Leadership is a fascinating topic. There have never been more strategies, courses, books and resources available on leadership styles. A significant amount of research has been carried out on this field, exploring the topic of leadership in great depth.
Some scholars argue that leadership is a complex subject. Steve Radcliffe, author of the book ‘Leadership: Plain and Simple’, describes it as a simple process. According to Radcliffe, effective leadership includes three seemingly simple components: future focus, engaging with people and delivering the desired results.
Leadership starts with the self. In order to be in a position to lead by example, we need to start with ourselves. Emotionally balanced, confident and grounded individuals quickly stand out from the crowd. If you want other people to follow your lead, it is wise to become a centred and resilient individual. Some people call it ‘walking your talk’.
Imagine that your co-workers, colleagues or other seniors could somehow look into your personal and professional life. Things would be transparent to them for a short time: the quality of your relationships, your e-mail box, the conversations you have in a day, and your responses to challenging situations. Would you be proud of what they would see? Would you like to change anything?
Skilfully lead others
According to research by Leadership IQ, most people’s leadership style is not aligned to the given organisational culture.
How do you choose the leadership style which fits in best with your work environment? It is wise to do some research on leadership styles so that you can choose the ones which aligns best with your own personality and the context of your organisation. It is even better to have a few different styles in our metaphorical tool box so that we can adapt your way of responding. Are you a visionary who can depict a compelling future? Do you excel in coaching others and demonstrating genuine listening skills? Are you a naturally direct individual who excels giving clear directions?
Daniel Goleman, well-known researcher and global authority on emotional intelligence, describes six key leadership styles:
- Commanding – gives direct and ‘top-down’ commands
- Visionary – creates a clear future vision and steers people in the same direction
- Affiliative – aims to build harmony and trust amongst employees
- Democratic – encourages suggestions and insights from people
- Pace-setting – setting challenging performance standards
- Coaching – focuses on employee learning and development
Whilst all the above styles are equally valuable, skilful leaders are able to adapt their styles depending on the individual(s) they are responding to and the given context. Ask yourself ‘Which of the above styles is natural for you? And ‘How can you become even better putting this style into practice?’
Initially, you might be tempted to believe that some styles are more effective than others. Each style however can be successfully used and lead to great achievements. Let’s look at an example. Winston Churchill was an excellent orator who powerfully inspired people. He successfully used the commanding style when driving his decisions forward.
Find yourself a coach
Working with a coach can be one of the best ways to develop your leadership skills. Research shows that the act of expressing our thoughts out loud frequently brings clarity to our thinking. A skilful coach has strong listening skills and a non-judgmental approach. Your coach will be able to understand your challenges and give you some helpful guidance (especially if they worked in senior leadership roles in the past). Your coach could take up many different roles: a sounding board, a motivator, a career adviser, and a mentor just to mention a few.
Practice regular reflection
What kind of leader would you aspire to be? How do you know when you are a successful leader? How do you want to make a difference? Most of us would agree that reflection is a good idea. Very few people devote time for regular reflection. Meeting with a coach is a good start. However, you might find it helpful to reflect on some of your challenges and possible solutions. You could block out at least 30 minutes in your diary on a weekly basis, and treat it like an important meeting. Many people find journaling most beneficial because it helps them to crystallise their thoughts. You could draw mind maps or even jot down bullet points if you like.
Ask for feedback
Many of us are devoted to continuous learning. We enjoy receiving individual coaching as well as mentoring other people. We read leadership books, watch webinars, and enthusiastically take part in networking events. At times, most of us feel uncomfortable asking for feedback. It can make us feel vulnerable. We may fear harsh criticism.
It can, however, be enlightening to ask for and receive genuine feedback from others. We need to proactively ask for others’ insights. We need to take the courage to hear people’s thoughts even if some of those might initially be uncomfortable. Receiving feedback can be key to our leadership development.