Don't Mistake it for a Personality Trait
As your startup grows and you experience the pain of many people working together, somebody will inevitably propose a "test" to understand each team member's personality.
And, what is not to like about that? Understanding how the other person ticks makes it easier to work together.
It gets tricky when we start to define ourselves by that personality. "I am sorry, but that is just me." We excuse our behavior as a fact of life and not a choice.
Leadership by Personality is Destined to Fail
It gets problematic when we mistake personality for leadership. It happens more often than you think and has to do with the nature of our industry.
The founder often IS the company. You're the heart, soul, and engine of your business. Everybody joins YOU on that mission to change the world.
Yet, after some early success, you hit a wall. The business grows, the team expands, and the requirements change. What was once intuitively working is now failing.
Leadership is a Craft, not (just) Talent
Unfortunately, leadership is overloaded with noise. Many books tell the story of a great leader in retrospect and with a happy ending already have taken place. We look at those larger-than-life personalities and believe we must be superheroes to achieve anything close to their success.
And there is something to it. Great leaders are rare. Yet, we can actually learn leadership. It is reasonably simple to understand.
First of all, leadership is a craft, not a personality trait. Think of it like a toolbox. You have a hammer, a screwdriver, and several other tools. Regardless of who you are, if you like to get a nail into a wall, you should take a hammer.
Just like that, your leadership style is not about who you are but the situation. It is about the goal you aim to achieve. Let me briefly share some core leadership styles and how to use them.
The Leadership Styles
Visionary ("Come with me") Style: This is all about providing long-term direction and vision. You state the goals, provide clarity and allow the freedom of how to achieve them. It enables team members to understand why their work matters. Clarity is the key term here. Without it can be vague and hard to internalize.
Affiliative ("People come first") Style: This style creates harmony and a warm and friendly atmosphere. It makes team members feel valued as individuals, not just workers. But its focus on praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected.
Participative ("What do you think?") Style: It's also called democratic leadership and generates commitment and consensus among the team. It enables them to build a shared vision, create ideas, and share responsibility. But sometimes, the price is endless meetings and a sense of being leaderless.
Coaching ("Try this.”) Style: This works well when employees are aware of their weaknesses and want to improve, but not when they resist changing their ways. Through coaching, you help each team member to be the best they can be. But only if they are willing to be coached.
Pacesetting ("Do as I do, now.”) Style: Leaders who set high-performance standards and exemplify them themselves have a very positive impact on employees who are self-motivated and highly competent. But other employees feel overwhelmed by such demands for excellence and the leader's tendency to take over a situation.
Directive ("Do what I tell you.”) Style: This approach can be very effective in a turnaround situation, a natural disaster, or when working with problem employees. But in most cases, it restricts flexibility and dampens team motivation. It gives clarity on what needs to be done and how. But it doesn't explain why.
As you can see, it has no magic - different tools for different situations. I am not saying it is easy, but at least easy to understand. What often happens is that we lean on the leadership style we're most comfortable with.
For example, who doesn’t like to be called a “visionary”? Making big ideas easy to understand comes naturally to many founders. But what about the teammate that struggles with the fear of making mistakes? They might need coaching from you to see how they can overcome their fears. And what about your co-founder, who believes in the vision, is highly competent, and is willing to go to battle every day? They might need pacesetting from you.
Leadership is knowing your tools. The fact is that with enough force, you can get a screw into a wall with a hammer :-) It is just not very efficient. To scale your business, you need to grow your leadership portfolio. Depending on the context of your business, your leadership style contributes up to 70% to the team climate, directly impacting your company's performance.
What is your comfort zone in leadership style?
Source: The leadership styles are based on "Leadership That Gets Results." by Daniel Goleman.