Is your leadership style still fit for purpose?
May 24th, 2021
“The most challenging transition is letting go of the leader you used to be”
As we prepare to start embracing a future of hybrid office and home working and changing businesses, now is the time to ask yourself if your leadership style is still fit for purpose.
It is going to take strong leadership to inspire, motivate and give direction to teams and businesses, but strong leaders come in many different guises and will have many different leadership styles.
There are however some common traits that can be found across a variety of leadership styles that are critical at the moment and can make the difference between strong leaders who can drive change and those who can’t. Here are 9 to consider.
1. Having the right leadership team for you
Whether you are a CEO of a big organisation or an entrepreneurial founder of a small business, if you are going to drive forward a business and implement changes it is vital that you have the right team of leaders around you. If you want to push an agenda of change, you need your trusted circle to be willing to embrace change and not fight it. Have a close look at your team, no matter what its size is, and ask yourself if you have the right people in the right roles.
In the UK, we have just seen Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, make quick changes to his Shadow Cabinet following a disappointing set of results at the recent local elections. In politics, maybe more so than any other industry, an organisation is filled with individuals with multiple agendas and ideas on how they want that organisation to operate. So like he, the challenge for all leaders wanting to drive change is being surrounded by a senior team that you can trust, and share your vision and passion.
2. Be willing to be challenged
Having the right team, however, does not mean being surrounded by people who will blindly follow your lead. Team members need to feel that they have the psychological freedom to question and challenge the decision making process.
The most successful leadership teams are usually made up of a diverse mix of opinions and operate in a culture where no-one is afraid to disagree with a colleague, no matter how senior. In fact, even more than that, they know that their colleagues will show the curiosity to listen when they are being challenged, and the open mindedness to consider the alternatives put to them.
Not only does this empower leadership teams to make the right, carefully considered decisions, but it also helps to remove resentment towards key decision-makers. I have worked with many senior executives who first start to consider taking their skills and value to a new company when they resign themselves to the fact that they can’t influence the decision-making process in their current place of work.
3. Value the giving of constructive feedback
On the other side of the coin to be willing to be challenged, is the ability to challenge others through feedback. A common complaint I hear from senior leaders within larger organisations is that they don’t receive enough feedback from their CEO or line manager.
We all want to further our careers and increase the value we bring to the companies we work for, but that is very difficult to do if regular feedback isn’t provided.
I worked with a leader recently who was demotivated at not achieving his ambitions of being on the Executive Board and was not clear why. As part of our work together I interviewed the Senior Leadership Team, and created a themed report with tangible actions he could take to achieve his aspirations. This clarity has given him a focus and a clear roadmap that has motivated him to succeed.
4. Be open to changing yourself
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of looking at everything around us that needs to change, but good leadership in challenging times involves being able to look at yourself and what you need to change too.
When times are good we all naturally fall into a flow and have little need to be introspective, but over time we all go through changes that we don’t necessarily recognise until we stop and look inwards. One of the hardest exercises I do with clients is getting them to think about who they were, who they are now and who they want and need to be in the future. It takes strength and humility to be able to ask those questions and give truly honest answers.
I worked with an entrepreneur a few years ago who, as an SME owner had a very fiscal approach to business and would never allow more than the absolute minimum to be spent, be that on physical or human resources. Whilst he was happy that his business was efficient, he had grown frustrated that it wasn’t growing in the way he would like. We established that the thing that was holding the business back the most was his focus on profit over people. He realised that this had to change in order to remove the shackles from his business and now rather than paying staff salaries at industry average, he pays just over and he invests more in rewarding staff, not just financially, but by putting personal thought into how he rewards each individual based on their own personal needs and circumstances. This has resulted in a committed workforce, loyal to their leader and who have increased their productivity and helped drive the growth that was missing before.
5. Learn from your past leaders
Researching good leadership generally leads you to endless motivational quotes from high profile business leaders. It is important to remember though that it is our own experiences over the years that shape us into the leaders we want to become.
