Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Competencies of Leadership - Foot-Soldier, Aerial, Satellite

Volume: July 2010

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


Gary is a regional leader. He has a team under his direct command, plus he has several smaller units for which he is responsible. The other units are geographically dispersed, which causes Gary to travel quite a bit. Gary reports to the president of the organization, who is located far away from Gary’s region. Since Gary is travelling frequently, he tends to delegate things – everything! As such, he is disconnected from operations, happenings, and his people. His team feels rudderless. Lacking definitive leadership, they are often left to figure things out for themselves. Gary’s boss is not happy about the results of Gary’s region or the manner in which Gary orchestrates his team. Since Gary is incredibly busy and works 60+ hours per week, he is confused by the negative feedback from his boss. So just what is going on here and why isn’t this situation working? The answer lies in a better understanding of viewpoint and leadership positioning.


First let’s look at viewpoint. Gary views himself as the highest level of leader – setting vision and merely overseeing the units of his empire. I call this a satellite leader. On the other hand, Gary’s boss is looking for an aerial leader – someone who is directly involved in leading his people to a positive result. Clearly Gary and his team are disconnected. Unfortunately for Gary, he and boss are disconnected as well. Gary needs to adjust his working style and his behaviors fast or trouble will ensue. So how does Gary begin to make adjustments? First, he needs to understand the differences between leaders who are a foot-soldier, an aerial, or a satellite. Second, he needs to accept the fact that his boss desires for him to operate as an aerial leader. Third, he needs to embrace the leadership core competencies associated with his role. The information that Gary needs to absorb is encapsulated below.


Foot-Soldier – These are the leaders that are physically positioned where the rubber meets the road. Not only are they located in the thick of where production, delivery, or customer service is taking place, they are often shoulder to shoulder with the team members who are directly connecting with customers. Foot-Soldier leaders are critical to the organization because they oversee the effective implementation and delivery of the organization’s promises. These leaders are commonly referred to as working managers. Some of the critical core competencies that these leaders need to possess are:

  • Listening skills
  • The ability to give clear direction
  • Use and understanding of body language
  • Collaboration
  • Micro problem-solving skills
  • Multi-tasking
  • Agility – the ability to switch hats at a moment’s notice


Aerial – These leaders are directly involved with team members, while they maintain a bird’s eye view of processes, operations, and the delivery of goods and services to customers. They may sometimes be involved in day-to-day operations and issues, however, much of the time they are coordinating, communicating, delegating, providing direction, and problem-solving. Aerial leaders are important to the organization because they bring a broader viewpoint to the workgroups they touch, while still possessing the abilities to pitch in with day-to-day duties when needed. This type of leader is often referred to as a general manager, a project manager, or a regional manager. Some of the critical core competencies that these leaders need to possess are:

  • Asking great questions
  • Listening
  • Paraphrasing (This is a paramount skill for aerial leaders!)
  • Collaboration with others and other departments/regions
  • Presentation skills
  • Effective delegation
  • Good use of prioritization tools
  • Macro problem-solving skills
  • Building a sense of team


Satellite – These leaders set the vision and goals for the organization. They see the entire organization and think of it in its entirety. The Satellite leader rarely gets involved in the minutia of daily function, choosing rather to review metrics and dashboards in order to analyze the effectiveness of strategies and work units. Satellite leaders are critical to the organization because they create and adjust corporate culture. A strong satellite leader will inspire breakout results, while a mediocre satellite leader sets the table for run-of-the-mill results. This type of leader is often referred to as the CEO, the president, or the head of distribution. Some of the critical core competencies that these leaders need to possess are:

  • Communication, communication, communication!
  • Facilitative skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Brainstorming skills
  • Priority management skills
  • Delegation and follow up skills
  • Decisiveness
  • A keen ability to negotiate
  • High emotional intelligence


Once Gary reviewed the above information he realized that even though he aspired to be a satellite leader, he was clearly an aerial leader. The light went on that he needed to be more involved with his team – and lead! He began to delegate less (especially his authority) and to do more. He travelled less and used the technology of videoconferences more. How did his people respond? Warily at first, unable to discern if the new behaviors would continue or not. But when consistency was embraced, the team responded nicely: bellyaching less, producing more, and delivering improved financial results.


Bottom Line: Determine whether you and the leaders around you are foot-soldier, aerial, or satellite leaders. Then, make certain that correct positioning is realized and accepted, and that the proper competencies of leadership are in place. If coaching is necessary, conduct it or arrange for it. What you will receive for your analysis and actions is better leadership alignment, a clear chain of command, and an improved top and bottom line.


Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and sales consultant, executive coach, and business planner. He is also the author of Leadership Simplified – THE Field Guide for Savvy Leaders.  Doug’s audios and videos are also available at www.leadershipsimplified.com. To learn more about consulting services, coaching, and training, or to have Doug speak at your next event, contact him today at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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