Leadership manifests in a myriad of fascinating ways. Think of a leader you admire. Often there’s something specific about the way they do what they do that resonates with you. Then, take a moment to consider the worst boss you ever had. That’s usually the stuff nightmares are made of.
When it comes to determining your leadership style, assessing where you may fall on the great / bad leader axis isn’t usually the best way to start. From mavericks to strategists, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to being a leader. We are all works in progress, and often make mistakes as we learn and grow. That’s the tough part. The good news is your leadership style can evolve, or shift, as needed over time.
If you’re moving into a leadership position or considering how you can improve as a leader, evaluating and leveraging your leadership style is key. So, if someone were to ask you, “Hey, what’s your leadership style?” it’s important to consider how you would answer. If you’re not sure, that’s OK. I’m happy to help share some ways you can figure it out.
Your leadership style derives from a mix of your strengths, personality and values coupled with your vision and goals. As a coach, I often help my clients evaluate and refine their leadership style. Understanding this, embracing this and, embodying this, can help you in several valuable ways. Your leadership style will determine how you make decisions and how you motivate your team. Your leadership style affects your workplace culture. Most importantly of all, your leadership style impacts performance.
How to Determine Your Leadership Style
1. Evaluate your Distinctive Strengths
When I’m coaching a client, I’ll ask about their distinctive strengths and the traits that best support their work. These are the things you do well, and the strengths others see in you. They are the specific skills and expertise you possess coupled with your personality, which shapes how you apply your skills.
2. Consider Areas for Growth
Next, I invite my clients to consider areas for growth, starting with potential strengths. These are the things you are OK at and could do better, or more often, if you focused on them. Then we assess the scary one — your weaknesses. These are the things you don’t do well at all, and really want to focus on improving. Finally, consider traits that may impede you, but you can’t, or don’t want to change. These are generally the habits or behaviors that sometimes make you less effective.
3. Get Clear on What Drives You
After we’ve created a list of the distinctive strengths, potential strengths and areas of weakness, I invite my clients to look at the bigger picture and tell me about their career values. If you’re not sure exactly what your career values are, ask yourself these types of questions:
- What motivates you?
- What are you naturally good at?
- What would you love to do more of?
- What energizes and excites you?
4. Creating Your Leadership Style Statement
After we’ve discussed and noted everything, I recommend my clients take time to review what they’ve shared and pull it together into a leadership style statement using the following prompts:
- I lead with [insert your distinctive strengths here]
- As I progress, the leadership qualities I strive for are [insert your potential strengths here]
- I’m committed to working on [insert the weakness, or weaknesses, you commit to improving]
- I’m motivated by [share your career values]
You don’t have to follow these prompts verbatim, but they can be a helpful jumping off point as you start to draft your leadership style. From there, you can refine it as you see fit. The goal is to summarize and encapsulate how you intend to lend. Writing this down can be illuminating.
If you want a third-party perspective on your leadership style, the internet is also here to help. Idealist.org has created this quick quiz that analyses how you operate. It covers how you give direction, how you handle deadlines and how you think your direct reports would describe you.
As I mentioned at the start, the best part is that your leadership style can, and will evolve. This is the benefit of experience, and the short, sharp, sting that can come with tackling common leadership challenges. As you work through this, advice from others is always invaluable. To that end, I interviewed three CEOs to get their first-hand perspectives on how to be a better leader.
Erik Huberman is the Founder and CEO at Hawke Media, which provides outsourced CMOs and marketing teams to other companies. Allison Whalen is the Co-Founder and CEO at Parentaly — her company helps parents plan for their parental leaves and return to work. David Witkin is the Managing Partner at the hedge fund Beryl Capital Management, where he leads investments for institutions and high-net-worth individuals.
Here’s the leadership advice Erik, Allison and David shared:
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess, and why is it so important?
Every leader needs empathy. Team members will respond in their own way to different stimuli and feedback. In my company, which is small, getting the most out of each colleague every day requires tapping into their different motivations, skill sets and experiences. – David Witkin, Managing Partner, Beryl Capital Management
Empathy for everyone — clients, employees, partners. Having the ability to truly empathize with others allows you to build the right products and services, attract the best talent and do work that matters. – Allison Whalen, Co-Founder and CEO, Parentaly
The ability to get things done is an important characteristic. Most leaders struggle with the ability to execute. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but you need to be able to do it. – Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO, Hawke Media
What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
Not listening enough to their direct reports. The employees who are working on the front lines know what is working and what is broken. They can dramatically improve the business if leaders take the time to listen and understand context. – Allison Whalen, Co-Founder and CEO, Parentaly
Focusing too much on the planning and building of their product or service, versus getting to market. – Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO, Hawke Media
The one mistake I see leaders making too much, is not articulating a simple vision for their companies or teams. I always think that powerful, simple mission statements are the easiest way to galvanize employees. Think of SpaceX’s mission to put humans sustainably on Mars, or Microsoft’s mission to put a computer on every desk in every home. Overly audacious missions are better than no mission at all, because teams and companies without an overarching vision for their teams can too easily fall prey to corporate or interpersonal politics. – David Witkin, Managing Partner, Beryl Capital Management
What’s the most valuable leadership lesson you’ve learned?
“Swing the bat.” You need to be able to just go for it, and then learn from your mistakes when they happen. – Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO, Hawke Media
The most valuable leadership lesson I have learned is that showing resiliency and fortitude in hard times, even in the face of your own uncertainty, is critical. In business, not every deal is a winner and not every prospect will become a client. If you, as the leader, are not resilient it’s doubly hard to get your team members to persist through adversity. – David Witkin, Managing Partner, Beryl Capital Management
My job is to help everyone do their best work — and sometimes that means helping people move on to other jobs. If something isn’t working, due to the nature of the business or the individual themselves, I owe it to that person to either help them solve the problem or move on to something better. No one likes to be in a position where they aren’t thriving. While it can be uncomfortable to acknowledge a situation where things aren’t working, it’s oftentimes the nicest thing you can do as a leader. – Allison Whalen, Co-Founder and CEO, Parentaly
What advice would you give to someone who is moving into a C-suite leadership position for the first time?
The advice I would give for a new C-suite executive is to get a coach or at least read leadership books. You are not the first person to assume a leadership position, and it’s better to learn from the mistakes of others than to commit a rookie error that was avoidable. – David Witkin, Managing Partner, Beryl Capital Management
Don’t be slow to make real decisions. Saying no is oftentimes the most powerful thing you can do to bring clarity to your team and business. Too often leaders at all levels of a company shy away from making bold decisions, which has a ripple effect on the entire company. – Allison Whalen, Co-Founder and CEO, Parentaly
You need to understand how to change perspectives from employee to owner, even as someone in the C-Suite. There is no “why it didn’t get done” it just has to get done. Failure isn’t an option and there are no excuses. If you want to succeed in the C-Suite you have to be able to drive, and ensure, success. – Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO, Hawke Media
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