From alpha to beta and back again – 21st century leadership

By Elisabeth Goodman, 14th September 2020

Expanding established leadership models

I referenced Dr Jeffrey Hull’s FIERCE model of leadership in an earlier blog (Flexing your leadership style for greater inclusivity, inspiration and impact) after hearing him speak at a conference in June.

Jeffrey Hull’s (2019) F.I.E.R.C.E. leadership model – illustration by Elisabeth Goodman

I have since read Hull’s book (2019), and found that it both expands and adds depth to other well referenced models for leadership such as:

  • Hersey and Blanchard’s (2013) Situational Leadership. This guides a leader through directive, coaching, supportive and delegating behaviours depending on the skills and motivation of those they are working with.
  • Daniel Goleman’s (2000) six leadership styles (which I referenced in Keeping hold of your authenticity as a leader, manager and coach). These include the coercive and pace-setting styles which can be described as short-term directive approaches for immediate results, and the authoritative (visionary), affiliative, democratic and coaching styles which are longer-term approaches.

Hull (2019) contrasts and compares alpha and beta styles of leadership, and suggests that both have a role to play in today’s workplace.

Jeffrey Hull’s (2019) alpha and beta leadership styles – interpreted and illustrated by Elisabeth Goodman
  • Alpha leadership, is the more traditional style of directive leadership. It can provide valuable structure and drive to ensure productivity and delivery of results.
  • Beta leadership reflects the more collaborative nature of the modern workplace, where everyone’s potential is able to come through, there is a mind-set of continuous growth and creativity can flourish.

These two styles have strong echoes in Hamel and Zanini (2020) recently published “Humanocracy”. It is a ‘call to arms’ to transition from old bureaucratic models: “How do we get human beings to better serve the organisation?” to a ‘humanocracy’ that “elicits and merits the best that human beings can give”.

It is certainly a theme that I recognise working as I do with managers and leaders in the dynamic world of start-up, small and medium Life Science / Biotech organisations.

The skill, for a leader, is to understand your default leadership style and use it effectively, whilst also being able to flex and effectively use features of the opposite style.

A foundation in coaching

Jeffrey Hull’s (2019) book has a foundation in coaching in more ways than one. Like Hersey and Blanchard (2013) and Goleman (2000), he includes coaching as part of a leader’s necessary capabilities.

He also developed his model on the basis of his own and his colleagues’ considerable experience of coaching leaders, and on evidence from wider research. These experiences echo and cast light on the conversations I have been having with the managers and leaders that I train and coach.

Last but not least, Hull’s book is designed as a self-coaching guide for leaders. It is packed with case studies and tips to support and illustrate his approach.

Jeffrey Hull’s (2019) self-coaching model for leaders – interpreted and illustrated by Elisabeth Goodman

In true coaching style, Hull (2019) begins by encouraging self-diagnosis and self-awareness around what he describes as three types of “leadership energy”:

  • Are you cerebral? With an emphasis on thought and logic, facts and data, theories and models, science and technology?
  • Are you empathetic? With an emphasis on feelings, relationships, metaphors and analogies, art and music?
  • Are you somatic? With an emphasis on ‘doing’ and action, what’s practical and pragmatic, physical activity, sports and hobbies?

[These descriptions are analogous to those I have encountered in personality tools such as the Belbin Team Roles and Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and others.]

According to Hull (2019) a leader’s ability to tap into and expand their cerebral, empathetic and somatic energies will help them to achieve each of the six components of F.I.E.R.C.E. So for instance:

  • Getting the right balance between a focus on results and establishing consensus (for flexible decision-making)
  • Establishing emotional connection: leading with the “why” (for intentional communication)
  • Balancing authority (or perceived competence) with a willingness to be vulnerable: being transparent and having humility (for real authenticity)
  • Recognising that collaboration requires an effective use of a leader’s power (of which there are 10 different types!), and working in partnership with others
  • Building engagement from a foundation of both purpose and passion

As Hull points out, leaders are faced with numerous paradoxes or polarities for flexing their styles – where the choice is not so much ‘either/or’ but ‘and/both’. This is something that Emerson and Lewis (2019) also address in their book on navigating polarities in a way that enables people to find a richer middle or ‘third way’.

Six levels of engagement to enrich the whole

Steven R. Covey (1989) wrote about how important it is to “Sharpen the Saw” by drawing on and continuously developing our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual faculties.

Hull (2019) takes this a step further through his six levels of engagement which delightfully draw together many of the threads in his book, as shown in this illustration.

Jeffrey Hull’s (2019) six levels of engagement – interpreted and illustrated by Elisabeth Goodman

He encourages leaders to begin with the heart: the ‘why’, and then work through each subsequent layer in a way that accesses, optimises and balances all of the resources and energy available to us. The final level – the universe – is a reminder to us all to enjoy and “stay connected to the vast unknown, to tap into [our] spirit of exploration”.


Dr Jeffrey Hull’s (2019) book is a tightly crafted blend of insights for how the most effective and inspirational leaders (and their coaches) can and do navigate seemingly contradictory approaches to leadership.

It is a deep reflection about how leadership and organisations could adopt a more enlightened approach to working life: one that values each person – and both challenges and supports people to be at their best.

Dr Hull’s book is one to experience with the mind, the heart and one’s whole self.



Covey, S.R. (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Franklin Covey Emerson, B. and Lewis, K. (2019) Navigating Polarities

Goleman, D. (2000) Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, March – April

Hamel, G and Zanini, M. (2020) Humanocracy. Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside them. Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA

Hersey and Blanchard (2013). (Accessed 3rd February 2020.)

Hull, J. (2019) Flex: The Art and Science of Leadership in a Changing World. Tarcher / Putnam

Hull, J. F.I.E.R.C.E. leadership assessment – (Accessed 13th September 2020).

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis. 

She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to achieve authenticity and autonomy in the workplace by enhancing their management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

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