Action Inquiry

The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership

Action-Logics: Strategies, schemas, ploys, game plans, typical modes of reflecting on experience.


Pre-Managerial Action-Logics

Not yet concerned with generating new systemic value by actions that are timely in the sense of cutting costs through new efficiencies or increasing revenues through new sources of effectiveness.

  • Opportunist

Sometimes a tactful manipulator, who may even use courtesy as a ploy, but who still vies the world as a one-against-all jungle fight.  

    • In the short-term the Opportunist can cut to the chase in an emergency open unstructured sales territories and courageously embark on paths to adventure.  
    • In the longer term the deception and manipulation used to gain short-term wins will have longer-term costs in terms of others’ low trust.  Responsibility for error or misjudgment is often deflected by not accepting responsibility and externalizing blame.

Opportunists appreciates only the financial and unilateral power aspects of organizations, not the structural and spiritual aspects…they do not value helping managers and organizations transform and develop.

    • Managerial Style Characteristics:
      • Short time horizon. Focus on concrete things; often good in physical emergencies; deceptive; manipulative; views rules as loss of freedom; views luck as central; rejects critical feedback; externalizes blame; distrustful; stereotypes; fragile self-control; hostile humor; flouts unilateral power, sexuality; treats “what can get away with” as legitimate; punishment = “eye for an eye”; positive ethic = even trade; 

timely action = ”I win”


  • Diplomat


For the Diplomat the values of the significant others are the highest good.  Some thing or some action has value IF it is fashionable, if it sells, if it influences others, or if high-status persons treat it as valuable.  Behavioral skills—the right moves or word at the right times—are seen as critical for gaining membership, meeting others standards, and observing the correct protocol.

    • In a positive vein, the Diplomat manager can provide qualities of reliability, loyalty, and good will that raise morale and function as organizational glue.  Calling a person a “Diplomat” implies that he or she has the exquisite sense of tact that permits both honest and agreement about the most difficult issues, enhancing the self-esteem and dignity of all parties in the process.
    • But, the implication of calling someone a “Diplomat” is that he or she avoids and smooths over all potential conflict, masking both true feelings and objective data in an effort to maintain harmony at all costs…thus putting off some associates who feel their concerns and suggestions are being dismissed.

Diplomat managers do not seek out negative feedback, about themselves…and is just as unable to criticize others and to questions group…they attempt to deflect…they equate negative feedback with loss of face and loss of status….no goal is as compelling to them as the implicit rule against losing face.

    • Managerial Style Characteristics:
      • Committed to routines; observes protocol; avoids inner and outer conflict; conforms; works to group standard; seeks membership, status; often speaks in favorite phrases, clichés, prefabricated jokes; face-saving essential; loyalty to immediate group; feels shame if violates norm; sin = hurting others; punishment=disapproval; positive ethic = nice, cooperative; timely action=”I’m on time”.


Managerial Action-Logics

These Action-Logics together account for the vast majority of all managers (about 80%)


  • Expert


The Expert perceives he or she has unquestioned technical expertise in their area and believes themselves to be unrivalled in this area.  They are perfectionists, even going so far as to criticize one of their employees about their technique of decorating a Christmas tree.  They are conscientious and have a high sense of obligation to moral standards, and feels this differentiates them from the rest of the group.  They strive to outperform everyone around them and are not against pointing out the faults of others.  They are almost as unforgiving of their own mistakes.  The value decision based on merit as long as they fit within their guidelines.  They prefer to make all the decisions themselves and will sometimes take over a project…making others look bad and placing them in a weaker position within the group.  “My way or no way” is their credo.  Their guide to action becomes a specific craft-logic that yields a single “right answer”.   The Expert no longer identifies with what makes him or her the same as other as the group…the identify more with the unique skills that make him or her stand out from the others in the group.

      • The bright sides of the Expert action-logic include a future-oriented, project organizing and completing approach; hard work for the sheer sake of completing an assignment well; a willingness to receive feedback and learn from acknowledged masters of the raft, though rarely from peers; and a kind of authority resulting from his or her expertise that can lead subordinates to strive for the Expert’s admiration for a job well done.
      • Expert’s shadow sides include not usually being good team players because their critical demand for perfection within the logic of their particular discipline can come to seem like sheer competitiveness to others.  Also, their unwillingness to respond to feedback outside their area of expertise (e.g., to feedback about customer preferences or time-to-market considerations) can make them seem altogether closed to feedback.


