Leaders Have Choices

Our most recent post explained that climate controls 20 to 30% of profitability, and that leaders control 50 to 70% of climate. The better the climate, the better the profit.

As a coach, you can help leaders leverage that connection. Let’s talk about how.

Basically, leaders have choices about how they lead, which in turn influences climate, though they may not realize it without your help.

Many people get promoted to leadership positions because they are great students of their technical or business area, not necessarily of leadership. When they are thrust into leading, they do what comes naturally to them, typically modeling leaders they have known in their own lives, including parents, teachers, and previous bosses.

As a result, they develop a default leadership style and apply it regardless of the situation they face. Directive leaders tend to be directive even when it isn’t called for. Democratic leaders tend to offer choices to followers not in a position to know enough to make good decisions. Relationship oriented leaders tend to build relationships when they need to focus instead on followers’ performance. When leadership style fails to match the need, climate suffers.

Your first task as coach may be to help these leaders realize that they have choices about how to lead, and that they may want to lead differently in different situations. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, in their book Primal Leadership, describe six common leadership styles, noting when they work well and when they don’t. In our EQ Leader Program 2.0, we add commentary on which EQ skills support each of these six styles. You can use this information to help clients create leadership strategies that fit different situations. Here’s how:

  1. Work with your clients to create a mutual understanding of a particular leadership challenge they face.
  2. Have your clients articulate their first thoughts about what to do, which is probably their go-to default response. You are likely to hear lots of rationalization that you will need to challenge.
  3. Walk your clients through the consequences of using their default style in the given situation. What could go wrong?
  4. Share the six leadership styles and help your clients select one that fits the situation they face.
  5. Help your clients improve the EQ skills that this different approach requires.

When leadership style fits with the demands of the situation, there is resonance between leader and followers. Climate blooms. Let’s walk through some examples using Primal Leadership’s language. They describe six styles of leadership: Visionary, Coach, Affiliative, Democratic, Coercive (or Directive), and Pacesetter.

We’ll start with Coercive, or Directive, because it is still the default style for a great many leaders. Maybe they learned it as children from their parents or teachers. The problem? It rarely works well with adults. But it does work often enough that many leaders over-estimate its success. Most of us have experienced coercive or directive leadership in our lives, and may sometimes respond to it out of habit.

The phrases “Do it my way, and do it now,” “My way or the highway,” “Because I said so, that’s why,” and “Just do it!” describe this leadership style well. It seems so simple. Tell people what you want them to do and they do it. What could be more efficient and error free? But of course the leader is also saying, “Don’t think.” That’s a tough sell when most jobs these days require innovative thought and judgment, particularly in this knowledge economy. Followers feel insulted, and either comply with the directive, don’t think, and become generally disengaged, or insist on thinking, offer their opinions, and become known as “problem” employees who don’t do what they’re told.

Now of course there are some situations in which Directive leadership is required. When the building is on fire, leaders shouldn’t ask for a vote. When these emergency situations requiring Directive leadership come up, four EQ skills are essential:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness: Leaders must be sure that they are not indulging themselves, wanting to take the easy way out in a difficult but non-emergency situation.
  • Impulse Control: While leaders must think quickly in times of emergency before giving an order, they must still think, not just bark out an order impulsively.
  • Self-Regard: In a real emergency, leaders must have the courage of their convictions. People’s lives and well-being are often at stake. This is no time to communicate doubt and hesitancy.
  • Self-Actualization: It isn’t enough to be confident. Leaders must really know what they are doing, which usually requires a history of skill development.

How can you help clients build these EQ skills, so they’ll be ready to be directive effectively, when they need to be? The EQ Leader Program 2.0 has a number of field tested exercises, used by coaches worldwide, that provide ways your clients can practice and improve these skills. In fact, the Program includes menus of exercises for each of the 16 EQ skills. (Note: Should you wish to purchase just the exercises, as opposed to the entire EQ Leader Program2.0, they are now available on Etsy.)

Next, consider the Visionary style. The phrase “Come with me” describes this approach.

We hear a lot about vision these days, and for good reason. Followers need an overall idea of where the organization is going and why. Visions are not communicated in a dictatorial manner, but rather with inspiration. There is plenty of room within the visionary message for followers to find meaning for themselves, as well as to find ways that they can contribute their own ideas in the accomplishment of the vision.

Being a Visionary leader is tough work. One must be able to see significant opportunity in an uncertain future, craft a vision of that opportunity and the foundation needed to achieve it, and convince followers to fall in love with the vision and pursue it. Fortunately, the payoff is there, as research shows that this leadership style contributes to success in most business situations. There is one exception though: If your client is leading a group of peers, visionary leadership can come off as condescending, and is off putting. Other leadership styles work better when leading peers.

When the opportunity for Visionary leadership appears, three EQ skills are particularly valuable:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness: The very first step for Visionary leaders is to identify what is truly important to them. They have to know what truly matters. Otherwise, they won’t have the energy required to inspire others and lead them toward a challenging goal. As a coach, you are likely to be invaluable in helping your client do the requisite soul searching.
  • Empathy: Just as it is essential for leaders to tune in to their own feelings, they have to know what matters to their followers. Otherwise, they may have a rousing vision to “Take that hill!” only to be met with, “Who cares?” Empathy also helps Visionary leaders know how to frame their message so that it appeals to followers.
  • Self-Regard: Visionary leaders must have confidence that the vision they have created is a compelling one, one that is worth getting excited about and pursuing. If they don’t believe in it, no one else will. To be clear, we’re talking about Self-Regard here, not arrogance. Arrogance is a slippery slope, one that can lead to Coercive leadership when it is not called for.

Again, The EQ Leader Program 2.0 provides proven ways for coaches to help clients improve their EQ skills, including these and other EQ skills, or the exercises can be purchased separately.

In our next blog post, we will discuss the other four leadership styles, when to use them, when not to, and how to help your clients learn to use those styles when called for. Your clients have a choice.

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