I have had the opportunity to observe many different leadership styles and the associated results over the past twenty years or so, and think I can finally articulate what I consider to be the best. Naturally, it likely coincides with how I perceive I do things, but then again I also believe by writing it down I am giving myself the opportunity to grow and learn.
There are two primary “gaps” in the workplace leadership environment that significantly outweigh others. I refer to the gap between the perception of an employee’s experience and skills and their potential for growth, and to the gap between telling an employee how to do their job and not telling them at all.
Recently this chart from the Australian Leadership Foundation came across my Linked In feed, and I was sufficiently intrigued that I showed the members of my team.
I asked them to identify the primary style I used, which led to a very nice open dialogue about team dynamics, autonomy and engagement. Afterwards, I couldn’t help but reflect on my career and instances where I had found myself using almost all of the styles identified, from collaborating and participating during the development of unique first-time industry events, all the way to the other end of the spectrum directing and controlling the movements of a nuclear submarine, and all leadership styles in between.
Gap 1 (Skills vs. Potential): This gap stands out primarily in two circumstances: during the hiring process where recruiters will score a resume based on skills applicable to the role being filled, and secondly, during annual performance reviews where the manager/employee have a conversation about the gap (or should).
Gap 2 (Leading by telling vs. Leading by not telling): The typical employee does not arrive at work each day expecting to be told what to do with every minute on the clock, nor do they expect to be given no guidance at all.
Here is a thought experiment: for each style on the chart, identify a time where you personally used it. If you can’t think of one, try to recall an instance where you should have used it. My suspicion is that you will not find it that challenging to cover all the styles, because each person, team, organization or situation is different than all others, and you will recognize how each style would have been a best fit in different circumstances.
The best leaders live in Gap 2 all day every day: In each encounter with an employee (applies to teams and bigger units equally as well), a leader will adapt a style to fit what that person needs in order to best deliver the right results AND grow the employee personally. This type of leader will find the balance – in every situation – where the employee obtains enough guidance to move forward and feel motivated, but not so much guidance (or ‘telling’) that they feel undervalued or diminished. This means that any of the styles on the chart may occasionally be appropriate, or, put another way, leadership is situational. If leaders hang their hat on one or two styles only, they are leaving employee potential untapped and overlooking significant engagement opportunities.
If you live in Gap 2 as your default approach, Gap 1 becomes much easier to talk about and identify plans for growth, and you will achieve strong engagement with your employees.
Where do you live as a leader? What do you think is the primary personal behavior required for success living in Gap 2?