Tiger, Peacock, Owl, Koala-which Kind of Leader Are You? While one establishes discipline and takes on responsibility in critical situations, the other is suitable for professional organizations

By Steven DeKrey

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


There are stereotypical management styles inherent to different cultures. Some are legitimate; for example, Asian managers really do in general differ from their Western counterparts. However, the world is becoming global. A global leader is one who takes their company to a multi-international level. To do this, leaders have to combine competencies and management styles that used to be considered fairly independent, yet in today's context, different tools need to be integrated by the hands of the leader.

So what are the different styles of leadership? As a psychologist, I put preference on assessing the personality dimensions and behaviour of a particular person at the forefront and often refer to the trait theory. The instrument we use with executive MBA students identifies four basic leadership styles. Each one is associated with an animal which makes them easier to describe to students.

The Many Personalities

The tiger style is preferred by demanding individuals who like to dominate. This is an authoritarian leadership style and is common in developing countries however found everywhere.

The peacock leadership style is based on persuasion skills, social influence, and a deep understanding of people. Peacocks are like good salespeople or intermediaries. Peacocks involve people in leading towards their shared vision.

The owl style is a conservative leadership approach. It relies on rules and has great attention to detail. Often they are good strategic thinkers, but more focused on business process than people. In terms of stereotypes, think of an engineering manager.

The fourth type of leader, the koala, is the polar opposite of the owl. As the ultimate team players or coach, the social/emotional environment of the company is most important for them. Their style is well-suited for managing hard-working, motivated professionals, such as those found in Silicon Valley. A coach finds difficulty leading unruly followers.

The Thread

It's obvious that the types are different and better fit for specific situations. While tigers establish discipline and take on responsibility in critical situations, owls are great if the company needs to set up operations and process elements. Koalas are suitable for professional organizations, and peacocks bring people together for a common goal. But what do these styles have in common? What do all leaders have? The true answer to that question is "followers". Flexibility is key.

In class, we call this style a chameleon style. They can be domineering and take responsibility when they need to. They can be emotionally supportive, like koalas. They can persuade and inspire like peacocks, and restructure detailed business processes like owls. This global approach transcends borders. A chameleon leader will be successful in a multitude of cultural, political, and economic contexts.

Real-life Scenarios

The best examples of such leaders are people with experience of multiple cultures and nations. Carlos Ghosn was born into a family of Lebanese and French Christians in Brazil. He studied in France and worked in North and South America before moving to Europe. When he became the head of Nissan in 2000 in Japan, the company was in a profound crisis. He had to almost completely restructure the traditional management system and the company's philosophy. He changed the official language of the company from Japanese to English and brought in many managers from Europe and America. He did away with life-long employment and downsized the company drastically. He also developed lean manufacturing practices typical of Japanese companies, taking Nissan to a new level.

This was the work of a chameleon, capable of morphing into an owl, tiger or even a koala—such a transformation is only possible with a CEO leading and coaching a team created from like-minded people at the top of the management structure. Today, Ghosn is the president and CEO of Renault and Nissan, and head of the thriving strategic alliance Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. An individual capable of uniting so many spiritually different companies has to be a virtuoso peacock.

When speaking about chameleon pioneers, Li & Fung, a 100-year-old trading company from Hong Kong, comes to mind. This company was transformed when two brothers, Victor and William Fung, began leading it. With experience living and earning MBA degrees in the US, they aligned their company with Western practices. The process, which helped make China a "global factory", would not have happened without Li & Fung. The Fung brothers foresaw this process and helped give birth to it, becoming one of its main beneficiaries. Buy a T-shirt or a pair of jeans in a local store, and it's likely that Li & Fung participated in the creation, transportation or distribution of the item.

Using various leadership styles, combining Western and Eastern practices, and introducing high-tech solutions, the Fung brothers were ideal "global leaders" because they had the main characteristic of leadership—a forward-looking ability. They had a vision of "production without borders". This is how their company integrates and redistributes streams of information, raw materials, and semi-processed and finished goods between thousands of manufacturers and consumers in the largest markets, from suppliers in third world countries to top American and Western European brands.

The Vision

So how can one become such a global leader? First, it is impossible to "teach" it in university –I make this point despite being a professor of leadership. You only become a leader through reflective experience. My role, and that of other business school educators, is to inspire students, show them role models, frameworks, theories and explain specific leadership cases, give advice and toolkits. It is the student of leadership who must take on board the learning, personalize the teachings and develop themselves.

Your personal experience will always be your best teacher. Formal academic knowledge contributes only 10 per cent, a good mentor, 20 per cent, and on the job experience makes up 70 per cent of leadership development. This is why good management schools provide space for practice.

Top global leaders will be those who are capable of adapting in the modern world and will inevitably prosper.

Steven DeKrey

Associate Dean of HKUST and Chairman of the International Academic Council at the SKOLKOVO Business School


Steven DeKrey is an expert in creating strong business programmes. He moved to Asia 22 years ago as associate dean for HKUST to direct all masters programmes. Over the past 10 years, the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA joint programme has been recognized as among the best in the world. He is currently involved in the launch of the EMBA for Eurasia, a joint programme from HKUST and the SKOLKOVO business school.

Related Topics

Growing a Business

7 Ways to Get the Most Out of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

Do it right, and a trade show can lead to more funding, new customers and lots of buzz.

Business News

This AI Fitness Influencer Makes $11,000 a Month And Was Asked Out By a Celebrity

Aitana López has over 149,000 Instagram followers and brands love her. Is she the future of social media marketing?

Business News

'Traumatized': Man Jumps Out of Emergency Exit on Southwest Airlines Plane

The incident occurred late Sunday night in New Orleans.

Operations & Logistics

Why a Solid HR Infrastructure is a Must-Have for Business Growth

HR may not be top priority for entrepreneurs as they work to grow their business. That should not be the case. HR is an essential component that will be the foundation for a more robust growth path.