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What is a 'Leadership Style', really?

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During the past 25+ years in my business of facilitating workshops on teams and leadership, I have seen many existing and emerging leaders relentlessly search to identify their natural – or even ‘ideal’ leadership style.

Yes, models abound that suggest there are specific ‘styles’ of leadership, such as the Situational Leadership Model, Collaborative/Directive Leadership, Human Synergistics Organisational Culture Measurement Tool … and the list goes on.

When it comes to actually living your leadership, what matters far more than knowing your ‘leadership style’ is what you do.

I firmly believe leadership has nothing to do with the title on your business card or where your name appears on the business’s organisational chart.

Leadership has everything to do with your actions and attitudes.  It’s about being willing to stick your neck out once in a while, knowing what you stand for and what your values are.  And it’s definitely not about ‘being liked’, but rather being trusted and respected … and courageous enough to lead.

"The #1 skills gap Australia faces is 'leadership' in the workplace."

In the 2009 Australian Institute of Management (AIM) Workforce Skills Gap Survey, “leadership” was cited as the #1 skills gap (45%), ahead of industry-specific skills (43%), process and project management skills (36%), managerial skills (31%) and communication/interpersonal skills (31%).  Middle managers were indentified by 51% of respondents as experiencing the most significant skills gap.

So what are some of the practical behaviours that make a successful leader?  Here are 7 cited in the book Contemporary Perspectives on Leadership (edited by James C Sarros, Chair of AIM’s Academic Board).

1.   Provide regular feedback to employees

Rather than only holding a single annual performance review, great leaders ensure there is continuous two-way communication between themselves and their staff, keeping expectations aligned and clear.

2.   Manage their time exceptionally well

Part of a leader’s role is to learn how to let go – especially in respect to those tasks in which they have a high level of mastery.  Continuing to do all of these is poor time management.  A leader needs to prioritise their time, manage their diary and delegate tasks.  Without this, their working hours will expand, their stress levels will rise and their performance levels will fall.

3.   Move from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’

Especially in the case where a leader has been promoted from ‘within the ranks’, a mental shift must occur.  The leader needs to see themselves as being responsible for setting the vision and the agenda for their group.  And they must let their former peers understand that this shift has occurred.

4.   Delegate - appropriately

The two most common reasons that leaders fail to delegate are (1) lack of faith in the skills of their team members, and (2) guilt or worry about overloading their staff as they already have heavy workloads.  The potential long-term ramifications of failing to delegate (aside from the leader burning out) include the shutting down of staff creativity, innovation and initiative – and perhaps ultimately leaving the organisation in search of more rewarding and stimulating work.

5.   Motivate and encourage the team

Many leaders can be quick to criticise and slow to praise.  Aside from being highly de-motivating, this can create an environment of fear and revenge.  Additionally, leaders need to be honest and authentic – and never have staff worrying about ‘what side of the bed they got out of’ each day.

6.   Be receptive to change

Leaders must be change agents, and learn how to implement necessary change (even when imposed upon them) with the needs of the team members in mind.

7.   Possess Emotional Intelligence

The best and most successful (read ‘effective’) leaders are highly self-aware, capable of effectively managing their emotions, and have a high level of skill in motivating and empathising with others.


If you were measured according to these 7 behaviours, how would your leadership skill set stack up?

Good food for thought, I think.


Copyright 2013,2014 © Sandi Givens and Knowledge-Able Pty Ltd

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