Decomposing Leadership – The Executive’s Trinity

Stephen Bungay gave a great talk in Lean-Kanban UK 2014 about

The Executive’s Trinity

His thesis, an elaboration of a framework first put forth by John Adair suggests that the skill sets required of an executive can be grouped into three major buckets:

  1. Directing – dealing with concepts (intellectual) – authority, responsibility, and duty of direction
  2. Leading – dealing with people (moral) – getting people to achieve objectives
  3. Managing – dealing with things (physical) – organizing and controlling resources to achieve objectives


Using this framework, he then articulates the gaps that exist in the standard paradigm around the executive skill sets: while “managing” (they way Bungay defines it) often gets discounted, “directing” and “leading” tend to be merged together under “leadership”, even though the skills that are required to do each well are rather different (as one is dealing with concepts while the other is dealing with people) – which often leads to training people in one but not the other.

I know this sounds a bit abstract, so let’s bring it down to earth with a real world example. You know you have a good framework when others are using it without even knowing it.

Ameet Ranadive,  a Product Manager at Twitter, wrote a nice post recently:

What It Means to Be a Product Leader

In it, he decomposes product leadership into three components: Operational Leadership, People Leadership, and Thought Leadership.

Sounds familiar? That’s because it is. Ameet’s narrative matches Stephen’s framework exactly: operational = managing,  people = leading , thought  = directing.



Decomposing Leadership – The Executive’s Trinity

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