What is Your Leadership Style?

What is you leadership style?

The study of leadership is certainly not a new one, and there are almost too many theories to count. A quick internet search, however (psychology.about.com), identifies that most of the different leadership theories that have emerged over the years can be classified into a handful of major types:

“Great Man” Theories
Trait Theories
Contingency Theories
Situational Theories
Behavioral Theories
Parcipitative Theories
Relationship Theories/Transformational Leadership
Management theories/Transactional Leadership.

There are various theories and models listed under each type, and they’re well worth looking into. The style of leadership you adopt can either be a success or a failure, depending upon a myriad of factors: what works with one personality in one environment may not work in the next. Understanding the theories listed above (and any others floating around out there) can help you clarify what you believe to be true about leadership, and how you might best approach your own leadership development.

Within any of these theories, however, the individual leader and his or her preferences also need to be taken into account. In addition to the leadership theories that have been studied, there are also many leadership “styles” listed in the literature. Again, a quick internet search identifies some of the more common ones discussed:

Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership

Participative or Democratic Leadership

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Servant Leadership

Transactional Leadership

Transformational Leadership

Situational Leadership

Again, these appear to be some the most prominent; but there are other leadership styles identified in the literature that would be worth researching for yourself. I’ve included these ones in particular for two reasons: one because they seem to have the most written about them; and two because these are the styles I see most often in my own leadership coaching practice.

Unfortunately I see examples of Authoritarian Leadership more often than I’d like; where the leader makes decisions unilaterally and often unfairly. And outside of military or paramilitary organizations, this never works. The other styles listed can be more or less effective depending on the environment, culture, and people involved; and you’d be wise to know the difference.

Transformative Leadership is one of the more contemporary styles to be identified, and is often touted as one of the most effective. It is about inspiring others and sharing a greater vision. This type of leadership is great, of course; but it’s often best balanced by a Transactional Leadership style based on role compliance and incentives for achievement. Of the styles listed above, my own bias falls toward Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership; where the leader is able to adjust his or style in response to the unique situation or task at hand.

So what is your leadership style?

Managing Expectations

I’ve been reading some marketing stuff from Dan Kennedy lately, and one of the sections in that material talks about managing others’ expectations of you:

Kennedy referred to an experiment done years ago about people’s expectations: Esteemed art critics and gallery owners were invited to an art show featuring five up-and-coming artists. They were all given information about these artists ahead of time, while they rode in limos and were wined and dined at a fancy reception.

It seems that this whole “set-up” of the artists had shaped the critics’ and gallery owners’ impressions of them before they even saw their work. This was evident because they all gave the highest marks and praise to the five new artists, even among the other twenty or so well-known artists in attendance.

What the critics and gallery owners didn’t know was that out of the five artists, only three were legit. The other two were an 8-year-old child, and an elephant who splashed paint onto the canvas with his trunk.

The point of this story is that people are going to form an opinion about you and have certain expectations of you – and that you can control these beliefs and assumptions to a great degree by “setting the stage” for them.

People often use “rules of thumb” that allow them to make quick (but often erroneous) assumptions about what they see. We can take advantage of this tendency by making it easy for them to see what they want to see.

Simply stated, as shown in the story above, you can be anyone you want to be in the eyes of another – simply by playing the part. And this is not about being deceitful, but rather about “putting your best foot forward”. By talking the talk and dressing the part (literally or figuratively), people draw conclusions about your experience, intellect, skill, and ability.

And who are you to argue with their perceptions?

So decide who you want to be in this life, and step into that role. And that’s how others will view you. Then a self-fulfilling prophecy is born: the way people view you is how they’ll treat you – and so that’s who you become.

How To Ask For Help, Part II

In a recent article on how to ask for help, I discussed the ways in which we can elicit others’ support successfully – but I’ve recently run across a piece of research I had filed away, that I’d like to add to that discussion.

In the previous article I discussed how the field of social psychology suggests we shape our arguments when trying to elicit support. I still think this is helpful information, of course, but the following research kind of turns that notion on its head:

In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini talks about Ellen Langer’s research that shows that people are more likely to comply with requests simply because they’re followed by the word “because.”

The study had someone cut to the front of a photocopier line and ask if she could make her copies first. 60% of the people at the front of the line granted the request when no reason was given (which is pretty nice, I think) – but 94% of the people granted the request when it was followed by “because I’m in a rush.”

