With so many in the workforce for up to 50 years, I’m hardly a workforce veteran at age 40, but, even so, I’ve experienced a diversity of leadership styles.
My current “leader” demonstrates a hodgepodge of unfavorable leadership styles all mixed into one, but barring this kind of manager who needs training on everything, most managers can be served by training tailored to their particular leadership style.
The different needs of different leaders came to mind after getting news in my inbox of a new book, “The Second Decision: The Qualified Entrepreneur” by Randy H. Nelson.
The first leadership style noted by Nelson—urgent/reactive—is typified by the manager who waits until the last minute to take action, rather than being proactive. “This business personality creates and thrives on an almost crazed atmosphere, where he or she can ride to the rescue, put out the fire, be everybody’s savior, then move on to the next problem. In other words, fix it and forget it. It’s characterized by action without introspective vision and premeditated guidance,” Nelson explains.
For urgent/reactive managers, I would recommend, first, that they take a personality assessment since they often lack introspection. If they have a hard time putting forward an introspective vision for their team, then it’s likely they also don’t have an introspective vision for themselves. A good exercise for them, then, would be to prepare a presentation in writing and/or verbally in front of the work group they lead, explaining this vision. I’m a highly (too) introspective person, so this exercise wouldn’t torment me in the least, but I imagine that a manager with little natural self-awareness would consider this a huge challenge.
The ever-optimistic leader is often too good for his or her own good. I may have to be careful not to fall into this leadership mode if I’m ever a manager of a work group. “Many enjoy the company of this sunny leadership type, which features an attractive can-do attitude. Early success in a venture can create or encourage this confidence, which may or may not be justified. Unfortunately, when a good run ends, this personality often doesn’t know how to react,” Nelson writes of this leadership personality. I think this personality also can have problems noting, and responding to, an employee who, in contrast to the others in the work group, isn’t necessarily pulling his or her weight. If you’re used to high performers, and a good response to your assignments, how do you react to an employee who takes advantage of your optimism? An exercise that might be helpful for compulsively optimistic managers is to have them list both the strengths and weaknesses of the major facets of the business they lead. For a person (like myself) who doesn’t relish being critical of others, this exercise would be difficult, especially if I knew in advance that I was going to have to present this critique to my work group and collaborate on a plan to improve.
The reflexively pessimistic leader is always ready to “batten down the hatches,” Nelson says. “The business pessimist is paralyzed by anxiety and doesn’t know how to begin to grow. While he or she may survive the next economic crisis, the leader remains hobbled when times are good,” he writes. I think of this personality not always as an anxious person, but often in the form of a reflexively argumentative person. I’ve written on more than one occasion in this blog about my reflexively argumentative boss. I think this is a common leadership “style.” The most obvious exercise for this kind of manager is to ask them do the same exercise as the one prescribed for the ever-optimistic leader. In this case, the challenge will be coming up with positive commentary, and positive, forward-thinking plans.
The last leadership style noted by Nelson is the steady-proactive leader. “These leaders are clear in what they know and don’t know. This person has moved beyond a revenue-only focus and now devotes time and effort to understanding what boosts stock value, using this knowledge to push the valuation ever higher,” Nelson writes. The most obvious drawback of this type of manager is an inability to allow the group he or she manages to relax and enjoy the moment. Years ago, when I wrote about a corporate learning program called Wisdom Horse, the importance of allowing the horses a celebratory lap around the ring was pointed out by the facilitators. Even horses expect a chance to rejoice about an accomplishment before moving on to the next challenge. The overly proactive and steady manager can come across as lacking emotion and expression, and being overly stoic. For this manager, the exercise would be to ask him or her to come up with a way to stop and celebrate successfully completed challenges at least once a quarter.
Does your company’s leadership development programs offer exercises tailored to individual leadership styles? What are the most important things to remember when creating a leadership session that identifies, and works on, areas needing improvement?