Find Your Leadership Style and Own It

There’s been a lot of talk over the past ten years that leaders have to have a certain style in order to be successful. Actually, that kind of talk has always occurred, but different eras have different styles that are said to be the best way.

Don’t buy it.

Successful leaders use a wide variety of approaches to influence how people think. Some ask questions, some make bold statements, some are rough and tumble, some are planners and organizers.

Find your style that works best for you and then stick with it. Refine it over time and be better at it, but don’t try to be someone you’re not. That is one of the greatest mistakes of leadership, and it’s the one that will cause you to lose credibility the fastest.

Make Sure Actions Lead to Desired Motives

In his book, Why We Do What We Do, Edward Deci wrote, “Motivation requires that people see a relationship between their behavior and desired outcome…If people do not believe that their behavior will lead to something they desire, they will not be motivated.”

I define motivation as having a motive for taking action. Motives might include the desire to deliver great performances, to earn significant incomes, and to be given unique recognition.

So how do business leaders demotivate people? When they micromanage, they don’t allow the employee to think and the performance becomes the boss’s and not the employee’s. When they demean or bully an employee, they rob the employee of the opportunity to feel good about his or her efforts. When they give out bonuses and pay raises to everyone, or deny everyone, across the board, they break the linkage between performance and reward.

It’s not enough for you to achieve great results as a business leader. You need to create an environment where motivated people can stay motivated. One of your main jobs is not to demotivate people.

Business Novels to Consider

Recently I received a link to an intriguing list of business novels that you may want to consider. Here’s the link.

As I studied the list, I began to think of my own favorite business novels. I agree on The Goal by Eli Goldratt, which I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino, but I would add his books, The Choice and The Greatest Miracle in the World. I also really liked Ayn Rand’s books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which I would add to the list. While at times those stories were a bit bizarre, I found they both had really thought-provoking ideas. As far as really short business novels go, I enjoyed Gung Ho!. The challenge with the short novels is they don’t get much into the real complexities that managers deal with. They try to address a single concept, but managers don’t deal with a single situation at a time. They deal with complexities at home and at work that require attention in multiple ways.

I just read two really powerful novels: The Prince of Tides and South of Broad by Pat Conroy. They are not business novels, but they do force the reader to think about life in general and that can help to improve your ideas about business.

Leadership is Usually in the Details

Leaders need to influence how people think. That’s where they make their greatest contribution. Often that happens by painting a vision of what the future can look like if they think differently. That’s the exciting and sexy part of leadership.

However, behind the creation and articulation of a compelling vision is a mountain of detailed work. The business leader meets with a wide range of people and observes situations for a long time before the vision crystallizes. Then there are the details of building relationships with key people in order to gain the support necessary to make the vision a reality. Then the leader has to think through what he or she will do in order to influence how other people will think.

I recommend the book “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Clayborne Carson as a great example of detailed leadership. I think the book “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson is another good example of this.

Invest Time in Getting to Understand People

If you are working with a new client, or even an existing one, or you have been promoted to manage a new group, or even a group that you have managed for a long time, take time to sit down with each person and really understand what is on their mind.

Whenever I work with a new client, I like to step into their world for a few days and really understand where they are at. My favorite approach is to interview 30-35 people for thirty minutes each by asking basic questions like, “What do you think is happening here that is effective, what do you think is ineffective, and what do you think would make it more effective?” I don’t write down anyone’s name. I just sit there and take notes for two days. Then I read the notes and patterns emerge that help me greatly in understanding the client. My second favorite approach is to watch them very closely as they do their actual work. This helps me to understand what challenges they face every day.

Spend a lot of time in trying to undertstand where people are at. It will greatly help you when you step into your actual day-to-day work with them.

A Process for Making a Decision

When you have to make a decision, write down three alternatives that you are considering. For each option, answer these six questions:

1. If I do this, what is the best outcome I can expect?

2. If I do this, what is the worst outcome I can expect?

3. If I do this, what is the most likely outcome I can expect?

4. If the best outcome occurs, will it be worth the time, energy, and money that went into producing it? If not, then don’t do it.

5. If the worst outcome occurs, can my organization survive and still be able to thrive in the future? If not, then don’t do it.

6. If the most likely outcome occurs, will I look back and feel I made the right decision? If not, then don’t do it.

After you answer these six questions for your first alternative, go to the second one, and then to the third one. In the end, you will clearly know whether to go with one of these options or to keep working to find a better alternative.

Investing time in thinking before acting can save you a lot of time, energy, and money over the long run and generate consistently better results.

Be Willing to be Led

Strong leaders do face a challenge. They are used to being the influencers, but they are not as used to being influenced by others. But if you really want to build a great organization you also need to let others influence how you think so you can make decisions that improve results.

When a person says he or she has nothing left to learn in terms of how to think, then he or she is suffering from the disease of arrogance. You will dramatically reduce your ability to improve results if you are done learning.

To be an even better leader in the future, let others lead you at times. Be open to what you can learn from them and be willing to try some of these new ideas.