Which Kind of Leader Are You: Zero to One or A to B?

by May 17, 2019Leadership

It’s a Critical Question for Your Success and Happiness

One of the things most people don’t think about when it comes to assessing their leadership style is what kind of organization they might best perform in and what they most enjoy. That can be an especially valuable question to ask if you are contemplating a career move or you’ve sold a business and are now considering what to do next.  

What I’ve found is that there are two fundamental kinds of leaders: The Zero-to-One leader and the A-to-B leader. It’s rare to find anyone who crosses into both categories. And the more honest you are about what your strengths are, the better chance you have of landing with an organization that can leverage your skills and frankly, have way more fun.  

Zero to One 

A Zero to One leader is your typical entrepreneur. They thrive at starting things from a clean sheet of paper. They don’t have revenue or employees when they get started. They find the creative creation process exciting and they thrive on spending intense hours turning their vision into a reality. In other words, they excel at taking the business from Zero to One. This is a rare and valuable skill and it seems to be innate – some of us have it and some don’t.

The downside of these leaders is that they get bored quickly. Once they’ve built the company up from nothing, they tend to lose the juice they had in the early days. The truth is they aren’t very good at scaling the company and performing the kinds of managerial and executive duties the CEO of a larger company requires. This is what happens when entrepreneurial leaders bring in private equity investors and because they can’t scale the business because it involves lots of boring stuff they don’t enjoy and find themselves out of a job. 

However, Zero-to-One leaders can often thrive as serial entrepreneurs. They start a business and then sell it–and then start all over again. It’s a win-win scenario for them as they are constantly in that creative mode and then can take their chips off the table periodically when it’s time to start over again. 

 A to B Leaders 

In contrast to the Zero to One leader, the A to B leader is someone who can take on an existing business and grow it. For what it’s worth, I consider myself to be this kind of leader. A leader like this might take a $5 million to $10 million company and scale it to $40 million or even $100 million–while increasing profitability along the way. They take the company from point A to point B. They love to scale businesses, enhance systems and processes, hold the team accountable with results, upgrading the vision and the talent continuously. 

This is an extremely valuable skill set to have. But if you ask an A to B leader to start a business from scratch, their eyes might bug out in terror. These leaders also tend to struggle in the early days of a business. While they might think they are entrepreneurial, the truth is that they are used to working at a different scale where they might come from a big business where hundreds of people reported to them. Generally, they just aren’t the right leader to get a small business off the ground. 

That’s why they are considered more like hired guns than entrepreneurs. These are the leaders the private equity people bring in to replace the entrepreneurial founder of the business. 

It’s also an area for some caution as you grow your team. I’ve written before about not getting dazzled by the resume and this is exactly one of the issues. The executive with great experience and success in a larger firm might not be able to scale their skills into your relatively smaller business. 

It’s important to remember that neither kind of leader is better than the other: they’re just better at running different kinds of companies. As I said earlier, it’s rare to find leaders who can do both: go from small to big and from big to small. 

So, if you’re considering hiring a leader for your business, or making a leap into a new company, be honest about what your strengths are and what kind of company can best take advantage of your strengths. Are you 0 to 1 or A to B? If you know the answer to that question, you’ll be a better, and happier, leader as a result.