So this is solid advice and it makes sense so far, but the really cool thing is that a logical reason wasn’t even necessary: 93% still granted the request when the reason was “because I have to make some copies.”

Pretty cool, eh?

So the additional take-home point here is: if you don’t have the time to “sell” someone on a request, just give ‘em any old reason to do so – just make sure you use the word “because”!

How To Ask For Help

Good leaders in any capacity, whether managers at work or parents at home, need help from others. And they need to know how to ask for help in a way that they’ll get it. They need the right people to take on the right tasks – the tasks for which they don’t possess the right amount of knowledge, skill, or time to do themselves; or the tasks that others should be doing for their own learning and growth.

So how do we get others to help?

People usually want to help because of who it is that’s requesting the help: if you’re an authoritative, person-centered type of leader, then getting people behind you probably isn’t a difficult task most of the time. But sometimes it’s not enough. You can also rely on the basic but time-tested behavioural principles of reward and punishment – but sometimes, despite our best efforts, the external consequences we apply still aren’t quite worth the effort of completing the task.

Thankfully the field of social psychology offers some additional tools in its principles of persuasion and helping behaviour:

When asking for help its important initially to be viewed as credible and likeable. This is definitely something to pay close attention to – but it will also only take you so far unless there are better reasons for continuing to help. Similarly, you’ll also need to go beyond the important but limited behavioural principles of reward and punishment; you’ll need to enable a wider perspective of cost versus benefit by presenting a strong argument for why the person should help.

Your argument should be long enough to include all the necessary details of, and reasons for, your request (make no assumptions and leave no room for misinterpretation), but short enough to keep the other’s attention and interest. The points in your argument need to be consistent, realistic, and personally relevant for the other person. They should evoke positive emotions, and appeal to his or her sense of moral reasoning and empathy. Finally, you should encourage the other person to think critically about your argument (and debate you on it if appropriate).

The other factors to keep in mind when planning your request are the timing of the delivery (it’s helpful if there’s a concurrent or precipitating event that makes the action more important, meaningful, or urgent); the mood your audience is in; their unique personality traits; and whether they would perceive the action as being socially acceptable through the eyes of their peers.

The next time you have a request that you know will take a little more work to gain compliance, try writing out a solid argument. Make a checklist of all the points raised above, and try to include as many of them as you can. Try to anticipate the objections that might arise to your request and argument, and develop answers to these using the same principles. Practice your argument well, and try to deliver your request at the most appropriate time and place.

Coaching Skills for Leaders (The Nuts and Bolts)

Research has shown that people perform at higher levels when they are coached as opposed to “managed”. So, you might be asking, what is coaching, in a nutshell? What are some of the tools I can use as a leader? How, specifically, do I have a “coaching” conversation?

Coaching is about inspiring and empowering others through meaningful conversations and effective questioning. It trusts that people possess the wisdom they need to discover and realize their own potential. Coaching meets a certain need for many people: it’s a forum for objective conversation and full exploration. It’s a rare opportunity for an individual to focus solely on him or herself for a full hour on a regular basis. It’s a conversation different from what you would have with colleagues, family, or friends. It’s a place to get support when counselling isn’t really the answer. It’s for people who are already doing well in many areas, but are seeking renewed opportunities for growth.

Coaching is both a science and an art. It’s about the combination of theory, practice, and interpersonal finesse. There are some good coach training programs that address these components in depth – which one article on the topic could never hope to duplicate.

There are, nonetheless, some coaching concepts of which to be aware: some ‘nuts and bolts’ that you can begin to incorporate into your own style of conversation and leadership. These, in my humble opinion, are the essentials:

Most importantly, you need to engage the interchange from a place of genuine curiosity: asking questions (and more questions) without anticipating or providing the answers, and listening carefully without assuming or rehearsing. It’s not about your interpretations; it’s about the coachee finding his or her own answers as you ask the questions that foster the search.

This is often easier said than done, but it’s a skill to be refined.

The other components of a typical coaching conversation, on top of active listening and purposeful questioning, include supporting and acknowledging, making requests, and providing the structure of accountability (the coachee is ultimately accountable only to himself, of course, but tends to stay in action when he knows that he will be reporting back to you on his successes).

These components in action might look something like this – a basic six-step coaching model:

1. Setting the stage:

– Why are we having this conversation? What brought you here?
– What are our respective roles?

