We all have a leadership style. At home, at work, with clients, with peers – anywhere we’re not just following. Whether we are trying to reach a new level in our careers or just get more out of the people on our teams, there are tools to help us understand and adapt our style. Here are a few key insights from the HBR article, “How to Develop Your Leadership Style.”*
The first step is to realize that personality does not equal style. Who we are is evident in everything we do. How we were raised, our habits, our preferences – these are what makes us “us.” We can’t change these. These are all aspects of our unique and individual personality. However, just like we can cut, dye, or change our hairstyle, our leadership style can be accented and adjusted too. Want to go neon pink? What about conservatively letting the grey show? How about showing up at the office with a mohawk? Everything with style is a choice.
In the article, they focus on leadership style markers across a spectrum between “power” and “attractiveness.” None of these are positive or negative on their own, but they help us to understand what signals we are sending and how others might interpret them. Think of them as labels we can use to flag points in an interaction. Think of how they mark the style we are trying to project.
“Power” style markers are bold, declarative, or authoritative punctuation points in an interaction. “Attractive” style markers are softer, accommodating, and inclusive punctuations. We can firmly have a style (ex. very powerful or attractive), lean in either direction (ex. lean towards power or attractive), or take a balanced approach (ex. a dynamic mix of each).
Since different situations call for different style sets, it’s easy to see how a consciously blended approach can be very desirable. Someone who is always in power-mode might be off-putting and crash through delicate situations like a wrecking ball. Someone who is always in attractive-mode might never make enough ruckus to advance themselves forward or take charge. Someone with a balance can know how to yell AND how to listen.**
By understanding where our personality naturally fits, we can then look for where we might add style accents to steer our own interactions. Think of it as a flex. Just like a muscle we looking to build, it takes intentional flexing to get stronger. A powerful person can learn to flex attractive and an attractive person can learn to flex power. More balanced means more options, and more options means more potential for successful impact.
Over time we can build these muscles and learn to adapt our style towards the direction we want each interaction to go in. Whether it’s the direction of our career, how we are perceived in a group, or on one on ones with specific clients, these are essential skills to hone. By knowing the style markers we naturally use and those we want to include, any of us can level up our leadership skills.
*I highly recommend reading the full paper, “How to Develop Your Leadership Style,” by Suzanne J. Peterson, Robin Abramson, and R.K. Stutman (HBR, November-December 2020), and listening to the HBR IdeaCast episode discussing it with Suzanne Peterson. More self-awareness of leadership styles is the way to keep getting better. Oh, and there’s that Stutman again… more from him here.
**This is where I almost put a mullet joke, because what says hairstyle balance more than business in the front, party in the back?