Sooner or later every executive is asked the question, “What’s your management style?” It’s a reasonable request from anyone trying to understand your leadership approach. Yet this seemingly simple question is not so easy to answer. While you’ve most likely managed teams, and done so successfully, it’s challenging to identify your specific mojo, especially in a pithy one-liner. And how do you explain what makes you an impactful leader without sounding pretentious?
As with every question, if you Google it, you’ll get diverse perspectives. Some sites explain there are six primary management styles — Directive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Participative, Pacesetting and Coaching. Others, such as Wikipedia, state there are only three — Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire. Still, others like Harvard Business Review, claim there are eight archetypes — Strategist, Change-Catalyst, Transactor, Builder, Innovator, Processor, Coach and Communicator. Many experts further suggest that you identify your personality type through tools such as Myers-Briggs in order to derive your management style and understand how you relate to others. Each of these approaches has merit but feel a bit one-dimensional.
A variation of the above question is, “What’s your management philosophy?” This distinction allows for a more thoughtful response because philosophy is the ‘Why’, while style is the ‘How’. A tool such as the HBR Leadership Style Assessment is more nuanced and focuses on both the Why and the How of leadership. It not only identifies your primary and secondary leadership styles from the eight archetypes (acknowledging that people are complex and have more than one leadership persona), it also provides instant feedback on your personal approach, so you can amplify strengths, improve your weaknesses and identify blind spots.
The reality is that, as leaders, we need to occupy different mindsets at different junctures in order to have a successful leadership style. I’ve adopted the more considered approach crafted by THNK, and firmly believe that 21st-century leaders need to embody four key roles at various times:
- The VISIONARY: a calculated risk-taker who develops the strategic plan to drive category-changing growth.
- The ARCHITECT: a systems thinker who understands the interconnectedness of each part of the organization and operationalizes the plan.
- The CONDUCTOR: a master collaborator who knows how to attract and motivate diverse team members and assemble the optimal mix for each initiative.
- The CHAMPION: a change agent who leads the team through the growth journey.
It’s also critical to acknowledge that, although it might seem glamorous (status, authority, higher compensation), striving to lead is fraught with peril. The School of Life has an insightful article that elucidates the pains of leadership. However, if you’re up for the challenge, learning to lead will help you evolve both professionally and personally.
So, how do you find your authentic leadership style? Obviously, it’s a journey, shaped over time, but you can also pause and reflect on the following:
- What makes you the leader you are today? What do you feel are your strengths, weaknesses and gaps?
- What are strengths you exhibit that can be mapped to leadership areas (just compile a list from the styles listed above)?
- What are your personal ethics and values, and how might these apply to how you manage an organization?
- What’s the best way to further build, leverage and authentically engage your network?
- How can you set aside time to help others identify their passion and purpose, foster their strengths, and nurture their talents?