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.
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.]
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.
Very simple stuff. Make yours echo with your voice.
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.