Modes of leadership

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David Wilkinson described four modes of leadership in his 2006 book, The Ambiguity Advantage.

Mode vs style[edit]

In situational leadership theory, styles of leadership refer to behaviors that a leader should engage with[clarification needed] in different situations. By comparison, modes are different systems or levels of thinking, logic, and development from which people, and particularly leaders, view the world. Individuals either stay in one mode all of their life or move from one mode to another, in order, as they mature and develop. There is evidence[clarification needed] that different people start naturally in different modes depending on their degree of maturity.

Modes, problem solving, and decision making[edit]

The four modes of leadership reflect differing views of the world and therefore different ways of seeing and solving problems, based on the work of Ronald A. Heifetz:

  1. Technical problems
  2. Cooperative problems
  3. Adaptive problems
  4. Generative problems (added by Wilkinson in 2006)


There are four validated[who?] modes. Each mode describes a levels of ability to deal with increasing degrees of ambiguity and complexity.

  1. Mode One – Technical Leadership. These leaders usually deal with ambiguity by denial or creating their own certainty. They are also more dictatorial and are very risk averse by nature.
  2. Mode Two – Cooperative Leadership. The aim of mode two leaders is to disambiguate uncertainty and to build teams around them to mitigate risk.
  3. Mode Three – Collaborative Leadership. Mode three leaders have a tendency towards consensual methods of leadership. They prefer to work towards aligning team members values and getting agreement. Their approach to ambiguity is for the group to examine it.
  4. Mode Four – Generative Leadership. These leaders use ambiguity to find opportunity. They tend to be inveterate learners and innovators.

Democratic leadership[edit]

Philosopher Eric Thomas Weber suggests a new mode of leadership, which he calls "democratic leadership." This mode of leadership abandons the assumption that "leadership is a special or unique class of persons." Rather, leadership is viewed as a process "and one in which all citizens can engage." [1] Weber combines the radical democracy of John Dewey and the Virtue ethics of Plato to explicate this new way to conceptualize leadership.


  1. ^ Weber, Eric Thomas. 2013. Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue. New York: Lexington Books. p.5.

Further reading[edit]