Forget What You’ve Been Told: How to Develop a Leadership Style That Is Unique to You

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  • August 28, 2019

Nothing at work is more cringe-worthy than a manager who attempts a leadership style that either imposes their will on others or that clearly doesn’t fit their strengths or the overall philosophy of the organization. Nobody likes working for a boss who is out of touch with their team or, more importantly, themselves. 

These bosses—sometimes new to their roles—think they need to be tough and crack down, or to always be funny and the employee’s friend, or to micromanage everything, or to be so hands-off they provide no direction at all. Or they can’t decide who they want to be. It’s like watching Michael Scott on The Office in real time …

Worse yet, a bad boss doesn’t just create awkward interpersonal relationships—poor management results in high turnover, loss of top talent, and a lack of innovation. Today’s workplace has greater demands than can be met by taskmaster bosses or clueless managers. The growing body of literature about progressive leadership styles shows that there’s no one-size-fits-all framework or model; however, an intentional leadership development that’s tailor-made to your strengths has a direct positive correlation to team productivity and growth. The key is finding the right style for you—or creating an a la carte combination of behaviors, strategies, techniques, and mindsets that leverage your strengths and support the culture of your organization.

To help you nurture your leadership style, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide of some of the leadership styles our expert authors have found most effective and included the reasons they are appealing to people developing their own management styles and philosophies.

Servant Leadership

More than 50 years ago, Robert Greenleaf advanced a radical workplace idea: Great leaders serve their employees, and not the other way around. Thus, servant leadership was born, and it has become an effective style for managers who want to instill success, purpose, and drive in their employees. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling like you excel when you’re helping others realize their greatest strengths, or perhaps someone has called you a “people-pleaser,” the servant leadership movement is for you. It is one of the most effective leadership styles across industries and has been proven to drive real, positive results. 

In her time as CEO, Cheryl Bachelder took Popeyes Louisiana Chicken to unprecedented heights by implementing servant leadership throughout the company. In her own words, she outlines the challenges of servant leadership: “Proponents of servant leadership present well the tenets of caring, respecting, and being concerned for others—the loving acts required in servant leadership... But we shy from and even avoid the tougher topics of excellence, performance, and accountability. We need to ‘toughen up’ in order to build a credible case for servant leadership.”

Ken Blanchard is the world’s leading expert on and advocate of servant leadership. In a recent Q&A, he discussed how to solve performance problems with servant leadership. During the Q&A, Blanchard said, “Taking the time to assess a person’s mindset and skill set correctly can help ensure that you bring out the best in people who have the desire to learn—and that you limit your exposure to those who would be a better fit in a different environment.”  With this approach, servant leaders still serve, but realistically tailor their interactions to the individual employee.

If this philosophy piques your interest, be sure to check out these articles about servant leadership:

Positive Leadership

One of the best examples of the power of positive leadership is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who helped transform the tech mega-giant with this leadership style. The core aim of positive leadership is to shift away from framing with limitations and leading by saying “this isn’t possible,” and instead embrace a growth mindset that’s fueled by empathy and reinforced by action. Positive leadership isn’t simply the opposite of negative leadership; it focuses on growth potential and empowers people to channel their most creative, innovative, and purpose-driven selves. In other words, positive leadership is the mindset that outlines the steps that can be taken to grow to unprecedented heights, rather than fear limitations. Employees present tremendous potential, which positive leaders encourage and support for the betterment of the individual and the organization.

Sound like this is up your alley? Check out these other articles on positive leadership:

Humble Leadership

Edgar Schein pioneered the idea of humble inquiry—communication focused on listening rather than talking and on curiosity rather than self-interest. He identifies three key aspects of practicing humble inquiry:

  • Do less telling.
  • Learn to do more asking.
  • Do a better job listening and acknowledging.

Schein took the humble inquiry concept a step further by developing humble leadership, which encourages leaders to appreciate and respect the intrinsic value of every employee. With these three guiding principles, humble leaders foster collaboration and innovation among teams so every employee brings their piece of the puzzle to the game. The pieces that each employee brings are discovered through humble inquiry and building authentic relationships with your team. A small inquiry on a manager’s part can result in a flood of innovative ideas and opinions that otherwise would have never been voiced because workers felt as if they couldn’t say anything.

Want to learn more about this profoundly insightful leadership style? Here are some other articles to get you going:

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership sees each person as a leader in training and works to facilitate their development. For a transformational leader, their personal and professional development is always in progress, as is the same development for each employee. Transformation, in other words, is never complete, and we should always be mindful of this progression (or regression). Transformational leadership also believes in the power of the individual to boost the success of the organization; when a transformational leader encourages self-work and evolution, this awareness blooms out to the entire organization. 

Although it might sound similar to servant leadership, it differs in three key ways:

  • Influence
  • Orientation
  • Underlying goals

Both styles are great options for leaders who want to inspire their employees to do great things.

The Leadership Buffet

As you develop your own leadership style, you shouldn’t feel like you need to pick one—whether something discussed in this article or another philosophy—and rigidly stick to only that. An a la carte approach to leadership allows you to pick and choose concepts from many philosophies to arrive at something that uniquely makes the most sense for you and your personality, your employees, and your organization.

With that in mind, here are some more articles to get you thinking about the range of choices and philosophies available as you build your leadership style:

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