We all need to lead sometimes – what’s your leadership style?

We all need to lead sometimes – what’s your leadership style?

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It’s not just about ‘alphas’ anymore: when it comes to leadership, we’re seeing what sensitive and introverted leaders can bring to the table. But ultimately, knowing your own style – and how to best use it – is your superpower.

You may not feel like the ‘leader’ type, but there comes a time when we all need to lead. Every team, every project calls for vision, direction and accountability, as well as input, ideas, feedback and collaboration – in a word, leadership.

Conventional – and arguably, reductive – notions of a leader evoke an ‘alpha’ personality, someone who gives orders to compliant subordinates. And if more positively framed, someone with both confidence and charisma in spades.

Thankfully, we’re expanding our definition of what it is to be a good leader:

  • Experts are identifying a broad spectrum of leadership ‘styles’, and tell us how we can harness their strengths to suit a given situation.
  • We’ve seen the successes of our more emotionally intelligent and human-centred (often referred to as ‘sensitive’) global leaders come into view as we grapple with a global pandemic.
  • Contrary to the prevailing idea that leaders are extroverts, we’re hearing more about the virtues of introverted leaders.

I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘leader’ – I’d shrink away from such a title and responsibility. It’s been through my journey of self-discovery with Ann that I’ve reckoned with the fact that I’ll invariably need to ‘lead’. Ann has introduced me to the many styles of leadership, helping me to identify my style and use it to my advantage. Lauren Ellis, a project manager in creative agencies.

Read on for some tips on how to identify – and get the most out of – your leadership style. Also, to learn of the rise of sensitive and introverted leaders.

The value of a good leader

Put simply – and expansively – by The School of Life, “employees with good leadership skills possess a good understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. They’re able to build a team that compensates for their blind spots and they seek out regular feedback, taking time to adapt their behaviour”.

In this sense, we should all be striving for ‘leadership skills’ – they’re qualities of successful (and emotionally intelligent) people.

Identify your leadership style

The above definition of leadership would suggest it’s as much knowing yourself as it is about being of a particular temperament. And increasingly, these leadership styles are being defined.

A Google search of ‘leadership styles’ reveals many descriptions, surveys and tips on how to define – and get the most out of – your leadership style.

Some of the likely more expected leadership styles defined include ‘Autocratic’ (where the leader controls all decisions), and ’Laissez-Faire’ (‘where the leader takes a hands-off approach and isn’t directly involved in decision-making).

You will also discover less leader-like styles, including ‘Servant’ or ‘Affiliative’ (where the leader puts other people and ideas before themselves). Also, ‘Democratic’ (where the leader seeks others’ opinions but will ultimately make the final decision). 

Adapt your leadership style

Leadership styles can – and should – be adapted to suit a given context or objective.

In Harvard Business Review, researchers Suzanne J. Peterson, Robin Abramson and R.K. Stutman put to us a case for a ‘blended’ style of leadership. They identify the pros and cons of two distinct ‘markers’ in leaders:

Powerful markers are associated with confidence, competence, charisma and influence but also arrogance, abrasiveness and intimidation. Attractiveness markers are related to agreeableness, approachability and likability, but also diffidence, lack of confidence and submissiveness”.

Neither set of markers is inherently good or bad, and we all have a ‘default’. What’s important is that we recognise that we need to draw upon certain markers according to a given situation. They note the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an expert at using a blended style to her advantage: “No pushover, she picked her battles wisely and used attractive markers when necessary”.

We can best achieve this by recognising our own strengths and weaknesses, and how we’re perceived by others; experimenting with how we want to be seen by others; and ‘reading the room’, by assessing the markers that we’re receiving from others.

Similarly, social psychologist Amy Cuddy identifies two modes of leading: ‘warmth’ and ‘competence’. Cuddy recommends that leaders should first project warmth to gain trust, then display their competence to gain credibility.

The Sensitive Leader

In recent times, we’ve seen the rise of the sensitive leader (flexing those ‘warmth’ and ‘attractiveness’ markers) as we grapple with a global pandemic. Jacinda Ardern would be its poster-child: she leads with both decisive action and an empathic sensibility – and with great success.

In the world of business, Richard Branson balances confidence and charisma with humility and a generosity of spirit – recently demonstrated as he celebrated his late mother’s life. “It’s no exaggeration to say I owe my career to my mum”.

Ciela Hartanov, Head of Next Practice Innovation and Strategy for People Development at Google defines sensitive leadership as “the practice of building capacity for responsive action, by using the ability to attune to the nuances of a situation.”

Hartanov suggests it’s a valuable approach: sensitive leaders have acute perceptual skills which see them better equipped to manage through uncertainty and unexpected situations – exemplified by Jacinda Ardern.

Sensitivity is often reduced to being ‘emotional’, but this ignores its superpower: a deeper ability to adapt and act accordingly. Leaders can actively build these skills, by developing their capacity to sense, reflect and respond.

The Introverted Leader

It’s no surprise that highly sensitive individuals share some traits with introverts: Hartanov notes that both process information deeply, which requires reflection and deep questioning.”

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking describes the situation for introverted leaders in the workplace: ”introverts are much less often groomed for leadership positions, even though there’s really fascinating research from Adam Grant at [The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania] finding that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes when their employees are more proactive. They’re more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extroverted leader might, almost unwittingly, be more dominant and be putting their own stamp on things, and so those good ideas never come to the fore.”

As seen in any team or situation, a mix of introverted and extroverted leaders proves to be beneficial, given both styles are complementary. We’re thoroughly familiar with extroverted leaders – and with voices such as Cain’s, we’re understanding the value that introverts can offer.

The conclusion…

As defined in Harvard Business Review “Successful leaders are true to who they are while continually making small adjustments in how they carry themselves, how they communicate and how they interact depending on the circumstances”.

A more conventional ‘leader’, a sensitive leader, an introverted leader: there’s a seat at the table for all of you. The trick is to know what styles to lean into, and when.

Want to discover your strengths and learn more about your leadership style? Contact Ann to find out how you can receive a free Strengths Profile assessment and debrief.

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