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LEADERSHIP STYLES: PART ONE

Know thyself.  This is the starting point in every single leadership book or seminar and I actually agree with the scholars on the importance of this one.  If you don’t have any insight into your strengths and weaknesses (yes, weaknesses…they are not challenges or opportunities) you’ll become a one trick pony.  You can do a few things really well and everyone stays away from you on everything else.  Or worse, you’ll be so unconscious about who you are and how you behave that you will just spew crap all over everyone.

The classic ways managers and leaders get to know themselves in the work place is through personality or behavioral assessment tools, all types of feedback and coaching.  This is the polite way of saying organizational therapy.  The difference between feedback at work and therapy is that you pay a therapist to give a damn and you get as much time as you need to change.  At work you get a yearly review that highlights what you did well and where you have “opportunities for growth” and if things balance out you get a raise.  If there is more bad news than good news you will get the “if there is no improvement” speech which leads to everyone being unhappy.  And then you really will need therapy.

I am going to assume that you have received quite a bit of feedback throughout your career.  I’ll go out on a limb and even assume that over the past ten years you’ve been praised on the same core capabilities and been dinged for the same few troublesome behaviors.  Fortunately the good outweighs the bad and your bosses have decided to live with your shortcomings.  But it does leave an obvious question.  If you know what you’re doing wrong, why don’t you change it?

When your boss says to you, “We’ve had this conversation once a month.  You have got to stop popping off at every staff meeting.  What is it going to take for you to change?” she’s not asking for the moon.  Why don’t you just do what she wants?  Do you have a death wish?  Are you looking to be fired?

No.

Listen up, here comes the truth.  It is really, really, really difficult for human beings to change their behavior.  But not impossible.

Along with the feedback you’ve received, I’ll bet that you know what your Myers-Briggs or DISC (or some other assessment tool) style is.  You know just how introverted or extroverted you are and how judgmental or perceptive or assertive or analytical or creative you are.  So now you have insight.  You know what combination of traits you lead with and which ones are more secondary.  Great.

Whop-dee-friggin-doo.  Knowing all this, have you changed your behavior?  I mean for more than the three weeks after you came back from that training seminar.  Again, I’m guessing the answer is no.

And here is that truth again.  Change is really hard for most of us.  But it is possible if you just take small bites rather than trying to do a one-eighty.  Just think about dieting or exercising or smoking.  Cold turkey is very hard to sustain.  But just not eating doughnuts or walking two times a week or cutting down to only eight cigarettes a day is more reasonable.  You still might struggle but your chances of reducing the bad behavior are better.

The same applies to our behaviors at work.  If your boss wants you to stop being so verbally caustic it’s not like you can just snap your fingers and stop being obnoxious.  But you might be able to hold back some of the time.  If you interrupt people ten times in a meeting you can aim for only five times.  What tends to happen over time is that you will begin to settle into a new pattern of fewer outbursts that will hopefully lead to even fewer.  You might always have this annoying trait but it will be more controlled.  And this will please your boss.

So I’m going to break this down for you in really simple terms.  You’ve gotten feedback and you’ve taken some sort of assessment and you have a perfectly good idea of how you operate.  (If you don’t have this information, just ask your significant other or best friend.)  Now the question is how do you use these traits for good and not evil?

The next several entries will get into specific styles and how to know yourself better and make some small changes.

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