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7 steps to the Perfect Leadership Style

If you've ever been led by a Mushroom (everyone's in the dark), a Seagull (swoops in, squawks and dumps), or a Kipper (two-faced and gutless), you'll be all too aware of the leadership style you don't want to be known for.

Fortunately, the simple fact that you're reading this article instantly places you in an elite minority that is actually thinking about what you do want your leadership style to be known for. The vast majority just go to work and get on with it, in whatever style comes to them by default. Whilst this isn't necessarily a bad thing (there will always be certain strengths to your default style), failing to actively develop your leadership style will deny you full range and maximum effectiveness. And it means that certain situations will be a lot harder to handle.

It's a bit like trying to apply eyeshadow with an enormous blusher brush - at best, you'll be a bit cack-handed; at worst, things will get downright messy.

"It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it..."

Only half-true, perhaps (what you do - the result you deliver - is pretty fundamental in today's economy). But working on the way that you do it will launch you into a different sphere of success altogether - even if you already count yourself as pretty successful. The leadership style you choose to use (and yes, to a great extent, it is an active choice you can make) has a direct impact on the result you will get. It is what will make you memorable for others and fulfilled for yourself.

The New "Perfect"

So what can you do to develop your own leadership style into one that will be highly prized? Here are 7 Steps To The Perfect Leadership Style, with tips for putting them into action.

1. Be Bold

Boldness is an essential for leading upwards. To grab the attention of your bosses, you need to swallow a bold pill and confidently make your point with as little padding as possible. No-one would describe Richard Branson as a great communicator. But a great visionary - absolutely. His boldness can be breathtaking. And most of it stems from not giving a monkey's about what others might think of him. "Have a bit of personality," advises Karen Bosher, Head of Group Stores for the Mothercare Group's Southern region. "Courage fuelled by a high degree of integrity and a dose of good judgement should give you the confidence to stand out.""Be proud to apologise - I've found that shift in mindset really frees me up to challenge, take risks, and dare to make mistakes," she adds.

Review where you've been holding back in your leadership. What elements of your personality could you allow to shine through more? Where could you be bolder? For one week, at the end of each day, make a list of 3-5 things that worked well about your style of leadership. Actively use them more the following week.

2. Be Strengths-Savvy

Daniel Goleman, the pioneer of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), conducted in-depth research on leadership style across the top 2% of leaders in 500 global firms and identified several broad styles of leadership (visionary, affiliative, coaching, democratic, directive and pace-setting). Get to know your signature leadership style inside-out. Heighten your awareness of what you're good at, and consciously play to your natural strengths as much as possible. Ask five colleagues what they consider the strengths of your leadership style to be.

Take an online StrengthsFinder test .

3. Get The Blender Out

Alongside playing to your strengths, actively work to stretch into the leadership style(s) you find harder. Goleman's EQ research findings in a nutshell: the most successful leaders can consciously draw on and seamlessly integrate all leadership styles, dependent on the situation. One size definitely does not fit all. Masculine working environments tend to spawn quite a directive and pace-setting style. If this is not your natural approach, but is required within your job, find ways to blend your natural style with your stretch style so you're not putting on an act.

Dr Samantha Collins, Aspire CEO and Founder, recently trained to be part of the Save The Children emergency relief team, and found that her natural coaching/affiliative style was not enough in moments of crisis. "I needed to be incredibly directive and punchy - forceful, even," she reflects. "But what worked best for me was to give clear directions in as human and humorous a way as I could, so that the job got done more effectively but I didn't feel I was selling out on myself."

Blend with your team's leadership strengths to best advantage. "The best leaders are not well rounded...[but] the best teams are," says Tom Rath of Gallup, which has surveyed over 3 million people on the topic of leadership style and strengths. Identify your leadership style stretch areas, and find ways to authentically blend them with your natural style. Review the blend of strengths in your team or organization. Who on your team has strengths that particularly complement your own leadership style, and how could you use these better?

4. Be Going Somewhere

Call it being visionary, call it setting direction, call it having a compelling point: creating hope for the future and helping people see the way forward is one of the top four basic needs of followers, according to Gallup's latest research. Recent studies by the Hay Group concur that to be a great leader, alongside being trustworthy, you simply must be able to communicate a vision of where you and others need to go. Not only will this inspire confidence downwards, among your team, it will also increase your impact upwards, among your bosses.

Build your external network and read widely. You need a solid grasp of what's happening outside your organization or department in order to create a bigger picture vision. Draft and communicate. It doesn't have to be perfectly worded from the start. You won't be considered visionary unless you get the word out.

5. Be Follower-Focused

The best leaders are human and socially conscious. Recognizing the contribution of others and giving the team room to innovate is the best way to lead into a more resilient future. Consider "Why should my team be led by me?" Notice what you already bring them, and what they need more of from you to bring out their best. Ask yourself, "What can I give my team today?"

6. Be Balanced

Strive for sustainable thought and action. The "do it and be damned with the consequences" approach may still be going on around you, but great leaders know that it won't wash long term. Ask yourself, "What might the unintended impact of my/our action be?" Balance yourself. Prioritize the things outside work that keep you sane by creating "golden time" in your diary that can't be touched.

7. Be True To You

Google lists 8.5 million webpages that all claim to have "the perfect" chocolate cake recipe. Presumably each is somebody's favorite! Like chocolate cake, there's no such thing as "the perfect" leadership style in isolation. What there is, however, is the perfect leadership style for you, for a given situation.

So give up trying to be something that you're not.

If you're not being authentic, people will see straight through it. Genuine passion and pride is the fast-track to building connection and trust. Integrity, authenticity and walking your talk are the cornerstones to building great internal and external relationships.

The most valuable thing you have to offer is yourself. Whatever your leadership style is, it's uniquely yours. Own it, have confidence in it, trust that it's not about becoming something completely different. None of the six other steps will work without this. If it doesn't feel right - it's probably not. Find your own way and stick to it, with confidence.

Shape The Future Of Leadership

The definition of successful leadership style has been rocked by the "mancession". Many, including UK Minister for Women and Equality Harriet Harman, have argued that if more women had been in the top leadership positions, we'd never be in this mess. But let's not dwell, misty-eyed, on what could have been. It's more interesting to think about what needs to happen next for individual leaders.

It's clear that macho, untrustworthy, "divide and conquer" leadership based on ego, win/lose and selfishness must hit the dustbin. Now is the time for a more feminine style of leadership (for men as well as women). "Transformational" leadership styles of teamwork, empowerment and effective communication are the essentials for every leader in the coming decade (Aspire 2010 research).

Traditionally, this transformational style has been seen as a more female approach (91% of leaders think women and men have different leadership styles - Aspire 2008 research). Indeed, transformational leadership reflects the softer attributes that may have contributed to hampering women's progress in the past, as it has been relatively undervalued. So the new decade is giving women leaders a natural advantage like never before.

And now's the time for women like you to help shape a more perfect leadership world.

Posted by Rebecca Hourston, Director of Programs on Thursday, February 25, 2010
Tags: impact, authenticity, leadership, vision, style, balance, strengths

Building Blocks for the Girls

We have to believe inside that we deserve to be where we are, and to achieve what we have achieved. But we also have to understand that we cannot hold a belief that society owes us anything and instead make our own destinies, and likewise complain that nothing will ever change without understanding that we can control our own reality.


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