Managing Your Leadership Style

The Situation

You are looking for feedback from your manager regarding your desire for being promoted. Your manager tells you that you’re doing good; “keep doing what you are doing”. How frustrating it is not to be provided specific feedback on which to focus upon! Then just weeks later, your colleague who (by general consensus of your peers) is obviously not as skilled as you are, is promoted to a senior leadership role.

Your manager justifies this by saying; “they have that special something that makes them a leader.”  From managements POV, you are obviously missing something but they just can’t put their finger on what it is. Is it your personality? Is it your leadership style? In all likelihood, it is the latter.  After all, if they didn’t like you (i.e. your personality), you would have been freed up to market a long time ago.

Although your personality can impact your leadership style, leadership is a separate and distinct skill set that needs to be honed. 

Why It Matters

The way others react during your interactions with them speaks volumes about how your leadership skills are perceived. Are you seen as confident or smug; charismatic or narcissistic; influential or overbearing. It’s all about taking a hard look in the mirror to understand how we are truly coming across to others – being socially and culturally aware.

As a leader, you need to strike a balance. Share your opinions, but yet be differential. Be respectful, but not overly docile. Be polite, but not overly apologetic. Have a serious disposition, without tipping the scale towards the austere.  Be declarative while expressing an inquisitive disposition. Be relaxed, but not overly familiar. Having this delicate balance is truly an art form, one that leaders strive to master.

The Delicate Balance

Leaders need to be able to alternate between these different stances, sometimes multiple times in a day depending on the situation. This blended form of leadership will sometimes call for exhibiting decisive decision making, whilst other situations call for a more analytical collaborative approach without pedanticism.  

This delicate balance is intrinsic for a few, but can be learned.  Many, however, struggle to strike this balance, some never being able to attain it throughout their entire career. 

After taking that hard look in the mirror to identify the type of leader you are, make an assessment of the type of leader you need to become. Take note of (actually write down in a journal) how you handle various situations over the course of several weeks. Do this not only in a professional setting, but also regarding your interaction with friends and family. The results may be surprising. You may find that you are more rigid in your approach towards people in certain situations. On the other hand, the converse might be true. You may find that at times you are far too flexible – to the point of being truly indecisive and inconsistent in the way you handle affairs.

The Impact of Culture

Our culture plays a large role in the type of leadership style we adopt. An egalitarian culture may move leaders to act like more of a team member, whilst a hierarchical culture would position a leader above and a part from her/his subordinates. 

For instance, the question was asked; ”Should leaders always have answers ready for questions their direct reports ask of them?”

Depending on the culture, you will get different responses.  Within egalitarian cultures such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden – there would be a low percentage of people who respond that leaders should have all the answers. On the other hand in more hierarchal cultures such as Japan, Nigeria, India and China respondents with an affirmative response to such a question would be at a much higher percentage. These differences caused by culture are also noticeable regarding attire, seating location in a conference room and acceptable forms of communication between leaders and their subordinates. 

Once we understand how culture impacts ourselves and others, we can begin to successfully address any needed modifications in our behavior in order to become the type of leader we desire to be, and the type of leader that is needed in our ecosystem. 

Be open to feedback

If you ascertain that a change in your leadership style is needed, do so at a pace that is manageable and sustainable for both yourself and your organization. 

Soliciting open, honest and direct feedback from managers, peers, trusted friends and family members is invaluable. Employing the use of an emotional intelligence assessment would be a beneficial investment. It is typically best to understand how we are perceived by others in order to make the appropriate adjustments in behavior. 

While it is true that as a leader you want to be authentic and genuine, it is also true that you want to show that you are enhancing your leadership skills by actively listening to the feedback you receive. Your leadership style has a great deal to do with your level of emotional intelligence

Unlike personality, both your emotional intelligence and thereby your leadership style are malleable, subject to improvement commensurate with the effort you put forth.

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