By Rebecca Hourston
If you’ve ever been led by a Mushroom (everyone’s in the dark), a Seagull (swoops in, squawks and dumps), or a Kipper (two-faced and gutless), you’ll be all too aware of the leadership style you don’t want to be known for.
Fortunately, the simple fact that you are reading this article instantly places you in an elite minority that is actually thinking about what you do want your leadership style to be known for. The vast majority just go to work and get on with it, in whatever style comes to them by default.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (there will always be certain strengths to your default style), failing to actively develop your leadership style will deny you full range and maximum effectiveness. And it means that certain situations will be a lot harder to handle.
Style and Substance
The substance of what you do—the result you deliver—is pretty fundamental in today’s economy. But working on the way that you do it is what will launch you into a different sphere of success altogether—even if you already count yourself as pretty successful.
The leadership style you choose to use (and yes, to a great extent, it is an active choice you can make) has a direct impact on the result you achieve. It is what makes you memorable to others and fulfilled within yourself.
Redefining What’s “Best”
So what can you do to develop your own leadership style into one that will be highly prized? Here are seven steps to selecting the best leadership style, with tips for putting those steps into action.
1. Be Bold
Boldness is an essential for leading upwards. To grab the attention of your bosses, you need to swallow a bold pill and confidently make your point with as little padding as possible.
Few would describe industrialist Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways among others, as a great communicator. But a great visionary—absolutely. His boldness can be breathtaking. And most of it stems from not giving a damn about what others might think of him.
“Have a bit of personality,” advises Karen Bosher, Head of Stores for the Mothercare Group’s Southern UK region. “Courage fueled by a high degree of integrity and a dose of good judgment should give you the confidence to stand out.”
“Be proud to apologize—I’ve found that shift in mindset really frees me up to challenge, take risks, and dare to make mistakes,” she adds.
- Review where you’ve been holding back in your leadership. What elements of your personality could you allow to shine through more? Where could you be bolder?
- For one week, at the end of each day, make a list of 3 to 5 things that worked well about your style of leadership. Actively use them more the following week.
2. Be Strengths-Savvy
Daniel Goleman, the pioneer of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), conducted in-depth research on leadership style across the top two percent of leaders in 500 global firms and identified several broad styles of leadership (visionary, affiliative, coaching, democratic, directive and pace-setting).
Get to know your signature leadership style inside-out. Heighten your awareness of what you’re good at, and consciously play to your natural strengths as much as possible.
- Ask five colleagues what they consider to be the strengths of your leadership style.
- Buy a copy of Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, and take the online StrengthsFinder test it contains to identify your signature leadership themes.
3. Stretch Your Leadership Style
Alongside playing to your strengths, actively work to stretch into the leadership style(s) you find harder.
Goleman’s EQ research findings in a nutshell: the most successful leaders can consciously draw on and seamlessly integrate all leadership styles, dependent on the situation. One size definitely does not fit all.
Masculine working environments tend to spawn quite a directive and pace-setting style. If this is not your natural approach, but is required within your job, find ways to blend your natural style with your “stretch style” so you’re not putting on an act.
Dr. Samantha Collins, Aspire CEO and Founder, recently trained to be part of the Save The Children emergency relief team, and found that her natural coaching/affiliative style was not enough in moments of crisis.
“I needed to be incredibly directive and punchy—forceful, even,” she reflects. “But what worked best for me was to give clear directions in as human and humorous a way as I could, so that the job got done more effectively but I didn’t feel I was selling out on myself.”
Blend with your team’s leadership strengths to best advantage. “The best leaders are not well rounded…[but] the best teams are,” says Tom Rath of Gallup, which has surveyed over 3 million people on the topic of leadership style and strengths.
- Identify your leadership style stretch areas, and find ways to authentically blend them with your natural style.
- Review the blend of strengths in your team or organization. Who on your team has strengths that particularly complement your own leadership style, and how could you use these better?
4. Be “Going Somewhere”
Call it being visionary, call it setting direction, call it having a compelling point—creating hope for the future and helping people see the way forward is one of the top four basic needs of followers, according to Gallup’s latest research.
Recent studies by the Hay Group concur that to be a great leader, alongside being trustworthy, you simply must be able to communicate a vision of where you and others need to go. Not only will this inspire confidence downwards, among your team, it will also increase your impact upwards, among your bosses.
- Build your external network and read widely. You need a solid grasp of what’s happening outside your organization or department in order to create a bigger-picture vision.
- Draft and communicate. It doesn’t have to be perfectly worded from the start. You won’t be considered visionary unless you get the word out.
5. Be Follower-Focused
The best leaders are human and socially conscious. Recognizing the contribution of others and giving the team room to innovate is the best way to lead into a more resilient future.
- Consider “Why should my team be led by me?” Notice what you already bring them, and what they need more of from you to bring out their best.
- Ask yourself, “What can I give my team today?”
6. Be Balanced
Strive for sustainable thought and action. The “do it and be damned with the consequences” approach may still be going on around you, but great leaders know that it won’t wash long term.
- Ask yourself, “What might the unintended impact of my/our action be?”
- Balance yourself. Prioritize the things outside work that keep you sane by creating “golden time” in your calendar that can’t be touched.
7. Be True to You
Google lists 8.5 million web pages that all claim to have “the best” chocolate cake recipe. Presumably each is somebody’s favorite!
Like chocolate cake, there’s no such thing as “the best” leadership style in isolation. What there is, however, is the best leadership style for you, for a given situation. So give up trying to be something that you are not.
If you’re not being authentic, people will see straight through you. Genuine passion and pride create a fast-track to building connection and trust. Integrity, authenticity and walking your talk are the cornerstones to building great internal and external relationships.
The most valuable thing you have to offer is yourself. Whatever your leadership style is, it is uniquely yours. Own it, have confidence in it, trust that it’s not about becoming something completely different. None of the previous six steps will work without this …
If it doesn’t feel right — it’s probably not. Find your own way and stick to it, with confidence!
Rebecca Hourston, MA, CPCC, is Director of Programs at Aspire, an internationally recognized, award-winning leader in research, executive coaching, leadership development and consultancy related to women as leaders. An inspiring, warm and grounded coach, speaker, writer and facilitator, Rebecca specializes in working with women leaders who want to increase their presence, profile and impact and have a more balanced life. Visit Aspire.