Being a leader requires certain core competencies, but it also demands the ability to evaluate yourself critically and adjust your own work when necessary. Having a guiding leadership style is a positive thing, it can help you when you need to make tough decisions and keep you consistent through challenges your team may face. However, sticking to that style rigidly, especially if it isn’t working, can be even an excellent executive’s downfall.
There are several situations where you may need to change your leadership style:
- An internal or external event has occurred, affecting your business or team
- There is friction between your current style and your team’s needs
- You have moved into a new role with different expectations
For leaders in dynamic organizations, it’s to your benefit to cultivate the skill of adapting your leadership style to different situations even if you don’t need to make a complete change. Learning how to tweak your approach to meet the evolving needs of your team and your business can help you strengthen your relationships and your company.
How to Change Your Leadership Style
1. Conduct a Self-Evaluation
When you begin any kind of personal improvement project such as this, it’s important to set a standard of honesty with yourself. Even if your leadership style is effective, are there ways that even a small change could improve your relationships, your company’s culture, and your team’s output? Before you try to change your leadership style, identify its strengths and weaknesses to create a plan of attack. Gather a notebook and pen and write out 3 lists for yourself:
- Your core values: These might be things like kindness, efficiency, honesty, and so on. What do you value in yourself and in the people you surround yourself with?
- Your leadership goals: Do you want to be a leader that people feel comfortable approaching? Do you aim to be innovative and push the envelope? What legacy do you hope to leave as a leader.
- Your strengths and weaknesses: With your previous two lists in mind, write an honest list of at least a few strengths and weaknesses in your current leadership approach. This exercise is only for your eyes, so don’t be afraid to apply a critical eye.
2. Identify Your Options
There are many different leadership styles which have been studied and defined. Do a little research into the different common options and see which elements of different styles appeal to you. Some of the most effective leadership styles include:
- Democratic (or Participative) Leadership: These leaders actively engage their team in the decision making process. They value creating opportunities for feedback and are diligent about applying that feedback to their business. Collaboration is key and democratic leadership can foster creativity in a team, but it can also hold you back if you become too dependent on consensus.
- Servant Leadership: Servant leaders are guided by the needs of others and let the principle that they are there to serve determine their actions. They focus on developing and uplifting those around them believing that a happy, healthy, empowered team is good for business. This style of leadership leads to high levels of trust and can boost morale and improve the company culture but it can also be quite draining to always put others first.
- Laissez-Faire Leadership: Laissez-faire is French for “let it be”, meaning that these leaders provide their teams with the resources they need to do their jobs and then step away. This can be a great leadership style for those who trust their teams and feel that they have the experience and equipment to do their jobs, but if taken too far it can leave people feeling unsupported and adrift.
- Charismatic Leadership: We all know charisma when we see it, and it can be a very powerful tool in a leader’s arsenal. Charismatic leadership uses strong, clear communication to persuade their team to unite around them, and around a cause (the business). This type of leadership can inspire your team and motivate them to work together and commit to the business, but it’s important to avoid getting so focused on the cause that you stifle innovation and creativity.
You don’t need to choose a single leadership style from this list, you can create your own unique leadership style that pulls your favorite elements from different categories. Take a moment to write your style down, with its key points and include its possible advantages and risks.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Changing anything in your day-to-day life takes practice. Set daily goals for yourself to implement parts of your desired new leadership style. For example, if you have a team meeting and you’ve decided to incorporate Democratic Leadership into your style, leave the last ten minutes of the meeting for participants to give feedback and share their thoughts and ideas. Start with trying to do one or two purposeful things a day to build these new habits.
4. Adopt, Adapt, Repeat
While you’re adopting your new leadership style, take note of how people respond. Do you get the response you wish? Do responses evolve the more you implement your new style? Perhaps on the first day that you ask for feedback people are too nervous to speak up, but after a week or two do you see more dynamic and engaged conversations emerging? Take stock of what feels good and what feels off for your own personality and your business. You may need to adapt your actual efforts to match your team’s needs. For example, perhaps you’ve chosen to apply a more laissez-faire approach, but if you find that your team seems worried or is asking for even more direction from you it may be a sign that they need more preparation before you can dive full in to the style. You may need to temper your chosen approach with other styles as well when needed. Stay observant and be sure to make adjustments using your best judgement.
Need help changing your leadership style? Meet with a career coach for guidance.