Mike Gaffney breaks down the differences between leadership styles V leadership skills and discusses the role both play in helping business owners and team leaders build successful organisations. As Mike points out, it is essential for leaders to understand their audience but it’s also crucial for leaders to be honest and authentic and avoid ‘putting on an act.’
Goleman describes different leadership styles – coercive, authoritative, democratic and so on – but essentially there are two factors that will affect business leaders and their leadership style. One is the circumstances of the situation they find themselves in. For example, if you’re a sports coach leading the under 10 football team, the leadership style you would use with children of that age would be very different than the style you would use with senior county players. So you have to choose a leadership style that is appropriate to the audience you are working with.
The second thing is that individual leaders need to understand their own capability in terms of the audience they are best suited to. Again, using the sports analogy, you could have a coach who is brilliant with leading adult teams and achieves great success with them but is utterly lost when it comes to leading children’s teams. That coach just doesn’t know how to connect with the young team and of course it happens the other way around too. Some coaches may have a real flair for inspiring and leading youth teams but may not be effective at all when faced with an adult team. So when it comes to leadership style, the leader must first understand the audience that he or she is dealing with and they must be confident that they can successfully apply their leadership style to that particular group.
The Authentic Leader
To put on a style that isn’t you would be a huge error because the most important quality in any team leader is authenticity. Employees want to see a leader who is comfortable in their own skin and is genuine and is not putting on an act. People would rather have a leader who may stumble from time to time but they are genuine, rather than a leader putting on an act that they think their audience wants to see. People can see through that act, they know it’s false and that’s when the leader loses all credibility.
So authenticity is crucial for any leader, be it a business owner or team leader within an organisation.
People generally warm to those leaders who are natural and comfortable in their own skin. They don’t necessarily have all the answers and don’t pretend to. Showing ourselves to be human is actually a strong trait in a leader. If you hear employees describe their boss as a ‘natural leader’ they are describing someone who is really just being themselves and not putting on an act.
So a great leader doesn’t have to fit the stereotype of a tough military-style, aggressive leader?
Not at all, that’s more of a lazy media representation of leadership, like the brash and egotistical image of Donald Trump. Actually, the most effective business leaders out there are the quiet types who are working away in the background making their businesses work successfully and they don’t seek any attention for what they do. These are people with a genuine passion for what they do; people who have built up a level of expertise in their field and who are very persistent. Employees and management teams trust them. The tribe will always follow somebody that they believe will help them create a better future for them and their family. They will trust the company where they feel safe and feel they are looked after in terms of confident leadership, promotion opportunities and job security.
There is a tendency, particularly in the corporate sector, for people to think that the more senior the leader the more skills they have to have. So if you are junior manager you might be good at communication or good at time management, but as you move into more senior roles you must be a great communicator, be more charismatic, be an influencer or have high motivational skills. The list of requirements gets longer and longer. When you look at it, the Richard Bransons of the world and some politicians, haven’t got a wide range of leadership skills. They have a few skills that they are particularly good at. For example, Richard Branson is a great PR man and he just keeps applying that skill to promote the Virgin brand.
Take great political leaders like Harry Truman. He was an ordinary man from Missouri and he is widely considered to be one of America’s most effective presidents after Washington and Lincoln. He was a farm boy, never went to college but he had honesty, integrity and decisiveness. He trusted his instincts and people trusted his leadership.
His skill was in taking ownership of his responsibilities and handling the pressures of the office of president.
He listened well to others but he also trusted his gut and made clear decisions. OK some decisions he made were wrong, he didn’t always get things right. But he led his team and he wasn’t afraid to make difficult decisions or to accept responsibility for the outcomes. There are a lot of people surrounding the leader who would not like to be in that position of having to make the tough decisions. The pressure and responsibility of that would be too much for many people.