8 Leadership Challenges You Can Solve With the Leadership Matrix

The phrase “think outside the box” makes me physically ill. It’s trite and isn’t at all practical. But inside the box? That’s where great leaders go to get more out of their teams.

Mike Figliuolo

My friend and fellow thoughtLEADERS instructor Victor Prince hoodwinked me into co-authoring a new book: Lead Inside the Box – How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results. The premise is you need to evaluate the amount of output you get from a team member and compare that to the amount of time and energy you have to invest in them to get it. We call that second piece “leadership capital.”

Leadership capital is a scarce resource. Time is finite. Energy dissipates. Leaders of entrepreneurial ventures feel this pinch even more pointedly given the frenetic pace of their businesses. The only way to get more effective is to be more efficient as a leader. To do so, you have to compare how much you’re putting into your people relative to how much you’re getting out of them.

The result of those comparisons is the Leadership Matrix (or “the box” for short). Within that matrix, we define behavioral archetypes from Slackers to Rising Stars and everything in between. The real insight lies in practical advice on how to lead those folks to improve their performance.

By understanding the behaviors your team members will demonstrate and how you invest (or don’t invest) your time and effort into them, you’ll get a clearer picture of the eight archetypical behaviors that can show up in the box. With that understanding, you can begin leading differently, which will improve your performance. Those improvements show up not only in team member results, but also in the amount of time and energy you’re spending on leading the members of your team.

Those archetypes are as follows:


Exemplars can be categorized based upon their career aspirations. Some Exemplars want their great performance to provide them a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities. These are the “Rising Stars.” Other Exemplars are content remaining in their current roles. They’re experts and they’re satisfied with delivering outstanding results without much interference from their boss. These individuals are the “Domain Masters.”

Leading Exemplars well means relinquishing control and letting them do their job with less supervision from you. Give them the room to run – their performance has earned them that freedom.

Detractors are defined by the root cause of their performance issues. Some don’t have the skills they need to do their job. These individuals are the “Square Pegs.” We call Detractors who have the skills to do the job but they lack the will to do it the “Slackers.”

You’ll need to invest more leadership capital in your Detractors initially. But as their performance improves, you should be able to pull back and invest your time and energy elsewhere.

High Cost Producers break into subtypes based on the kinds of costs they incur. Some get results but at the high cost of damaging team morale and destroying the goodwill you and your team have accrued with others. These individuals are the “Steamrollers.” High Cost Producers who get results but require an inordinate amount of hand-holding from their leader to get them done are the “Squeaky Wheels.”

Try coaching your High Cost Producers and weaning them from always coming to you for support. By getting them to be more self-sufficient, you’ll save time and energy.

Passenger subtypes are determined by the kind of output they produce. Some only work to get their paycheck. They expend the bare minimum amount of effort required to keep getting paid. These are the behaviors of your “Stowaways.” Other Passengers exert a great deal of energy but they focus on tasks they want to do, not tasks you need them to do. We refer to Passengers behaving this way as “Joyriders.”

Passengers require more leadership capital investment from you. You need to improve their performance which means you have to spend more time supervising these folks until you see better results from them.

By assessing your team in terms of how much you have to invest in them versus the results you get, you can categorize your team member’s behavior and get a better perspective on how to lead them. The better you understand how much leadership capital you’re investing in someone and the results you’re getting from those investments, the more effectively you’ll be able to lead them.