  • Managerial Style Characteristics:


        • Interested in problem-solving; seeks causes; critical of self/other based on own craft logic; wants to stand out, be unique; perfectionist; choose efficiency over effectiveness; dogmatic; accepts feedback only from objective acknowledged craft masters; values decisions based on technical merit; humor = practical jokes; sees contingencies, exceptions; positive ethic  = sense of obligation to internally consistent moral order; timely action = fast, efficient.


  • Achiever


The Achiever is passionate about accomplishing goals…their action-logic is wider than the Expert…it focuses not just on how thing work on the inside, but on how to be effective in one’s wider surroundings and on how to help the organization as a whole be effective…they advocate a promotion for themselves from a more technically oriented position to a focus on functions that help the organization carry out its established strategy.  

    • The positive side to the Achiever is that they pay attention to differences between his or her own and other’s points of views and places a value on teamwork and on agreements reached through consensus.  The Achiever recognizes the juggling of different time horizons is not just a bother, but, rather is close to the essence of what managing is.  The Achiever welcomes personal feedback and seeks mutuality in the relationship with co-workers. 
    • The darker side to the Achiever’s way of handing feedback is that the feedback better fit within the Achiever’s already-established scheme of things, or it will be rejected…in other words, the Achiever’s effort to achieve is made only in terms of his or her own pre-established focus….the Achiever is not prepared to question the validity of the action-logic itself and possibly reframe his or her approach in the midst of action.  

The Achiever’s orientation toward subordinates and superiors is complex:

    • The manager at the Achiever stage values and encourages creativity among subordinates and is able to delegate significant responsibilities to them.  At the same time, he or she is able to act mutually with superiors, initially interactions with them, proposing projects, and disagreeing with them.
    • On the other hand, however, the Achiever’s inability to question his or her own limited conception of the organization’s larger goals prevents any serious consideration or acceptance of strategic alternatives that deviate from the current official or tacit regime.
    • Managerial Style Characteristics:
      • Long-term goals; future is vivid, inspiring; welcomes behavioral feedback; timely action = juggling time demands to attain effective results; feels like initiator, not pawn; seeks generalizable reasons for action; seeks mutuality, not hierarchy, in relationships; appreciates complexity, systems; feels guilt if does not meet own standards; blind to own shadow, to the subjectivity behind objectivity; positive ethic = practical day-to-day improvements based on self-chosen (but not self-created) ethical system.

Later Action-Logistics

These Action-Logics are vital to organizations as current and/or future leaders of the organization.  These Action-Logics are likely to be more effective in transforming their organizations.  Where the conventional action-logics appreciate similarity and stability, postconventional action-logics increasingly appreciate differences and participating in ongoing, creative transformation of action-logics.


  • Individualist


There is no stopping point for the Individualist…he or she is in part engaged in a journey that reevaluates all prior life experiences and action-logics.  

The Individualist is a bridge between two worlds.  One is the reconstituted, relatively stable and the hierarchical understandings we grow into as children, as we learn how to function as members of a reconstituted culture.  The other is the emergent, relatively fluid and mutual understandings that highlight the power of responsible adults to lead their children, their subordinates, and their peers in transforming change.

Individualist managers/leaders tend to provide less certainty and firm leadership.  This is in part because the Individualist is aware of the layers upon layer of assumptions and interpretations at work in the current situation.

    • Managerial Style Characteristics:
      • Takes a relativistic perspective; focuses more on both present and historical context; often aware of conflicting emotions; experiences time itself as a fluid, changeable medium, with piercing, unique moments; interested in own and others’ unique self-expression;; seeks independent, creative work; attracted by difference and change more than by similarity and stability; less inclined to judge or evaluate; influences by listening and finding patterns more than by advocacy; may become something of a maverick; starts to notice own shadow (and own negative impact); possible decision paralysis.



  • Strategist


The Strategist action-logic leads timely and transforming change in a mutual way that invites and even sometimes challenges others to join in the leadership process.

