How to Develop Your Leadership Style

Leadership style is an intangible that enables some people to get promoted and other to not progress. Some people refer to gravitas and others to soft skills but the important point to make is that these things do matter and can accelerate leadership opportunities or become a career blocker.

The authors have conducted more than 30 years of academic and proprietary research to understand what we colloquially refer to as leadership style.

These have been codified by the team into a set of markers:

  • Powerful Markers – confidence, charisma, influence and competence (also includes arrogance, abrasiveness and intimidation)
  • Attractiveness Markers – agreeableness, approachability, liveability (but also include lack of confidence and submissiveness)

People with powerful styles often view more-attractive colleagues as weak. People with attractive styles tend to view powerful colleagues as rude.

Peterson, Abramson and Stutman

Leadership Presence

Our default position when in a calm and neutral situation is a set of these markers referred to as our natural style. Most individuals natural style is aligned to one of five categories on a spectrum from POWERFUL > LEAN POWERFUL > BLENDED > LEAN ATTRACTIVE > ATTRACTIVE.

Only a few people are at the extremes and most people favour one side or another. The ‘Blended’ style is defined as having presence – being a leader recognised for gravitas and executive polish.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy advises leaders to initially project warmth (to gain trust) and then competence (to demonstrate credibility). The authors suggest that leaders need to be more dynamic in how they exhibit leadership styles.

By applying a dynamic approach a leader may demonstrate collaboration and active listening in one meeting and demonstrate subject matter expertise and drive strong advocacy in another engagement.

Being Dynamic

You need to start by reflecting and analysing your natural style. Assessing where you fall on the leadership style spectrum. Connecting with your friends, family, colleagues and peers can help provide useful insights into how you are perceived.

Start by looking at how you want to be seen and what needs to change. Do you need to build more presence and authority? Are you seen as too autocratic and direct?

Experiment with small changes you can use verbal and non verbal markers to build on how different interactions are perceived. Aim for small incremental changes, keep considering how you want to be considered in the situation, practice and role model the behaviours that reflect that style.

"Successful leaders are true to who they are while continually making small adjustments in how they carry themselves, how they communicate, and how they interact depending on the circumstances."

Learn To Read The Room

An important part of leadership is knowing when to apply different aspects of your leadership style. The authors point out that many executives make a common mistake of using power makers with subordinates and attractive markers with superiors. Often the opposite approach is better applied with subordinates reacting much better to attractive markers and superiors looking for demonstration of leadership and that they are peers.

The good news is that leadership style is not your personality. You can learn new skills and it can be altered dynamically to best fit the situation and that is the sign of a blended leader who is “powerful enough to be heard and attractive enough to be followed”.

Key Takeaways

  • Your leadership presence is about how you get things done. Those with a blended leadership presence are more likely to succeed.
  • Leadership presence can be trained, we start out with a natural preference but it can be continually improved.
DIGEST of an article from Harvard Business Review
How to Develop Your Leadership Style
By  Suzanne J. PetersonRobin Abramson and R.K. Stutman
Published: November 2020

1 Comment

  1. Are you a leader? Job titles do not define whether or not you’re a leader. If you exemplify leadership qualities, are a resource for your peers, and share innovative solutions and ideas, then you are already on a leadership path.

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