Know thyself: thus said the Greeks. What Plato and others meant by this memorable aphorism is that in order to understand the wider world, we must first understand ourselves as individuals. In the business world, that means that a good leader can only become a great leader with a generous amount of self-knowledge. You must know your strengths and weaknesses, understand your ambitions, and empathize with your colleagues: how do they see you, and how will they respond to your various leadership techniques?
Only when you understand your unique qualities as a leader, can you begin to develop them – to expand on your existing skills, and to adopt new techniques and perspectives from complementary leadership styles. In Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee’s seminal ‘Primal Leadership’, the authors identify six broad leader types, each with their own pros and cons. While no two bosses are the same, identifying the type that most corresponds to your own style of leadership is a great first step in the essential process of self-analysis. Comparing yourself against this type can help you to figure out what makes you effective as a leader, as well as prompting ideas on how you can incorporate elements of other leadership styles.
Just as importantly, where you go with these insights depends upon the environment in which you work. For example, maybe you’re a pacesetting leader: you lead by example, constantly seek to improve your skills and productivity, and prune your team to ensure that you’re only working with people who can keep up with you. If you’re confident that your team will be able to follow your pace, all is well – for a little while. But whatever the level of your team, you are likely to run into some problems.
If they can’t keep up with you, morale will drop. Your efforts become a passive-aggressive regime of fear: team members become stressed trying to match your levels and to second-guess your needs (the pacesetter communicates only through example, not by instruction). This type of leader works best with a highly skilled, highly motivated team – but even then, problems can soon arise. As a pacesetter, you become a superstar worker whose quest for success eclipses the needs and ambitions of your otherwise talented colleagues. You don’t communicate or listen, so they soon start to look elsewhere for the fulfillment they deserve.
- The Pace-setting Leader
- The Commanding Leader
- The Visionary Leader
- The Pace-setting Leader
- The Affiliative Leader
- The Coaching Leader
When you have a strong team and a pressing deadline, the pacesetting method is a good choice. But if you recognize that this is your unwavering approach to leadership, it’s time to swap it up a bit. When the pressure eases off, try taking a leaf from the page of the ‘coaching leadership’ style. Instead of concentrating solely on immediate results, put aside some non-productive time (a misnomer: it will be productive, but in the long run) for training and career development. Your highly-motivated staff will respond well to the challenges that you individually set them. You can set new goals, and identify stepping-stones along the way. Your team has specific achievements to hit, and measurable deadlines by which to reach them.
If they weren’t motivated in the first place, your workers might not respond to this form of coaching. In that case, you can try to introduce elements of the ‘commanding leader’ into your game. In some environments, with certain employees, strongly assertive leadership is the only way to get things done. You put aside the idea of being a popular boss, and make sure you get the job done with strict, specific instructions and clearly articulated expectations. Again, it’s not a style to perpetuate through bad times and good: in a way, it is a form of crisis management. Taking firm grip of the reins when business is floundering or an individual is causing trouble can help you get back on track, but persist with this technique and you’ll find it hard to maintain a consistent workforce at all. In short, nobody wants to turn up for work every day when the boss’s only trick is to pull rank.
When times are good and optimism is high, it’s time to introduce an element of the ‘visionary leader’ into your game. A good visionary leader is able to nurture new ideas and directions, thinking freely while always returning to the practicality of the situation. For example, you will inspire your staff with your ideas for a new product or service, invite them to contribute and develop the idea, but also remain specific: when the R&D period is through, you’ll have clear targets and parameters with which to work. Done right, visionary leadership can inspire and motivate a team to achieve great things; but don’t confuse being a visionary with being a dreamer. If you’re unable to communicate your goals to your team, or you consistently run in new directions with little forewarning, you are likely to lose their trust.
Such a scenario can be brought back down to Earth with a little ‘democratic’ leadership. You’ve established your wild ideas for the future – now it’s time to put some trust in your team and see where they can take it. Given a little agency, good employees can become more than a cog in the machine of your business – they can develop the confidence to speak up with ideas and solutions you might never have reached, and to take the initiative to action them where appropriate. It is important that such a team remain on the same page, though: too much freedom with too little unity, and the decision-making process will suffer.
Finally, there’s no leader who couldn’t do with a little of the ‘affiliative leadership’ style from time to time. An affiliative leader notices when staff are insecure or morale is low, and offers encouragement and support to unite the team and move forward. Without a vision to aim for, there’s only so much this approach can achieve: but there are certain moments when it pays to acknowledge the human factor.
To see what kind of leader you most closely resemble – and what you can do to improve – check out Headway Capital’s What Type Of Leader Are You? (Flowchart). Whatever type of leader you aspire to be, an underlying self-awareness and a desire to improve will prepare you for new successes.
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