There is a common view that like our personality type, our leadership style is fixed. Using the popular Six Leadership Styles, highlighted by Daniel Goleman as a framework for this argument, it means that we are either a commander, or a visionary; a democrat or a coach, a pace-setter or we use a more affiliative approach to maintain harmony and keep the peace.
But what if our leadership style – and our personality type- weren’t fixed and we could access all of the options Goleman has highlighted? What if we could pick and choose a style that provided the best results from any given scenario?
The thing is we can!
Thinking outside the leadership box
The Myers-Briggs test was created in the 1940s by Carl Jung. He suggested that based on 93 questions it could group us all into 16 different discrete “types” — and in doing so, serve as “a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence.” But the test was developed based on completely untested theories and is now widely discredited by the psychology community.
As such, this isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach but rather a ‘we-only-have-one-size’ approach. This means that trying to lead in one way, given any situation, based on the results of the Myers-Briggs test, is always going to be suboptimal. The other, better, way surely is to get really clear on what you want to create; the performance you’re looking for, the results you require, what success means in a specific situation and adapt your style, your language and your actions accordingly.
Maybe a spot of micro-management or close direction is required for one situation, in a crisis perhaps, but actually it’s completely inappropriate for the next situation. If we can understand this, free ourselves from the shackles of our personality type, we can develop faster, be more effective in different situations and think outside of the box.
Same people, different style
Cypher has experienced some growth in the team recently and the one thing I’ve learned is that I need to be a different leader for each one of the individuals. We are up to nine now and on paper, at least, they are all very similar people; they do similar jobs, have similar backgrounds, are at similar levels as we have a relatively flat hierarchy, but despite this they all need different things from me to perform at their best.
I maybe take this for granted, and some people do struggle with this idea. But it’s not just your people that look for a different style, your customers will as well. Cypher’s customer base includes pub landlords, Estate Agents, builders, professors, to engineers. I can walk on a building site and I sound like a builder within about five minutes, because that’s how I work, but of course other clients might want something different from me- and you.
Choose how you show up
Interestingly, for the purposes of fair research, I added my details into the 16 personality types. If you are interested I’m 74% extrovert, 66% observant, 63% feeling, 57% expecting and 71% assertive. I am not sure what this means or how it helps me in a prospect meeting. Personally, I like to choose how I will show up, ‘who’ I will be, based on the context of the meeting and the traits of the client. If they are a numbers person, I can get into the detail. If they need some reassurance that their idea or company is sound then our business planning and cash flow forecasts will give them the confidence to push forward. Understanding what the audience needs means and adapting to it can create a more optimal outcome for everybody.
Align your leadership style to match your goals
Another way to determine what leadership style to adopt is rooted in the goals we set ourselves and our business. We can’t decide that a business strategy is unachievable because we have a certain personality type. We work with some high-end, precision engineering clients. The quality of their product and service is reflected across their business; the way their finance function is set up, how the receptionist answers the phone, how their admin is done; it all mirrors that business ethos. I also used to work with a scrap metal business. The owner was a scrap merchant by trade and fell into being a business owner and his leadership style didn’t change. I used to collect bags of cash, the paperwork was a bit of a mess but that reflected the business. It was very successful but it demonstrates how the two are so closely linked.
Understanding what your leadership style needs to be in order to achieve your goals is a hundred times more important than understanding where you sit on a personality test.
To be a truly effective leader, work out what you want to create; what your goals or your desired results are, personally or professionally and then adapt your style and your performance as a leader to get there. In doing so, you should access whatever leadership style you want at any time.
Dial up the clarity
We did a podcast on craving clarity not certainty, which was an approach we encourage business owners to take when planning or reviewing their business. But it also applies to a strong leadership approach too. Myers-Briggs, or DISC profiling gives us a level of certainty about who we are and how we should act in any situation. Better to bring a level of clarity to any leadership or management conversation to ensure all parties understand their expected roles and the desired outcomes. Help them make a choice to either stop performing in a way that doesn’t help the business or understand what may happen if they don’t.
Keep your friends close…
In my previous business, I was told that as a leader – a partner in fact- that I wasn’t allowed to be friends with anyone else in the building. This didn’t just include colleagues but partners too. I have a client that had to deal with a friend of his who wasn’t performing in the business and we had to discuss a way to deal with the situation that reflected their friendship but also his status as MD of the business. My old firm’s leadership style was to have a completely separate life and separate group of friends away from business. It was completely alien to me. As a leader, in what world is it a good thing to not be friends with the people you’re in business with?
Choose your goals, choose your style
To review Goleman’s Six leadership Styles, whether you are an authoritarian, commander style leader, a democratic one, a coach or have an affiliative approach, that is not the issue. The key is whether you can recognise your style and adapt it when faced with a given setting.
Some business leaders are so entrenched in ‘this is my style’ that they don’t see that actually by changing or adapting in certain situations, they’ll create a different- possibly better- output for themselves.
If you have one style and apply it uniformly, across every given situation, there’s absolutely no way you will create the optimal level of performance across your whole team. Business performance is based on delighting clients and when your team performs at its best, that will rub off and everyone will be happy. But different team members respond differently to different styles at different times and by operating with a deal of flexibility you will get a better level of performance from your team.