When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The same is true for leadership. If you’re great at driving your team by calling the shots, then you’ll seek out situations–and even create ones–where making tough calls quickly is critical. However, like any highly developed skill, overusing one kind of leadership mode quickly becomes a liability.
The fact is that business throws us all sorts of challenges, and we need different approaches. As your business and your team grows, you’ll need to develop a more robust and multifaceted set of leadership skills. Here are seven modalities that successful leaders use in the different situations where they are most effective.
For driven entrepreneurs, this is the most natural and the easiest approach to use. In this mode, you’re giving direction and expecting action. It doesn’t mean that you’re barking orders to underlinings. Rather, the message you’re sending out is clearly focused on what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and by when it needs to be done. This approach is critical when time is limited, indecision comes at a high cost, and weighing the options is a luxury that you just can’t afford. However, this is often an overused approach and can become a crutch for those who become overly reliant on it.
Here you’re letting others take the lead and serving as a supporting force who’s providing resources, information, and authority to your team members. Servant leaders lean heavily on this approach to support their teams and allow them do what they feel is best. My word of caution here is to make sure you’re supporting a team who has a clear direction and is highly motivated rather than falling back on this mode because you’re just not sure what to do.
Your role here is to ask questions that get the team members thinking in new or different ways. In this mode you’re helping them to consider new options or criteria. By asking the right questions you can allow them to see an opportunity they haven’t considered or a big risk they may need to avoid. However, don’t use this as a cover for the directive mode. If you really want the team to turn right, just say so. Don’t try to lead them down the garden path.
Sometimes a team has the right information, great organization, and a plan that will win, but they lack the mental willpower and confidence to take the summit. In this case, give your team words of encouragement, remind them of past successes, and keep them focused on pressing forward. This can be very hard if you’re a driving leader who gets frustrated, so be careful of grabbing the wheel too quickly.
Here you’re expanding the team’s authority and purview. This could be giving team members greater ability to make decisions or the ability to execute without getting prior approvals. When a team has proven their ability to make effective decisions and you’ve found that reducing bureaucracy and paperwork will increase implementation speed and motivation, this a powerful approach. Be careful however, a team who has been given greater control can be very reluctant to give it back.
This can feel similar to the inquisitive mode but it includes one subtle difference: the focus here is look at past events, actions, and results to spur the team to self reflect and to generate new awareness. From this awareness comes insight and creates different–hopefully better–options and approaches. This mode is a powerful leadership mode, but it’s also the most difficult because it requires you to put aside your views and motivations and let the team discover its own path forward.
While somewhat cliché, the visionary mode is a very important. For some people, this approach comes naturally and for some it takes focused effort. When you’re the visionary, your job is to paint a vivid and detailed picture of the future desired state. Think of Kennedy and his We Choose To Go To The Moon speech. Use this approach sparingly; its power comes in its infrequent and strategic use.
To be a great leader learn to leverage your natural skills and develop your weaknesses. But most importantly, learn which approach is best in which situation and avoid overusing one just because you’re good at it.