A principal feature of the Strategist is self-awareness in action.  He or she not only intuitively recognizes other action-logics and itself as action-logics, they also intuitively recognize all action as either facilitating or inhibiting ongoing transformational change of personal, familial, corporate, or national action-logics.

The Strategist is fascinated by the possibility of a certain kind of timely action that is recognizable as “on time” in the Diplomate’s sense, as efficient in the Expert’s sense, and as effective in the Achiever’s sense, and that can at the same time support one’s own, or another’s or an organization’s or family’s transformation.  A key here is that there is a voluntary quality in a system’s transformation.  Timely action by others can support our own transformation by giving us well-framed feedback, yet at the same time each of us can only increase our freedom and individuality by choosing to digest that feedback and transform.  At the same time, we are more likely to digest such feedback and choose the vulnerable path of transformation if we experience our colleagues act in a way that opens them to possible transformation as well.  Hence, the little-know and rarely practiced power to transform is a mutual, vulnerable power, disciplined by careful, inquiring attention to the timing of each of the interacting persons, groups, organizations or regions.

The Strategist action-logic is likely to sequence the strategic decisions somewhat as follows: first, to negotiate salary and conditions with an apt sense of Opportunistic self-enhancement and self-promotion; second, to adopt a more Diplomatic orientation the first months on the job, learning about the new culture, including its vulnerabilities susceptibilities to leadership; then third, to choose areas to exercise their Expertise to make stand out value-added contributions that lead to promotion; and so on.

Keenly aware of multiple viewpoints, the Strategist is well equipped to maintain institutional and personal connections with subordinates.  He or she will tend to intuitively blend the kind of top and bottom line performance Achiever expects, with the high-quality standard the Expert respects (without the unintended effects of fear and competitiveness that an Expert tends to generate), and still find time to share family stories with the Diplomat.

Unlike the Achiever, th Strategist is open to the possibility of rethinking and even altering his or her viewpoint and purposes in a situation and helping others do the same.  The Strategist consciously seeks and chooses new ways of framing opportunities, dilemmas and conflicts that accommodate the disparities, paradoxes, and fluidity of multiple points of view.

Persons operating from the Strategist action-logic truly lead, whatever their organizational rank or role.  They focus their own and colleagues’ attention on whether mission, strategy, operations and outcome are in conflict with one another and might be aligned more coherently.

The person with the Strategist’s worldview sees purpose in life beyond meeting his or her own needs.  Continuing development of self and others is a primary concern.

    • Managerial Style Characteristics:

Recognizes importance of principle, contract, theory, and judgment-not just rules, customs, and exceptions-for making and maintain good decisions; high value on timely action inquiry, mutuality, and autonomy; attentive to unique market niches, particular historical moments; interweaves short-term goal-orientedness; aware of paradox that what one sees depends on one’s action-logic; creative at conflict resolution; enjoys playing a variety of roles; witty, existential humor; aware of and tempted by the dark side of power.


  • Alchemist


The alchemists seem dedicated to increasing their own and others’ alertness, learning, sense of mutuality, and participation in transformation at multiple social levels.  To this end, they exercise a capacity for intelligent analogy and a relish for unpredictability that welcomes creative inspiration.  For the Alchemist, the activity that we are naming action inquiry (strategies, ploys) is…not an occasional tactic…but, rather, the very stuff of moment-to-moment living.

The Alchemist recognizes that the polarization between good and evil (or differences of opinion or perception) is recreated at each moment by our relatively fixed and one-sided perspectives of the world. 


    • Managerial Style Characteristics:

Continually exercises own attention, seeking feedback on interplay of intuition, thought, action, and effects on outside world; anchors in inclusive present, appreciating light and dark, replication of eternal patterns and emergence of previously implicit; stands in the tension of opposites, seeks to blend them; intentionally participates in the work of historical/spiritual transformation; co-creator of mythical events that reframe situations; near-death experience, disintegration of ego-identity; treats time and events as symbolic, analogical, metaphorical (not merely linear, digital, literal).

Pre-Managerial Action-Logics
Opportunist 3%
Diplomat 10%
Managerial Action-Logics
Expert 45%
Achiever 35%
Later Action-Logistics



Total 100%

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