Strategic Insights to Inspire your Journey

Do We Need The ‘Barbarian Leader’?

A controversial label for a leadership change, to be sure, but allow me to explain.

Since our recent election, our country appears divided, and the press is a flurry of speculation on what kind of changes are ahead.  In reviewing the press reports, I am struck by the similarity in the way different stakeholder groups view the Trump presidency when compared with my strategy discussions with client stakeholder groups when they lack a common view of the status quo.

As a seasoned strategist, I know the immense power in openly evaluating views of the status quo as the first step in crafting great strategic plans.  One key assessment we use is based on the organizational lifecycle.  This assessment is critical to do early in the strategy development process because different stages of the lifecycle set up natural strategic alternatives and can dictate specific leadership styles to address leadership needs of each stage.

For example, the early stage of Start Up requires the vision and flexibility of an entrepreneur leader that is adept at innovative thinking to keep pace with opportunities.  Later, the Prime stage thrives with an administrator leadership persona where management of processes and efficiency dominate management discussions. In the Decline stage, a turnaround is needed, and the uncompromising leadership style often referred to as “The Barbarian Leader.” An apt title for the Decline stage, since this stage is characterized by the need for hard decisions, to cut and sell off parts of the current business model and realign around a smaller core or a move to a whole new strategy to fuel a rebirth.

It was with this context that I heard something different in a report on PRI (see Washington Post article). In this report from Japan, I heard something new.  There are some residents in Okinawa hopeful for the Trump presidency; hopeful because there might be a chance of a long desired change to the status quo for their country.  In this case, closing U.S. bases in Okinawa and finally closing their chapter on WWII.

Initially, this puzzled me. Why would a Trump Presidency make them optimistic about this? Then, like a flash, the light bulb snapped on. Of course, the barbarian leader!

The barbarian leader examines long-held assumptions without giving weight to the historical rationale. WWII had ended the year before Donald Trump was born. How relevant will the issues of 70 years ago be to his administration?  Ah Ha!  I see why they are optimistic.

Immediately, it made me think about the voices of my compatriots who viewed Mr. Trump as the perfect leader because, in their view, our country is in deep decline in need of desperate measures to cut poor performing policies and invest in what they viewed as core.  They voted for a “barbarian” type leader to enact the tough changes they perceive to be necessary.

For others, the barbarian leader is scary and disorienting.  Those in this camp, have a less dire assessment of our country.  Although possibly deeply frustrated with progress, many, feel our country is, generally, pointed in the right direction.  To this group a leader moving things along the same trajectory would be preferred over a radical shift.

This disconnect in the assessment of status quo has led not only to the deep split in how we voted but worse, lingering (and possibly deepening) emotions that are dividing us after the election. I wonder if the campaigning had been able to facilitate deep discussions of our differing assessment, rather than using inflammatory tweets, leaking of possible confidential emails from a private server, etc. could we now have greater alignment behind Mr. Trump’s leadership?

This same type of disconnect can occur when organizations make decisions on their future direction without the first step of evaluating views of the status quo.  When this important step is missed you will see a management team splinter, staff become cynical, and political games waste precious time and company resources.

Is your company divided? Does your leadership fit the profile where your company is at on the organizational lifecycle? If not, open a dialogue to assess the status quo.   In my book, Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking, I provide an exercise on Organizational Evolution for teams to share their views as part of a Strategic Assessment. When used, this exercise can reveal deep divides in the perspectives held within a group.  It discloses beliefs that are the roots of these different views and creates a common language for priority setting so that they can be addressed in planning. It doesn’t change views, it helps de-personalize passionate discussions and can create unity in supporting a decision that otherwise would have split a team apart.

Get the help you need to engage confidently in these discussions at

Post Tags: Leadership Leadership Change

CECILIA LYNCH, Author, Founder and Chief Strategist


As the leading authority on strategic thinking, Cecilia Lynch is the founder and chief strategist at Focused Momentum® and creator of Strategy Class®. Her first book, “Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking” a groundbreaking work that demystifies the overwhelming task of beginning strategy development.  READ MORE...

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