Refine Collaborative Leadership with Action Logic


Dennis Collins writes that in today’s day in age “conferencing services and collaboration tools are a mix of digital technologies that unify all modes of business communication – voice, visual and virtual. So, managing efficient and effective interactions with colleagues, customers and partners in this integrated environment requires a mix of leadership styles.

But is there a formula for a successful collaborative style? For insight, we turned to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and found an article by researchers David Rooke and William Torbert. Through questioning of thousands of corporate leaders, Rooke and Torbert identified “seven ways of leading” business meetings called “action logics.”

Each action logic is based on how individuals interpret their surroundings and react, especially when they feel challenged on some level. Here’s a digest of the Rooke and Torbert chart of action logics:


Action Logic Characteristic
Opportunist Wins in any way possible.
Diplomat Avoids overt conflict.
Expert Rules by logic an expertise.
Achiever Meets strategic goals.
Individualist Interweaves competing personal and company action logic.
Strategist Generates organizational and personal transformations.
Alchemist Generates social transformations.


Recognizing & Using Action Logic to Better Collaborate

Of course, each of these profiles reflects what Rooke and Torbert refer to as a “dominant way of thinking” that rises to the surface depending on the business situation and the leader’s level of experience. The researchers see their work as an evaluation method, like other psychological tools used in business, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®).

“Knowing your own action logic can be the first step toward developing a more effective leadership style.”

“Knowing your own action logic can be the first step toward developing a more effective leadership style,” Rooke and Torbert wrote in their HBR piece. “If you recognize yourself as an Individualist, for example, you can work, through both formal and informal measures, to develop the strengths and characteristics of a Strategist.”

In fact, Rooke and Torbert believe the “most remarkable – and encouraging” finding from their work is that “leaders can transform from one action logic to another.” In other words, the business people they studied recognized when their “dominant” thinking wasn’t productive and were able to evolve in response to changing conditions. In short, they could assemble an appropriate style to best fit the meeting at hand.

This adaptive ability seems to us an excellent skill to cultivate in a time when any given meeting can be in-person, by phone, online, or some combination of the three – and can occur at any time of day with any number of participants connecting from anywhere in the world.

Ideal Action Logic Combinations for Collaborative Leadership

The Ideal Three

Three-legged stools tend to be the most stable because all three legs rest on the same geometric plane to form a solid foundation. A similar principle applies to collaborative style. For managing today’s varying blend of in-person and virtual settings, you’ll always need the customization skills of the Individualist, the multi-level perspective of the Strategist and the social agility of the Alchemist.

Three by Degree

As we contended in our post “4 Questions for Gauging Collaborative Leadership,” digital technology is enabling what pundits call the “democratization of data” in the workplace. Virtual collaboration allows organizations to decentralize decision-making and increase responsiveness by putting more information at the fingertips of more workers in more places.

The net effect is the role played by any given member of an enterprise can shift from meeting to meeting, day by day. To manage this dynamic, you’ll need to know when to call upon the energy of the Achiever, the focus of the Expert and the discretion of the Diplomat. To know when and to what degree, rely on the wisdom generated by the combination of the “Ideal Three.”

The One to Avoid

Sure, as the old saying goes, there may be a time and a place for everything. But there are few, if any, moments when the egocentric, competitive nature of the Opportunist has a place in a successful collaborative sessions”


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