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The Leadership Style Circumplex

Learn about the Leadership Style Circumplex and how to use it to assess and improve leadership within your organization.

What is the Leadership Style Cirumplex?

The Leadership Style Circumplex is a psychological model used to map interpersonal and leadership characteristics into eight distinct interpersonal styles based on two primary dimensions that capture the fundamental dimensions of interpersonal behaviour - agency and communion. Initially developed in the 1950s and referred to as the Interpersonal Circumplex, it has been continuously refined and expanded upon over decades by personality and social psychologists.

The Circumplex model is based on two primary dimensions that capture the fundamental dimensions of interpersonal behavior:

  • Agency (Dominance): This dimension reflects the degree of assertiveness, control, and dominance that an individual displays in social interactions. High levels of agency indicate assertive and dominant behavior, while low levels indicate more submissive or passive behavior.

  • Communion (Affiliation): This dimension represents the level of warmth, friendliness, and affiliation exhibited in interpersonal interactions. High levels of communion reflect warm and friendly behavior, while low levels suggest more distant or cold behavior.

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The Circumplex model combines these two dimensions to create a circular representation of interpersonal behavior. The two dimensions form the X and Y axes of the circle, and different combinations of agency and communion represent specific interpersonal styles or patterns.

You can read Receptiviti's complete Leadership Style Circumplex documentation here.

The Dimensions of the Leadership Style Cirumplex 

​​The Circumplex presents communal and agentic dimensions as independent variables, in a radial chart, with sub-facets representing different leadership styles based on the varying levels to which an individual manifests combinations of communal and agentic qualities. Following are descriptions of each type of leader, and the pros and cons associated with each:

Authoritative leaders demonstrate moderate-to-high agentic and low communal styles. They are assertive and confident in their decision-making, and may come across as more aloof or less approachable than leaders with a more communal focus. Some authoritative leaders are seen as commanding. They may work to establish and maintain workplace hierarchies and can be perceived as cold.
 
Directive leaders demonstrate high agentic and moderate-to-low communal styles. These are individuals who are decisive and take charge, but also, at times, take into account the perspectives and input of others. Capable of balancing the needs of others while driving business results, they also have a bias toward action and can risk coming across as ruthless. These may be naturally highly agentic individuals who push themselves to be warmer and more relatable. 
 
Inspirational leaders demonstrate high agentic and moderate-to-high communal styles. These are individuals who reflect a combination or balance of the two traits and can inspire and motivate others to achieve agentic goals while also showing empathy and concern for their wellbeing. They know that strong relationships are required for a group to take decisive action together but also recognize that achievements are necessary for the group’s relationships and wellbeing.
 
Coaching leaders demonstrate moderate-to-high agentic and high communal styles. They balance the two traits while emphasizing getting along and understanding each other’s perspectives. They may excel in guiding and supporting others in achieving their goals. They strike a balance between focusing on results and people, prioritizing relationships even in cases where it may be tempting to focus solely on getting ahead.
 
Methodical leaders demonstrate low communal and moderate-to-low agentic styles. They are more focused on actions and tasks than they are on people and relationships. They may care about the work itself more than worldly accomplishments and tend to find it satisfying to check items off the to-do list. By leveraging their preference for tasks, methodical leaders can be effective at driving results but could benefit from remembering that they may accomplish more with the buy-in from their team.
 
Laissez-faire leaders demonstrate moderate-to-low communal and low agentic styles. They are unobtrusive, laid-back leaders who take a hands-off approach to strengthening social relationships and avoid directly making bold changes. They are more likely to be happy with the status quo, maintaining their group's existing strengths and keeping their group on a steady, reliable course. They can be effective, low-stress leaders, especially when in charge of expert team members who need little direct oversight. However, they may risk coming across as distant or indecisive.
 
Democratic leaders demonstrate moderate-to-high communal and low agentic styles. They are highly-people focused leaders and who do well encouraging collaboration and building strong teams. They are focused on relationships and may compromise assertiveness in order to get along with team members. At times, their focus on collaboration over competition may make it difficult for them to deal with problematic team members or difficult competitors.
 
Participative leaders demonstrate high communal and moderate-to-low agentic styles. They are people-focused and guide teams to results in a participatory, collaborative way. They may shy away from the spotlight and may be seen as more supporting contributors than dominant leaders. Although this style will thrive in flat organizational structures, they may risk coming across as too indecisive or easygoing in situations where action or ruthlessness are expected.

Successful balance of communal and agentic leadership styles involves the ability to exhibit both nurturing and supportive qualities, as well as assertiveness and drive towards achieving goals. Successful communal-agentic integration is associated with more effective leadership, as it allows leaders to build positive relationships, foster collaboration, and drive results simultaneously.
 
You can read Receptiviti's complete Leadership Style Cirumplex documentation here.

History of the Leadership Style Circumplex

Initially named the Leary Circumplex or Leary Circle, this psychological model is characterized as "a two-dimensional representation of personality organized around two major axes."

During the 20th century, personality psychologists explored how to create comprehensive taxonomies to illuminate fundamental human traits. In 1957, the Leary Circumplex was introduced, composed of a circular continuum of personality emerging from the intersection of two primary axes: Power and Love. The power axis encompasses dominance and submission, while the love axis comprises love and hate.

The idea emerged that all other facets of personality could be conceptualized as combinations of these two axes. For example, an individual exhibiting stubbornness and inflexibility in interpersonal relationships might be positioned on the arc between dominance and love. Conversely, someone displaying passive-aggressive tendencies could be best described on the arc between submission and hate. The central premise of the Circumplex is that each human trait can be graphed as a vector coordinate within this circular arrangement.

 

Moreover, the Circumplex functions as a depiction of healthy psychological adjustment, with the theoretically most well-adjusted person located precisely at the center of the Circumplex, at the intersection of the two axes. Individuals exhibiting extreme personality traits would be located on the circumference of the circle.

 

The Circumplex offers three primary benefits as a classification system: it offers a graphical representation of interpersonal traits within a geometric circle, allows for comparing different traits within the system, and offers a scale of healthy and unhealthy expressions of each trait.

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