Are you a builder or a climber?

2015

Over the years, many types of leaders have been identified. We have charismatic leaders, coach leaders, bureaucratic leaders, Machiavellian leaders, democratic leaders, authoritarian leaders, yadda, yadda, yadda. Like I said, dozens. Who can remember all that?

As one who believes simpler is better, I've boiled down all those styles to two basic types: Builders and Climbers.

Builders do just what their name says: They work to build a solid organization. They invest in their people. They want others to improve their skills. The keep the blueprints in mind and stick to them (parallel: company Vision/Mission statements) so no extraneous projects take over the schedule. Also, they keep an eye on quality because they know whatever they leave behind them will be a direct reflection on them.

Climbers are different. Like Builders, they want to achieve, but they're concerned about padding their own resume, not anyone else's. They seek the limelight, often at their coworkers' expense. In fact, they think nothing of standing on the backs of coworkers if they can get away with it. Climbers are often talented, but they use their talent to further their own career, not to build up the organization or others around them.

Climbers may look at the blueprints, but only to plan their next move. They're daring and aggressive. Their focus is on how they look, not on how the team performs. Also, they don't care what happens to an organization after they leave. It's "not their problem."

Frankly, I think it's safe to say that Climbers are selfish.

But here's an unfortunate problem: Many who are Climbers perceive themselves to be Builders. Even more unfortunate, this misstep in self-awareness is especially common at the senior levels of an organization. Ask people at the C-level if they're Builders or Climbers, and chances are good you'll hear "Builders."

Ask the next level of managers that same question, and they'll tell you they, too, are Builders. But ask that second level of management about the C-level and you'll hear something like "Oh my! Are they ever Climbers!"

The same phenomenon occurs as you inquire down through the management chain. Each level sees themselves as Builders, but those higher on the org chart are usually described as Climbers.

Since the only person we really have control over is our self, might I suggest that each of us stop and look within?

Warning to Climbers: This can be a difficult self-assessment, because Climbers easily rationalize how their efforts help the team. Accordingly, they see themselves as Builders.

Perhaps a few questions can help cut through any fog. Here are ten self-confrontation questions that can give you a clearer view of reality.

These are simple yes or no questions, but be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Your answer to a question might be "yes" 40 percent of the time, but that means you answer it "no" 60 percent of the time:

1. Do you encourage and even help other people work toward the same professional growth activities that you choose for yourself?

2. Do you sacrifice your time in the spotlight to train others to be better at what they do?

3. Do you ask for help on projects - and share the credit when accolades come?

4. Do you truly enjoy giving a boost to someone else's self-esteem?

5. Do you prioritize looking for ways to solve problems over looking for someone to blame?

6. When someone comes to you with a problem, do you listen more than talk?

7. Do you share new knowledge and information with those around you?

8. Do you look for ways to help others be better at what they do?

9. When things go wrong, do you take responsibility as quickly and to the same degree as you take credit when things go right?

10. When you do something for others, is it done without expectation of something in return?

If you can answer "yes" to these questions, chances are you are a natural Builder.

If you can answer yes to most but not all, that's a good sign, but there are still areas for improvement.

But if you answer "no" to most or all of these questions, chances are you're a Climber and you are unaware of the negative impact you have on your company. It's been my experience that some Climbers sincerely want to become Builders and genuinely contribute to a cause bigger then themselves.

If that's you, then revisiting the ten questions listed above is as good a place to start as any.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.