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Leaders only have so much leadership capital to go around; therefore, it is essential that they recognize the best way to prioritize it. While there is some lack of control in how this is handled, good leaders can regulate their reactions to various behaviors and events.

Leaders often get into routines that do not necessarily produce the right results. Leading “inside the box”–the Leadership Matrix box– helps leaders take a more thoughtful approach to leading their teams: They can reduce the burden of leadership while also getting the best out of themselves and their teams. By categorizing behavioral characteristics, leaders can adapt their leadership styles to change those behaviors when necessary.


Because the different types of team members require varying degrees and types of leadership, leaders must be deliberate in their approach to allocating their leadership capital. Smart leaders proactively determine how to invest their leadership capital instead of dedicating it to the most pressing issues. If leaders takes on every crisis themselves, the team members will never learn to solve problems on their own.

Leaders determine where to invest leadership capital by analyzing how much input it takes to obtain the desired output. The Leadership Matrix is essentially a 2×2 grid with four boxes that describes different types of team member behaviors. Output (team member results) is plotted on the left side and input (leadership capital invested) is plotted on the right. The upper-right corner with low input and high output represents the most desired team member classification. Different leadership techniques can be used to move team members toward that ideal.


A simple investment exercise can help leaders decide where their time should be spent. Each team member is evaluated on his or her response to 12 leadership services, which are divided into four categories:

1. Directing–planning, prioritizing, and coordinating.

2. Doing–deciding, motivating, and clearing.

3. Delivering–monitoring, correcting, and repairing.

4. Developing–training, coaching, and promoting.

If a team member takes up too much of a leader’s time for any of these services, he or she is assigned a “yes” in the grid for that particular trait. People who have seven or more “yeses” are considered high input on the leadership matrix, while those with fewer than seven are considered low input.

Leaders should hold team members accountable for the results they achieve, not the activities they perform. To assess members’ output, or the results that contribute to team goals, a leaders should consider four elements:

1. Quantity: Do they do all that is asked of them?

2. Quality: Does their final work meet expectations?

3. Timeliness: Do they meet deadlines?

4. Intangibles: Do they improve team morale? Do they improve relationships with stakeholders?

To assess these elements, leaders should create a grid with a high, medium, and low column for each one of the four categories. All “highs” receive two points, mediums receive one point, and lows receive no points. Overall results should be added to the Leadership Matrix.


After plotting each team member onto the Leadership Matrix, four possible behavioral types can be identified, and within each type are two subcategories:

1. Low Input/High Output: Also called Exemplars, workers in this group are huge drivers of performance and are ideal workers. A leader’s first goal with exemplars is retention. These are the shining stars of the organization and should be kept happy, so a leader has the responsibility to advance their careers and to keep them within the organization. A leader’s second goal is to decrease the amount of time spent on Exemplars. They are so self-sufficient that they should allow leaders to spend their leadership capital elsewhere. Exemplars can be divided into:

*Rising Stars: Those who want to move up the corporate ladder. Leaders must let Rising Stars know that it is okay for them to look for larger roles within the organization; leaders should never try to stifle them. Leaders should also help prepare them for their next roles.

*Domain Masters: Those who are experts in their field and are content to stay where they are. Domain Masters are excellent workers and a pleasure to manage, but are not on the fast track at the moment, perhaps for personal reasons. Leaders should ensure they feel valued in their current roles, and that they always have the resources they need. Leaders may need to occasionally take the heat for Domain Masters during controversial

actions. Good training and mentoring is also essential. Micromanaging Domain Masters is a mistake. While they are easy to lead, they should be allowed some freedom to do what they do best.

2. High Input/High Output: These workers are top performers, but need a lot more assistance from their leaders to achieve. They are therefore known as High-Cost Producers. While very valuable to a team, they can create hassles in the work process. Leading these people requires carefully balancing their somewhat disruptive behavior with their stellar results. With High-Cost Producers, leaders should focus on cost reduction. Leaders need to teach them to solve their own problems and encourage attitudes and actions that keep them from engaging in less efficient behaviors. High-Cost Producers can be categorized into:

*Steamrollers: Those who often destroy team morale. Steamrollers get results, but often do so at the expense of others. They are often controlling and bossy and are not at all accommodating to other team members, among whom they cause a lot of stress. Leaders should manage Steamrollers by reducing friction. A leader should gather feedback from others on a Steamroller’s behavior and address it as part of the normal performance review process. The leader should ensure that the Steamroller understands the importance of active listening and reading social cues, and set clear goals and deadlines for learning these skills. Such behavior changes should be connected to the employee’s goals and objectives.

*Squeaky Wheels: Those who just need a lot of hand-holding. Squeaky Wheels execute tasks with vigor, but they rarely have the initiative to identify those tasks or the ability to accomplish them on their own. They also tend to complain frequently or want to discuss issues more than they need to be discussed. They need constant approval and positive feedback. Because they can take up so much of a leader’s time, they also require set boundaries. Leaders of Squeaky Wheels must learn to “wean” them. Instead of having an open-door policy, a leader should arrange scheduled meetings with this type of person; the Squeaky Wheel should also be required to provide an agenda, so the leader has no surprises and can adequately prepare in advance. These workers should not be given assistance every time they ask; rather, leaders should encourage them to try other solutions on their own before asking for assistance.

