Leadership styles and developing agility in how you lead

Last week, we discussed how important it is to develop communication agility and to pick the right communication modality for the situation and intended outcome.

It’s equally, if not more important, to develop a similarly broad range of leadership techniques and styles. Specifically, your leadership style should look very different, depending on its direction in the hierarchy.

The sad story is that most people got it backward: they ask their management what to do and prescribe their reports what they want them to do. – This is WRONG!!

As a leader, you need to ask the people closest to a topic for options and solutions. You need to take their inputs to weigh decisions, not the other way around. Likewise, as a team member, you should not ask your manager what to do for a situation where you have more information than they do.

Of course, some decisions are better made top-down, specifically if they require a broad view and understanding that goes beyond the project owner (i.e., dependencies to related projects or higher-level organizational priorities. However, those are rather the exception than the rule.

As a general rule, if you communicate upwards, you should communicate initiative and solutions. If you communicate down the chain, you should communicate curiosity and desire to learn.

Managing your manager (communicating upwards)

You have the most complete, accurate, and detailed knowledge of your area. You will have more ideas on what to change and how to improve the status quo than anyone else. Bring that forward, don’t hold it back!

If you ask your manager what you should do, you will get direction all right, but it might not be based on the most robust foundation of facts. Instead, it is your job as owner and leader to provide direction and proposals!

You know your stuff – go lead and tell your management what needs to get done!

Engaging your team (communicating downwards)

If you are a manager and leader (people management or project) it is easy to think that you know all the answers. That’s what got you into the position in the first place, right? Wrong!!

You might have been the smartest IC (individual contributor) on the block, but that was before you got one or several levels removed from the actual work. You’re not the one who has the most facts anymore. Your decisions are at risk to be more gut-based than what your team would recommend – listen to them!!

Hold yourself back and trust your team. Encourage them to bring their ideas forward and listen to them intently. The less you speak, and the more you listen, the better off everyone will be.

If you apply the same style all the time – regardless of which one it is – you will fail to lead efficiently 50% of the time. You need to adapt your style, and critically, you need to do it the counterintuitive way:

Tell your boss. Ask your team.


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