Friday, July 1, 2011

Stoats, Skunks and Squirrels - leadership styles for etymologists

Leadership style is critical in defining how effective you are at influencing your colleagues and thus how well you effect change and development within an organization. All leaders have a mix-and-match of various traits, but there are 3 principal leadership styles outlined below that all of us will recognize in ourselves and others who influence us.

The Stoat

The Stoat is probably the original type of management style ever employed. Just as the Stoat in real life is a solitary, but lean and effective hunter, the Stoat makes his/her own simple and direct decisions. Employees and team members are directed to follow. The Stoat commands obediency and is a good leadership style for tougher industries and working environments.

This isn’t to say that the Stoat would fail to lead in environments with less physical risk, such as creative industries. However, the more that employees are left to do imaginative or creative tasks largely on their own, the less likely the Stoat would be to really bring out the best in people.


Skunks are the complete opposite to Stoats, and so you might expect to find these types of leaders in completely different industries. As stated, Stoats aren't as effective in creative industries, but Skunks aren't just common in creative industries, they're also a dime a dozen in service industries and the professional sector.

I’m talking about lawyers, doctors, accountants, surveyors, architects and teachers. They have spent upwards of 3 years in a training contract and have emerged into either a well paid or respected job. Just as Skunks in real life like to be left alone and are easily unpleasant when disturbed or harassed, Skunk leaders expect a certain degree of ‘laissez faire’ in the way they work. They expect to be entrusted with plenty of responsibility and be left to discharge their professional duties with minimal supervision and oversight.


The Squirrel's style is probably the most popular leadership style in the 21st century management arena. It’s a style that remains popular due to the positive reaction employees have towards it. Squirrels in real life have a tendency to visit many nut trees and store nuts in many places for future use. If you're a Squirrel type of leader, you tend to consult your employees and teams over decisions that will effect them. Even if you take decisions that others disagree with, you'll have no problem returning to others' opinions at a later date and changing tack. 

However, be warned. The Squirrel isn’t perfect in every occasion. Your tendency to consult and store information can mean that decisions take much longer to take. When one only has to consult oneself, a decision can be made almost instantaneously. In high pressure situations the Squirrel is less adept at leading.

So, what type of leader are you?

If you fit the style of any other type of Mustelidae, Caniformia or Eutheria, then please let me know!

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