Once upon a time, becoming a better leader meant identifying your flaws and trying to fix them. More recently, however, the focus has changed. If you want to improve your leadership skills, the current thinking goes, you should focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Everyone has a natural approach to leadership. Rather than trying to force yourself into leadership styles that aren't right for you, how can you play to your strengths?
Get a Handle on Your Leadership Style
Three of the most common leadership styles are autocratic, delegative and democratic or participative. Which one sounds like you? If you're not sure, identifying your primary leadership style may require some insight and input from the people you work with—not just your business partners and key employees, but in fact your whole team. While it may feel a bit uncomfortable, doing a sort of 360° review of your leadership abilities can alert you to strengths and weaknesses you may not be aware of.
Even though your goal is to focus on your strengths at this point, you want to understand your weaknesses, too. Consider asking your team members questions like these:
- How would you describe my leadership style?
- What do you like and dislike about my leadership style?
- How does my leadership help you do your job better, or hinder you from doing it?
- How does my leadership style benefit or hamper the business as a whole?
Let the Information Sink In
It's easy to get defensive when you get criticism, but it's important to really hear what the rest of your team is saying about your leadership style. Sit with the information for a little bit and try not to dismiss things out of hand. Consider the source—everyone is different, and a leadership style that works for some employees may rub others the wrong way. The goal is to get a sense of the overall effectiveness of your natural leadership style.
Identify the Problems
Natural leadership styles may work in some situations, but not in others. For example, if you tend to micromanage, that approach may work well when developing new products, setting up contracts with a new vendor or in other situations when details really matter. However, it probably isn’t effective if you stand behind the checkout counter watching your salespeople like a hawk while they do their jobs. Make a list of situations, departments and/or people in which your leadership style is a positive or a negative.
Develop a Plan
Here's the fun part of maximizing natural leadership styles. Figure out how you can spend more of your day in the areas of your business where your natural leadership style is an asset, and less in the areas where it's a hindrance. Then determine how you can adjust your team’s roles to help make the most of your leadership abilities.
For example, maybe you’re an idea person who has dozens of ideas a day, but isn't great at executing because you're just not that into details. Think about using your time to focus on brainstorming and big-picture strategizing, and have key managers handle the execution part. Or perhaps you're a people person whose strength is encouraging and motivating others, but you have difficulty having the hard conversations when someone isn't performing up to par. Consider enlisting a "bad cop" to handle those tough talks.
Be a Grown-Up
Yes, you are trying to take advantage of your natural leadership style, but that doesn't mean you have license to behave however you want. For example, if you're an autocratic leader, you may have strong opinions and a bit of a temper. If all of your employees consistently say you fly off the handle and yell too often, that doesn't mean you have to change who you are—but it does mean you should consider modifying the excesses of your natural style. Instead of yelling about everything, reserve that passion for what's truly important, and find ways to manage your anger more productively the rest of the time.
By maximizing your natural leadership style, you may find that you and your employees are much happier and that your business is more successful thanks to you capitalizing on your strengths.
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