Part 4: Leadership - fixing flaws in your style
Built to succeed - essentials for growing businesses
The final part three of this four-part blog series concludes our look at how ambitious and growing companies can be better prepared to succeed.
The fascination with leadership
The Art of War, the ancient Chinese manual of strategy and counsel by Sun Tzu. Good to Great, the examination of successful companies by Jim Collins. Steve Jobs, the biography written posthumously by Walter Isaacson. Outliers, the highly readable Malcolm Gladwell pop-psychology analysis that sets out to uncover the underlying reasons why some people are very successful.
These are just some of the entertaining and varied texts that have influenced, and which continue to shape our thinking on the topic of leadership. There are almost as many books on leadership as there are pebbles on the shore… well maybe not quite that many, but you get the idea.
The mystique that surrounds those that have proved to be great leaders or that have led others to achieve truly inspiring things preoccupies many of those with ambitions to be successful in business.
An interesting ‘take’ on the topic of leadership appeared in the British publication “Army, Navy & Air Force Gazette” in January 1933. (Skip this bit if you are easily offended - it’s not PC and you’ll have to forgive the gender bias of a bygone era!)
German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord described his process for placing military officers into four classes:
“I divide my officers into four classes as follows: The clever, the industrious, the lazy, and the stupid. Each officer always possesses two of these qualities.
Those who are clever and industrious I appoint to the General Staff. Use can under certain circumstances be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He has the requisite nerves and the mental clarity for difficult decisions. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be got rid of, for he is too dangerous.”
It’s so simple, as to be almost comical; but as with all such pieces of insightful thinking, it’s like a gold nugget, capturing a complex idea in a succinct and memorable way.
The challenges of business leadership find parallels in other spheres. Leaders that have distinguished themselves in the military and exploration, as well as those that are known for their outstanding achievements in a sporting context are often favored as keynote or after dinner speakers at business events. The promise of inspiration and insight gained from conflict zones, human endeavor or the sports field is a popular tactic for attracting the C level audience.
Failures of leadership may occur when the problems being faced were too difficult to overcome. However, on the flip-side, the other view is that the leadership was simply not up to the task. Perhaps the most common reason why leaders sometimes fail is because of gaps in their leadership capabilities.
Here we discuss management style and how you can identify and fix weaknesses that may be holding you back and preventing you from being the best leader that you can be.
What’s your management style?
Of course, the chief aim of management is planning, prioritizing, and organizing people and resources to get work done and produce outputs. But different personalities have different ways of going about this. Management style is really about how you go about these tasks, including how you flex your leadership muscles in the shape of exercising authority.
Broadly, some typical managerial styles include:
Pacesetters lead by example and this style might often be seen in a sales environment. Managers use metrics to drive performance across the team but are also able to temper highly motivated high achievers so that they don’t get burned out and need to be replaced.
Visionaries are able to seize opportunities and sell big ideas to motivate, inspire and get team members to buy-in and maximize effort. Visionary leaders often have a way of helping people achieve goals that may be thought impossible.
A ‘team-building’ style that focuses on getting team members to work well together. People are molded to work together in harmony. High levels of trust mean people work for each other. It’s not unlike the style used to get sports teams playing well together.
“It’s not a democracy!” … but actually, sometimes it is better that way! Startups might be a good place to see democratic leadership, where a small team of very able people might be led by someone of equal rank. Everyone’s input on decisions is highly valued, listened to and acted on if the team agrees.
Old-school style of management not unlike that found in the military. Sometimes it is the only way when you have a tough workforce to manage. A manager is in complete control and accepts total responsibility for everything, failure and success.
A management style where leaders coach to inspire, encourage, and guide their teams. It strikes a balance between autocratic and affiliative approaches. Managers make decisions after hearing opinions. They encourage autonomy up to the limit of each team member’s authority.
Nobody’s perfect: Identifying your flaws
So which style is closest to you? It may be that you don’t fit in any one of these particularly well, but that you may have traits from more than one. Whatever your style, we must remember nobody’s perfect! (Not even you!)
If you are totally honest with yourself, you’ll have a good idea of your flaws, but like we said nobody’s perfect... So, a good way to really identify where you might sometimes go wrong is to ask the people around you.
This can be tricky. It’s a tough ask to expect the people you manage and lead to be completely honest without fear of comebacks. You may promise them and yourself you won’t hold anything against them.
However, there is some potential for the principle of Schrodinger’s Cat to make itself felt… by simply trying to find out, you change the outcome; you might make all the promises in the world not to penalize negative feedback, but can you really control what happens at a subliminal level in yourself or others?
Perhaps targeting those at or near your level first and then asking them to gather opinions from further down the ladder is a good way to go. How ever you choose to approach it, proceed with caution!
Being a better leader: Fixing your weaknesses
Once you’ve got the honest opinions there are a number of ways to tackle your flaws. Here’s some general advice to help you fix the the specifics of your situation.
Understanding what makes a good manager
Let’s get it straight, good management isn’t just about MBAs from so-and-so business school. It’s not about crunching figures and looking at employee performance data. It’s not about making decisions. It’s about all these things and more, but most of all it’s about understanding people.
First and foremost, listen to what your team say about you and in response, try to find ways to alter how you do things. Just the act of being open and demonstrating that you want to be a better leader can be a catalyst for improvement.
Thinking about CPD self-help
There are many self-help books out there which may be of use. But, as with all Continuing Professional Development (CPD) strategies, we need to account for the fact that there are a mix of learning styles out there and you may not be particularly suited to learning from a book.
Considering professional help
Perhaps one of the best ways to help you improve is to seek expert advice to formulate a corrective strategy. Many highly successful leaders have sought out professional expertise to help them be better leaders, so maybe you might want to consider the services of a good executive coach?
Better leadership to support success
You may well have built a successful business or have a long and successful business career as a leader behind you. But have you really achieved all that you are capable of and are you the best leader that you can be?
To help you maximize your potential as a leader, and to maybe write the next chapter of success for your business, think about:
- Knowing what the rules of leadership are and when you should break them
- Recognizing when to insist or back down when there’s a difference of opinion
- Choosing the right management technique for the situation you are in
This is the final blog in the short series, Built to succeed - essentials for growing businesses. You can discover more great content from Breeze PM on our blog index page.