What is Your Leadership Style?

In studying leadership it rapidly becomes clear that there are as many approaches to it as there are people. And this is to be expected because, whether people realise it or not, their leadership style is a direct consequence of their individual personality. So how can we define a model for leadership style that provides a clear development path to enable you to improve your leadership skills?

06th February 2011 published by

 

In studying leadership it rapidly becomes clear that there are as many approaches to it as there are people. And this is to be expected because, whether people realise it or not, their leadership style is a direct consequence of their individual personality. So how can we define a model for leadership style that provides a clear development path to enable you to improve your leadership skills?

 

Ken Blanchard, who has given me many useful insights into what really makes leadership work, says that, "The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority." In other words, leadership works through people and culture - not the hierarchy and systems which can so limit a company's growth.

 

That's why I believe that one of the most useful approaches to leadership development focuses on the underlying attitude that leaders have to other people. In particular, I recommend focusing on influencing skills which allow people to move beyond the need for the controlling behaviours which are unfortunately so common. Few things are more guaranteed to sap the motivation of employees to bring their best to their organisations than the use of control.

 

By looking at the approach of leaders in relation to the balance that they adopt between influence and control, we can identify them as falling into one of four types, each of which displays a distinctly different leadership style.

 

 

Type 1: Hierarchical: Leading by Title

 

Many people use their position or title as leverage to get things done - attempting, sometimes subtly, to control others to achieve their goals. They expect others to follow and become demanding when they don't. When a baby's needs are not met it throws a temper tantrum, becoming red in the face and screaming until someone does what it wants. Some leaders have progressed a surprisingly small distance from here, and behave in a very similar manner.

 

In this situation, employees will do only what they have to do, when they have to do it. They will never go above and beyond, so these leaders profoundly inhibit their potential. This approach is not really leadership - it is dictatorship.

 

 

Type 2: Barter

 

Leaders at the level of "Barter" take some time to learn about their team but everything is conditional: having an "If you do this then I'll do that" attitude and approach. What this means is that they are always measuring to ensure that people are conforming to their rules.

 

People who think this way seldom develop deep relationships that last over time because an event always occurs sooner or later that they consider to have been below the standards expected. When this happens they will either withdraw their support, expecting the other person to make amends, or migrate back to the dictatorial style of Type 1 and demand more effort. Either way, the negativity that they will communicate makes it very difficult for most people to respond in the most positive fashion. This approach is not real leadership either - it is trading.

 

 

Type 3: People-Centred

 

People-centred leaders are very different - starting to think more of others rather than themselves. Fred Smith stated, "Leadership is getting people to work for you when they are not obligated"; in other words, recognising that they have the freedom to choose what they do or do not do (this is obviously always true). It is possible, to a degree, to get people to conform using regulations, but the relationship that you hold with them has much more power to influence their behaviours and leaders who adopt this leadership style know it.

 

Leaders at this level recognise that:

 

 

"When I want to, I perform better than when I have to.
I want to for me, I have to for you.
Self motivation is a matter of choice."

 

 

The behaviours which arise from this style of leadership create freedom for followers to make their own choices, thereby maximising their self-motivation. This is the first level at which genuine cultural transformation becomes possible.

 

 

Type 4: Servant Leaders

 

One of the most critical attributes of leadership is the ability to engage the hearts as well as the minds of followers. This can never be achieved by force, but instead depends on a focus on service to tap into the deepest motivators of human behaviour. Two great examples of this type of leader are Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, both of whom were prepared to remain committed to their purpose even when they suffered pain - because it was the right thing to do. In the process they mobilised huge numbers of people to put aside short-term personal gain and to follow them.

 

The goal of a servant leader is not that people will think more highly of them but that they will think more highly of themselves. Improved results will then follow automatically because of their change in self-image.

 

 

What Style do You Use?

 

Whatever leadership means to you, I've found that one of the things that is always true is that there is a big difference between supplying someone with the tools necessary to do their job, which is management not leadership, and providing them the encouragement and opportunity to grow and be successful.

 

It sounds obvious that people provide the vehicle by which business results must be delivered. Yet there are still many leaders who have not developed their leadership style and influencing skills to a high level. By working on developing the most effective methods of inspiring others, such that they want to do the very best that they can for the business, results can be dramatically improved. To be successful in this, it is essential that there is an evolution of leadership style beyond Types 1 and 2 to produce the people-centred approach that is evident among Type 3 and 4 leaders. High levels of employee engagement and motivation then become the norm rather than the exception.

 

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