the late founder of Walmart. The stories of Sam’s attention to detail are epic. He knew the financial performance of each store. He also knew the name of everyone who worked for Walmart. Sam was also known for unloading trucks and stocking shelves, a fast pace that even his best employees struggled to keep up with. Sam led through accountability and results – and as a result, he built one of the most successful companies of all time.

What is your style?

So, when you think about your leadership style, which one resonates the most: Elon Musk, Herb Kelleher, or Sam Walton? Perhaps just as important: how do you think your leadership style fits the needs of your organization? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but it can shed some light on any opportunities or challenges you may face as you tackle the future.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.