2. Formulating and focusing the issues:

– What’s going on?
– What specifically do you want to change or accomplish?

3. Asking questions for further clarification and deeper exploration:

– What does that really mean?
– What area(s) do you want to work on first?
– What is important about this to you?

4. Developing goals through solution-focused questions:

– What will it look like when it’s how you want it to be?
– What exactly will you be thinking/feeling/doing when you reach your desired state?

5. Developing an action plan (making requests and offering feedback if appropriate):

– What do you need to do to make this happen? What strengths do you need to draw on, and what supports will you need?
– What is the first step?
– How will you know that you’re moving toward your goal?
– Can I ask you to experiment with…?

6. Following up (the process begins again)

– What went well last week, and why? Congratulations! How can you do more of that?
– Where did you get stuck? Why?
– What do you most want to focus on now?
– What do you most need to do to keep moving forward?

The important thing to remember throughout the process is that the relationship is key, and that you don’t need to have the answers. Getting caught up in doing it the ‘right way’ and worrying too much about the questions you ask will only impede the process. These concerns quickly become non-issues as you develop trust and rapport, and when you truly approach the conversation with genuine interest, concern, and selflessness.

How To Be More Influential

Are you in a position to influence others – at work, at home, in your community? Is having influence important to your position or cause (as a manager, or a parent, or as someone with a vision who’s trying to create something better)? Do the ways in which you exert your influence tend to work well; and do you know how to be more influential?

The ability to influence is a wonderful tool that can be strengthened and refined. To do so begins with an understanding of where our power lies – and to what degree it matches the situation. When we understand where our power comes from, we can learn to use it more effectively and in the most appropriate way – thereby improving the breadth and scope of our influence.

Management and psychology textbooks often describe French and Raven’s five distinct types of power: Legitimate, Reward, Coercive, Expert, and Referent. Look at what these mean to you – particularly in regard to how you can develop and combine them to match your environment and your goals…

Do you have legitimate power – i.e., are you in a position of authority? How strong is your legitimate power? If you’re a high-ranking officer in the military, for example, you might not concern yourself much with the other bases of power. People listen. Period. If you’re the boss at work, how much legitimate influence you have depends on things like the level of authority you actually hold, and what type of people you lead in which type of environment. At home, the rationale “because I’m the mom” may or may not fly depending on many different factors.

Understanding your own leadership preferences and being open to experimentation, assessing your true level of legitimate power, defining clearly the goals you wish to accomplish, and knowing your audience are all critical components of effective leadership. Here are some other things we might think about in regard to the bases of power:

How much rewarding might you need to do to improve motivation or maintain a desired level of behaviour? What types of rewards will work best? (Everyone has different motivators, so the best thing to do is ask). We also know that offering rewards consistently and regularly helps to shape a desired behaviour, and that rewarding intermittently helps to maintain it.

Do you ever engage in a coercive style of leadership when it’s not absolutely necessary (like necessarily forcing a child to comply when his safety is at risk, for example)? Forcing others to do things through the use of threats may work sometimes, but it’s also clearly not the socially acceptable thing to do – and it might end up backfiring in the form of disloyalty or revolt.

How could you build a stronger leadership presence by developing your expertise – by sharpening the skills and knowledge important to your area of leadership? And, conversely, if you lead solely because you’re the expert, could you be mindful to draw upon other sources as well (i.e., making better use of the principles of reward and motivation; developing your ‘soft skills’ to improve your interpersonal attractiveness)?

Developing your ‘soft skills’ and interpersonal effectiveness speaks to the referent base of power (having influence because people like you, or want to be like you). Legitimate power may be inherent in your role; you may understand the principles of reward and motivation; you may be able to take command when needed; and you likely possess some high-level skills and knowledge. But the effectiveness of all of these can be greatly undermined without some attention to referent power.

Granted, we don’t all have that level of ‘charisma’ that draws others toward us like a magnet – but there’s always something more we can improve upon. While staying true to ourselves (because no one is attracted to insincerity), could we learn to be even more outgoing, friendlier, and more dynamic in a wider variety of circumstances with a wider range of people?

Try paying more attention to these five bases of power, and contemplate how they affect your ability to influence. Take the time to develop them, and learn to draw on them in a wider range of settings and situations. Leverage them to more effectively accomplish your goals and experience higher levels of success!