Solid Foundations – thoughts on how leadership styles emerge

After a very hectic and fun 2009, I’m finally finding some time to get back to my blog, and the associated research involved in writing. This is something I’m quite passionate about. In cleaning up this blog I found five half-baked blog posts on everything from Principle Centered Leadership to an exploration of my leadership style and how a style emerges. There is the whole “born versus learned” argument about where leadership styles emerge from. On any given day I can be persuaded to join either side of that fence (which is rare). But frankly, it probably is a bit of both. One has to have an innate ability or drive to lead. Regardless of that argument, however, is the core of what creates one’s leadership style….a solid foundation. So for me, here is what that means.

Successful leadership is about gaining a deep understanding of yourself, your drivers, and the ability to know yourself better than anyone else. It is about continual learning, in a range of contexts and situations. This includes reading about leadership styles, contexts, patterns. It is about drawing on your past and reflecting on your experiences, both as a leader and as a follower. What motivated you to follow or lead? It is about hands-on leadership experiences. It is about leading successfully and unsuccessfully – then transforming both into good learning lessons for yourself (and if you’re truly humble – for others too). It’s about watching others lead and learning from their successes and challenges as well.

A big part of leadership is listening, asking questions first, and trying to gain a true understanding of where others are coming from. Then having the ability to shift gears if it makes sense. Iron-fisted leadership may work well when you’re leading only yourself – but when leading others, it’s rarely a dynamic for success.

Self realization that you don’t have all of the answers. That hiring really smart people to work with you is a great way to get even more accomplished. Hire them, set the course and let them get there the best way they know how (get out of their way). Be confident in your leadership and let your folks run with it. A side note: I find that leaders who can’t do this well micromanage or pass significant judgment when they haven’t set a clear course for their team – thus lacking in confidence. If you are unsure of a course, share what you do know then let your team help set the course. Perhaps their path will create exciting new opportunities?

I have a four-year-old daughter who is learning all about these concepts in pre-school. Her teacher tells me often that she is a leader in her class. I recently asked what she means by this and she said, “Your daughter senses her classmates and helps guide them in a way that they appreciate.” This is what I strive for in my daily leadership activities. I’m not always successful, but in a consistent and Zen-like way, I am always striving to establish this solid foundation for leadership.

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