Guest Post: 8 Leadership Challenges You Can Solve With the Leadership Matrix

20150419 Lead Inside the Box Book Cover20150419 Headshot - Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo and his Thoughtleaders blog has been a blogging hero of mine for a while. One of the highlights of my blogging career took place last year when I wrote a guest column in his blog. And now, I’m happy to say, Mike’s written a guest post on my site. Mike recently co-authored Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (you can get your copy by clicking here). You can learn more about Mike and the book at the end of the post. Here’s Mike:

The phrase “think outside the box” makes me physically ill.  It’s trite and isn’t at all practical.  But inside the box?  That’s where great leaders go to get more out of their teams.  You can too with a simple assessment tool that provides insights as to how to most effectively lead the unique members of your team.

Preface: I’m an idiot.  My friend and fellow thoughtLEADERS instructor Victor Prince hoodwinked me into co-authoring a new book: Lead Inside the Box – How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results.  The premise is you need to evaluate the amount of output you get from a team member and compare that to the amount of time and energy you have to invest in them to get it.  We call that second piece “leadership capital.”

The result of those comparisons is the Leadership Matrix (or “the box” for short).  Within that matrix, we define behavioral archetypes from Slackers to Rising Stars and everything in between.  The real insight lies in practical advice on how to lead those folks to improve their performance.  By understanding the behaviors your team members will demonstrate and how you invest (or don’t invest) your time and effort into them, you’ll get a clearer picture of the 8 archetypical behaviors that can show up in the box.  With that understanding, you can begin leading differently which will improve your performance.  Those archetypes are as follows:

Exemplars can be categorized based upon their career aspirations. Some Exemplars want their great performance to provide them a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities. These are the “Rising Stars.” Other Exemplars are content remaining in their current roles. They’re experts and they’re satisfied with delivering outstanding results without much interference from their boss. These individuals are the “Domain Masters.”

Detractors are defined by the root cause of their performance issues. Some don’t have the skills they need to do their job. These individuals are the “Square Pegs.” We call Detractors who have the skills to do the job but they lack the will to do it the “Slackers.”

High Cost Producers break into subtypes based on the kinds of costs they incur. Some get results but at the high cost of damaging team morale and destroying the goodwill you and your team have accrued with others. These individuals are the “Steamrollers.” High Cost Producers who get results but require an inordinate amount of hand-holding from their leader to get them done are the “Squeaky Wheels.”

Passenger subtypes are determined by the kind of output they produce. Some only work to get their paycheck. They expend the bare minimum amount of effort required to keep getting paid. These are the behaviors of your “Stowaways.” Other Passengers exert a great deal of energy but they focus on tasks they want to do, not tasks you need them to do. We refer to Passengers behaving this way as “Joyriders.”

To make it easy for you to evaluate your team, we built an easy (and slick!) assessment online.  You can use it to categorize your team member’s behavior and get practical advice on how to lead them. The better you understand how much leadership capital you’re investing in someone and the results you’re getting from those investments, the more effectively you’ll be able to lead them.

– Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. An Honor Graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.


  1. Wow, a simple system for categorising people and working out how to handle them? Everyone fits in a set matrix? I can see a few isues with such a simplistic approach. First, humans tend to be rather more complex than the matrix implies. No-one is a perfect fit into any “category” and therefore boxing them in means ignoring a whole bunch of other factors that could be contributing to the behaviour. Second, I have yet to meet the perfect human being, and so the “Leader” will have his/her own foibles and prejudices. I am concerned that your matrix has the effect of many hollywood movies, of creating two-dimensional characters. The matrix sounds very monochromatic – black white and shades of grey. Life is rather more colourful, with millions of variations. I have enjoyed working with a very small number of true Leaders over my 60+ years, and they tended not to categorise people at all. They usually managed to communicate vision mission and goals, and got on with leading the way.

  2. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Paul. We agree that every person is unique and requires to be led as an individual. We probably say so dozens of times in the book as well as in the decades of leading and teaching we’ve done. This method isn’t about “putting someone in a box” and looking at them two dimensionally. It’s about recognizing a behavior pattern that the leader and the led are demonstrating and then beginning to have the right conversations to improve that unique situation. All the matrix is designed to do is get leaders out of a “one size fits all” approach and *start* seeing situations as having many more variables as you so rightly point out. We’ve written it with far less experienced leaders than yourself in mind to help them reach the point of enlightenment you have gotten to. That’s where we want them to aspire to be. We’re giving them the first steps down that path.

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