Finding your authentic leadership style

Big Red Car here.  Hey, it’s raining early this morning in the ATX.  Well, we like a bit of rain.  Seems like a nice gentle rain falling on our homes and fields and Big Red Cars because I am parked on the freakin’ street, Boss.

OK, OK, I know that I am supposed to keep my place in all things and I will not start trouble but a bit of garage time would be greatly appreciated.

So The Boss was working with several of his CEO pals and they go to talking about the subject of authentic leadership style and leadership voice.

These are typically whip smart product oriented fellows who are simultaneously wrestling with growing a company at the same time.  As you well know a successful product requires a delivery system to bring it to market and that requires an organization built for that purpose.

The glue that binds

The glue that binds Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values and Culture together is leadership.  This discussion is about leadership style and adapting it to your particular company.

Young and inexperienced leaders sometimes struggle to find their authentic leadership style — the style that works for them, their team and their particular business environment.  A few years later, it will seem like an adolescent flight of fancy as the CEO has, in fact, found his own unique style.  But it takes a bit of struggle to gain that confidence.

The Boss has been a CEO for over 33 years and before that was in the military wherein leadership is the raison d’etre.  And why not?

There is a bit of “monkey see, monkey do” in the leadership business so don’t be reluctant to adapt a style that you have seen work before.  The wheel has already been invented, no?

Styles of leadership

There is a book that is worth a read, if you have the time.  It is called “Primal Leadership”  — hyperlink — and it was written by Daniel Goleman in 2004.  It is one of those “emotional intelligence” leadership books.  A genre of pop psychology books which provide a bit of intellectual nourishment but leaves you wanting a bit more.  Like a meal of tapas?

Let me save you some time — your employees will either like you or not but in the end they want to feel good about working for you and the company.  The folks have emotions and you have to engage their emotions to gain their commitment.  There, I have saved you a lot of reading.  And, duh?

The book does a very good job of cataloging some easily recognizable types of leadership — bit simplistic maybe — that are a good frame of reference for this discussion.  Here they are:

Visionary — propels an organization in a new direction guided by the vision of the CEO typically

Coaching — focuses on developing individual skills and using  these skills to propel the organization along a targeted path

Affiliative — focuses on creating teams and teamwork and building trust amongst the team and management

Democratic — focuses on mining the collective wisdom of the group to identify the overall goals of the organization

Pacesetting — demands high performance standards which are constantly improving

Commanding — an autocratic style of leadership often associated with a military frame of reference

So, my friends, here is the secret — your personal leadership style is going to be a combination of these types.  At times, you will be a bit autocratic and visionary and democratic and a damn good coach.  Because different folks require different strokes.

Just know that there is a menu from which you can pick and that you are not a one trick pony.

Adaptation

In the end, you will find your voice — your authentic leadership style — by trying on some of these different styles and adapting them to your personal situation and company.  [Like those red checked pants you thought made you look so dashing?  Haha, you know what I am talking about.]

In the startup world, it is easy to default to the “visionary” style as this is what is required.  You are, yawn, changing the freakin’ world, Old Sport.  So, yes, you will be a bit visionary, now won’t you?

When engaged with getting the product out the door, it is easy to slip into that commanding George S Patton-esque commanding style.  “Ship it, damn it!”

When developing talent, the coaching style will be your natural choice.

At other times, you will adapt other styles and voices.

Ultimately, it will become instinctive and natural and easy.  Of course, you may also be eligible for Social Security by then?  [Haha, Big Red Car, you silly wag.  They will cancel Social Security by the time these young folks are “eligible”.  Haha, Big Red Car, you crack yourself up, now don’t you?  Get it together, Big Red Car.]

Application

So how do you actually apply this little tidbit of learning about your authentic leadership style?

When you are crafting your Vision, Mission, Values — focusing on these three things because they are almost always the exclusive province of the CEO to craft — use the voice you want to be heard.  Play with it.  Make the voice and style yours and yours alone.

The Boss has a direct, matter of fact style and he is not the least bit afraid of any of the aforementioned styles — he has been a CEO for over 33 years, Old Sport — and thus he likes to be pretty frugal with his words.

Look at how he has written the Values portion of this document.

Sanitized Vision, Mission, Strategy, Values flip book 2013

Very simple stuff.  Make yours echo with your voice.