3. Low Input/Low Output: Because these workers simply do not pull their weight, they are also known as Passengers. They do not require a lot of assistance, yet they do not perform well either. Their costs outweigh their contributions. They take up valuable space on a team that could be filled by others who are higher producers. A leader’s goals in investing in Passengers are to see an increased amount of input from them, build their skills so they become either High-Cost Producers or Exemplars, and show the rest of the team that expectations are high for everyone. Passengers are generally:

*Stowaways: Those who are just working to get a paycheck. Stowaways do not cause problems, but they also do not add much value. No one thinks of a Stowaway as the “go-to” person for anything. Leaders should manage Stowaways by engaging them. They must clarify their expectations of Stowaways, who should be held accountable for meeting these expectations. Job descriptions should be updated and accurate. To get a Stowaway to produce acceptable results, leaders should increase the time they spend with them and better structure their interactions together. Regular meetings in which the Stowaway does most of the talking by updating the leader on his or her progress are essential. The leader should note what projects and tasks excite Stowaways and ensure they receive more of those. Because Stowaways often go unnoticed, it can be more difficult for a leader to see how their lack of productivity affects the team. But with increased supervision, Stowaways can be converted to Squeaky Wheels (until they gain self-sufficiency) or Domain Masters.

*Joyriders: Those who exert energy only on tasks they want, rather than need, to do. Joyriders are the opposite of Stowaways. They tend to be loud and have a lot of ideas; however, their ideas are never the right fit. They also tend to focus on ideas that have nothing to do with their own responsibilities. Leaders would do well to refocus Joyriders, who are masters at avoiding their own duties. By creating structure, leaders can prevent Joyriders from becoming distracted with special projects and instead focus on their jobs. If this does not work, finding them a new position within the company or even putting them on a formal performance improvement plan may be necessary. Joyriders may always appear to be busy, but must be reined in and refocused when results are not achieved. Challenging them and channeling their energy can move Joyriders to High-Cost Producers.

4. High Input/Low Output: Also known as Detractors, these workers require a high amount of assistance and do not generally perform well. Detractors take up time and cause a lot of stress. They not only underperform, but they also make others’ jobs more difficult. Leaders should spend two to three months improving the performance of the Detractors and ensuring these workers understand the urgency of their situation. Leaders should be honest with them about their performance. Those who do not rapidly improve should be redeployed or even removed from the organization. Detractors can be considered:

*Square Pegs: Those who do not have the skills required. Square Pegs simply do not fit in their current roles. The leader’s approach to a Square Peg should be to fill any skill gaps. Time should be spent on training and coaching Square Pegs to get them up to speed. Progress may be slow, and they may progress into being Squeaky Wheels at first, but many Square Pegs can end up as Exemplars if given the time.

*Slackers: Those who have the skills but not the will. Slackers tend to care more about what others are doing than themselves. The key to leading Slackers is to unlock their motivation. While they are generally smart and capable, they tend to avoid applying themselves. Leaders need to be honest with Slackers about their lack of performance. Sometimes one discussion may be enough to turn them around. If not, a more formal performance improvement plan may be necessary. Leaders should not avoid investing in Slackers. The faster they are dealt with, the better.


After everyone on the team has been placed within the matrix, a leader should go through a five-step process:

  1. Note where each team member falls on the matrix.

  2. Develop a plan for each team member to improve his or her performance.

  3. Discuss the plan with every team member.

  4. Work on the plan.

  5. Measure results and modify as needed.

Leaders should make it a habit to document team-member behaviors; this will make follow-up meetings much easier. Prior progress reviews and feedback documentation should also be taken into consideration.

When building the plan, leaders should start by documenting the highest-priority behaviors to be changed. It is difficult for a person to change many things at once, so prioritizing is key. The plan must be agreed to by the team member. A leader cannot dictate change if the other person is not on board.

Both the leader and the team member are responsible for the actions dictated by the plan. The leader should be prepared to assist in training and coaching the team member. Constructive criticism and positive feedback are equally important during the process. The leader should also regularly step back and look at all behaviors to see if satisfactory progress is being made, if priorities should be changed, or if goals have been met.

Sometimes team members just cannot meet the expectations set out by the Leadership Matrix. In such cases, it may be time to reevaluate whether the employee should remain on the team or with the company.


The faster that leaders can implement the Leadership Matrix, the faster their teams will reach stable and profitable results. When assuming responsibility for a new team, a leader can use the Leadership Matrix to better understand the way the team works. Once the team is stable, the Leadership Matrix can help the leader identify and more deliberately invest in the higher performers.

Leaders who are promoted to take over their existing teams may be in an awkward position. The Leadership Matrix can help leaders to be more objective in deciding where to spend their time and energy.

In a situation where a team is developed as the result of reorganization, leaders are often faced with managing team members they have never worked with before. And as responsibilities change, team members may change from high performers to low performers. The Leadership Matrix can help leaders assess the new team dynamics appropriately.

When facing a crisis, such as a round of layoffs, the Leadership Matrix can be used to determine who stays and who goes. It can also be used to help reassign work once the team is smaller.


The Leadership Matrix does not replace any human resource or talent management processes–rather, it is a tool that can enhance those processes. Incorporating the Leadership Matrix is particularly effective in the following four talent management areas:

1. Hiring: During the hiring process, leaders should ask questions of the candidates that help them determine where in the Leadership Matrix they may fall.

2. Development planning: The Leadership Matrix can help find gaps in team members’ skill levels, which will help determine what areas to focus on when setting developmental objectives.

3. Succession planning: Good succession planning minimizes the time a position remains vacant. It also highlights positions that could become vacant because of performance issues. The Leadership Matrix can identify the Rising Stars that may be ready to advance to these positions should they open up.

4. Career pathing: People want growth opportunities. The Leadership Matrix can help identify where and how team members should be moving within the organization.

Regardless of which process the Leadership Matrix enhances, the more it is used, the more intuitive it will become.

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