John Kotter once described leadership as “aligning people to the vision, that means buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration”. It’s a lot about bundeling energy to get things done. Without clear purpose, mission, vision, strategy, and objectives, energy gets dispersed and lost in discussions, reinventing the wheel, and demotivation. A leader knows where to go and why, has the ability and authenticity to explain, inspire, motivate and serve as a role model, is there to support and educate people and bring out the best in them.

A leadership style is the way a person uses power to lead other people. There are many different styles of leadership like: Transformational, Servant, Laissez-fair, Autocratic, Democratic, Strategic, … The most appropriate style depends on the leader, the followers and the circumstances. Great leaders master different styles of leadership and are able to choose the most appropriate one in a given situation. The personal preferences, experience and confidence of a leader have great influence on the preferred style of leader. The number of followers, their experience, confidence and attitude towards the situation have great influence on what they expect and prefer from the leader and the leadership style.

The leader needs to be aware of their own emotions and motives, and what leadership style they prefer. This helps to decide what style to apply. Self awareness also helps leaders to understand how other people perceive them which can be particularly helpful for guiding interactions with team members. With all this, authenticity and integrity play an important role. If you’re playing a role, fake it, people won’t buy it and you won’t be able to keep that up for a long time. If you’re not being honest, ethical, and trustworthy, at some point you will fail the organization and yourself.

Different situations, like risky, urgent, mindset change, simple work, require a different style. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the Situational Leadership model in the early 70’s which helps to determine a situation and select what they think is the appropriate style. The model is used for leader to person or leader to team interactions. The situation is diagnosed based on competence and commitment (or sometimes, self-confidence) of the individual or team. This leads to one of four situations D1 to D4. Each situation has a corresponding, most effective, leadership style S1..S4 (Directing, Coaching, Supporting, Delegating).

There are several different leadership styles. For a bit more detail on 12 of them, please have a look at this short article: 12 Different Leadership Styles.

One of the most influential books on leadership is: ‘7 habits of highly effective leaders’ by Stephen Covey. Covey believes the way we see the world is entirely based on our own perceptions. In order to change a given situation, we must change ourselves, and in order to change ourselves, we must be able to change our perceptions.

  1. Be proactive – Pro activity is strongly related to acknowledging your own responsibility and influence. Don’t be a victim of circumstances and focus on what’s in your circle of concern (“there’s nothing I can do about that”, or, “that’s just the way I am”). Instead, be aware of your circle of influence, use it and expand it. You are the architect of your own life.
    Be effective before efficient. As Covey says, “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” Both are important, but need to be in the right order.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind – How do you want to be remembered? Use your imagination to develop a vision of what you want to become, and use your conscience to decide what values will guide you. To be effective as a leader, your personal ladder also has to be against the right wall. Self-awareness empowers you to shape your own life. Be aware of your personal center, is it family , work, money, pleasure, …? Our centers affect us fundamentally — they determine our daily decisions, actions, and motivations, as well as our interpretation of events.
  3. Put First Things First – It requires discipline to prioritize our daily actions based upon, not what is urgent, but what is most important. The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves. All activities can be categorized based on two factors: Urgent and important, resulting in a time management matrix. We should spend most time in ‘important but not urgent’ where we’re thinking ahead, working on the roots, and preventing crises from happening in the first place. To do this, we have to learn how to say “no” to other activities, sometimes ones that seem urgent, and be able to delegate effectively.
  4. Think Win-Win – Covey explains six paradigms of human interaction:

    1. Win-Win: Both people win. Agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying to both parties.
    2. Win-Lose: If I win, you lose.” Win-Lose people are prone to use position, power, credentials, and personality to get their way.
    3. Lose-Win: I lose, you win.” Lose-Win people are quick to please and appease, and seek strength from popularity or acceptance.
    4. Lose-Lose: Both people lose. When two Win-Lose people get together — that is, when two, determined, stubborn, ego-invested individuals interact — the result will be Lose-Lose.
    5. Win: People with the Win mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose — that’s irrelevant. What matters is that they get what they want.
    6. Win-Win or No Deal: If you can’t reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial, there is no deal.

    The best option is to create Win-Win situations, and perhaps have the ‘Win-Win or No Deal’ option as a backup. As Covey says, “To go for Win-Win, you not only have to be nice, you have to be courageous.” Also, maintain a belief that there’s plenty out there for everyone, and keep the focus on results, not methods; on problems, not people.

  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood – Before we can offer advice, suggest solutions, or effectively interact with another person in any way, we must seek to deeply understand them and their perspective through emphatic listening. Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. At any given moment, they’re either speaking or preparing to speak. When we’re able to present our ideas clearly, and in the context of a deep understanding of the other person’s needs and concerns, we significantly increase the credibility of your ideas.
  6. Synergize – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By understanding and valuing the differences in another person’s perspective, we have the opportunity to create synergy, which allows us to uncover new possibilities through openness and creativity. By putting forth a spirit of trust and safety, we will prompt others to become extremely open and feed on each other’s insights and ideas, creating synergy.