Fine-Tuning Your Leadership Style

What can you do to improve your leadership style?

Leadership styles refer to the alternative ways you direct, engage, and empower people to make needed changes. I believe there are three basic styles of leading: Direct, discuss, and delegate.

When dealing with inexperienced people, you need to start by directing them. As people gain experience and become more able and willing to change, it’s best to engage them through discussion and delegation.

Directing Style—Tell Them

When you use the directing style, you tell people what changes are needed and the specific steps they need to take. Start with the big picture before launching into specifics. State clearly what you expect, how you expect it to be done, and when it is due.

There is a fine line between being “too direct” and “not direct enough.” Some leaders lack the courage to be frank and direct when it comes to discussing difficult topics or the difficult changes people must make. They skirt around the issue and sugar coat the message.

On the other hand, leaders can also be too direct and uncaring. “Ray, I didn’t ask your opinion. Just do it and get the hell out of my office!” Being direct doesn’t imply being condescending or demeaning. Direct means you say what’s on your mind in a clear, respectful, and professional manner.

Fine-tuning your directing style:

  • Start by asking yourselfHow direct do I need to be with this person in this situation?
  • Provide the right amount of detail. Some leaders overwhelm people with excessive details. Information overload! It is important to provide only the details a person needs to do what’s required.
  • Know when to use written directions. If your instructions are complex or lengthy, provide written directions. Be specific and precise in explaining what needs to be done.

Discussing Style—Ask Questions

Ask questions that engages people and focuses their thinking. What changes are needed; why they are needed? What are the options? What is the best way to proceed? The better the questions, the better the discussion. It’s always helpful to prepare questions in advance.

Start with general questions and then get more specific.

However, “too much discussion” can be as bad as “too little discussion.” Some leaders let the discussion go on and on and they never get closure. We’ve all been in those meetings!

At the other extreme, some leaders cut off the discussion to soon and force decisions that not everyone buys into.

Fine-tuning your discussing style:

  • Find the right balance between not wasting time and providing ample opportunity for people to state their views.
  • Be aware of groupthink. Too much agreement may imply “groupthink.” Everyone verbalizes support even though they disagree. If you sense groupthink, play the devil’s advocate and foster healthy debate and discussion.
  • Check your talking to listening ratio. Each situation is different in terms of how much talking and listening you should be doing. You have to determine the appropriate mix for each situation.

Delegating Style—Empower

The delegating style is appropriate when people have the experience, skills, and motivation to get the job done. Experienced people don’t need a leader telling them how to do something. They want freedom to take action and solve problems on their own.

There is a fine-line between “over-delegating” and “under-delegating.” Some leaders can’t let go. They feel compelled to be directly involved in every decision. In other cases, some leaders over-delegate to their star performers which often leads to burn out.

Fine-tuning your delegating style:

  • Challenge people but don’t overwhelm them. Find the right amount to delegate to each person.
  • Build the person’s confidence.I’m confident you’re going to hit a homerun on this project.”
  • Establish a schedule for status updates and when the task must be completed. It is important to remember that even when you delegate, you are still ultimately responsible.

Key Takeaways

At the end of each day or week, assess your performance by asking questions like these.

  1. When directing—Was I too direct or not direct enough? Did I cover the important details? Should I have put some directions in writing?
  2. When discussing—Did I ask the right questions? Was there too much or too little discussion on each issue? Was my talk/listen ratio appropriate?
  3. When delegating—Did I over-delegate or under-delegate? When delegating, did I provide an appropriate challenge and developmental opportunity for the individual?

Keep making small improvements to perfect each of your leadership styles.

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