How to be a versatile leader

chameleon

What are leaders required to do? We could argue that it depends on the circumstances but most people would probably agree that leaders are required to get results.

And what are the activities leaders engage in to get those results? When I talk to leaders I divide the key activities into three categories. Leaders need to:

  • Articulate their vision – identify a compelling goal and have a well thought out strategy to achieve the goal. (Strategise)
  • Communicate their vision – raise awareness and understanding with all stakeholders. And this means communicating regularly and consistently. (Communicate and engage)
  • Achieve their vision – plan, implement, recruit and develop others, manage performance, monitor and review. (Plan and Manage)

But the really difficult question is HOW can leaders do all those things? These activities require quite different styles of leadership. Setting and communicating your vision involves creativity, the ability to give clear direction, compelling others to follow your dream. Communicating and engaging with others requires good listening skills and the ability to bring people together, creating harmony and encouraging collaboration. And when implementing their strategy, leaders have to give attention to developing their people as well as managing performance which often involves taking tough and unpopular decisions. Is it really possible for one leader to do all of these things?

According to Daniel Goleman (“Leadership that gets results”, Harvard Business Review,2000) truly effective leaders are those who are capable of adapting their leadership style when necessary. Successful leaders are versatile in their approach and have a number of different styles in their repertoire. Not only that, they have sufficient empathy and emotional intelligence to understand what style to use in which situation. Goleman argues that aspiring leaders can acquire this versatility by taking the following steps:

–    Have a personal vision of the sort of leader you aspire to be. Visualise your ‘ideal self’ as a leader. Many people struggle with the idea of having a personal vision but we know that, without a vision, it is difficult to find the motivation to change and to work out a plan for improvement.

–   Carry out an inventory of what skills, attributes and qualities you already have at your disposal (these are your strengths) and work out where the gaps are between your self now and your ideal self. This requires a high level of self awareness. Think about where you can get good information (feedback from others, psychometric tests, coaching perhaps) to ensure that you have a clear picture of your real self.

–    Draw up a ‘personal plan for development’ that helps you to build on your strengths and addresses the gaps between your self now and your ideal self.

–    Practice. The only way to achieve versatility and develop new styles of leadership is to practice different behaviours. Challenge yourself to try out new approaches, resisting the temptation to rely on your default style. We are talking about changing habits here and that takes a lot of practice over time. Sufficient practice will mean that eventually the leadership style you aspire to will become natural – a new habit.

-    Build trusting relationships. While you are following your plan for development you will need people to talk to, to share your successes and setbacks with, to spur you on and to give you feedback. Find people who you trust and respect and tell them what you are trying to achieve. Check in with these people regularly.
Being a versatile leader is not easy. But there is no longer ‘one right way’ to lead. What is needed is the ability to understand people and situations and to adopt different leadership styles in response. In other words, successful leaders do the right things at the right time in the right way with the right person.

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