Your Approach to Leadership Cannot Be One-Size-Fits-All

by Doug Upchurch

In yesterday’s Advisor, we presented the surprising finding that many employees do not really value leadership opportunities as a way to advance their careers. Today, we present an article by Doug Upchurch, a learning innovation strategist for Insights® Learning and Development, on how to tailor leadership according to your own individual style.

I always laugh when I see the phrase, “one-size-fits-all.” As a larger-than-average guy, that typically means it won’t fit me. Leadership is another place where this phrase just doesn’t fit. This is because, as leaders and the people being led, we are never one-dimensional.

Nobody is just one thing, be that happy, grumpy, bashful, (sorry, I’ve named almost one-half of the Seven Dwarves) creative, a reliable colleague, a good listener, or even a great leader. Well, let’s qualify that. All leaders may be great in certain respects, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be considered great by everyone that they lead.

In this new Millennial world, we’ve learned that people, teams, and leaders are all much more complex than that. There is no production line that spits out excellent leaders, just as there is no cookie cutter that will provide you with a team of identical, indistinguishable workers.

Every single person in your team is unique. They are all motivated by, disappointed by, worried about, excited about, and skeptical of different things, each to varying degrees. Some will like informal chats about the weekend, others would rather eat a cactus than be forced into such an ordeal.

Your challenge as a leader is to be all things to all people without losing sight of the essence of your leadership style. But how?

Take the Leadership Challenge

Insights’ leadership model gives you a framework on which you can hang your own individual style, while helping you think about how you can flex according to the needs of the person right in front of you at any given moment.

In Insights’ leadership programs, we help people understand the four manifestations of leadership and where they sit within the following:

  • Results leadershipestablishes processes that work and sticks to them in order to get things done
  • Visionary leadershiphas strong creative instinct and likes to dream of all the possibilities before committing to a plan of action
  • Relationship leadershipis a lover of collaboration, building a strong community, and partnering for success
  • Centered leadershipis self-aware and intentionally role models authenticity and their own deeply-held personal values

It’s natural to instinctively feel that tug of recognition when you read one of these statements. However, to be a great leader, you need to learn how to shift your style to best appeal to whoever you are dealing with in real time.

Learn to Flex Your Style

For example, if you, by nature, are a visionary leader, that may work really well for the creative, blue-sky risk-takers in your team. But, if you only lead based on your preferences and do not consider the preferences of those you lead, you could well be leaving others in your team out in the cold.

Those of a more practical, action-oriented nature won’t be convinced by what they perceive as your whimsical, capricious style. Your challenge is to find a way to connect with them, in a way that works for them but that also doesn’t feel false to you.

Work the Leadership Model

Each time you need to reach out to someone who you know doesn’t share your style, lean on the model. For instance, picture yourself stretching into a results-focused leadership style, even for a short time, and then picture your focus migrating back to your comfort zone.

Visualizing stretching your natural style will help you adapt to others while staying true to yourself and your way of leading. Even when you stretch into an unfamiliar space, feel reassured that you’ll always be able to come “home” to where you feel most comfortable.

The four manifestations of leadership are the critical pillars that will enable you to become a leader who knows who he or she is while also being able to meet the needs of others. Being able to access each of these—or a combination of them—when required will boost your effectiveness as a leader and will enable your team to reach new heights of trust, cohesion, and ultimately, productivity.

It’s like any form of exercise—start small, build up strength and tolerance, and you’ll soon be able to “whistle while you work” and go much further than you ever thought you could.