As an executive coach, I have found that style really does matter. Leadership style, that is.
Many people go through life with an attitude that says, “This is the way I am – take it or leave it.” As a leader, you don’t have that option. When confronted with diverse situations in the work environment, you will often need to respond with very different leadership styles. Some will be comfortable and natural to you, and some will make you stretch.
Take the situation one of my clients found himself in:
My client was CEO of a mid-size corporation. His natural flair was to work with his staff in a very collaborative fashion. In fact, he believed that it was important not only to collaborate with his staff, but to have consensus from them on all major decisions. In most cases, this worked well. But the day came when the company needed to implement a new operational structure. A massive change was essential. The CEO attempted to collaborate and get a consensus from all the members on his leadership team … but three months later, they were still arguing about what to do and how to do it. Friction and hostility had crept into the previously united team. The CEO was at his wit’s end. He called me in.
The problem? His leadership team was not ready to assume the responsibilities he was placing on them. They didn’t have the experience and skills that were necessary to collaborate effectively and implement a solid plan of action.
The solution? The CEO had to change his leadership style from collaborative to decisive. He himself had to define what the new operational structure of the business was going to look like, and drive the change forward. Within one month of his asserting this higher level of control, the new structure was in place and functioning smoothly, and the transition had been completely seamless to the company’s customers.
Will he always have to stay in this decisive role? By no means. As his leadership team continues to grow and develop, the collaborative approach that is natural to him will become more and more appropriate and effective. But he has learned a valuable lesson – and one that he will benefit from again and again: Great leadership isn’t a matter of finding a “perfect style” and sticking to it through thick and thin. It’s about knowing the perfect style for the situation you’re currently in and using it well.
© 2008 Timothy I. Thomas
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