The 8 Most Common Leadership Interaction Styles

UPDATED: December 10, 2015
PUBLISHED: November 30, 2015

People come to work with both practical needs—to get work done—and personal needs—to be respected and valued. Your team is no different. And you’ve probably noticed that your direct reports bring you a steady stream of issues—many of them involving other people—for you to “fix.”

It’s tempting to jump in and tackle the practical aspects of these issues. It feels more like what a true leader would do. No emotion, just solve the problem! But understand that personal needs go hand-in-hand with practical needs. In this book excerpt from Your First Leadership Job, authors Tacy M. Byham and Richard S. Wellins share the eight most common leadership interaction styles and share five conversation techniques you can use as a leader today.

In leadership, there’s always the practical matter of getting the work done. To do that, you’ll need to make sure everyone understands exactly what’s expected of him or her, which is more difficult than it sounds. To accomplish this consistently, you’ll need a clear road map for the conversations you have with your team about the work it does—one that minimizes miscommunication and unmet expectations, and gets everyone moving toward the common goal. In other words, meet the team’s practical needs. This road map is called the Interaction Guidelines, which include:

  • Open: Ensure that the discussion has a clear purpose and that everyone understands the importance of accomplishing it.
  • Clarify: There are two types of information to collect in this step—facts and figures and issues and concerns. Both are essential to building a complete picture of the situation.
  • Develop: When developing ideas, it is important to ask questions and include others in the process. Most likely leaders will have ideas about what to do, and should share them. However, they should put equal emphasis on seeking others’ ideas.
  • Agree: It is important that leaders and the people involved agree on a plan for following through on the ideas that were developed and for supporting those who will take action.
  • Close: This is the final chance to check that everyone is clear on agreements and next steps and committed to following through.

Development Dimensions International (DDI) has observed tens of thousands of leaders in common interaction situations. Based on our observations and assessment of key interaction behaviors, we have identified a number of common leadership interaction styles. While these styles may be situational, many leaders display a preference toward one or two styles. For each of the common interaction styles there will be inherent strengths and weaknesses. With a better understanding of your style, you will be better equipped to leverage your strengths and manage the potential risks.

Which interaction styles are you?


The Problem Solver feels the need to solve problems on behalf of the other party. She may either jump straight to presenting the solution or clarify the situation simply to help her identify a solution.

Tip: Focus on using the Clarify and Develop stages of the Interaction Guidelines to better understand the perspective and ideas of the other party. Be sure to include these in your assessment of the situation and development of the ideas. Focus on involvement and provide support while being mindful not to remove responsibility.


The Interrogator asks lots of questions (often with an overreliance on closed questions). He typically focuses on drawing out the facts of a situation and less on feelings. The other party can often feel under the spotlight and may be reluctant to share perspectives or ideas.

Tip: Place greater emphasis on the personal needs of the discussion by enhancing and maintaining self-esteem, sharing thoughts and feelings to build trust, and involvement. Focus on the use of more open questions to enhance involvement. Be sure to seek feedback and input on your own ideas.


The Relationship Builder tends to focus more on the relationship and less on the outcomes of a discussion. She will be very sensitive to the feelings of others and may not address the practical needs of the conversation. She may also be less likely to tackle the tough issues. She can often confuse empathy and sympathy. People can leave a conversation feeling “good” but with little resolution or direction.

Tip: Focus on the practical needs of the discussion through the use of the Interaction Guidelines. In the Open stage, be sure to clearly state the purpose and importance of the discussion. In the Agree stage, ensure there are clear actions and check for understanding.


The Straight Talker believes that everyone wants things out on the table and handled directly. He is less interested in the personal needs and will quickly dismiss any emotional responses or references. He believes an open and “brutally” honest approach is the best. He relies on presenting facts and business rationale to gain support for a view or idea.

Tip: Place emphasis on the use of empathy and self-esteem. Leaders should recognize that others may not respond to a direct approach and therefore may need to Clarify both the facts and feelings associated with an issue. Consider using these essential skills with one-on-one conversations for potentially sensitive issues before jumping into an open group discussion.


The Skeptic, whether consciously or subconsciously, appears to question the intentions of the other party. She tends to favor the tried and tested and will be less open to exploring creative or alternative approaches. The skeptic tends to use a lot of why questions. To the other party she can often appear challenging, overly pessimistic and lacking receptivity to new ideas.

Tip: Involve the other person more through the use of open questions. Focus on maintaining the other party’s self-esteem in response to ideas and opinions offered and be open to developing ideas collaboratively.


The Motivator emphasizes the positive and opportunities. While recipients may feel motivated and engaged, they often leave discussions lacking clarity on actions and next steps. Furthermore, perspectives and ideas are not openly questioned or challenged. The positive nature of the conversation may mask inherent skill and confidence gaps.

Tip: Focus on the Clarify and Agree stages of the Interaction Guidelines. The Clarify stage will help to draw out all perspectives (both positive and negative). The Agree stage will ensure clarity and accountability for next steps. Involve the other party, provide support as needed, and check for understanding throughout.


The Detached avoids getting emotionally involved in discussions. While he remains very neutral, he can often appear distracted or even disengaged. Furthermore, he can be very difficult to read. As a result, others may misinterpret his intentions or actions and come to the conclusion that he doesn’t seem to care.

Tip: Listen for, acknowledge and respond to the emotions of the other person through the use of Empathy. Use Self-Esteem statements to show you value the other person’s perspective and ideas. Share to help the other person understand your own perspective. Collaboratively Develop solutions and check for agreement on actions and next steps in the Agree stage.


The Assenter often relies on the other party to take the lead in conversations. While she can be seen as agreeable and open to other perspectives, she often lacks self-confidence and may not be willing to share her own perspective or ideas. In the end she may simply embrace the other person’s point of view. As a result, she will often miss the opportunity to express her own point of view, avoid the tough issues and leave issues unresolved.

Tip: Be clear on the purpose and importance of the meeting during the Open stage. During the Clarify and Develop stages, share your own perspective and use the Share Key Principle to help others understand your perspective. Try not to overuse Involvement and be sure to close the discussion with clear actions and outcomes.


Adapted from Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, by Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D., CEO and Richard S. Wellins, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Development Dimensions International (DDI). Wiley, 2015.

Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D., is the CEO of Development Dimensions International (DDI). An expert in unique solutions to address talent management challenges, Tacy brings her experiences in assessment centers, 360s, development planning and customized leadership solutions to maximize growth for individuals across the leadership pipeline. Tacy is an energetic and thought-provoking presenter at industry conferences and events including ATD (formerly ASTD) International Conference and Exposition, and numerous Conference Board events. Her keynote speeches have included topics such as innovation, mid-level leadership, mentoring and the benefits of gender diversity. Her new book, Your First Leadership Job, coauthored with Rich Wellins, was released in 2015 to excellent reviews.