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You cannot lead anyone or anything if you cannot lead yourself. Effective leadership of self depends on a high degree of self-awareness founded on honesty and introspection. As individuals advance in their careers they are exposed to new challenges and the opportunity to make decisions with the benefit of wisdom gained over time. However, this wisdom must be cultivated. It lies within all of us but only surfaces when it is sought. Not only do we as individuals face new challenges as we advance but society throws challenges at us also. Fortune Magazine puts it this way, leading a company today is different from the 1980s and ‘90s, especially in a global company. It requires a new set of competencies. Bureaucratic structures don’t work anymore. You have to take command and control types out of the system. You need to allow and encourage broad-based involvement in the company. Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness says, the industrial age was about control, and the information age, or knowledge worker age, is about release.
A logical extension of self-awareness is the style the leader then uses to lead in this changing world. There are many labels to describe leadership styles. Some of these labels are authoritative, participative, charismatic, task-oriented, people-oriented, big-picture focused etc. This is where stereotypes fail us. There is no one single leadership style that is most effective. The most important aspect of style is the ability to adapt it to be of maximum effectiveness. The most successful leaders are able to modulate and moderate their approach.
It is the recognition by the leader of their own style and the situation they are operating in that differentiates average performers from superior leaders. The true student of leadership moves beyond anecdotal stories and experiential development into the academic. By academic I mean they undertake a lifelong study of the art and science of leadership. They seek to learn from others outside their normal frame of reference. This learning may come from talking with others, reading business books, reading academic research or taking higher level classes. They make every effort to have a higher level of self-awareness and to understand the impact they have on others.
Many supervisors today have been exposed, and sometimes subjected to, some type of psychometric assessment. They are known by names such as DISC, Myer-Briggs, etc. These assessments are tools to help people be more effective on the job. They first do this by giving us a better understanding of ourselves. Then we are able to look at how we interact with others. These tools also help us understand others. This mutual understanding is an essential part of high-performing teams. Some assessments measure preference, some measure aptitude, others measure attitude and some measure intelligence. Intellect, as we commonly know it (IQ) and emotional intellect (EQ) are measurable with much being made of EQ lately.
Ultimately, your effectiveness is not solely a factor of what style you employ. It is not based on your natural instincts or on learned traits. Most researchers in organizational development agree on this. David Segal in Military Leadership writes “that the nature and quality of the interaction between the leader and the other group members is a strong determinant of the effectiveness of the group.” Despite this assertion, we still want to know what style delivers interactions of the highest nature and quality? Of course, the answer is any style can be effective. The biggest determinant in the quality of the interaction is the authenticity of the leader. Authenticity is about being real, genuine. Genuine people know themselves; they are fully self-aware of their strengths and limitations and recognize they are part of the team. This all leads to a confidence that enables them to walk their talk, to deliver consistent messages and to look people in the eye in a way that engenders loyalty.
One size does not fit all. There is no universal truth when it comes to leadership and there is certainly no universal style that is most effective. Effectiveness stems first from the quality of the relationships between the leader and those they lead. The quality of the relationship has little to do with style and a lot to do with trust and credibility. Still, an awareness of individual style and the willingness to get better at adapting ones style to a given situation are differentiators of the most successful leaders.