by Patricia Wallington

Know Your Leadership Style

Jun 01, 20016 mins

AS A MANAGER, do you consider yourself whole-brained, emotionally intelligent, self-actualizing, principle-centered or one-minute? Those are just a few of the many adjectives out there to describe your management style. Do you know your style? You should. It has a big effect on what you do and how you do it. It’s important to be able to see yourself as others see you?objectively, without all the filters at work.

Early in my career I worked for a boss who was convinced that where people sit in a meeting could determine the outcome. Sit directly across from the key person so that you can look her in the eye; position yourself to block the view of your opponents; and so on. He had us all so focused on where to sit that when I found myself in the “wrong” seat at a crucial meeting, I blew it. Now, maybe the outcome had more to do with my approach than with where I was sitting, but that was the beginning of my fascination with the many theories of management. Throughout the years, from Abraham Maslow to Stephen Covey, I have learned a lot about myself by understanding the best of the management style analyses.

Elements of Style

What is this thing we call a management style? Simply stated, it is a set of preferred behaviors. It reflects how you think and how you see things. Though they may have different and creative labels, most styles are described around some common dimensions: how you make decisions (participative or controlling), give direction (broad objectives or detailed prescription), influence people (persuade, facilitate or demand) and deal with conflict (avoid, cause or engage), as well as your orientation to change (visionary or status quo), orientation to results (action or analysis) and interpersonal skills (mature or immature). It is not my intent to catalog them all?it can be overwhelming if you delve into too many simultaneously. At one point I had so many theories I couldn’t figure out who I was or who I wanted to become!

What can you gain by understanding your own management style? Just undertaking an assessment can give you some new insights. Seeing our impact on others helps to uncover the blind spots most of us have. As Covey, well-known author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Fireside, 1990), says, “Until we know ourselves we cannot know others. Thus we project our intentions on others and call it objective.” You get the “Aha!” effect when previous happenings are suddenly illuminated by an understanding of your style. Putting this understanding to work when faced with challenges gives you a framework to help you choose alternative approaches, behaviors or actions. You can change or modify your style only once you understand it. But remember: There is no one best style. Each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Extend these benefits even further, which is very helpful in team building, by understanding the management styles of others: Meshing the strengths of complementary styles will lead to more effective collaboration. For example, I once had two managers who were each very capable in their own right, but when they worked on a team project together, they were dynamite. One had a lot of vision and there was almost nothing he was afraid to tackle, although he was a little light on details and a little rough on people. The other was detail action-oriented and very sensitive to people’s needs. This combination led to some of the most effective implementations of that organization.

Can you have more than one style? Of course?the more the better! Flexibility is a definite advantage because your preferred style is not the only variable affecting any outcome. The situation is another factor, as are the needs of other people. The ability to alter your style to fit will be a distinct advantage.

I once observed a superb consensus manager struggle to get his staff to formulate a plan for one of their high-priority objectives. The staff lacked the maturity and experience to accomplish this and desperately wanted the manager to give them more direction. Once the manager set aside his usual consensus building style and moved to a more directive style, results followed. So it is important to understand the situation and the maturity of your staff and assess which style would be most likely to facilitate achieving the desired results.

I find that choosing one theory that works best for me is most helpful. Don’t lock yourself into any one theory; instead, develop your own unique style. Strive to balance the need for vision, action and people skills. Given today’s roller-coaster business environment, focusing on styles appropriate to change will be helpful. And don’t stop assessing?continue to follow the new ideas in this field and incorporate them into your personal repertoire as appropriate. The wealth of material and the richness of the thinking can keep you growing for a long time.

A Good Example

One approach I was introduced to several years ago has been so enlightening that I am compelled to incorporate it here. It comes from the work of Dawna Markova, author of several books on learning patterns. In its purest sense it is not a management style so much as a learning style. But a big component of management is continuous learning, for yourself and others. On the simplest level, this theory frames three basic styles of learning: kinesthetic (focused on action), auditory (focused on hearing) and visual (focused on seeing). You can use all three of these to some extent, but everybody has one that dominates. So, you can describe yourself using an acronym made up of the letters of these styles, with your dominant one first and descending from there: KAV, VAK, AKV and so on.

To see the usefulness of this approach, think about the times when you are managing a situation and trying to get everyone moving in the same direction. The variability in approaches can be amazing. I had one manager who always said, “Draw it on the board for us.” Another one would say, “Tell us again.” And the biggest groans always came when my KAV manager would say, “But what are we going to do?” Once you understand that everyone takes in information in different ways, you can choose approaches that accommodate all styles. At the very least, you will understand who may struggle to get the message and why. This will not only improve your effectiveness as a manager but will also lower the frustration of those struggling to understand. All of this will lead to better results.

So whatever styles you choose, I wish you luck. If you are a V, you will get a lot from this column. For the Ks and the As, I am sorry I can neither tell it to you nor act it out. Maybe sometime in the future!