Designing Your Leadership Style

Scott Kuethen
October 19, 2015

If you are an employer, CEO, or manager, you are probably a natural leader. Figuring out your role in your workplace is all about leadership. You are the architect of your own leadership style, but drawing up the blueprints can sometimes be a challenge!

If the idea of designing your leadership style is new to you, begin by asking yourself what you want it to be rather than what it “should” be. It’s important to understand whether you are trying to fit yourself into the work you do or fit your work to who you are. There are many assessments that can help clarify your perceptions of what your job requires versus your natural state.

Another important thing to consider about leadership relates to your perception of power. There are basically two views on how to exercise your power:

  1. Some leaders lead from a position of authority or title. They believe that people should follow and respect them simply because they possess the title. Their followers are pushed or forced as an act of the leader’s will. This type of leader tends to be rigid and demands respect. There certainly is a place for this authoritative style.
  2. Some leaders believe they lead from a position of influence. They have power and authority but choose influence and believe others will follow along because they want to. Their followers are drawn or pulled along. This type of leader is vulnerable and earns respect by appropriately giving it. There’s certainly a place for this as well.

Regardless of your perception of power, one thing is true about all leaders: When your followers see your strength and high standards, they probably work extra hard to make you happy to meet your standard of excellence. Some may crave your praise and approval, and all want to hear you commend them as they do things well. Sometimes, giving appropriate praise to your followers can be difficult when you, as a leader, may judge others’ performance by your own level of knowledge and ability. Even though your compelling qualities draw along others who want to be on the winning team, you may also be so focused on delivering results that you miss seeing human limitations that may inhibit delivering those results.

This is where having a personal coach or mentor might be helpful. Just as professional athletes depend on professional coaches to improve their game, you might find it worthwhile to hire a coach to help you refine your leadership style. Just as in sports there are different kinds of coaches, you might find a coach who will help in one specific area and a different coach who may help in another. There are also leadership programs that can give you tools to facilitate personal growth.

Personally, I favor what is now commonly referred to as Servant Leadership. Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great that a servant leader is a Level 5 leader, on a scale of 1 to 5. Here are examples of leaders on either end of the scale:

Level 1 Leader: When things are going well, a Level 1 Leader looks in the mirror and says, “I am great because things are going so well.” When things aren’t going well, he or she looks out the window at all the employees and thinks, “Nothing is going well because they are defective.”

Level 5 Leader: When things are going well, a Level 5 Leader looks out the window and says to his team members, “Things are going well because you all are so effective and good at what you do. Keep up your great work.” When things aren’t going well, he or she looks in the mirror and says, “Things aren’t going well because I am defective. I need to do better. I need to lead better.”

Have you given thought to intentionally designing your leadership style? If not, consider your fit with your work, your perception of power, the possibility of hiring a coach, and what level of responsibility you’re willing to take for your employees’ results. As the architect of your own leadership style, you get to choose how you want to be regarded and followed.

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