7 steps to determining your leadership style and becoming a better leader

7 steps to determining your leadership style

There are a number of steps that can help determine both your leadership style and how efficient it is, writes Anthony Mitchell, who explains how to improve your leadership style and become a better leader in 2019

Many of us hit sprinting mode as the year comes to a close, which usually means that self-development is low on the list of priorities. But if you’re in a leadership position, self-reflection and evaluation of your leadership style over the break will be essential to creating a more successful team and business in 2019.

Where should you start? First, determine your leadership style and its effectiveness:

1. Ask for feedback. Obtaining feedback about your leadership style is one of the best ways to understand how you tend to lead, and what impact that has on your employees. Take notes from recent performance reviews home with you for reflection over the break, check in with employees who directly report to you, and ask for feedback from other senior leaders in your company. Gather evidence that will help you to realistically evaluate your performance and identify where you can improve.

2. Reflect on your performance. In the words of influential psychologist, John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” Take some time to consider key leadership moments from the past 12 months. What was the situation and how did you react? Were you effective in resolving the problem or improving the outcome? If so, how? And if not, why not?

Reflection is a great way to process and synthesise thoughts, feelings, and actions to improve self-understanding. Try writing things down in a journal to group patterns of thought and behaviours, and to hone in on what leadership styles you default to, and in which situations.

“Consider goals that will help you impact shareholders, customers and employees to increase profit, improve brand loyalty or increase retention”

3. Compare the ‘real’ and the ‘ideal’. You might have heard the terms ‘real self’ and ‘ideal self’ from the work of organisational theorist, Richard Boyatzis. The ‘real self’ refers to who you actually are at this point in time, while the ‘ideal self’ is all about who you want to be, and what kinds of attributes and skills you want to possess.

If the ideal and the real are not aligned, we tend to experience a level of anxiety that affects both wellbeing and performance. Take the time to compare your two selves. Think about what kind of leader you are and what kind of leader you want to be to identify any gaps and create specific development goals.

4. Understand your leadership style. Knowing what you bring to leadership, and what you could bring to leadership, is important when building a toolkit of styles to embody and draw on in different situations. One popular framework is Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles, which proposes the following personas:

  • Commanding/directive: the ‘do what I tell you’ leader
  • Visionary/forward-looking: the ‘come with me’ leader
  • Affiliative: the ‘people come first’ leader
  • Democratic/participatory: the ‘what do you think?’ leader
  • Pacesetting: the ‘sets high standards’ leader
  • Coaching: the ‘developing others’ leader

Frameworks such as this will help you to better understand your own style, and give way to options for improvement.

3 strategies for improving your leadership style
Once you have an understanding of your leadership style, you can begin to put in place some strategies for improvement:

1. Goal-setting. The key is to set goals that focus on creating more impact, rather than simply doing more. Last year, Apple gained 86 per cent of the global profit pool for smartphones with only 18 per cent of the total products sold. They succeeded by making a greater impact than their competitors. Mimic this approach.

“The key is to set goals that focus on creating more impact, rather than simply doing more”

Consider goals that will help you impact shareholders, customers and employees to increase profit, improve brand loyalty or increase retention. Incorporate insights about your leadership style to determine how you can achieve these goals in the most effective way.

2. Safe-to-fail experiments. These are small trials of new skills and approaches in low-stake situations (e.g. with close colleagues, as opposed to the Board or an important client). The following principles are a good guide to setting up your experiments:

  • Stick to trials where the stakes are low (outside your comfort zone, but not overwhelming or detrimental to your wellbeing).
  • Test the same skill or approach in a number of different situations. Alternatively, test different skills or approaches in similar situations.
  • Enlist the support of others. Gather regular feedback about your approach or invest in coaching to develop your skills.
  • Reflect on each experience and determine the level of success. Consider what worked, what didn’t and what you would do differently next time. Then apply these insights to your approach in the future.

3. Personal development plan. Prepare a simple development plan. Put a timeframe on it, make a list of goals and specify what you are going to do to meet each one (consider safe-to-fail experiments, coaching, leadership development courses for 2019 etc.). Nothing on this plan needs to be set in stone. In fact, it is something you should revisit regularly to ensure you are on track, and that your goals are still relevant to you and your organisation.

While holidays provide a chance to switch-off, they also present an invaluable opportunity to prepare for growth and success through self-reflection and planning for the year ahead.