Evolution

Your leadership style will evolve over time.  And you will have many different opportunities to listen to yourself.

Remember that communication is how a leader primarily deploys their leadership style.  Do you recall how inspiring President Obama’s speeches were when he was new on the scene?  They were fabulous.  His communication style suggested his leadership style — fairly or unfairly.  You decide.

One of the most important things any leader — that means you, CEOs — can do is to communicate in an authentic and genuine manner with the folks.  The leader’s time and thus his communication is the single most dear asset in the company.

This communication is how the “wisdom of the campfire” is passed along from on high to everyone involved even those who were not there when the company was founded or the product was conceived.  Remember this and make damn sure to overcommunicate.

This is how you develop and deploy your own unique style of leadership.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Andrew Cashion

    Interesting list of styles, I’m using the first 5 more than the last one of “commanding.” This has definitely been on my subconscious mind, so I’m glad that has come to the surface. Not sure if commanding is necessary yet though.

    • JLM

      .
      You are ahead of the curve if you recognize your style and that it includes several variants. A little bit of “command” goes a long way.

      BRC
      http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

      • Andrew Cashion

        I am getting a feel for the gravity of how leading people affects the people around the people I’m am trying to lead. I think you’ve made me answer my own thoughts here… where there is hesitation there is a need for commanding. That is what I think . I also can’t stand the word leadership for some reason?

        • JLM

          .
          People want a plan. Then, and only then, they want a GOOD plan.

          Any plan trumps no plan.

          DJT was elected because he realized a lot of people in the US were not “in the plan.”

          He told them he was their plan which turned out to be a better deal than being called a “deplorable.”

          Leadership is an adult word which assigns responsibilities and accountability.

          Leaders do not receive power, they take it. They seize it.Taking power requires a step out of one’s safety zone, your comfort zone. Most things worth doing do.

          Right now, the US wants to be a nation of victims who spend all their time cataloging their slights. What do they do? They retreat to some mythical safety zone wherein they don’t have to be adults, responsible, or accountable.

          The big opportunity for leaders is to do something nobody else wants to do.

          Since 1953 nobody has wanted to do something about North Korea. So what happened? Nothing.

          Now, a guy is running the country at a time when NK cannot be avoided or ignored — the prospect of ICBMs w/ nuclear warheads changes our thinking.

          Plus we have adults in the White House, Sec of Def, Sec of HS, I think highly of them, but that’s not the point. The point is they are willing to do the adult thing and solve the problem.

          This is not an imprimatur for Pres Trump. I still intend to judge him only on results and the insanity of grading the first 100 days is silly.

          Don’t be a leader. Be an adult. Seize power and make stuff happen.

          BRC
          http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

          • Andrew Cashion

            Being an adult has been a revelation, my wife is 5 months pregnant and the due date is August 10th. It’s a boy.

            Graduate in 5 weeks, drove 144,000 miles for the psychology of being an engineer.

            I’m all in.

          • JLM

            .
            Life is sweeter when you have Skin. In. The. Game.

            Congratulations on graduating. Congratulations on becoming a father. Tell you kid how lucky he is that you’re his father.

            The world is your oyster.

            BRC
            http://www.themusingsofthebigedcar.com

          • Andrew Cashion

            Thanks!

  • I have heard and read so much about leadership style and cultivating such, but I think this is the first time I have seen reference to the idea of “authentic” leadership style. This really resonates and I believe is critical in these times.

    • JLM

      .
      Style is always individual whether whipped off the rack or ripped off from the movies but it may not be authentic.

      It is like raising teenagers — they quickly learn when you are really communicating in a genuine and authentic manner.

      This is why God invented middle names. When Mom uses your middle name, you know that Mom is not kidding and that the next bit of wisdom will be genuine and authentic.

      Do you know what I mean — Donna BREWINGTON White? Young lady?

      BRC
      .

      • How did you know? Especially the “young lady” part? In those days it was Donna LETITIA Brewington. Got rid of that middle name as soon as I could. For years my mother continued to address mail to Donna L.B. White — she had a hard time letting go. And to this day “Donna Letitia” still slips out. She and Dad thought it was such a “feminine name.”

        But hey BRC that’s OUR secret, okay?

        • JLM

          .
          [To make stuff secret, you have to bracket [xxx] it. Sorry. Now the whole world knows.]

          BRC
          .

  • Love this. Thanks, Jeff.