A really good exercise to undertake is to spend time thinking back over your career at the managers and bosses you have had and how they made you feel. There will most likely be a small number that really stick out for the wrong and right reasons – both bring valuable lessons that can help you to understand how you behave the way you do.
6. Don’t be afraid to be nice
Many times I have heard a version of the phrase “a good leader can’t be too nice”. There has been this misconception that leaders have to be aggressive to be thick-skinned and make tough decisions. Maybe this was true in the alpha-male dominated corporate world a couple of decades ago, but times have changed. Being nice is not a weakness.
This is something that women clients especially express as a challenge, but plenty of male leaders struggle with this too.
In her book ‘The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate’ Fran Hauser, challenges the idea that you can’t be successful and kind. Her book is based on the principle that in today’s world, we are clamouring for a “better, more human, nicer style of leadership”. She rightly points out that a lack of kindness creates a toxic work environment. I call this empathy-based leadership.
In the last couple of years, I have worked with two senior leaders in big companies who had been accused of being “too nice” during their appraisals. They both felt that they were being overlooked for C-suite roles because of this. They recognised that they had achieved plenty of successes but that they didn’t always take the credit because as leaders they made sure their team members were praised for their part in successful initiatives. Speaking to them both recently, they have now seen their teams smash their targets this year and be the best performing teams in their respective businesses. Not only has this helped them reach the personal career growth goal, but they have helped their team further their own careers whilst remaining loyal to them.
Over the last year, every single one of us has faced personal challenges, both at work and in the home. In an article back in May 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic, McKinsey highlighted four qualities that leaders were going to need to help steer their teams during the crisis and set the stage for business recovery – awareness, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion. A year on and this has been proven to be completely correct.
Being nice doesn’t mean you can’t be driven, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for what you want or tell people to do things they don’t want to do.
7. Don’t meet for meeting’s sake
Meetings have long been the bane of team member’s lives and without a clear purpose or reason can be seen as an interruption from spending time ‘doing’.
One of the upsides of working from home during the pandemic has been a reduction of the time spent in team meetings. In December Harvard Business School carried out a study of online meeting habits. It found that whilst the number of meetings attended by people rose by just over 10%, the length of time spent in those meetings dropped by over 20%. The number of people invited into each meeting dropped during 2020 too.
What once might have been a half-hour impromptu whole team meeting has turned into a quick 15 minute more direct conversation.
As we transition back into the office and spend more time together as a team in the same place, it is going to be really important that leaders don’t slip back into bad habits of dragging people away from their desks to sit around a boardroom table to listen to other people talking. Instead, try to encourage and foster shorter face to face conversation in order to maintain productivity levels.
8. Treat everyone equally wherever they are
One anxiety people have about returning to work is how they are going to manage a mix of working from home and the office, and wondering whether or not they will be disadvantaged by spending more time working from home than their colleagues.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that between 2012 and 2020, people who worked from home were on average 38 per cent less likely to have received a bonus compared to those who never worked from home, and less than half as likely to be promoted or receive training.
If, as a leader, you are keen to embrace the increased flexibility that has come as a result of enforced homeworking, then it is essential that those statistics are a thing of the past.
One of the biggest challenges of this will be communicating opportunities and success to every team member so that they feel that no matter where they are working, they have the same chances for growth and development as their colleagues.
9. What type of leader are you going to be?
There has never been a better time to look at how you lead and think about what type of leader you want to be. To do this you need to be thinking both about your leadership style but also your business needs and the changes and challenges you will be facing. Start with asking yourself the following questions:
- What in the business needs preserving and why?
- What in the business needs changing and why?
- What actions need to be taken?
- Where do we need to start – what are our priorities now and what will our future priorities be?
- What needs to change in my leadership?
If, like most people, you find this exercise difficult to do on your own, then please do get in touch as it would be a pleasure to work through the process with you and your teams. Begin the conversation by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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