The topic of leadership style is an important one, and one that usually comes up as I teach leadership to groups everywhere. Sometimes the phrase “leadership style” itself isn’t mentioned, and yet it is underneath many conversations, questions, and even excuses (I’ll get to that in a bit). My goal today is to share some thoughts about leadership style that will give you food for thought and perhaps challenge you to think about your style differently than you have in the past.
It is very clear that there is more than one way to effectively lead – even a cursory look at successful leaders past and present will show you that. There are of course principles that apply to us as leaders, and there are definitely skills that will help us succeed in leading others, but there is no one perfect way, nor one perfect leader. The role is necessarily complex because human beings are doing the leading, and the following.
A statement that is often made (including by me) is the logical extension of this line of thinking – that we should lead from who we are.
But . . .
Does “leading from who we are” mean that we, and those we follow, just accept who we are, and that is the end of the story?
Far from it. Here is what I mean.
I believe that our leadership style develops, consciously or not, from a rich mixture of our values, beliefs, experiences, habits, strengths and weaknesses – in fact it is this rich mixture that makes us who we are. Since people want to be led by people who are genuine, authentic and real, we must recognize these building blocks as the stuff that makes us, and makes us as a leader.
And . . .
That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be learning how to be more effective!
A healthy self-assessment (even better if you include a 360 assessment from those around you) should help you to truly understand how you are doing, and begin to identify how to get better. Done well, this provides you with a clear picture of strengths and weaknesses in a way that accurately shows you how your style is working for those you are leading.
The goal isn’t to become a leader you aren’t (i.e. I want to lead like Lincoln, Churchill or Jobs), but to become the best leader you can become. Ultimately that should be the goal of all leaders – to recognize, acknowledge and value who they are, and constantly strive to become the best version of yourself that they can.
Thinking about leadership style in any other way – as a rationalization (“I’m just not a good speaker in front of groups”), an excuse (“I never had a good mentor to help me – and it is too late now”) , or a barrier (“I could never lead like they do”), deprives you of the opportunity to improve.
Beyond assessment and reflection, there are more tools and activities that can help us with all of this, but those are for another day. Today, think about who you are as a leader, and think about what you can do to become the best version of yourself.