Evolve your leadership style

Today I’m going to dive a little into one of my favorite topics: leading people, teams, and project groups.

As I’ve said many times before, we are all leaders in one capacity or another. Leadership, like so many others, is a skill that needs to be developed. Usually, people go through three stages when trying to get other folks to do something for them:

Stage 1 | Supervising | Task-oriented

This stage is all about telling others what to do, when to do it, and then auditing the outcomes.

It’s where we all start, but quite frankly, it’s not very effective. For once, it requires you to know exactly what needs to be done. As you take on more responsibilities, new areas, or problem spaces, that will not be the case anymore – others will know much more about specific areas than you do. It also requires a LOT of time and handholding from you, meaning it’s fundamentally not scalable. Finally, it only works if you have authority over the other person – why else would they care about what you tell them to do?

New managers with small teams usually show that leadership style.

Stage 2 | Managing | Process-oriented

This stage moves the focus away from telling people what to do and towards establishing goals and processes.

The leader moves away from the tasks and towards defining the way in which things need to be done, as well as the specific outcomes that need to be achieved. This stage is somewhere in-between – hopefully, it’s a transition stage and not where you’ll settle. It’s still directive in nature but moves the focus from tasks to outcomes and processes. It still requires lots of auditing and falls short of genuine trust for the team.

This model provides relief for the manager as teams start to grow from the initial small group. However, it still falls short of unlocking the true potential in your team as it depends a lot on you setting the goals and processes and then monitoring and enforcing them.

Management is halfway down the path to leadership but not quite there. The next step is the hardest as it requires giving up control and ego.

Stage 3 | Leading | People-oriented

This is where the magic happens. It’s all about the enablement of others, not about what you do.

Instead of knowing everything, this stage acknowledges that the wisdom lies in the team and n unlocking that wisdom. Instead of defining the ‘what’ and ‘how’, leadership at this stage is much more about developing shared purpose, team values, and rules for collaboration.

It’s a tough stage, as it requires you not to be the smartest kid on the block and rather take a backseat. However, the impact is enormous as that approach opens up space for others to step up and contribute. The more you trust the team and have them lead the path, the bigger the overall impact will be. You have to check your ego at the door, and not every manager is ready to do that, but once you do, things will really take off. (If you don’t you will be stuck in the manager stage for the rest of your career.)

This might sound a little theoretical and maybe not applicable to your current situation. It’s not. We all apply leadership styles all the time – dealing with coworkers, running projects, leading teams, or just trying to manage our families and convincing our kids to make better decisions. You will achieve the best results if you can shift your interactions from supervising to leading. Sometimes you will need to start at supervising and go through managing to lay the proper foundation, but your goal should always be to get to leadership.

As you tackle new challenges, turn around the typical approach that you have been taught and instead follow this sequence to solve the problem:

People first, then process, tasks come last.

Engage the people you’re working with first. Then define processes together. Lastly, let them drive tasks the way they deem most appropriate.

Here’s a little back of the napkin drawing that I scribbled to visualize the difference for myself:

Managers prescribe, leaders encourage.

Managers are anxious, leaders trust.

Managers need to control, leaders look for positive surprises.

Be a leader in your interactions with others!

Once you’ve tried a leadership approach, you will find the other two pretty limiting and boring.


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Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
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