The secret to your leadership style?
It's you. Of course it is. Let's dive in...
Welcome back and welcome new followers! I’m so glad you’re here. I started Lead with Intention as I am fascinated by modern leadership. Who gets it right, who gets it wrong and how we can all do it better.
As a qualified leadership coach, and someone who has held several Director/board level positions, I’ve seen it all when it comes to leadership - the good, the bad and the ugly! And I’ve learnt my own lessons when it comes to leading authentically and with purpose - with the support of coaches, my network around me and of course, with my own hard work.
Which leads me to today’s topic…
The secret to finding your leadership style
When I started my leadership career, I was in my 20s and working flat out at a public relations agency in London. We worked hard. And by that I mean we worked like crazy. 12 hour days were standard. The night before new business pitches we’d be in the office until 10:00pm. I had regular emotional breakdowns over mistakes in my photocopying. Remember photocopying? I still break out in a cold sweat whenever I see large, collated sheafs of paper…
It was the type of organisation where “technical expertise” was valued above all else. So you could be made a team leader without any demonstrable experience or insight into how to develop that team. Leadership skills weren’t really considered when appointing leaders. Crazy huh? It was a crap shoot. Some people, it turned out, were innate leaders. Others were not.
I learnt hard lessons in my first leadership role. And i’ll share more on this in future episodes. But let’s just say mistakes were made. I can give myself a lot of grace now looking back. I was in my 20s and I wasn’t given the support, coaching or tools that I needed to step up into leadership.
And here’s another thing I now know…
Trying to lead like someone else is a waste of your time. And it’s not effective.
Now, I don’t mean that you can’t look to others for inspiration and guidance. After all, that’s what this newsletter is all about. But if you’re trying to copy someone’s approach wholesale, you’re missing out on the most valuable ingredient in anyone’s recipe for good leadership. The secret sauce if you will.
One of the many mistakes I made earlier in my leadership career was beating myself up because I wasn’t like some of the other leaders I saw around me. If you know me, you’ll know I’m a confident introvert. I’m not shy, but I do my best work alone, one to one or in small groups, not big crowds. You’ll also know that whilst I’m empathetic and insightful, I’m not always the most patient person in the world (I like to move things forward at pace). I’m also direct. And I hate injustice. This is me. It’s who I am and it makes me uniquely good at what I do.
I can’t pretend to be massively extrovert and be the loudest person in the room, because I’m not. I can’t not say the thing that is on my mind, especially if I believe it’s the right thing to do and it will help someone else if I speak up. That’s not authentic to who I am.
What I can do, is connect deeply with my own unique strengths and use them deliberately and consistently in my own leadership practice. And to recognise that these strengths come with specific benefits, as well as pitfalls that I need to learn to recognise and navigate in the pursuit of leading authentically.
I wish I’d learnt that sooner.
No, it’s not rocket science. But it takes courage and commitment in practice.
A leadership coach telling you to “be yourself” might not sound earth shattering. But so many leaders I speak to (or have experienced in the workplace), haven’t done the foundational work of understanding who they really are and what they can bring to the table that no-one else can.
I’ve talked about this before, but my year long leadership development immersion with the NHS Leadership Academy was a real game changer in terms of me understanding this about myself. It uses the incredibly powerful question:
“What’s it like to be on the receiving end of you?”
To spark a lot of deep work about you, the individual, as a leader. It is only by understanding who you really are (and your unique strengths and weaknesses) and the influences and events that have shaped your life and hence your leadership style, that you can truly get to grips with who you are now. What you have that no-one else has. And how powerful that can be - for good and the not so good - when you are leading others.
This isn’t easy work. It’s simple but it’s not easy.
So a lot of people just skip it and lead in the way they a) see someone else doing it, even if that person is nothing like them or not even an effective leader and/or b) they put on a front and “act” like how they think a leader should act. Even if this means an exhausting amount of pretence and performance.
How to find your leadership style
If you’re ready to start leading in a more authentic and intentional way, then start with these prompts. Be honest and sit with the answers. Talk to people you trust to see if they agree. Then ask yourself what it’s telling you about how you might want to show up as a leader.
What’s it like to be on the receiving end of me?
Which leaders do I admire and why?
How do I like to treated by my boss and why?
How would I like someone to describe me as a leader? Why?
Do I think this is how people currently describe me as a leader? If not, where are the gaps?
What are my values? What do I prioritise in my own behaviour and that of others?
What are my unique strengths that I can bring to the table? How might that translate into my leadership style? How could I do more of that?
How do I behave when i’m under pressure or unhappy? How might that affect my leadership behaviour? What could I do about that?
And then the big one…
“Am I prepared to lead in a way that feels authentic to me?”
You might think is a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many obstacles we will put in the way of leading in the way that works for us. It might be preconceptions about how others will react, or certain company cultures (and their leaders) that try and convince you there is only one way - their way - to lead and be successful.
It takes courage to dig deep and to act on what your insight tells you.
Simple. Not easy.
But so worth it.
Imagine going to work every day and feeling comfortable in your skin. Knowing that you behave in accordance with your values and your integrity. And that you are employing your unique strengths to lead as only you can. Wouldn’t you feel better? More empowered? And more fulfilled? I know you’d be more effective too.
We’ll talk more about when your strengths - when turned up to 11 - can challenge you as a leader (i.e. when my sense of fairness turns preachy), another time. This is also important to understand, as leadership can also be stressful, opening the door to the darker side of our unique strengths when we forget balance and context and all that good stuff. And we need to know what to do in those situations. But I think this is enough for today!
When the story overtakes the real issue
I wanted to talk more about the leadership story of the moment. But we’ve run out of time and space. However, worth reading the Wadds Inc Substack on the crisis at the BBC for a concise reading of the issue played out in real time over the weekend. And reflecting on the power of the news cycle to distract from the real policies and plans at hand…
No coaching prompt for today as we’ve gone deep with the questions above. Do let me know how you get on.
As more of you join the community, I wanted to thank you for being here and also remind you that I offer leadership coaching to first time or aspiring Directors. I think coaching is an essential part of your success, particularly first time out at Director level, and I wish I’d found it sooner in my career. Investing in a coaching relationship is a commitment you make to your own development and it can pay dividends in all areas of your life.
If you want to go deeper into your leadership development, please find me on LinkedIn and drop me a DM, reply here, or email me at email@example.com
And please share with others if you found this helpful!