“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch
The covid pandemic has brought many changes to just about every aspect of life, both home and work life. The term “new normal” has been used to describe much of the change we’ve had to adapt to, so in this article we take a look at what this might mean for leaders in the workplace today.
What’s Your Leadership Style?
Not so long ago, a question many business leaders found themselves being asked to consider and answer was, “What is your leadership style?” Much was said about this style versus that style, and the overall impression was that all leaders could pigeon-hole themselves into whatever style they ticked the most boxes in. These styles would then be labelled “good” or “bad” depending on the latest trend in management approaches, and leaders encouraged to adopt the appropriate style to suit the times. However, according to the findings of a recent Harvard Business Review research study, the idea that one type of leadership style is going to be more effective than all others is no longer appropriate in a constantly changing environment. The study’s conclusion is that effective leadership today isn’t found in adopting and perfecting one fixed style, it’s found in being open to developing a broader range of styles.
Developing Leadership Skills
The broader your range of understanding and abilities in terms of leadership skills, the more effective you become as a leader. The more open to adapting your approach you remain, the more able you become to change your leadership style, helping you to get the best out of every situation and every individual. Developing broader skills can be thought of as a 3-step process:
Step 1: Self-Awareness
In this first step, your aim is to understand your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader. To achieve this, you need to be open to receiving feedback on your performance. Feedback needn’t be provided in a formal setting, it can come your way through simply paying attention to any aspects of your role that you relish and excel in and any that you struggle with or actively avoid. With better self-awareness, you are better equipped to seek guidance on improving areas of weakness, helping to develop a broader range of skills.
Step 2: Environmental and Emotional Awareness
In this second step, improved self-awareness can be utilised to help you better understand your work environment and those you share it with. In times of change, you need to be open to changing your approach to suit the needs of the situation or the needs of others. For example, are you prone to talking when you may gain more from listening? Are you open to hearing the points of view of others, or are you prone to getting caught up in your own view of a situation?
Developing emotional awareness is developing the ability to recognise your own emotions and the way others are feeling. It’s part of emotional intelligence, through which you become able to regulate your emotions, solve problems, and find the best way to motivate and bring out the best in others – and yourself.
Step 3: Remain Open to Change
The combination of understanding yourself, your environment, and those you work with creates the perfect recipe for broadening your range of leadership skills. Effective leaders today are leaders who remain open to on-going learning, on-going development, and on-going change. However, it’s not about attempting to change everything about yourself in one fell swoop, or changing for the sake of change. Recognising where changes for the better can be made is the beginning of making those changes happen, but lasting change takes time. For example, you may recognise perfectionist tendencies in yourself that are preventing you from making decisions, getting tasks done, and moving on to the next. But, if you attempt to drop the need for perfection in everything you do all at once, it’s going to be too radical a change to be maintained. Instead, acknowledge the need for change and set yourself small, manageable targets that, once achieved, will lead you step-by-step towards the bigger change you want.
One positive way to promote change is to look for role models who possess the skills you aim to adopt. Learn from the thought processes and behaviours of others who represent the change you want to make, and apply what you learn to your own environment and needs.
As the research study uncovered, successful leadership today is all about adapting. As things continue to change, effective leaders will also change to accommodate the new needs of each situation. Focusing on mastering one leadership style is unlikely to help you navigate the changes ahead. Focusing instead on developing a broader range of styles and being prepared to learn and adapt from every experience will put you in a position to roll with the changes.
Leaders need to develop greater self-awareness, situational awareness, and emotional intelligence, and broaden their skills and abilities through experience. Experimenting with different approaches, and learning over time which ones bring the best outcomes in each different situation is developing a broad range of leadership skills. Reflecting on those outcomes is remaining open to on-going adaptation, and it’s this openness to change that helps effective leaders get the best out of everyone they lead.
Don MacNaughton is a High Performance Coach working over the last 20 years in Professional Sport and Business.